Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fact Finder: Photography & Sepia Tones

Janet says:"Hey Pam, I want to know more about photography and, in particular, developing a sepia tone." Ok, Janet!

I don't know a whole lot about photography (just that I really like taking pictures), so I had to go a googling. For some reason, this made me think of the Price is Right yodler.

Anyway...I'm going to focus on common elements of photography to answer the first part of your question.

Like composition, which is basically how you organize and arrange the elements in the photo. What I ran into the most in my googling was the Rule of Thirds. This says that you should try dividing the shot into thirds vertically and thirds horizontally. Where the lines intersect (think tic tac toe, the corners of the middle square) is where the most important element or elements of the shot should fall. There are more rules and tips and what not (like framing your shot, using leading lines, how to make color the heart and soul of the picture, don't automatically centre your subject, don't be afraid to get too close or zoom in, and more), and the trick is using them until they become second nature. THEN you can break them when it's appropriate - like when you want to be particularly creative. When you do that, there are plenty of things to think about, like what do you want your artistic message to be? What do you want your viewers to see most in the shot? For more on composition and the rules of composition, here's a good website.

Then I found that there are all sorts of things you need to consider about the lighting of the shot. Do you want shadows? Beware of back lighting! Consider the angle of the light for other effects, and so on. Here are some good websites to investigate if you're curious about lighting:

So once you know about light, then you need to learn more about what in your camera affects light. It's good to know how your camera "sees" light and how much light it allows in. There's a lot of stuff that goes into this light equation, including aperture, shutter speed, and film speed. Changes to your camera's light meter affects all of these things. In general, you want the light meter in the middle for"proper" exposure. But, if you want to get artsy and deliberately over-expose (expose to a lot of/too much light) or under-expose (expose for too short a time to light/not enough light) your pictures, this is where you'd go to do it. There are other reasons you might need to over- or under-expose your pictures, too:
Overexpose (click into the positive settings in your light meter) if:
  • Subject is very dark in comparison to background
  • Snow
  • On a bright day if your subject is in shadow
Underexpose (click into the negative settings in your light meter) if:
  • Subject is very light in comparison to background
  • To achieve a silhouette effect
  • On a overcast day to increase color saturation
(from Understanding your camera's light meter)

As far as the specifics of light, there's the aperture, which, like the iris in your eye, is an adjustable doo-hicky in the camera's lens that controls the amount of light let into the camera. Aperture also affects depth of field, which is basically whether your subject/foreground and background can be sharply focused at the same time. Aperture is measured in F-stops, where the higher the F-stop value, the less light you're letting in/smaller the opening.
  • Bigger opening (large aperture/small F-stop) = more light, smaller/shallower depth of field (meaning the foreground is in focus while the background is fuzzy).
  • Smaller opening (small aperture/large F-stop) = less light, larger depth of field (background will be in focus). Good for landscapes.
Aperture can be changed on your camera if it's fully manual or sorta manual, but there are some point-and-shoot consumer, digital cameras out there that don't allow you to change the aperture. Instead, with these cameras, you should look at the different settings or modes (such as macro, landscape, and portrait) and investigate how they might affect your aperture.

Shutter speed has to do with how long the film or digital sensor is exposed to light and should be taken into consideration if you're doing a lot of action or motion photography.
Film speed (ISO sensitivity setting) is the measure of the film's sensitivity to light.

And now for the specific part of your question. "Sepia" actually comes from an artist's pigment derived from the Sepia cuttlefish. (Want to know more about the science behind sepia? Click here.) It's used to create a brownish, antiquey, romancey, nostalgic type look. How do you create this affect? In digital cameras, there's usually a specific setting for sepia. In not-so-digital cameras, you'll have to attach a sepia filter. (You can use external filters in digital cameras too, but most have the internal sepia tone filter option).

To develop sepia toned stuff, you can:
  • If your camera's digital, just print it
  • Mess around with it in photoshop (for more about sepia tones in photoshop, click here)
  • Take it to a lab (and make sure you tell them NOT to color correct)
  • Do it yourself by developing the print normally, then bleach the paper to remove the silver. Then rinse and repeat. Just kidding. Rinse, soak it in a sepia bath, wash again, and dry. More about this here and here.

Other resources:
Kodak's guide to 35mm photography
Great tips for night photography
To keep the conversation on photography going, check out the categories on the left of this website

And because I know you, Janet, I know that you've been into photography for a while and probably knew a bunch of this. BUT hopefully some of this/the resources was/were helpful (for you as well as for the other readers)! :) Thanks for askin'!

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