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The Science of Photography

The Science of Photography and Videography


Photography and Videography is a combination of science and art. Determining the subject of a photograph, the composition, color, lighting, and visualizing the final product are all the artistic components of a photograph. Determining the camera, the settings, the file types and sizes, the file storage, and the editing are the scientific components of a photograph. Each component is important, and it is necessary that the photographer understands them all as much as possible so that when the picture is taken all of those components are used to produce the best results possible. Sometimes the shot of a lifetime is ruined because the photographer wasn’t ready or couldn’t act fast enough to produce the perfect photo or video. The following information is meant to make clear and simplify the process of having the right equipment, learning how to use it, and producing a successful photo/video shoot. I will not discuss the “art” of photography as that is a personal component and I believe an individual should not be taught art. Art should be interpreted by the person as they see it and developed in their own unique style.


  1. The Camera


Today cameras are very sophisticated, and the good news is most (even cellphone cameras) will take an adequate photo/video but why are some so expensive and some are not what is the difference?


Film Cameras


Not too long ago all photographers used film cameras, basically a film camera uses a roll of film that is mechanically rolled across an area just in back of the camera’s lens. Each picture is taken when the shutter on the camera is opened by the photographer for a determined period of time that allows light reflecting off the image being shot to pass through the lens and exposing the film with that image. After a roll of film was finished, it was then processed using various chemicals that would provide the finished photo. If the film was a negative type a frame on that negative was then put into an enlarger and the photo was projected onto a piece of photographic paper producing the final print. If the film was a positive style after developing it would become a slide to be used in a slide projector for viewing. Film cameras came in a variety of sizes, and it typically meant which size of film they would use. Some popular sizes were: 110mm, 35mm, 120mm, and 4x5




Digital Cameras


A major leap in photography was the invention of the digital camera most of us use today. The basic mechanics of a digital camera is similar to a film camera with a major exception. The light passing through the lens is projected onto a “digital sensor” which is a thin substrate consisting of millions of photocells that collect light from the image and digitally store the information into the camera’s memory. The memory is typically a small card that can be removed to allow data to be transferred into a computer or storage drive.


In the beginning of digital photography, the amount of photocells on the digital sensor was relatively small about 3MP (million pixels). A “pixel” can be defined as a dot on a photo, all the dots make up the picture, so the more dots the sharper and more defined the photo. 3MP could not produce a photo that was near the quality of a film camera as film uses a dye process to create the photo not digital dots. In order to compete with a film camera, digital cameras would need to produce many more megapixels in their photos. It was a gradual shift from film to digital camera. Over about 20 years digital resolutions (more megapixels) grew and eventually overtook the film cameras quality. At about 12 MP it was hard to determine the difference unless a photo was enlarged quite a bit. With digital photos enlarging the photo means the space in between the pixels (dots) grows so the sharpness of the photo decreases. With film because it is a dye process enlarging a photo retains the quality better. Now you can see why the more MP in a digital photo the better especially if you are going to enlarge it. Digital cameras also come in different sizes and are typically described using the size of the optical sensor. Some common sizes are: ½.3, medium format, 35mm full frame, APS-H, APS-C, 1”. Of these the 35mm full frame is most desirable for professionals as it is the largest and contains the most optical sensors. Most digital cameras that have removable lenses are called DSLR (digital single lens reflex)


Mirrorless Cameras


Until recently DSLR cameras have used an internal “mirrored” system that when the shutter is tripped a mirror that is used to reflect the image up to the user’s eye is pivoted out of the way so the image can fall onto the sensor. Now the highly desirable mirrorless cameras use a system that eliminates the need for the mechanical mirror and allows the image to fall directly onto the sensor when the shutter is tripped. This allows the camera to be much quieter and more efficient as it eliminates moving parts. 




Important Note:


It is important to understand that in digital photography the more megapixels you use when you shoot the photo the better the quality”.  After taking a digital photo whatever, the megapixel count cannot be increased only decreased. If you take a photo at 16MP the final photo can only have a maximum of 16MP. If you enlarge that photo the space in between the pixels increases so the quality decreases. If the same photo is shot using 60MP there is much less space in between the pixels so an enlarged photo can still be very sharp. If you view a photo on a cellphone the screen is relatively small, so most pictures look very sharp. If you put that same picture on a big screen TV, the image quality will decrease and get “softer” so not as sharp and clear.


If you are taking important pictures, you can see now why having a camera with a high megapixel count is important. Once you take the picture you are stuck with that maximum megapixel count. Nothing is more frustrating that taking a picture of a lifetime only to find it is a low pixel count and you can never enlarge it or effectively use it on a big screen. Obviously high MP cameras are typically more expensive since the sensors and related electronics are more costly to produce. It is important when you are shopping for a camera that you determine your needs. If you are going to do commercial photography like weddings, then a high MP camera is essential as the photo quality becomes very important. Many times, wedding photos or any other commercial photo/video products will be enlarged so be sure the quality of your photos or video’s is adequate.


I will not shoot with a digital camera any less than 20MP and my #1 camera now is 64MP. For video I will not use less than 1080 x 1920 and typically I will shoot at 4K (3840 x 2160). Always keep in mind you can decrease the quality after shooting but you can’t increase it so shoot at the highest quality that is realistic. One downside of high-quality shooting of course is that is creates a larger digital file size. The nice thing is with digital photography you can easily delete bad shots. Be sure you have enough digital storage on your computer to archive many photos and videos. Large 1-4 TB (terabytes which equals 1,000 GB) external storage drives are very reasonable now.






Note: for this explanation it is assumed I am discussing lenses for a 35mm film type camera because that is where the standard started. Other camera’s lenses for different cameras like the DSLR’s are similar but the numbers may vary slightly)


Some cameras have a fixed lens that is a lens that can’t be removed from the body and has a fixed range of focal lengths. Conversely some cameras have removable lenses so you can change the lens for different situations. The description of the lenses is the same for these camera types. The most important feature of a lens is the focal length and is typically described in millimeters. As an example, when you see a lens described as a 50mm that means it gathers light reflecting from the subject at an angle of 50mm (25mm on each side of the center). If you look straight ahead, you see at an approximate angle of 50mm) the same as a 50mm lens. If a lens is less than 50mm say 28mm it is described as a wide-angle lens. Anything less than 50mm is described as wide angle. Anything greater than 50mm is described as a telephoto lens. The main difference in lenses is the angle they “see”. A zoom lens has a range of viewing angles. A zoom lens described as 28-80 means it has a range of 28mm to 80mm which makes it capable of a variety of styles of shots. When choosing a lens, you must determine what you will mainly be shooting. Outdoor landscape photographers will use more of a wide-angle lens to capture a wider photo. Wildlife photographers may use more telephoto lenses to get close up shots. Sports action photographers will use lenses that are described as “high speed” so they can freeze the action better (this will be discussed further in the camera settings section)


Lenses are further described in their f-stop range. The f-stop is a number stamped on the lens that basically describes how wide the lens can open thus how much light from the image can be passed through the lens. The low number in the f-stop range usually will be used to describe the lens. An example is: an f2.8 – 22 lens will be an f-2.8 lens, and this means the lens can open up to a maximum f-stop of 2.8 and a minimum of 22. This number also determines the “field of view” that the shot will see (described in the settings section). You will typically see that lenses with very low f-stops e.g. 1.8 are much more expensive and usually will be a larger diameter as they will allow for more light to enter.     


continue to Camera Settings