by Duane Radford | All photographs © Duane Radford
Outdoor photography provides a wonderful opportunity for seniors to get out of the house and become engaged in an affordable, enjoyable, and rewarding pastime. Regrettably, it’s been my experience that some people do not have an eye for photography, perhaps because they don’t understand the principles behind composition, light, or how their camera operates. As a result, their pictures may be less than flattering. This is a shame because photographs are a great way to bring back memories of family and friends and our country’s natural beauty. Good photographs are judged on the basis of their visual impact, composition, and technical quality. Visual impact is self-explanatory — does the picture catch your eye? Composition is about artistic framing of a subject. Technical quality relates to the sharpness of focus, proper exposure, and good balance of complementary colours.
Know Your Camera
The best pictures are taken with single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras although point and shoot digital cameras for folks on a budget are okay. Several manufacturers make quality cameras that have similar features in roughly the same price range. Purchase one that feels comfortable and is easy to handle. A 14–42-millimetre automatic focus zoom lens is well suited for outdoor photography — it’s a good lens for framing subjects. You’ll need a long lens for wildlife photography, which is another story. Read the instruction manual carefully to develop an understanding of all the features of your camera. SLR cameras have various modes that are programmed for taking different types of photos (for example, landscape, portrait, macro, action, sunrise or sunset) in addition to an auto setting that is a good fall back when lots of things are happening at the same time.
Keep Focus Sharp
Hold the camera firmly with both hands — not with one hand — to get sharp photos. Gently squeeze the shutter so as not to shake the camera during the exposure or the picture will be blurred. Landscape photography requires a large depth of field to make sure the subjects (up front) and in the background are in focus. Select the ‘landscape’ setting on your camera or an aperture f/16 or smaller to ensure that all the elements in the photo are in focus. Use a tripod to get sharp pictures. Include people in landscape settings wherever possible because the human eye will be drawn to them, which enhances these pictures. If a person is the subject matter and you’re using an autofocus camera, be sure to focus on their eyes. Eyes are the main visual cue that people will look at initially, simply because of human nature.
A rule of thumb when taking a photograph is to keep the subject simple and let the picture tell a story. Clutter is the nemesis of good pictures because it detracts from what the photograph should convey. Keep pictures simple by focusing on the main subject area; capture the essence of a scene by eliminating extraneous material. This is easier said than done, but it’s the mantra of every good photographer.
How many times have you seen pictures where the subject is in the middle of the frame surrounded by empty space? Photographers call this ‘dead air.’ Don’t take these kinds of photos. Move in close to your subject or use a zoom lens and fill the frame with the subject before pressing the shutter.
Rule of Thirds
Another pointer is based on a ‘rule of thirds’ imaginary grid that involves placing a subject in that portion of the frame 1/3 of the way from the top (or bottom) and 1/3 of the way from either side of the picture. Such framing creates pleasant pictures regardless of the subject.
Soft light is almost always best for taking great photos — bettered only by contrasting light such as that associated with an evening thunderstorm where both bright and dark light are present at the same time. Soft light is most common in the early morning or evening and throughout the day during the autumn when the sun is low on the horizon. Capitalize on soft light by taking as many of your photos as possible during the aforementioned times.
During the heat of the day (especially in the summer), the sky will have a washed-out appearance so it’s best to use a polarizing filter to minimize glare, eliminate haze and reflections, and darken the colour of the sky a little bit. Simply twirl the polarizing lens until you capture the most pleasing sky colour — what you see is what you’ll get in the final picture.
Tell your model that you’d like them to pose for several pictures when taking their portrait. Take several photos because some may be washouts — the person might be out of focus because they moved, perhaps they’ll have a funny look on their face, or they may have blinked, ruining the picture.
Shadows over the face are another common problem in outdoor scenes with people wearing hats. If they’re wearing a hat, be sure to use the fill flash feature on your camera to minimize these shadows. Also, if you’re using a flash to photograph people because the light is low, use the red-eye feature on your camera to eliminate this nasty problem.
Many people get nervous when being photographed. This is a normal human reaction because people often feel uncomfortable if someone is staring at them. Humour them and get them to relax. Tell them what you plan to do so they hold that pose you’re looking for. Say that you intend to take several pictures. Explain how the camera works so they’re not surprised if it flashes.
Ready, Set, Shoot
Take lots of shots of your subjects. Memory cards have taken the price out of processing photographs, and you want to make sure that at least some of your pictures turn out well.