uLearn.Photography - part of FilmPhotoAcademy.com

Click Here: It Is What You See and How You See It That Counts


Welcome to "Mastering your DSLR for Better Photographs"
This is your first lesson.  In each lesson, read through the content and look at the images (you can click on them to see a larger version and extra information).

QUIZ: When you've soaked it all in, you can then try the exercise for this lesson - this is a short multi-choice quiz.  You will need to achieve a sufficient score to pass onto the next lesson.  This score varies from lesson to lesson.  
You can keep re-trying the quiz until you decide to accept your score.

Free Bonuses also become available when you finish a quiz.  These are varied; some are Cheat Sheets - short summaries of information for you to keep.   Others will be extended documents covering some subjects in more detail or offering additional information.
Assignments are given for each section. While you do not need to complete them I recommend you do, since you will learn a lot more from "doing" rather than "reading".



Your first lesson is not going to be all about the horrible technical details of your camera. Instead, I want to focus on the most crucial element in all photography.
How you see a scene.  
How you choose to capture it in camera.
So I want to show you several techniques that will INSTANTLY improve your photography.

As you work through the entire course we will always try to keep the technical stuff to a minimum.  I am an absolutely believer in the phrase "It's the equipment BEHIND the camera that does all the work".
That's not to say there won't be technical moments, you will learn how to manage your camera, how to know which settings to select and how to set them.   By the time you have finished the course you will be in control of the technical details of your camera as well as your vision.
But, make no mistake about it; it is your vision that counts.  You can learn how to improve your "seeing", so that you can quickly and fluently select how to frame a picture to make any scene - and your photography - look better.

In this example shot the important part is the father and children in the barrow, yet there is all sorts of distracting elements in the frame, including a cropped off person!

Look At the Scene, Then Look in Your Viewfinder


What's in the viewfinder?  What is important and what could go?  
This is your crucial first step.  Most photographs are weak because they include too much and prevent the viewer from seeing the subject.  There is too much noise in the signal.
So, don't just bring the camera up to your face and snap.   Firstly look at the scene in front of you, decide what is important and then decide how to capture it in camera.
In the following steps you are going to learn how to make the subject important in the image.  

The tighter version really focuses in on the crucial elements of the image, removing all the distractions.



In this case the instant fix has been after the fact.  I've cropped the image in software.  A better solution would have been to have moved much closer in the first place!
So cropping is simply the process of deciding what is going to be in your picture and what is not.
My best recommendation is always to try to get the best crop you can right from the start.  Although you can fix it on the computer later there are reasons why you don't want to do this, in particular loss of quality.
Your crop can also refer to how you rotate the camera - in particular whether it is "landscape" or "portrait".  Landscape pictures are wider than they are tall; portrait pictures are taller than they are wide.   They have these names because these are the traditional formats for taking landscapes or portraits.

Use the slider to see what happens when you crop in tighter on the image.
Notice how the the image becomes stronger the tighter the crop and as less relevant parts are removed from the image.

Position in the Frame: The Rule of Thirds


Here is a picture of a tree in a field.
It's not terribly interesting.

Let's overlay it with the "Rule of Thirds" grid.   
What we can see is that the tree is dead centre in the picture.
We can also see the horizon is dead centre vertically.
Both of these things lead to very static (and probably dull) images.
What we actually want to do is put the interesting features on the lines dividing the picture into thirds.
Better still, we want to get the main subject of the picture onto one of the intersections.

If we reframe the picture now, so the horizon line runs along the third line at the bottom and the tree is moved to the intersection point on the right.
Now we have a more interesting image.
The picture itself just looks more "dynamic".   Don't worry if you find this hard to understand at the moment, the more you practice the more you'll get an intuitive feel for what makes a "stronger" or "dynamic" image.

Look in detail at the image.  Now we have those lovely clouds on the left hand side of the frame.  These add interest to what would have been otherwise a boring blue sky.
If we look to the darker cloud on the right hand side it provides a hint of framing to the picture and also suggests a story of incoming storms.
If we look at the bottom left we see the fence line, which draws the eye in and long the horizon until we reach the main focus of the tree.
Now all those things together, while small individually make for a better image.

Let us have a look at doing the same thing with a portrait shot.  
Here is a nice enough picture of a pretty girl

But if we reframe it so the eyes - which are always the most important part of the face - are exactly on the rule of thirds intersections it is just a much more powerful image.
We have also been able to lose a lot of the boring section of the top of her dress and shoulder, which didn't really add anything to the picture.

If we take the guidelines off you can see how the girl is now gorgeously close to you as a viewer and her gaze to you has become so much more strong and direct.   

Using Leading Lines


Any line in a photograph is an invitation for the eye to follow it.   So if you can use one or more lines to lead the viewers' eye to the focal point of the image then you will have a stronger image.
In this example there is a complete solid line of the banister leading to the young man.   
But also the reflections, the shadows, the bars on the ceiling, they all lead towards the main subject.   No matter where you look there are lines that always take you back to the main point of interest.

© Catherine

Move Your Position: Exploring Your Subject


Let's just stay with our pretty girl for a moment.   Here is one of my earlier shots of her.
It's a full length distant shot.
Perfectly nice in its own right and I could have stopped there.
But there is so much more to be found

Rather than me moving, I've asked our subject to move and twirl, which really brings out the life in the fabric of her dress.
So this becomes less of a portrait shot, and more of a clothing shot.   The "story" and "emotion" of the image is completely different to the previous picture.

And now we have both moved.   I have completely changed camera position, our subject is now leaning on a door and her expression is completely different.
Again this image has a completely different emotional feel to any of the previous images.

Here we have an image of desert cactus flowers in Teutonia Park. This shot gives us a nice overall view of the plants, where we can see their needles and flowers and their natural environment.

© Mike Baird

And here is a close up of one of those flowers. Here we can see all the details of the stamens and the pollen lying inside the flower.    Same plant, completely different image.
If there was something interesting enough to make you want to take the picture in the first place, then it's probably worth spending a little more time, just moving around the subject, getting closer in, looking for better backgrounds.

© Mike Baird

There is lots of background detail in this shot.  While it gives a sense of environment, the singer merges into the background.  Yet the person is our main subject



The human eye is really good at separating out foreground objects from the background.   It uses all sorts of real world clues like stereo vision (having two eyes) and parallax (moving position) to get very instant cues as to how far apart things are.
But in a photograph everything tends to get flattened altogether.  This merges the details of the background with the main subject in the foreground

A change of position puts the singer against a dark background with no distractions.
Usually a very quick change of position is sufficient to fix the problem.   It might be as simple as you and your subject swapping places.
You might need to change your camera height and camera angle.
Later on the course we will discuss lots of other ways to fix this problem, but nearly always the quickest answer is just to move your position.

Symmetry and Patterns


We like to see symmetry and patterns in pictures.   They always add interest.   
Symmetry is simple; it is where the two halves of the picture are basically similar.  They may match exactly, or be a "mirror image", i.e. reversed.
Patterns fall into many types:   repeating (same sizes); echoes (same object; reducing sizes); lines (repetitive lines especially).    There are lots more.  You know a pattern as soon as see one.

© Roger Alcantara

© Vinoth Chandar
You want to make the repeating pattern fill the whole frame of the picture if you can.   This might mean you have to choose carefully how you crop the picture.
In this wonderful abstract example the photographer has rotated the camera to ensure that nothing but repeats are visible in the picture.  As an aside, the crossing diagonals add a strong dynamic to the image, which a standard vertical view would not have done.

While we find patterns and symmetry interesting in their own right, they can often be more interesting when the pattern is broken - this can be either startling or help draw the eye directly to the main subject.

© Cornelianesseth

This image uses out of focus rocks in the fore-ground to frame the angler in the mid-ground and then the trees and hills behind recede into the background.  
There is both a real sense of depth and scale in this picture.
© Mith Huang

Creating a Sense of Depth and Scale


To create a sense of depth within your pictures look for objects that can sit in the fore-ground, the mid-ground and the back-ground.
You may not always have all three, but a foreground to background is important.  
A picture of a stunning, massive cliff face on its own might only be 5 feet tall.   If you have a foreground object to give it scale then viewer instantly sees the cliff face for what it is.

Framing Your Subject


You can use elements in your scene to provide a frame for your main subject.
In this case it's a very obvious man-made frame of a window.   The photographer has also used selective colour (only part of the image is in colour) to really draw attention to the child's face.
There are many frames you can find that are not as literal as this, archways, doorways, gaps in buildings, clouds, trees and so much more.   
The purpose of the frame is in two parts:   draw the viewers' eye to the subject;   keep the viewers' eye within the frame.

© Jamie Taylor

© Nagesh Jayaraman
This gorgeous example of using the natural environment along with light and shadow to produce a very natural and unobtrusive frame that makes this a very evocative image.
So although this image has a very strong frame, its part in the image is very subtle, the viewer is instantly drawn to the man and is not really aware of how the shadowy trees are making a frame around him.

Balancing Elements


Remember how we talked about the Rule of Thirds at the beginning of this lesson.   One of the possible problems with this is that your main subject lies in one half of the picture and the rest looks a bit blank and empty.
So you can use other objects in the frame to fill that space and it creates a more balanced image.
In this image the woman is key subject of the picture, but the rocks on the left help to balance the whole image.

© Adele Prince

Balance is one of those things that is hard to see, but the more you practice seeing, the more you will become adept at spotting when to add balance.
Just a final note, often an image can be better for having no balance, it creates a sense of tension in the viewer if it is unbalanced.

© Matthias Mueller



Back in the "good old days" of film cameras photographers were a little reluctant to experiment since failed experiments could be expensive.  But now in the days of digital cameras you can experiment all you want at no cost at all.
One of my big gripes with photographers is we are always trying to "get the shot".  We don't practice enough.   We don't try out new things enough.   Yet some of the most iconic images ever have been experiments that have come good.

There are two important things to do with your experiments.
Firstly, you must do a lot of them.  If you're not sure what something will look like, try it, see if you can improve it, don't be discouraged if it doesn't work out - that's what experiments are for.
Secondly, you must look at the failures.   Work out why they failed, then if you can eliminate those failure points you will be left with a successful method.


At the end of each section you must complete the exercise - a short test - before you can move onto the next section.
Each exercise has its own pass mark.  If you achieve the pass mark the next lesson is unlocked.
Depending upon your result then bonus lessons, diagrams, cheat sheets and other useful goodies will become unlocked.
You can repeat an exercise at any time, only your latest score will be saved.
This exercise is nice and simple, you will get 100%.   We just want to know a little about yourself, so we can better tailor our courses to you.

Go to Exercise


As you work through the course you will be given assignments to do in your own time.   They are nearly always about making photographs, not lots of writing.
Some of the assignments will count towards your final pass mark.   You will be asked to submit images for review.
Not all the assignments count towards your final score.
While you do not need to do any of the assignments except the last, I strongly recommend that you do each assignment as you finish the lesson.   The assignments are so that you can go and practice the concepts we have just been discussing.   
This will let you firmly embed the information in your mind, or highlight areas where you are still not sure and need to check on.
You can do the assignment in your own time.  You can progress through the course without submitting images for the assignment.
Your first assignment does not count towards your final score for the course.
I want you to make three photographs using as much of the content of this lesson as possible.   In particular play close attention to "Rule of Thirds", "Cropping" and "Viewpoint".
When you have three pictures you may submit them here and we will review them for you and give you advice on how they can be improved.
You need to send us THREE of your best images for assessment.
Of preference we would like your images in the following formats, but don't worry if you don't know how to do that (we'll explain later):
1) JPEG Format
2) Maximum long side 1024 pixels
3) Minimum long side 512 pixels
Before submission check your images carefully:
  • No marks, distractions, or other unwanted content
  • Correctly balanced image
  • Only use a border if the image requires it
  • Correct brightness and colour