Getting started in photography can be be overwhelming. There are always more questions than answers. Even deciding which questions to ask can be difficult.
El Toro High School offers four classes to stimulate students' interest in photography. The classes have been taught by Dennis Dunton for the past 14 years.
His second-year advanced photography class submitted questions on photography. A sampling of their questions--and my reponses--follows:
Q What are the advantages of a camera with automatic features as opposed to those that are manual?
A The automatic camera has greatly simplified the process of taking a picture. No longer do you have to know about lens aperture, shutter speed or the speed of the film (ISO or ASA). The camera makes those decisions for you. This is fine for most kinds of photography. However, the camera will not think for you. Using these automated features to their full extent does require knowledge of photography basics. Automatic cameras are great for family snapshots, but you need to look for a camera that includes manual features if you want to have complete creative control.
Q Is there any type of system that is used for evaluating a scene before you take the exposure?
A As a rule, through-the-lens metering works well when evaluating most situations. In cases where the subject is backlighted or there are extreme ranges of contrast between light and dark areas, a hand-held incident light meter may work better to give you a better average setting to work with. It's always a good idea to bracket your exposure when shooting in difficult situations.
Q Which color film gives the highest contrast for low-light situations?
A Using a film with a high-speed film rating (ISO) such as ISO 1600 will give you high contrast. It will also give you photographs with more grain, which may make your picture appear less sharp. Consider using a slower film such as ISO 100 that will give you a much higher quality. If you are using a long lens at sunset, a tripod is recommended.
Q What type of film would you use that is not too grainy if you were shooting a baseball game?
A The best film speed for this type of photography is ISO 400 for black and white. It allows you to shoot at a faster shutter speed and use longer lenses to bring the action closer to you. You may consider using color film with a rating of ISO 100 if it is bright outside and you have a lens that will allow you to shoot at a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second or faster. Color film tends to looks grainy as you step up to high rating such as ISO 400 or 1600, much more so than black and white. Shutter speed should be the most important consideration when shooting sports. It must be fast enough to stop the action. If you are shooting a game at night, remember it may seem bright to your eyes but film isn't as sensitive. For example, if you are shooting the Angels at Anaheim Stadium, you will need to push your film to ISO 1600, which will give you an exposure of 1/500th of a second at f/4.
Q How difficult is it to pursue a career as a sports photographer and get a job in that field?
A There are very few photojournalists who shoot nothing but sports. Newspapers require their photographers to shoot a wide variety of subjects. However, shooting your local high school sports teams is a great way to gain experience. You are put in very difficult positions with a wide variety of exposures. It forces you to focus quickly and gives you a good sense of how to photograph things in motion. The openings for photographers at major newspapers and magazines such as Sports Illustrated are infrequent, so you could be in for a long wait. However, there is no substitute for working hard if you want to get ahead in this, or any other business.
Q Is fashion photography difficult to get into or is there a real need for it?
A Fashion photography is somewhat different from traditional photojournalism. It is very different from sports photography in that most of the elements are in your control. You need a strong background in lighting, props and must be able to interpret what an art director may have in mind. You are creating your own situation rather than capturing one that evolves in front of you. You may spend several hours to create just one picture, which is a major contrast with news photography, where you may have a fraction of a second to capture a certain scene.