Frederic Ewen English professor at Brooklyn College from 1930 to 1952. During the height of the McCarthy period Ewen was forced to resign his teaching position.
After all, Edward Steichen, one of history’s most well-known photographers, once borrowed an inexpensive Kodak camera from a waiter at his hotel while traveling in Greece—and made gorgeous pictures in the process.
Similarly, Andy Warhol preferred the Polaroid Big Shot, an instant camera priced at $19.95—a deal even by the standards of the day.
“Some beginners who take great pictures are reluctant to think of themselves as photographers simply because they don’t have ‘real’ cameras,” Kim Beil, an art historian and the author of the celebrated book Good Pictures: A History of Popular Photography, tells us. “As The New York Times photographer James Estrin has written, ‘The photographer takes the picture, not the equipment. Few people care what kind of typewriter Hemingway used.’”
If it’s not the camera that makes the photo, what separates good pictures from all the rest?
The answer to that question is subjective, but it often boils down to a few key elements, including composition, exposure (light), focus, depth of field, motion blur, texture (grain), and editing. In this complete guide to photography, we’ll explain all these crucial concepts, and how you can use them to create better pictures.
From there, you can home in on specific artists you admire. If you’re a street photographer, that might mean perusing the work of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and Diane Arbus. If you’re a fine artist, maybe it means studying up on Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Julia Margaret Cameron. Cast your net wide, and stay open to new ideas.
“Looking at pictures is the most important practice for beginning photographers, as well as established artists,” Kim Beil says. “Look at everything, from advertisements and art to fashion, food photography, and photojournalism. As much as I love Instagram, serious photographers must also seek out other ways of accessing images. You should look at things beyond what is recommended to you by an algorithm. Go to exhibitions, if you can, or study photobooks.
Your histogram is a visual representation of the tonal distribution of your image, including the shadows (on the left), the mid-tones (in the middle), and the highlights (on the right). With a “perfectly” exposed image, you’ll usually see a nice balanced “mountain,” running edge-to-edge and showing a range of tones and even distribution. If you’re overexposing, you’ll see the graph squished to the right; an underexposed photo will push the histogram to the left. Glancing at your histogram can be a quick and easy way of visualizing your exposure when you’re in the field.
Focal length is the characteristic of your camera lens that determines your angle of view. A prime lens has a fixed focal length, while a zoom has variable focal lengths. Some common prime lenses you can expect to find include a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm (called the “nifty fifty”), 85mm, 200mm, etc.
The shorter the focal length of your lens, the wider your angle of view. For example, a wide-angle lens like a 24mm will provide a much broader view of the same scene than a standard 50mm lens. Conversely, a 200mm lens would create a closer crop than the 50mm would, while also magnifying the subject. Longer focal lengths are usually used for faraway subjects, like wildlife, while shorter focal lengths are popular for interiors, where you need a wider angle of view.
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