From The Rouse's mouth...
Hello, Andy here... Now I know that a lot of photographers will be reading this article and thinking that they have this skill and don't need to keep reading. In my experience this isn't the case, so many photographers put the camera in Program Mode and let the camera decide what to do - Nooooooooo!
The camera is clever but there is a limit. It doesn't know what you want to achieve, it doesn't know your style, and it only does what you tell it. If you learn to get that camera off program mode and onto one of the more creative modes then your photography will definitely improve in leaps and bounds.
Control of aperture is central to everything that I do as a professional photographer and I am glad that Andrew chose it as our first training module. I have never put the camera in control of the aperture, why would I? If I have time then I think about the picture I want to create and set the aperture accordingly. If I don't have time then I use one of two apertures that I know will work for most situations. But I always choose the aperture no matter what.
So why do you think I use aperture? It's really simple and Andrew has already talked a lot about it. I use it to control the relationship between my subject and the background. Forget all the tech stuff, this is the bottom line - it's all about the background. It can make or break an image. Sometimes I want to use the background to tell a story about where the subject lives whereas other times I just want to show the power/ beauty /sheer awesomeness (it's a rouse word and it's staying!!) of nature. If this all sounds alien to you then I'd suggest that you are one of the many program mode shooters around. As I said, the background for me dictates so much about my pictures and there are three factors that control my thought process here:
1. The type of background
If I am shooting in a desert, a grass field or on my beloved sea ice then the background is generally neutral, quite diffuse and will have little bearing on the subject provided I am careful with the basics before shooting. If I am in the close confines of woodland, a jungle (urban or otherwise) or a massive herd of animals then the background will be distracting and I need to choose my aperture carefully. Every situation is different of course!
2. The shooting angle
Aha, I bet you didn't think of this one! Gotcha, one nil Rousemeister. Imagine this. You are out in the African plains and in front of you is a big male lion. A mean one, big teeth and all that. From the safety and comfort of your vehicle you sip a G&T while taking lovely pictures of him.
Because you are shooting from the window it means that your lens is slightly higher than the head of the lion, which means that the background will be visible behind his head as you are effectively shooting downwards. Now this may or may not be a distraction but it's something that you need to be aware of. Just say that you decide to get out of the vehicle to get a lower angle and shoot from ground level. Okay, so you would be dead but let's just put that aside for a while and consider the photographic angle.
You are now shooting either level with the approaching hungry lion or slightly underneath it's head (which for some unknown reason appears to be getting rapidly bigger in the frame). This will put the background either as the horizon or the sky; both of which present other problems but they are effectively rendered out of focus. This puts all the focus squarely on the lion, which is perhaps a good thing as you can see it clearly for the last few seconds of your life.
Now please, please, please never get out of a vehicle to photograph lions or anything else. It is dangerous, incredibly so, but it can also terrify animals too. Yes I did it with lions twice, and now I have no hair and look like a Bee Gee who has been dragged through a hedge backwards. It's not a good look believe me.
3. The type of shot I want
This is actually very important to me, I don't just take what is presented to me, I work the shot to try to get what I want. This could be in terms of the light, the story to tell, an animal relationship or any combination of these.
I heard a silly phrase once, "shoot f/8 and be there” or something equally meaningless. I hate rules like this as they just teach blind allegiance and little else. What we are trying to achieve with fotoBuzz is helping you understand why real professionals make the decisions that they do so that you can apply them to your own photography. If you understand things you can make decisions quickly and that will lead to fewer missed opportunities and better pictures. The times I shoot at f/8 are few and far between. So, what is the main aperture you use I can hear you scream? Well let me work from the bottom up.
Let's have a look at how Andy uses aperture in the field to shoot his compelling wildlife images.
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