Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs by Henry Carroll

I was given Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs as a Christmas present by my uncle and auntie who clearly know me very well as anyone that I’m related to or good friends with knows that one of my greatest passions is my photography.

Although I read this book and made notes about it a little while ago I was unsure at that point what I was going to do with the information other than let it help me inform and shape my photographic style. It wasn’t until I decided that I was going to pursue photography and create a website that I had an epiphany that I could use what I learnt from this book as my inspiration for a topic.

My favourite part of this book is the bold subheadings that give you a brief overview of the fundamental principles of photography and I thought there is no better way to summarise my thoughts on this book than use those subheadings, which I loved as the building blocks.

Composition

This is the most important thing when considering how to photograph because it is the cement that holds your image together and like a puzzle without a great composition it falls apart. There is one tip on composition that I think is a brilliant piece of advice, which is, always look for something that draws the viewer into an image. I know photographers who have this down to a tee, they not only put themselves into the image by showing you what they see but they also add a little quirk, which is quintessentially them. For example, a red umbrella or a stuffed animal. But the thing that draws a viewer into an image doesn’t always have to be a physical object you’ve added to it you can also use leading lines as a way of adding depth and highlighting a key element in the image that you want the viewer to see. Creating foreground interest offers the viewer a stepping-stone into your image and ultimately makes it more intriguing to the eye.

The rule of thirds involves picturing your image as if it was mentally divided using two vertical and two horizontal lines and you then place the important parts of the image where the lines meet. This is designed to make the image more interesting and dramatic.

However if what I have just described are the fundamental rules of composition if I’ve learnt anything from my photographing experiences then I believe the most important rule is to not be afraid to break the rules and have fun. Also never be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and photograph something that isn’t your usual style because the results might surprise you.

Exposure

The next aspect of photography that Carroll discuses in his book is Exposure. Exposure is about how you as a photographer create the image by using your camera as a tool, by using the exposure triangle (Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO). The exposure triangle is the cardinal rule for a decent exposure, if you have a planned shoot always set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO before you do anything else.

The shutter speed controls the length of time it takes for light to enter your camera, aperture controls how much light enters your camera and ISO controls how sensitive your camera is to light.

If you are holding the camera the shutter speed should be no less than 1/60 because if it’s lower than that you will struggle to hold the camera steady. The more you decrease the shutter speed the more of a motion blur effect it creates and the more you increase shutter speed the more likely you are to freeze movement. I suggest if you’re shooting a portrait and you want the subject in full focus you should use something in between 1/125 and 1/250 depending on how close you want to be to your subject.

When you want the subject to be seen but the background out of focus set the Aperture as low as your camera can but if you want a wider depth of field set the aperture as high as you can so everything in the frame will be in focus.

ISO is to do with how sensitive your camera is to light so the general idea is to set it as low as possible when your in a bright place or a studio and set it high in a dark place. Increasing ISO is essential for using fast shutter speeds in low light.

Another useful tool for brightening and darkening your subject is exposure compensation. Boosting it draws out detail in the shadows and decreasing it creates awe-inspiring silhouettes.

 Light

The only way to learn about light is to observe it constantly even if you don’t have your camera on you. Hard light creates contrasts by using shadows and highlights, which adds depth and definition to an image. According to Henry Carroll these are unforgiving and expose all, which makes the photograph more dramatic. Soft light is the opposite of hard light and is used mainly by portrait photographers to subtly draw out form and features.

Lenses

Lenses radically alter your relationship with your subject and the way you take pictures. There are two types of lenses, zoom and prime or fixed lenses. At the moment I only own two lenses the 18-55mm that came on the camera and a 55-200 mm telephoto zoom lens, which I now use pretty much all the time. According to Carroll Telephoto lenses transform you into a hidden observer-someone who is suddenly able to capture subjects unaware.

I will be buying my third lens at the end of the month as I don’t know about you but every time I start a new job I like to reward myself with some kind of incentive and this time I know exactly what I’m buying. I know I’ve mentioned this lens before and I will mention it many times because I think it is absolutely fantastic and unusual. The lens I am buying is the Lomography Petzval 85mm Art Lens, which I first saw on Emily Soto’s (NY Fashion Photographer) Facebook page and I have had the pleasure of testing it out once. This is a manual focus lens, that comes in brass or black with a variety of filters that you put inside the lens to change the colour cast or shape of your image and it creates a vintage feel to your images.

Seeing

Read this if you want to take great photographs states that to take great pictures that stand out from the crowd, you need to stop looking and start seeing. This is extremely true I’ve learnt that I am an observer I’m not always looking for things sometimes I see things and have a light bulb moment, get my camera ready and take the shot and if I don’t have my camera on me I will try and find a way to create the image I want using my phone. If you see something while doing street photography capture it anyway even if your camera settings are haywire as if it’s the right moment chances are one shot is better than no shot.

Another great piece of advice I gained from reading this book is ‘don’t feel like your photographs have to explain themselves. Hold a little back. Give the viewers imagination somewhere to go’.

So all in all as you can tell you don’t just learn by taking the photographs, you learn by reading other peoples ideas on photography and I have definitely learnt a lot from and been inspired by Read This If You want to take great photographs by Henry Carroll. So if you’re a photographer or want to get into photography I suggest that you start by reading this book and gaining a deeper understanding of the rules and how to break them.

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