Taking a Photograph

Introduction

Representation is one of the key concepts in media studies. It refers to how media texts construct meaning through the deliberate choice of images, including camera angles and editing, layout, the use language, and the depiction of people and places. Producers have to make important decisions about how to represent social issues, events and identity.

For your media studies coursework, no matter which brief you want to follow, you will have to think critically about how you encode your message to the audience. You cannot simply point and shoot your camera and hope to achieve an A grade. Too many students think they can get away with gathering a few friends together and take some pictures. No. There has to be plenty of thought and mediation going into every shot, so they support the meaning you want to convey.

This guide will take you through the three most important concepts of taking a photograph for your media studies coursework: resolution settings on your camera; the rule of thirds; and the use of negative space.

Image Resolution

Some of you might have terrific DSLR cameras and know the difference between shutter speed and focal length. If you can create a Bokeh effect, move on to the next section. However, this is a media studies course and many of you will be using your camera phones, so you need to make sure the basic settings are appropriate for the task. Pixelated images will limit your marks.

Go to Settings and look for the Camera option. Check that the resolution, or the size and dimensions of the photographs, is set to the maximum quality. As a general rule, a bigger file size will result in a sharper image which you can then edit more effectively.

If you are shooting footage, make sure you are filming in High Definition (1080p HD) with a solid frame per second rate – 30fps will do. Be aware, however, that a minute of footage will be over 100MB and you might need somewhere else to store the files safely. If you want to attempt slow motion, try a higher frame rate of 60 fps.

Finally, you should also look at your filter settings because they can reduce the resolution of the photograph.

Framing and the Rule of Thirds

Most people will simply aim their camera directly at a person or object and stick them in the centre of the image. Scroll through the pictures of your friends and family. How many times do they appear in the middle of the composition or completely dominate the shot? This might be fine to a record a night out and a fun event, but it will not help you achieve the top grade in media studies.

Instead of having your subject in the middle of your screen or lens, try placing the most important compositional elements off-centre because that natural look will be pleasing to the eye. If you want to make your photographs more aesthetically successful, you should follow this rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds splits the image into a grid of nine equal spaces and suggests the key elements should be placed along these lines or where the lines intersect. For example, in the image below, the horizon appears on bottom line and the dark tree is positioned on a power point where two lines cross:

tree in the snowy distance
Rule of Thirds Example – “After the Snowstorm”

Notice how the blank sky takes up the top two-thirds of the photograph and the snow-covered land occupies the bottom third. One third of the image is to the right of the tree while the other two-thirds are to the left. If you line up the most interesting parts of your photograph with these points, you should get a better image.

In the next example, a close-up of a person wearing sunglasses, we can still apply the rule of thirds. Notice how she is positioned right-of-centre so her glasses, which is one of the dominant signifiers in the text, occupies a crossing point. Her hat is being pulled in such a way it the curve begins at the top of the second vertical and then runs along the bottom horizontal line. Even the raised finger seems to acknowledge the rule of thirds.

woman posing wearing sunglasses
Rule of Thirds Example

Therefore, when you are getting ready to take your photograph, divide the screen into thirds and position the key parts along these lines and intersections. Most cameras even come with a grid function so make sure you turn on the guidelines and get used to the rule of thirds. In conclusion, do not simply snap pictures of your friends.

The obvious exception to this rule is when you want to achieve symmetry in your image. You would then divide the shot in two.

Media Form and Negative Space

When you are taking pictures, you must consider how the image will be used in your product. For example, the snowy landscape above would fit a two-page spread in a magazine with the landscape bleeding across the gutter, dramatically linking both pages. There is also enough negative space for a headline and main copy. If you unsure about the meaning of these terms, you can check out their definitions later by clicking the links.

The image can also be cropped so the dimensions would suit a website banner or hero slider. Again, there is enough negative space for attention-grabbing text for the user to read and buttons to click.

The second image looks like it could go on the cover of a magazine with the stories and features displayed. However, if the image is to be used inside, you might need a little negative space for a caption to anchor the reader’s interpretation. If you followed the rule of thirds and positioned the subject off centre, then there should be enough negative space for the coloured box.

Put simply, you need to think about the negative space.

Negative space is the blank or empty areas surrounding the main subjects in a photograph. Negative space cannot be ignored whenever you are taking a photograph because it can help define the main object for the viewer. It can also show the relationship between the focal points and their background. Perhaps, like the silhouette of the tree against the white background, it will make the image more dramatic.

Conclusion

If you want to get the right look and feel for your media studies coursework, check your camera settings, search for the best spot and angle to take your pictures, and think carefully about how your images will be used in the actual product. One final tip: clean your lens properly, especially if you are using a camera on the back of your phone.

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