eLearning Photography: How To Get The Best Shot

Do you have doubts about your photography skills, but need to take photos for instructional purposes? Then you’ll want to read this interview with Sumeet Moghe, avid photographer, learning specialist, and publisher of The Learning Generalist website.

Sumeet often writes about eLearning photography and agreed to share some of his knowledge and experience with us here. Read on for an inspiring interview about photography for online learning.

COACH: What basic equipment is required for a low-budget photo shoot?
SUMEET: I’d always say that the best equipment is what you already own. So if all you have is a phone camera, then that’s quite enough. There’s so much that you can do with your phone camera. There are even a few books about it (see Resources at the end) and a dedicated blog.

That said, if you’re willing to spend some cash then you might want to invest in a digital SLR camera. The beauty of these cameras is their speed, their ability to perform in low-light conditions—a great feature for those on a budget—and the fact that you can produce RAW images. Think of RAW as your digital negative. RAW let’s you correct colour, exposure and various other parameters even after your photo shoot. (See Sumeet’s article on the RAW file format.)

COACH: What equipment would you add to get to the next level?
SUMEET: For the purpose of elearning photography, a lot of times we’re shooting indoors with variable lighting conditions. Having a tripod that allows you to steady your shots and a flash with a diffuser that can help you modify the available light (on or off your camera), is a big advantage.

Be careful of GAS though…Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Having a lot of gear doesn’t make you a better photographer. Understanding the limitations of your equipment and being able to push it to its limits does. So my suggestion is always to do what you can with the equipment you have. When you know for a fact that you’ve hit a constraint, upgrade or add on.

COACH: When shooting indoors under fluorescent light, I notice the photos have a yellow tint. Would additional lighting help?
SUMEET: Actually for something like that all you need to do is a white balance correction. White balance allows you to adjust what true white and middle greys look like under the prevalent light conditions. Most cameras will give you a few white balance presets, such as Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent and Tungsten. Depending on the conditions, you can select one of these presets and you’ll get close to perfect results.

If you want to get really accurate colour reproduction, then try making yourself some gray cards (see Resources below). Most cameras these days will allow you to photograph a patch of middle gray to set white balance accurately. Even if you don’t get this 100% right in camera, you can always correct the pictures when post processing your RAW shots.

COACH: What are the guidelines for placing the lights? What are we going for?
SUMEET: Lighting is a pretty huge topic and I’m perhaps not the expert here. Depending on the situation, there’s several different ways to light a scene or a subject. David Hobby (a.k.a The Strobist) is the guru on the web for lighting tutorials and advice. I strongly advise taking his course on Lighting in Layers for anyone who wants to learn about photographic lighting.

All that said, I can give you some very basic advice about lighting:

  •  If you want to highlight features of your subject, make sure the light is in front of it/him/her. Depending on the effect you want to get, the light could be behind you, on your side, above, or below.
  • On the other hand, if you want to create drama, such as a silhouette, the light must be behind the subject.
  • The on-board flash on your camera is pretty useless in most situations. Until you get really familiar with your equipment, I suggest that you avoid using the on-board flash, except to shoot portraits in the afternoon sun. It just helps blow out the harsh shadows.

COACH: Do you have some general composition guidelines you can share, like the rule of thirds?
SUMEET: The rule of thirds is surely a basic composition technique that any photographer should keep in mind. I like to describe it this way. Divide your frame into 3 equal horizontal parts and 3 equal vertical parts. When you do this, you’ll get four intersection points. A subject that intersects any of these points is likely to attract attention from the viewer. Given that you’re effectively placing the subject off-center, in an elearning context it gives you the opportunity to place text on the other side of the image.

When designing for elearning though, if you have people or living beings as subjects for your photography, be sure to have them looking towards the text than otherwise. This creates visual harmony and makes for comfortable reading for your learners.

Composition is quite an experiential skill. While the rule of thirds is an interesting recipe for photography, there are several other interesting factors to composition. Negative space, converging lines, symmetry, balance, reference points and a sense of perspective are all interesting parameters in the perfect shot. As we try new photographs, we get a good sense of the different compositional strategies for our pictures.

COACH: In closing, what are the three best pieces of advice you can give the eLearning photographer?
SUMEET: Here are three things that will just make a world of difference to your photography.

  1. First things first, walk around the office and other real life situations to get photographs that are true to life. The idea is to make pictures than take pictures. Have an idea in your mind and try to execute it in a real world context. You may not make the most perfect picture, but you’ll make an authentic one.
  2. Second, try to get your exposure right inside the camera itself. This is where your histogram is a great diagnostic tool. If you can nail your exposure in camera, enhancing the rest of the picture is a real piece of cake. (See Sumeet’s article: Working with A Histogram.)
  3. Last but not the least, try to master composition by using a prime lens if you can. Prime lenses don’t just give you better quality, they force you to decide your own position in relation to that of your subject. And you need to do this fast. If ever there was a good way to learn about composition, prime lenses are your best tools for the purpose.

Resources:

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