Photography 101

By Lauren Warner

Behind every great photo is a complex, sometimes technical story involving a subject (is it in focus?), timing, lighting, equipment and editing. A photograph depicts a moment in time, and for many people, a photograph can be deeply meaningful. A poignant portrait communicates an emotion; a photo of a nature landscape conveys peace. A poorly shot photo, however, can be distracting.

A good photograph is achieved when several factors successfully meet. Read on for a helpful guide to composing good photos and getting the most out of your camera.

What is your goal?

When selecting a camera, have an idea of the types of photos that you want to take, suggests Mike Woodland, CEO of Dan’s Camera City. “Where do you want to use the camera? How much control do you want?” The smaller point and shoot cameras, while convenient and affordable, offer less user control and are at one end of the spectrum. Manual settings on larger-bodied single lens reflex (SLR) cameras provide the most amount of user control, at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Many people are shooting with digital cameras, cutting out film and the traditional darkroom completely. That isn’t to say that film is dead, however. Dan’s Camera City processes customer film daily.

Consumers can expect to spend anywhere from $89 to upwards of $700 for a camera body. “The smart phone has pretty much gobbled up the low-end point and shoot. The cell phone in their pocket satisfies that. We’re seeing a big shift in how customers are purchasing cameras,” explains Woodland.

A new category of cameras emerged on the market this year, Woodland notes. The compact system camera, or CSC, allows the user to be more mobile. The CSC’s small, portable body allows for control and flexibility that rivals its bigger, more expensive counterpart in the SLR family. Woodland credits Olympus for removing some of the legacy moving parts from this camera without sacrificing quality.

Know—or Learn—Your Stuff

Become familiar with your camera and equipment. One of the simplest things you can do is to simply read the manual. Know the features of the camera. Browse the Internet for user forums, tips, and most of all – examples of work you enjoy. “If you want to be a good photographer, look at a lot of photography and take a lot of photographs. You’ll know what you like and what you don’t like,” explains Ryan Hulvat, a professional photographer and instructor based in Bethlehem.

Understand the range of ways to influence the photo. You might shoot in automatic mode and allow the camera to sense the best setting for each photo. Or you can shoot in manual mode, handpicking the settings for each photo, and controlling your outcome. A fun exercise involves experimenting with close-ups – will you focus on an object in the foreground, or the background? In manual mode, it’s up to the user.

Shane Pratt, a photographer with Cardinal Camera at the Promenade Shops, recommends shooting manually to control your outcome. The best situation is natural lighting, devoid of flash. Pratt recommends shooting outside, on a sunny day. Use a lower ISO and have shutter speed work in conjunction with aperture. ISO represents the International Standards Organization, which sets the international standards for a multitude of measuring systems. One of these is the measurement system for film’s sensitivity to light. Though photography has largely shifted to digital in recent years, many terms are still regarded in terms of film. Thus, a digital camera’s sensitivity to light is known as ISO setting.

When shooting inside, be aware that many venues discourage flash photography. To take photos without a flash, increase your ISO. You’ll notice that your shutter speed will increase (this is ideal for action shots, as with sports) and your shot will expose nicely.

It’s really beneficial to invest in a few camera accessories to optimize both your product and the longevity of your camera. “I would recommend memory cards, an auxiliary flash (an extra flash) and a camera bag,” recommends Kurt Seelig, proprietor of Cardinal Camera.  Consider also a tripod. It’s crucial to stabilize your camera, or you risk the chance of blurry, out-of-focus shots.

If you’re using a semi-professional to professional camera, your files will be quite large. Digital cameras require digital storage. It’s best to have a few memory cards on hand, as well as dedicated computer space. Use a backup system to be safe, because if anything should happen to your computer, your photos will suffer as well. “The biggest recommendation I have is to make sure you have everything in two places, and do that from the get go. Set up a redundant system. Set up two hard drives. Hard drives do fail; they will fail. And they’re [inexpensive],” says Hulvat.

The Finished Product

Your photography hobby will continue to be fun as you share your photos online or at home. Take some time to understand the basics of post-editing. Most computers are equipped with basic photo editing software. For example, Apple’s iPhoto offers contrast and color controls, as well as straightening, cropping, and more. Adobe Photoshop and Digital Lightroom provide a full range of editing options. If you want some guidance as you explore the popular photo software, Northampton Community College offers courses on both programs. At any rate, taking a few minutes to work on each photo will benefit you going forward. You’ll develop your own skill set and notice improvement. Soon, you’ll be anticipating the shots as you take them, and you’ll feel a greater sense of satisfaction as you develop your hobby.

Practice – as with anything – advises Pratt. ”Shoot every day in every situation you can be in. Carry your camera with you everywhere you go. The more you can practice…it has to come naturally.” Hulvat agrees: “You have to make a lot of mistakes…and have someone good look at them.  There’s no shortcut. You’ve gotta practice.”

Happy shooting!

Editor’s Note: At press time, Dan’s Camera City was scheduled to open a Lower Nazareth location later this spring, and Ryan Hulvat was scheduled to offer photography classes at his Bethlehem studio. Visit for contact information.

Dan’s Camera City

Jeffery Hall, Director of Marketing
610.434.8450 (Office)

Cardinal Camera and Video Center
Kurt Seelig, Owner
610.841.7733 or 215.855.4878
267.249.4915 (Cell)

Ryan Hulvat Photography
Ryan Hulvat, Owner/Photographer

Northampton Community College
Community Programs
Registration: 1.877.543.0998

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