Photo Class Blog


NEXT ASSIGNMENT: Composition in Photography


“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange

You should strive to compose images that get attention and deliver your message. In general, good pictures result from careful attention to some basic elements of composition, together with appropriate lighting and an interesting subject.

There is, however, no “right” way to take a picture. Three photographers recording the same scene may create equally appealing photographs with entirely different compositions. By understanding the basic rules of composition, you can incorporate them into the way you ‘see’ with your camera.

COMPOSITION in the visual arts is: the arrangement of elements and their relationship to the background of an image.

Click here for the PDF of this assignment.


Three (minimum) mounted 8×10” NEW photographs that each adhere to at least three of the Rules of Composition. At the critique, you will be asked to explain which ones you used (or abused!).

Here are some guidelines:

  1. If you want to break any of these rules, go ahead. Just be prepared to explain how and why at the critique.
  2. Every element in a photograph should be present, and where it is, for a reason.
  3. Remember that the viewer’s eye is attracted to the largest, brightest, most favorably placed visual element in a photograph.
  4. Use any or all elements to unify the picture.

Remember, while a novice can achieve quality images with these guidelines, artists who really know them often find creative ways to break them with excellent results.

Assignment due date:  Thursday Nov 9


More on F-Stops and Shutter Speeds

First – The All Important ISO Number

The ISO number is a measure of light sensitivity. It originally referred to the sensitivity of a given type of film, and the standards for measuring were determined by the International Standards Organization (ISO), which is where the name comes from. In a film camera, you had to change film to change ISO. Digital cameras allow you to change ISO through the camera’s menu functions, adjusting the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to an ISO equivalent number.

So how does ISO work? While it measures light sensitivity, photographers refer to ISO as the “speed” of the film or sensor. At high sensitivity, more light is sensed within a given period of time than at low sensitivity, so high sensitivity is considered faster.

Unlike aperture, ISO settings are relatively straightforward. Low ISO numbers indicate the least amount of light sensitivity, while high ISO numbers are faster, more sensitive settings.

Why not always use the highest ISO possible all the time? In film cameras, high ISO film is grainy. We didn’t escape that limitation with digital cameras, but instead of grain, high ISO numbers introduce digital noise. One of the most important things a photographer can learn is how to get the best quality shot in a given lighting condition with the lowest possible ISO setting. Of course, sporting events and other fast moving action requires high, fast ISO numbers. Fortunately, those situations are often brightly lit.posterRepro-01

Tips for How to Set the F-Stop

You can use your camera’s manual (M) or aperture priority (Av, or aperture value) mode to take full control of your camera’s aperture. In addition to controlling how much light enters the camera, changing the size of the aperture also changes image depth.

As you tweak your camera’s aperture (f-stop), you’re altering the len’s depth of fieldDepth of field is another photography concept that’s easy to cloud with complicated mathematics and esoteric language, but, basically, it refers to how much of a scene is in focus. When subjects both near and far are relatively crisp and sharp, many photographers say a scene has deep depth of field. Shallow depth of field indicates that only part of a scene is in sharp focus.

f16 or f2?

f16 or f2?

f16 or f2?

f16 or f2?

Lenses capable of very wide apertures, such as f/1.2 or f1.4, are best for creating extremely shallow depth of field. To accentuate this effect, it helps to be close to your subject.

Shallow depth of field is a powerful tool for making great pictures by drawing attention to specific aspects of a picture. For example, if you compose a portrait in which the subject’s eyes are the only facial feature in focus, you’re isolating the eyes and making them stand out in an arresting way that your viewers can’t miss.

The reverse is true if you want deep depth of field. Many landscape photographers use high f-stops in the range of f/16 or f/22, which helps keep objects in both the foreground and background in focus.

The fastest way to understand how to make f-stops work for you is to experiment. Pick one subject and shoot it using different f-stop settings. Review the images to see how sharpness and brightness change from image to image. Regardless of the kinds of subjects you choose to photograph, understanding f-stops, aperture and depth of field can help you make a mundane scene totally marvelous. Citation: Chandler, Nathan.  “How to Know What F-Stop to Use”  07 December 2010.

Fast and Slow Shutter Speeds in Photography

hedge creek falls, by Alaskan DudeIf you’re looking to shoot crisp, clear photos, you’ll usually want to use the fastest shutter speed possible. The primary limitation of shutter speed is available light. Since a fast shutter doesn’t let as much light through, it can lead to overly dark photos if lighting conditions are dim to begin with.

You can compensate by opening up the aperture (the opening that allows light into the camera) and using a higher ISO setting (measuring the film’s sensitivity to light), but these changes also have their own tradeoffs.

If you’re trying to capture fast-moving action, like a sporting event or a playful pet, fast shutter speed is vital.

hedge-creek-falls If you’re shooting a stationary subject in low light conditions, you can use a slower shutter speed. This can allow you to capture a scene with shadows and subtle lighting that might be lost if you used a flash.

If your shutter speed is anything slower than 1/60, it will be almost impossible to hold the camera still and avoid a blurry photo.

HedgeCreekFalls007 If you’re looking to shoot some special effects, shutter speed can help you out. Slow down your shutter just a little, and those crisp action shots show dynamic movement as some things become slightly blurred.

Slow it down a little more, but this time pan the camera along with the movement of one object. Now that object will be crisp while the background shows as a blur.

A photo of a waterfall with a slow shutter, using a tripod, will show a luminous sheet of water instead of clear individual splashes.

Some photographers specialize in light painting, in which the subject moves a brightly colored object through a dimly lit scene, “painting” blurs of light in various parts of the image.

lightPaint (8 of 9)As in all things in photography, the key to finding the right shutter speed for your situation is experience, and you gain experience through experimentation. Try different shutter speed/aperture/ISO combinations until you find one that works, and play around with special effects to see what happens.

Citation: Fenlon, Wesley. “5 Tips for Slow Shutter Speed Photography” 14 February 2012.

Try light painting!


Angelea’s Photography Vocabulary and Critique Support

Photography Vocabulary and Critique Support
Compiled by Angelea Heartsong-Redding

Surrounding circumstances / information / knowledge that:

  1. Sets / fixes your understanding, brings deeper meaning, and adds “value” (context)
  2. Additional knowledge that can be applied / connected to the work

You might consider (although these cross-over into each other):

  • Personal contexts: Experiences / beliefs/ intentions/ interpretations (by yourself or of the artist), psychological…
  • Historical contexts: Place in time, local / national / global happenings / events…
  • Cultural / Social / Political contexts: Wider connections-thematic / narrative / conceptual
  • Visual / Conceptual contexts: Connections with Art Movements, ideas, styles, inspirations – before and after the image

Context – the meaning of an image, beyond its overt subject matter.

Content – the subject, topic, or information captured in a photograph.

Focus – what areas appear clearest or sharpest in the photograph, and also, where does the eye focus, or travel, what is the point(s) of interest? Why or why not?

Light – what areas of the photograph are most highlighted? Are there any shadows? Does the photograph allow you to guess at the time of day? Is the light natural or artificial? Is the light harsh or is it soft?

Value – is there a range of tones from dark to light? Where is the darkest value? Where is the lightest value?

Contrast – is the differences in brightness between light and dark areas within the print. Low contrast (flat) is where a print seems grey/weak with no blacks or whites with detail. High contrast can seem harsh, large shadow areas can seem too dark, and highlights are very bright (hot), where whites have no details.

Density – refers to the overall darkness or lightness of the print. Exposure can be adjusted either by opening or closing the f-stop (aperture) or by changing the exposure time.

Technical Terms: Elements such as the shutter speed / aperture / focus that happens within the camera.
Elements such as exposure / development process that happens in the Photo Lab, and the process of correct dry mounting of the final print. Is it straight, clean, and well cared for?

Critiques are wonderful opportunities for an artist to be brave, sharing their work so that we can better their understanding of our art, and further our learning.

Let our learning and success be yours as well!! We are all in this together.

Here are some things to think about…

  • Sometimes, artistic vision exceeds technical ability. It’s important to critique the artistic aspects of a photograph separately from the technical. Someone’s ability to properly expose a shot is not indicative of their creative vision or vice versa.
  • A critique is not an opinion. There is nothing wrong with expressing a personal preference, so long as it is framed on factually based characteristics. Focus on a photographs objective quantities. If someone presents a blurry shot, there are objective, measurable quantities such as shutter speed, aperture, and ISO that can be invoked to discuss why the shot was blurry and how it can be remedied.
  • Help your peers improve! Share you experiences, successes, failures, and experiments with them so that you can help them improve.
  • Critiques aren’t about you, and are no place for ulterior motives. We are here to help each other, to discuss photography, and to inspire each other. There is no room for character assassination, personal insults, or criticism of the artist. Be polite, we all experience the words of others differently, and there should be no reason a peer should leave the critique with lower self-esteem.
  • Start a dialogue… a conversation can greater further your own knowledge.
  • Remember the CONTEXT. Look at a photograph, and think about the environment in which it was taken. Critique the photographer on how well they worked within the environment they were given because sometimes there are variables we simply cannot control.
  • Look at an image, think about it, and then look again. You’ll see and understand things that simply won’t be evident upon your first examination.


Custom Printing Using the Dodge/Burn Techniques

In film photography, it’s VERY unusual to get a perfect negative that doesn’t need some areas of more ‘dynamic range.’ It’s sometimes even more difficult with digital images, but we’ll save that topic for later.

Dodging and burning are terms used in photography for a technique used during the printing process to manipulate the exposure of a selected area(s) on a photographic print, deviating from the rest of the image’s exposure. In a darkroom print from a film negative, dodging decreases the exposure for areas of the print that the photographer wishes to be lighter, while burning increases the exposure to areas of the print that should be darker.

By using completely opaque material as a cover over the preferred area for dodging or burning, absolutely no light will pass through and as a result, an outline of the material may be visible on the print. One way to prevent obvious cover-up lines is to slightly shake the burning material over the covered area while it is being exposed. Another way to prevent obvious cover-up lines is to use slightly less opaque material closer to the outline to produce a more subtle, faded effect.


“Burning” an area of an image requires additional exposure.

To burn-in a print, the print is first given normal exposure. Next, extra exposure is given to the area or areas that need to be darkened. A card or other opaque object is held between the enlarger lens and the photographic paper in such a way as to allow light to fall only on the portion of the scene to be darkened.


“Dodging” areas of a print lessens the exposure for areas of the print.

Dodging:  A card or other opaque object is held between the enlarger lens and the photographic paper in such a way as to block light from the portion of the scene to be lightened. Since the technique is used with a negative-to-positive process, reducing the amount of light results in a lighter image.




On Evaluating Negative Quality

Ansel Adams famously said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.”

Like we’ve talked about in class, we are striving for good negatives, because good negatives yield great prints. So what does a ‘good’ negative look like?

Good negatives are the result of careful exposure in your camera, followed by proper development in the photo lab. As your successes grow, you’ll start to become a “Lighting Connoisseur,” assessing light quality even when you don’t have a camera with you!

A good thing to remember is the following mantra:
“Exposure dictates film density;
Development dictates film contrast.

Let’s look at three negatives of the same scene, shamelessy lifted from a website that Angelea found called The Online Darkroom:

Inviting bench overlooking sunny Scottish coastal scene.

Underexposed, properly developed
Overall density: too low
Contrast: too high
Shadow detail: lacking
Highlights: too weak

 Correctly exposed and developed Overall density: normal Contrast: normal Shadow detail: normal Highlights: strong but still transparent

Correctly exposed and developed
Overall density: normal
Contrast: normal
Shadow detail: normal
Highlights: strong but still transparent

Overexposed, normally developed Overall density: too high Contrast: too low Shadow detail: very strong Highlights: too dense

Overexposed, normally developed
Overall density: too high
Contrast: too low
Shadow detail: very strong
Highlights: too dense


Developing Negs in the COS Photo Lab

Assignment: Read CHAPTER 3 – FILM

For a printout of these instructions, here’s a .pdf

In film loading room, with door closed and lights off:

  1. Load the film into the processing tank.

In the film developing room:

  1. Always sign the film development sheet with date, name, number and type of film developed.
  2. Briefly rinse cold water into loaded film tank.
  3. Measure developer into beaker, check temperature of developer.
  4. Check time/temperature chart for developing time.
  5. Pour developer into tank. Following prescribed time, agitate for first 30 seconds, then every 30 seconds thereafter for 5 seconds.
  6. Using funnel, pour developer back into container, and immediately pour measured amount of stop bath into tank. Agitate continuously for 30 seconds, then pour back into stop bath container.
  7. Pour in measured amount of fixer, following agitation pattern of step #5 for 5 minutes, or 7 minutes for T-Max films, then pour back into fixer container.
  8. Rinse with cold water for 30 seconds.
  9. Pour in measured amount of hypo clear, agitate for 2 minutes continuously, then pour back into container.
  10. Wash in running water for 5-10 minutes.
  11. Dip in photo-flo for 30 seconds.
  12. Hang negatives in dryer for 15-20 minutes.
  13. Clean up your mess!
  14. Put negatives in plastic sleeves for protection.


Assignment #2 • The Time of Your Life

pentaxk1000ASSIGNMENT TWO:
Using a 35mm SLR Camera

READING in TEXT: Chapter 1 in it’s entirety


  • Get comfy with your camera: Play with it, look through it even without film in it. How does it feel in your hand? How does the lens limit what you see through it? How does the light meter work to assure correct exposures?
  • Choose a film: for this assignment, use a black & white negative film with an ISO rating of 400.
  • Open the camera: make sure there is no film in the camera.
  • Insert film: check for dust or debris. NEVER touch the shutter. Then, insert film, making sure that both sprocket holes of the film are engaged before closing film back. Better to waste the first frame than to not have the film advance.
  • Advance film to first frame. Set film speed. (Newer cameras automatically do this for you.)

The Time of Your Life
Shoot at least one whole roll of 24 exposure film to document some facets of your life in as many different and telling situations as possible….

Your mission is to create a sense of yourself with 3 mounted, presentable photographic prints.

Here are some ideas: • Work • Play • Dreams • Eating • Sleeping • Laughing • Serious • Posed Portrait • Candid Portrait • With family • With friend(s) • With stranger(s) • Alone • With pet(s) • Indoors • Outdoors • Daytime • Nighttime • At Home • Natural • SelfPortrait • Frontal • Rear • Side • Silhouette • Shadow • Body parts (be discreet!)

Focus: take your time, get used to your camera. Look around through the viewfinder, isolate your subject matter. What interests you about the scene? Don’t even worry about taking a picture for awhile, just look at your world through the camera.

Set the exposure reading: if this is your first roll, you are most likely to get a good exposure if you seek out an evenly lit scene. Steer away from contrasty scenes until you’ve developed a few rolls.

Hold the camera steady: The rule of thumb is that anything under 1/60th of a second should be on a tripod if you want a sharp picture.

Expose the film: gently press the shutter. Try different angles and variations of the same picture. Don’t be a flatfoot!

Rewind the film: (manual cameras) after exposing your roll of film, rewind the film crank by depressing the film release and cranking clockwise. Never force the crank – if in doubt, bring the camera to class so we can unload it in a darkroom.

Experiment! Get Creative! Steer away from the literal. Pay attention to light quality.

For a copy of this assignment to print, CLICK HERE (PDF).

At least three mounted prints are due Thursday, September 28 at 9:00am sharp!

NEXT WEEK: Developing Your Film!



How Cameras Make Pictures

Camera Exposure Control

Please note: ALL cameras do this, whether film or digital. Yes – even your cell phone!

The two variables in photographic exposure are:
1) The aperture or f-stop setting, which indicates the size of the opening in the lens.
Oddly, the larger the number, the smaller the opening. (i.e. f 16, f 22, f 32) and the smaller the number, the bigger the opening. (i.e. f 2, f 2.8)

2) The shutter speed, which indicates the amount of time the shutter is open, allowing light to hit the film. They might read: B  T  8 4 2 1 2 4 8 15 30 60 125 250 500 1000 2000


  • The numbers in italics are whole seconds, the rest should be read as fractions of a second
  • B means bulb (for the old flash bulbs)
  • T means time (for long exposures)

Exposure Handout