Rule of Thirds

Centering a subject is not the best advice. Photo credit: Wasim Ahmad

It is hard to argue with the basic photographic advice offered by Wasim Ahmad, a former journalist who is now an assistant professor at the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University.  I offer it here because it is an excellent distillation of the tips each student should be following when they pick up a camera. Professor Ahmad says whether you are using a DSLR or a point-and-shoot camera, the fundamentals of good photography remain the same. I couldn’t say it better myself, so I am offering his excellent set of links as a guide:

1.  Follow the Rule of Thirds. The natural inclination for the beginning photographer is to put the subject smack in the center of the frame – but resist that urge. Instead, imagine a 3×3 grid laid over your image (or if you have certain cameras, you can actually turn on the grid in the viewfinder and turn off your imagination). Place your subject’s head at one of the “thirds points” – the parts of the 3×3 grid where the lines intersect. You’ll have a much more dynamic image than if the subject was sitting in the center of the frame. When placing that subject’s head – make sure you give them some room to look off at. There eyes should have what is called “look room” so they aren’t looking right at the edge of the picture.

2. Watch Out for Hot Spots.Professor Ahmad offers this advice: “Shooting around multiple light sources can be maddening. You think you have the perfect image and there’s this bright hotspot in the photo, taking your viewers’ eyes away from the subject of your photo and directly to the light.It means that when you’re shooting, you have to be keenly aware of your surroundings.”

Watch out for lights or bright objects. Photo Credit: Wasim Ahmad

3. Pay Attention to Backlighting. Ever shoot a picture of your subject only to find out their face is dark? Or the light was so bright the subject’s face is washed out? You need to move your subject around so you use the best light source. If you have a bright background this will often mean changing where the subject is standing. This is particularly true when it comes to shooting in scenes where there is a lot of light – sunsets, sand or snow.

4. Framing brings perspective This technique requires some planning. Anyone can hold a camera up and shoot it. But you want to dazzle the viewer. This means changing your perspective, looking at the subject from a different angle or vantage point. Framing offers context. It adds depth or context to the photo. A landscape by itself is pretty boring. But if you can frame the landscape by putting a person in the foreground, suddenly you have a better context for the shot.

5. Control your background. Always be conscious of your background. You don’t want a pole or church steeple sticking out of the subject’s head. It can be rather embarrassing to say the least! Frame your shot. Plan it carefully. Ask yourself: What does the background look like? When in doubt, move your subject to another location.

6. Different focal length – different story

7. Timing is everything

Using a Tripod

Most beginners don’t want to use a tripod. Who does? It is an extra piece of equipment to lug around. But after you shoot some video with your new camcorder you will immediately realize something is wrong. All that footage that you thought was shot with a nice, steady hand suddenly looks like you were jogging in place while holding the camera. Keeping the camera steadily is a challenge. That is why I recommend you use a tripod when shooting video. Basic tabletop tripods are inexpensive and can be purchased for as little as $10-$20. They are lightweight and can be carried in a backpack.

Embedding Video

You will need a place to store your videos once they are completed. I recommend you use either YouTube or Vimeo. Both will generate the embed code that allows you to then post a video on your blog. What is embed code? It is the html language that gives the location of where your video is stored. By uploading your video to YouTube or Vimeo, you have actually decided to store your video on that site. (In the the case of YouTube, you have also given Google certain permissions regarding your content but we will leave that issue to another discussion at a later date.). Once you have successfully uploaded the video, you can get the URL (uniform resource locator) or address that specifies where the video is located. You can also copy the embed code that will permit you to embed the video in WordPress.

Embedding video on your blog once you have uploaded it to YouTube can be a frustrating experience if you haven’t used WordPress before. Later versions of the popular blogging platform have made this easier, but WordPress still is not as easy to use as its Goggle-owned competitor Blogger. So why use WordPress? It is extremely flexible once you know how to use it. You can do many more things than you will ever be able to do using platforms such as Blogger or Tumblr.

What I am going to tell you next is extremely important: When you open a post, make sure the HTML tab is highlighted at the top of the editing bar. Why? This means WordPress is prepared to view the embed code as “code.” If you decided to paste with the visual tab highlighted, WordPress will view your paste as text, not HTML. When you save your post, it will show up as code, not a video.

The easiest way to get video on your blog is to simply embed it as I just described. But you may want to add video to a different location on your page or use a custom player. This is where widgets and plugins come into to play. TubePress is free plugin that will make it easy to install a sidebar or even post a group of videos from a given page. This video describes some of the basics of TubePress

TubePress offers a number of what are called short codes. Short codes are essentially pre-formatted HTML that tells WordPress where to go and what to look for. Think of short codes as a jcake mix approach to HTML. Add an egg and water and it is ready for the oven. You should be able to find these short codes here:

One particularly useful short code is the one that will allow you to display a playlist of videos. To display this list you will need to know the address or the Playlist Value assigned by YouTube. In the example that follows the BB604A85A07B197B is that value. The code you would paste into your post or your page would look something like this: tubepress mode=”playlist” playlistValue=”BB604A85A07B197B” theme=”youtube” playerLocation=”popup” hqThumbs=”true” resultCountCap=”4″

Now, we want to put an open and closed brackets that look like: [ ] We place these brackets around the code to tell WordPress. We start with the first bracket going before the T in tubepress. The final is placed after Cap=”4″. Make sure you don’t delete or disturb the quotation makes. What you just did tells WordPress: Hey, wake up ! This is HTML – please read it as code not as text. When we correctly do this, we see:

[tubepress mode=”playlist” playlistValue=”BB604A85A07B197B” theme=”youtube” playerLocation=”popup” hqThumbs=”true” resultCountCap=”4″]

How File Compression Works

In today’s world, a lot of attention is focused on producing HD (high definition) video. HD gets all the attention. And it is true that HD video is superior to non-HD in many ways. But what people forget is that video is imported in the video editor. Changes are made to edit the file. Then, it is exported in another file format, compressed and load loaded online. By the time the file reaches the Web server or YouTube where it is hosted, it is a different file. This is not necessarily bad since compressing the file makes it easier to upload, store and play in an online world. Smaller files load faster and they eat less bandwidth. So compression is generally a good thing. It makes the process faster and more efficient. But like everything, there is a trade-off.

The process of compression changes the file. The original video file loses some of its clarity and resolution. But in the Web world, these changes aren’t noticeable to most users. Why? Because the videos are played in a smaller Web format or they are being downloaded to a mobile device. This video explains some of the basics about video compression.