Photo Guide by Kent Mason

Mastering the Craft of Photography

  1. Great light
  2. Great subject
  3. Great composition
  4. Properly exposed, well focused, sharp image

First explore the area. Find the best subject or view. Take the camera off the tripod and hand hold it. Walk around to find the best camera angle. This is a great opportunity to experiment and explore even more. Evaluate the best lens choice and perspective for the subject. Evaluate high or low camera position and vertical as well as horizontal formats. Also evaluate the light. If it is not the best, can you come back at a better time?


  • Be set up 1/2 hour before sunrise
  • Stay 1/2 hour after sunset
  • Wait for the light to change if it isn’t right, or change your camera position if this works for your subject.
  • Often great light can be found just prior to or just after a storm or the first hour after sunrise and before sunset.

The type of shooting is based on available light. For example, overcast days are good for macro work and people shots. Use a warming filter and a gold reflector or fill flash. Keep bald skies out of the photo.


Master the composition methods of Freeman Patterson.

The elements of composition are line, shape, texture and perspective. Look for them and use one or more of these elements in your photo.

Arrange the elements using dominance, balance, proportion or rhythm. Experiment with different arrangements of your subject and go for dynamic, graphic simplicity! That is define, isolate and simplify.

A simple design has more impact.

Emphasize a few strong elements (one, three or five) in the scene.

Plan to shoot as many vertical compositions as horizontal ones.

Maximize the use of contrast, sharpness and warm colors in your composition to attract the viewer’s attention and hold their interest in the photo.

Check the movement of the eye as it travels through the image. Does it work?


The key to good composition is pre-visualization.

The view or subject should be:

  • Clearly defined
  • Simplified
  • Isolated
  • Graphic

Isolating the center of interest or simplifying the image often improves the photo.

Insure that the visual weight of the elements is in balance so that they work together.

All of the following add interest to the composition:

  • Perspective (creating depth)
  • Lines (vertical, horizontal and diagonal)
  • Curves (“S” and “C” curves)
  • Shapes (triangles, circles and rectangles, etc.)
  • Textures (whenever possible)
  • Angle of light (side light, back light)
  • Tonal contrast (4 stops)
  • Color contrast
  • Complimentary colors
  • Sharpness
  • Selective focus
  • Patterns
  • Warm colors and hues
  • Good foreground for subject
  • Good background for subject

Check the borders of the camera frame and include only what adds positively to the composition. Eliminate merges and converges as appropriate.


Use light that best enhances your subject

  • Quality (harshness or softness)
  • Tone (contrast of brightness)
  • Color or hues (red has emotional impact)
  • Direction (front, side, back lighting)

Adjustments - consider whether you can:

  • Move your subject into better light
  • Wait for the light to change
  • Change your camera position to change the light on the subject
  • Come back at a better time of day?
  • Use a filter to warm up the blue light or to reduce the glare using a polarizer
  • Decrease the contrast by using a split field neutral density filter.

Recognize superb light!

  • Magical (sunrise, sunset, moonlight, etc.)
  • Dramatic (contrasting light)
  • Edge of light
  • Soft pastel light
  • Rim lighting, god beams and sun stars
  • Side lighting increases texture, form and depth
  • Bracket superb “edge of light” situations

Spot meter the main subject area and the highlight, then adjust the exposure based on subject reflectancy.

Snow (cloudy day, textureless, bright white)+ 2
White/snow in direct sunlight/white trillium+ 1½
Very light / off white / fog / birch bark / bright yellow / sandy beach+ 1
Somewhat lighter than neutral/light green, deep yellow+ ½
Neutral/ 18% gray card0
Darker than 18% gray card/dark green foliage
Very dark/black bear-1

Determining Exposure

  • Determine what you are exposing for.
  • How much of this subject takes up the viewfinder?
  • Spot meter what you want to expose for
  • Then meter the brightest areas of the image and insure it is no more than 1 ¾ stops brighter for Velvia or 2 stops for Provia F-100 (latitude of your film).
  • Evaluate the contrast range
  • Adjust according to subject reflectancy while taking into account the highlight and contrast range.

Determine how light or dark you want the subject or the image to appear in the photograph.

For example, if you expose at what the meter says, a medium blue sky with no haze will be medium blue. By opening up one stop, the sky will be light blue. By closing down one stop, the sky will be dark blue.

Note that new technology is not a substitute for good technique and your creativity.


Polarizer - reduces reflections, shine and glare of surfaces (skin, rocks, leaves, etc.), and to increase color saturation.

Warming Filter (81B or 812) - reduces blue light and warms it on hazy or overcast days or in the shade.

Split Neutral Density Filters (both 2 and 3 stops) - reduces contrast between sky and land or water in landscape photography. Very useful for sunrises and sunsets.

Color Enhancing Filters - while this filter increases the intensity of reds, oranges and yellows, it can have a negative effect on white and greens.


Mid Tone Measurement Alternative

  • Measure 18% gray card area in the viewfinder (out of the sheen area) pointing the camera in the same direction as you want to take the photo, thus putting the gray card between the subject and the camera. Take a reading.
  • For a high contrast scene, this will overexpose the lightest areas and underexpose the darkest areas of the scene.
  • Adjust for desired outcome (i.e. close down for a light subject/high contrast image).

Meter Extremes in the Scene

  • If less than 4 stops, average in between
  • If more than 4 stops, expose for the brighter areas with slide film, darker areas for black and white film

Sunny 16 Rule

On a sunny day, set the lens at f/16 and the shutter speed equal to the film speed. For example, for ISO 200, the shutter speed is 1/250; for ISO 100, the shutter speed is 1/125.

This rule only works on a sunny, clear day on a front lit, medium tone subject. You must:

  • Stop down for light tone subjects.
  • Open up for dark tone subjects.
  • Open up 1 stop for side lit subjects.
  • Open up 2 stops for back lit subjects.

Meter the palm of your hand at the film plane angle and open up 1 stop (this is a substitute for a gray card). Use your hand as a reference in the field.

For sunrise and sunset shots, spot meter the more neutral area of color outside the sun’s brightest area, then bracket by ½ to 1 stop each way.

Often it is helpful to use a hard edge 3 stop split field neutral density filter to lower the contrast between the sky and the foreground and create more impact.

Rainbows: For deeper color, stop down ½ stop of spot meter reading.

Fog: Spot meter and open up 1 stop.


Shutter Speed (100 speed film)

  • To smooth flowing water, use 1/8 to 4 minutes.
  • To blur the ocean, use 2 second or longer (up to 4 minutes).
  • For flying birds, use a minimum of 1/250 second.

Multiple Exposures

2 exposuressubtract 1 stop or set exposure compensation to -1
4 exposuressubtract 2 stop or set exposure compensation to -2
8 exposuressubtract 3 stop or set exposure compensation to -3
16 exposuressubtract 4 stop or set exposure compensation to -4

Macro Combinations

  • Macro lens
  • Macro lens + 2 element diopter
  • Camera + 80-200mm zoom lens + diopter
  • Camera + extension tube to 200mm or 300mm lens
  • Use of light or reflector discs as fill light
  • Keep the film plane parallel to the subject plane.

The following exposure times are guidelines or starting points. However, if you can use your spot meter to meter a bright highlight and open up 2 stops, this is a better way to start. Then bracket your exposures.

SituationExposure Timef stop
City skyline15 to 30 secondsf8
Flood lit building4 secondsf8
Traffic light streaks20 secondsf16
Carnival light streaks4 secondsf16
Bright streets½ secondf8
Neon lights1/8 secondf8
Lightning30 to 45 secondsf8
Moonlit scape1 to 64 minutesf5.6 (bracket)
Campfire1/30 secondf2.8
Full moonISO speedf11
Moon scapes4 minutesf4
Star trails1 to 6 hoursf8 or f11


Using the following table:

1. Set the focusing mark on the lens to the distance indicated below the f stop selected.

2. The lens will be in focus ½ the distance from the lens to the hyperfocal distance, continuing to infinity.

For example, a 24mm lens at f16 is set to 5.6 ft. on the focusing mark, so that everything from 2.8 ft. to infinity will be in focus.

20mm5.6 ft.4 ft.2.8 ft.
24mm8 ft.5.6 ft.4 ft.
28mm11 ft.8 ft.5.6 ft.
35mm16 ft.11 ft.8 ft.

Once the hyperfocal distance is set, do not refocus the lens, even if it looks out of focus.

Updated 24-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved