As an introduction to the upcoming photography period on All Terrain I decided to interview my brother, Philip Dall. Phil is a professional photographer and graphic designer based in London, and although he’s shot all over the world he still feels a very strong connection to the African continent. His work can be seen at www.philipdall.co.uk/photography.
What would be your most fundamental advice to someone starting out in photography?
I’d advise them to buy a high-end point and shoot rather than an entry level DSLR. The lenses in cheap DSLRs are rubbish, and the bodies are bulky and rather plasticky. Also DSLRs are bulky – not only does this mean they’re a pain to cart around but you’re also likely to be a bit self-conscious of their size when snapping an impromptu portrait.
The best point and shoots (the Canon G15 and G1X for example) have excellent lenses, a plethora of functions, and they’re far, far smaller and more convenient. Experiment with all the different manual functions and if you find you have a knack for photography then invest in a decent DSLR.
Do you have any technical pointers for the beginner?
Familiarise with the exposure compensation function on your camera. To darken the image lower the value, to lighten the image raise it. It’s known as EV on most cameras, and values usually range from -3 to +3, with 0 representing no compensation. As a rule of thumb you’ll use a negative value in bright sunshine and a positive value in low-light.
Learn how to read your levels. When you preview an image on your camera, view it with all the info and the little graph (this is called a histogram). If your photo is overexposed the mountain in the graph will be on the right. If it’s underexposed the mountain will be on the left. A perfectly exposed picture will have most of the peak in the middle. Interestingly, when editing you can never regain an overexposed pixel, but you can correct an underexposed pixel, so if you’re going to go either way it’s far better to underexpose your pictures than to overexpose them.
Finally, never shoot in black and white on your camera. Always do this in post-production as it gives you way more control.
What about tips on composition?
The rule of thirds is an absolute fundamental of composition. Rather than putting your subject in the middle of the frame try to position them a bit to the left or the right.
With landscapes try to bring an object in the foreground into focus. (A person looking at the view, or a fencepost perhaps). At first just use auto mode, but as you get better you can tweak where the focus is by experimenting with aperture and shutter speed. I don’t want to get too technical, but the wider the aperture (lower F value) the less light the shot needs but the more specific the focus will be. A narrower aperture (high F value) will mean a greater focal range but it will take longer to expose the shot, and you may need a tripod.
I know that half of photography is about the post-production process. What would you say to someone who wants to edit their own photos?
Firstly, if you’re going to edit your shots, invest in a programme like Adobe Lightroom. Not only is it relatively affordable and great for editing (it has a plethora of really powerful editing functions) but it’s also a great way to store and manage your shots. You can give your images a star rating and then when you go through them you only look at the best ones. In the digital age it’s easy to take thousands, or hundreds of thousands of images, but without good photo management software these will quickly get lost on your hard drive.
Also, learn to crop your images. Cropping is one of the most important tools for photographers. What may be a dull shot in full form can look much better when cropped. The best way to learn is by playing around with crops – you’d be surprised at the difference a good crop can make.
Phil has put together a selection of images, all taken on the African continent, for this article. Each image illustrates some or other photography technique, trick or tip. We hope they inspire you to go out and explore our beautiful country and take loads of amazing pictures of it!