Light and composition – enjoying the fundamentals of photography with 35mm point & shoot camera

Wherever you sit on the photography spectrum – amateur or professional, film or digital – there are two fundamentals to how we take a photo; light and composition. It’s easy to get distracted with an array of settings and functions, and sometimes just limiting your choices can help set your creativity that little bit freer. 

Equipment and Preparation

One of my favourite past times is to go out and just take photos. I probably put in a little planning before deciding on a destination, but it doesn’t have to be some complex journey. On one occasion I just walked from my house to the city centre, taking photos as I went. Roadtrips are good, and traipsing along country paths. The great thing about photography is that location is easy, because you can take photographs anywhere.

It has been a while since I was out taking photos, and I’d planned for a little while to go out one afternoon and take some film shots. Wanting more of a challenge, I opted for a point and shoot camera, my Yashica MF-2 Super. The benefits of this camera are its limited controls. Shutter speed is constant. The aperture only alters depending on whether the flash setting is selected or not. The lens is fixed, so there’s no control over depth of field. The best control I have is the ISO of the film.

I used two rolls of film in the end. One I picked by accident (good lesson to check the film first); a 100 ISO Perutz film (probably expired). I used this first while there was more light. The second was a 400 ISO film – an Agfa black and white roll. I also brought a 3200 ISO Ilford roll, but time had moved on before I got to use it. Next time maybe.

I brought my Olympus EM-1 purely as a light meter, but after examine some basic light variations (indoors, outdoors, in shadow) I didn’t use it at further.

Using the Light

I started shooting mid-afternoon, meeting up with my friend Tim at Perth CBD. No route was established, so we were left at the mercy of available light depending on where we wandered. It was a bright day, but being in the middle of a city meant lots of shadow and pockets of places with little light. It’s a frustrating thing to see good opportunities lost because you know the light isn’t good enough. Many times I just knew not to bother. 

The benefit of this frustration was that it made me think much more about the relationship between light and shadow in my pictures. I could make determinations about the shot without having to think about the settings on the camera. This gave me more focus (forgive the pun) on the composition itself. 

Composition

In terms of composition, I had free reign within the limitations of the camera. Digital cameras can be almost too liberating in that respect. Don’t get me wrong, you need that flexibility for so many shots, but there’s always the risk that the photo becomes the settings, not the composition. It helped me see the city in better terms, and think more about the unusual qualities of urban landscape. Not having any idea what the final image will look like was also liberating, because it meant I didn’t develop anxiety of getting the ‘right shot’. 

I’ve gone on more solo photo trips than I care to remember, but it was beneficial to have someone else around. Not only is Tim good company in general, but he’s a great photographer. I’ve tried to apply the social norm of not stealing other people’s shots on these kind of trips. What this means is that if someone sees a shot they think is interesting and distinctive, you don’t then try to take the exact same shot. It’s quite annoying to have another photographer come up and take the exact same image that you spotted.

In this way, having Tim around made me think more. Sometimes he would spot something and that meant I had to move on and look elsewhere. Rather than get frustrated by this, I used it as an opportunity for ‘what else can I find’ mentality. In other words, it forced me to look harder for a good opportunity and experiment a bit more. 

As I write this I have no idea what the images look like. I’ve linked to my photography blog some iPhone shots I took, to give you an idea of the type urban terrain we had at our disposal. When I get the images back I can look in more depth at how they came out. With 60 shots to pick from surely a few will be ok at the very least. 

Regardless, I had fun. It was great to free myself from the complexities of which lens, aperture, shutter speed, and think about really makes a good shot. More than that, it was just an enjoyable experience all round, taking photos for the sake taking photos, and enjoying the freedom that can come from limitation. In photography, whatever doesn’t kill you sets you free.

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