What's the most important thing a photographer needs to take great portraits? Is it a camera that produces extremely high-resolution images? Expensive lenses? Sophisticated lighting equipment?
None of the above, according to writer and photographer Philip Greenspun. "The most important thing about portrait photography is an interest in your subject," he said.
If you don't know anything about your subjects or you don't care about them, "then don't take their photos," or at least "don't expect those photos to be good," noted Greenspun on the photo.net Web site (http://photo.net).
The Web is a great source of advice for people who want their photos to be good. Many sites offer tips on how to improve images and how to find a way through the bewildering world of photographic equipment available today.
But the current assortment of online photography sites is itself a bewildering world. Yahoo!' s main photography section (http://dir.yahoo.com/Arts/Visual_Arts/Photography) has thousands of resources in subcategories that range from Astrophotography to Zone System. Here are a few sites that may be good places to start a foray into photography.
Resources for Beginners
Yahoo! offers a Photographer's Resources subcategory (http://dir.yahoo.com/Arts/Visual_Arts/Photography/Photo graphers_Resources) that lists several sites with basic information. For instance, there's a link to the Taking Great Pictures section of the Kodak site (http://www.kodak.com/US/en/nav/takingPics.shtml), which offers information for beginners on shooting, printing, and sharing photos with both digital and film cameras.
To learn some quick, easy ways to improve your images, read the site's Top 10 Tips for Great Pictures. You even can use "online cameras"-mini applications that simulate the functions of a camera-to practice your technique. For example, one online camera lets you practice locking focus so you can move a subject to the side of an image for a more aesthetically pleasing composition.
Another site that lets you practice with simulated cameras is Photonhead.com (http://www.Photonhead.com). It offers SimCams that help you understand how the shutter and aperture work together, how film speed affects your pictures, and how to avoid camera shake.
Photonhead.com offers many other resources as well, including a Beginner's Guide to Photography, a Digital Camera Buying Guide, a collection of photography tips, and a section on photo editing.
Join a Learning Community
Greenspun launched photo.net in 1995 as a showcase for his photography and travel writing. According to an online note, the site is designed as a "photography learning community, in which more experienced photographers, both avid amateurs and professionals, provide mutual support."
photo.net offers galleries and forums in which members contribute images and advice. "[I]t is common to find contributors on the site who are now experts but who first visited the site years ago to ask beginner questions," according to the site's media kit.
The site also offers sections called Equipment, Learn, and Travel. Together, they contain more than 3,300 articles and reviews. Topics in the Learn section cover a wide range of specialized types of photography, including underwater, nature, architecture, streets, macro, concerts, nudes, ruins, star trails, and sports. There's even a section devoted to framing.
Much photography writing is highly technical; some is downright dull. But the articles in photo.net's Learn section-mostly written by Greenspun-are lively while still offering genuinely helpful howto information illustrated with plenty of example photos.
photo.net is one of the most popular photography sites on the Web. Digital Photography Review (http://dpreview.com) is another site that gets plenty of traffic, with news and reviews of the latest cameras and accessories. You also will find a buyer's guide, a gallery that shows shots taken with specific cameras, active discussion forums, a glossary, and a large database of digital camera features and specifications.
Although the emphasis at Digital Photography Review is on equipment, you can get a few tips on how to improve your shooting and processing skills in such forums as Retouching and Lighting Technique. This site also offers a Learn section, but the advice tends to address very specific situations-how to use two Canon 550ex flash units, for example, or how to download Photoshop plug-ins that let you correct barrel distortion in your images.
So Digital Photography Review might not be the best resource for a beginner who needs a Photography 101 course, but it still is a must-see site for anyone who is either starting to explore digital imaging or trying to stay up-to-date on the latest equipment. According to American Photo Magazine, Digital Photography Review is the "800-pound gorilla in the world of online imaging resources. It is a definitive reference for information about digital SLRs and point-and-shoots."
Speaking of American Photo Magazine, at this writing, the Web site for that publication is on the verge of merging with its sister publication, Popular Photography and Imaging, on PopPhoto.com.
"We think this new combined site offers a unique and comprehensive array of features and will be a vital destination for anyone interested or involved in photography, on any level," according to an online note. "At PopPhoto.com you will find an up-to-the-second buying guide for all kinds of photographic products, from DSLRs and lenses to tripods. Popular Photography and Imaging's definitive camera reviews will be searchable in new, more meaningful ways. There will be advanced and beginner tutorials from both magazines, news about contests, and portfolios from new talent and photographic masters."
The site also will feature multimedia content-streaming video and podcasts-in a PopPhotoTV section. It will include a Legends channel that offers tips from photo professionals.
Shooting Sports and Landscapes
A site recommended to me by a professional is SportsShooter.com, which calls itself "an online community and resource for sports photographers and other working photojournalists." So you won't find a lot of beginner info, but SportsShooter also "serves as an informative and inspiring site for anyone who aspires to be on the sidelines capturing great moments at their favorite sporting venue," according to the site's editors.
Sports Shooter originally was an e-mail newsletter founded in 1998 by USA TODAY photographer Robert Hanashiro. The newsletter was passed along to a few sports photographers, photojournalists, and colleagues. Eventually, it grew to include more than 7,000 subscribers as well as editorial contributions from other professionals. All the articles have been archived into a searchable database on SportsShooter.com, which also offers the latest photography news as well as sections such as Educate Yourself and Equipment Profiles.
Another site recommended by the professional-a site with more basic information-is The Luminous Landscape (http://www.luminous-landscape.com), with regular columns, essays, reviews, discussion forums, information on workshops, and a subscription-based Video Journal. A section called Locations offers images from photogenic places worldwide.
There's also a large selection of tutorials that explain in clear, easy-to-follow language everything you always wanted to know about many different technical aspects of producing images-how to use a histogram, for instance, or how an understanding of color theory helps a photographer.
An essay on the site pointed out that "in photography, the past five years have seen tremendous change-possibly more than at any other time since its invention in the mid-19th century. That change is, of course, a consequence of the digital imaging revolution and the Internet."
Whether you aspire to be a great landscape, sports, or portrait photographer-or you just want to take a few good snapshots of your kids on vacation-the photography resources on the Internet can help you build the knowledge and skills you need to join the imaging revolution.
photo.net offers galleries and forums in which members contribute images and advice.
Thomas Pack is a writer who lives near Louisville, Ky. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Send your comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.…