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ISSUE 121 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/26/2007

Practice makes perfect with pictures

By Hannah Hayes
Staff Writer

Friday, October 26, 2007

If someone asked to see your photography portfolio, what would happen?

The majority of college students would probably pull up their Facebook profiles to show off the blurry shots they've taken of keg stands or the pictures of their shiny-foreheaded friends arm in arm. Let's not even mention the people with 300 self-portraits, each perfectly framed by a protruding forearm.

If you're frustrated with your subject matter, point-and-shoot camera or lack of technical knowledge and wish you could have Facebook albums like your friends who photograph for The Manitou Messenger, better pictures are closer than you think.

"People look for one good shot," said Professor Meg Ojala, who teaches photography. "I encourage students to investigate ideas through photos."

Instead of instantly reminiscing over every shot on your display screen, try taking a lot of shots from different vantage points. It's an easy way to make your picture out of the ordinary and experiment with even the cheapest of cameras.

"Shake up your habits and force yourself to change your normal ways of taking photographs," Ojala advised students.

If you fear your 3.2 megapixel camera just isn't up to the challenge, you might be pleasantly surprised if you fool around with the setting dial for a while. Instead of getting relatively decent shots by allowing the camera to do its own thing on the automatic setting, take matters into your own hands. In most cases it's not the amount of megapixels you have but the right mode on the camera. Using a point-and-shoot more cerebrally is as easy as turning the knob to the "action" setting in high movement scenes or using the "landscape" setting in a group shot.

There are a few ways to make your self portraits stand out from the Facebook crowd, if that's your specialty. In the time it takes to find the perfect angle to take 50 pictures of your face, you could have used the self-timer and got a few good shots to prove you do indeed have two arms. Ojala suggested giving your portrait some historical context by basing the shot on another photo by a different photographer and developing it from there. Finding different images to mimic will also help you broaden your photography horizons; soon you'll find different ways to see and photograph familiar people and objects.

If you really want to kick things up a notch and are willing to make an investment, a digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera is a must-have for anyone who fancies themselves a photographer. Buying a camera like the Canon Rebel XT or the Nikon D40 opens up more possibilities for your photographic endeavors, and if you're serious about getting into photography, it's definitely worth the cash you'll fork over. The split second delay between your finger hitting the button and the shot actually being taken is worth it alone. Most point and shoot cameras have a frustratingly long delay between both these actions, sometimes resulting in the camera missing the moment.

SLRs also let you switch from pre-automated settings to manual, which puts you in control of the shutter speed and helps if you want to explore artistic ways to manipulate light. Messing around with the white balance or light settings on the camera is almost a substitute for rehab for Photoshop addicts; you can change the contrast, hue and saturation on site.

"Experiment with long exposures and a flash," Ojala recommended. "Cool stuff happens."

A willingness to experiment is how great photographers are made. Taking the time to know your camera, whatever model or style it is, and putting a little more effort into pointing and shooting could make those keg stand shots visually spectacular.

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