Art Blog | This week, take (and share) your photography

Hello to all members of the NMS artists colony!  

This week we are taking an adventure, exploring the art of digital photography.  Of course this is not new to most of you, I’m guessing you have snapped a picture or two.  But let’s learn some basics and then try some new things!  

What is Photography? 

The word photography comes from two old Greek words “phos” meaning light and “graph” meaning to draw.  So photograph literally means to draw with light, or a drawing made with light. So photography is the art of drawing with light.

What Type of Camera Should I Use?

The type of camera you use is not important and if you have access to more than one kind, try them out to see how differently they function.  We used:

The camera on my phone

A point-and-shoot camera, also known as a compact camera

A DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex camera) – a digital camera that combines the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor.

The Main Components of a Camera

Choose any of these cameras and they will have the following main parts.  Take a minute to find and identify where they are in the camera(s) you will be using.

A lens – a piece of glass with curved sides, for concentrating or dispersing light rays. The lens captures the light from the subject and focus it on the film / light sensors. Most cameras (including smartphones of course) have a fixed, built in, lens, where in other, more professional cameras, the lens can be exchanged with other lenses.

A body, where the light sensitive medium is located, therefore the place where the image is created.

A zooming mechanism  – used to bring distant objects closer,

A flash – used to add light in case of a dark scenes,

A viewfinder – what the photographer looks through in order to compose the image. In many cameras these days, the viewfinder is a big display rather than a small window.

On/Off and various function buttons,

Understanding Camera Modes

For our purposes we will not be using the manual option available (where the user is setting the ISO, shutter speed and aperture) but instead will use the automatic mode.  Most cameras on the market come with presets or shooting modes. Auto mode tells your camera to use it’s best judgement to take the best shot that it can. For example, you will have a Landscape preset ideal for a distant focus, allowing the camera to view objects at a distance and render them well. Or, you have the Macro preset, which is the opposite. It lets you capture an object within a close range, with great clarity, while it blurs the background – a flower or a snowflake close-up for example. Other common presets are Portrait, Night Mode, Sunrise/Sunset, Night Portrait etc.


Automatic Modes

Photographing different subjects in different situations will mean you need to use different settings. Most digital cameras these days have the ability to switch a camera into modes like ‘portrait’, ‘sports’, ‘macro’ etc. 

Portrait Mode


When you switch to portrait mode your camera will automatically keep your background out of focus, ensuring your subject is the only thing in focus and is therefore the center of attention in the shot. Portrait mode works best when you’re photographing a single subject so get in close enough to your subject (either by zooming in or walking closer) so that you’re photographing the head and shoulders of them). 

Macro Mode


Macro mode lets you move your closer into your subject to take a close up picture. It’s great for shooting flowers, insects or other small objects. Keep your camera and the object you’re photographing parallel if possible or you’ll find a lot of it will be out of focus. You’ll probably also find that you won’t want to use your camera’s built-in flash when photographing close up objects or they’ll be burnt out (too bright). Lastly – a tripod or something else to rest your camera on is invaluable in macro shots as the depth of field is so small that even moving towards or away from your subject slightly can make your subject out of focus.

Landscape Mode


This mode is almost the exact opposite of portrait mode in that it sets the camera to make sure as much of the scene you’re photographing will be in focus as possible. It’s therefore ideal for capturing shots of wide scenes, particularly those with points of interest at different distances from the camera. At times you might want to consider a tripod or other method of ensuring your camera is still.

Sports Mode


Photographing moving objects is what sports mode (also called ‘action mode’ in some cameras) is designed for. It is ideal for photographing any moving objects including people playing sports, pets, cars, wildlife etc. by  attempting to freeze the action. When photographing fast moving subjects you can also increase your chances of capturing them with panning of your camera along with the subject and/or by attempting to pre focus your camera on a spot where the subject will be when you want to photograph it (this takes practice).

The Zoom Function

Zooming means modifying the lens to make distant objects appear closer. Digital zoom brings objects closer by cropping the image and magnifying it, it doesn’t modify the lens. Optical zoom changes the glass setup within the camera lens and creates images of a better quality. Some cameras offer a combination of the two.  Find out where the zoom function is on any cameras you will be using but remember that the first zoom you should be using is your feet!


When your eyes focus on an object that’s close to you, the objects far away will appear blurry. The common photography term “focus” has the same meaning. Something that is in focus is sharp, while an object that is out-of-focus isn’t sharp. Different focus areas determine if the camera is focusing on multiple points or one user-selected point.  All the cameras I use have automatic focus so as long as my camera knows what my subject is, it will take care of the focusing. To use the auto-focus function:

Press the shutter halfway down to focus on the subject you’ve picked

Frame the shot while still holding it down

Press the shutter and shoot the photo.

Holding and Steadying the Camera


Hold the camera steady with both hands. One hand is used to hold and stabilize the camera, while the other one does the same plus pressing the shutter button. Each camera has its own designated places to hold it. Some cameras even have grips, so if you have them – use them.


Hold the camera close to your body. Preferably, hold the camera when both elbows are leaned against your chest or side of your body. By that, you are letting your body act as a solid base. If necessary, lean your body against a wall. It will further improve the camera’s steadiness.


Following the former tip, you can also place your elbows on a table or any other surface, especially if the camera is heavy for them, and / or if it takes a lot of time to focus and take the 



Hold the camera straight.  While shots that are not straight can be quite effective (they can be playful or give a more ‘candid’ feel to them) it is best to check the framing of the shot is straight before hitting the shutter.

Can we just get on with the fun already?!

Ok – let’s explore!

Choose your subjects

Let’s start off by to choosing three different subjects:

One person or animal

One object

One place

Take Lots of Photos

Taking lots of images is a great way to learn different techniques of photography.  Experiment! If you approach your subjects in much the same way with every shot you will end up with very similar results. Vary your shots in a number of these ways:

shoot from different perspectives – up high, down low etc

getting in close – stepping back for a wider angle shot

moving around your subject to shoot from different sides experimenting with different settings

Check your Backgrounds

A very simple concept that can enhance an image is to check out the background of a shot to check for clutter or distraction.  Scan the background (and the foreground) of an image, and look for clutter, distraction or any other fault that might ruin the photo.

Check Your Lighting

Light plays a significant role in photo quality. The light’s origin, light’s intensity and the light direction are the most important factors, and the correct use of these factors can make the difference between a great photo and a poor one.  Look around – where is the light coming from? The sun? A window? A naked bulb? Then look at the subject – is it lighted or placed in a dark place? And therefore – will the image be dark or lighted? The most important rule is never to take images when the light is directed to the camera, the sun should always be at your back.

Get in Close and Fill Up the Frame

One of the common characteristics of the pictures many beginners take is that the subject is somewhere off into the distance, maybe because they are trying to capture too many things at the same time. So pay attention to that, and get closer if necessary – a picture of a single, clear and vivid subject may be better than a picture of many subjects which are lost in the overall scene.  If you’d like, use a paper frame from a photo to look at objects through so that you can get an idea of what the picture will look like. And get closer to the subject! If your camera includes a zoom, you can use it of course, but I’d recommend for you to first use your legs!

Review Your Images

Download your images and sit down at the computer with a parent, sibling or friend to go through your shots after you’ve been out with your camera.  As you scroll through them pause to notice what you’ve done well, what you like, as well as to point out things that you could do differently next time to improve your results. As we always practice with regards to discernment in art, be kind, be objective and pay particular attention to the shots that you did well with in order to build yourself up, not tear yourself down.

Below you can find examples of work and our thoughts.  A special thanks to Griffin Schroeder for willingly submitting work as an artist as well as being a patient subject!

We like this one best because you can see detail.

We like this one best because it shows his personality

We like this one best because of the colors including the sun.

Grif likes the angle and swings on this one.

I like the different textures shown on this one.

Action shots!

HAVE FUN with photography and please send me some photos you are particularly fond of.  I am thinking of you all each and every day!

Andrea Schroeder is an art instructor with New Morning School in Plymouth, MI.