Where to Point Before You Shoot

The word photography actually means 'light writing', and that's pretty much what we're doing. Cameras require light to create an image, and it's your knowledge of light and use of it that makes or breaks your work. We often joke about going away from the light when we're teasing each other before one of us tries something risky around our house, but it's a good way to remember what you need to be doing as a photographer. A lot of pictures could be saved or improved by simply changing the position of your subject so that the light isn't behind them, but is behind you, or better yet, slightly to one side. That way you add dimension to what you're shooting, rather than the slightly flat look of a fill-flash... which is another way of handling backlighting when you have no other choice. That's what I'm going to show you how to do today in a situation that we've all been in: Wanting to preserve the memory of a kid's first pro game or other event. Most of the time it's really dark up in the seats as compared to out on the field. When I'm taking pictures of the field I turn my flash off, as I don't want the distraction of the image of the strangers around me in my pictures, like the bald spot on the guy in front of me reflecting back in a big white splotch, or his attention-hound kid standing up and turning around to face me so that I can take pictures of him... No thanks, I'd rather be able to see the game, thanks! When I turn my flash off they all shadow out nicely and I keep the focus of the picture where I want it by the brightest part of my picture being what I want you to see. The setting to turn your flash off is fairly easy to find, it usually has a lightening bolt with an arrow and a big hash mark over it. Turning that off will make it easier for you to take pictures in many stadium situations or when your subject is so far away the flash won't help anyway and only highlights the baldspots of fellow spectators. I've got a couple of pictures here that show the contrast of a fill-flash versus no flash. As you can see, where we are in the stands is really dark as compared to the field and the beautiful blue sky, and the camera can't do both at once. In the first picture I have my flash turned on, but because my focus point is predominantly out in the skyline, the camera figured the dark blip in the picture was not important, and ignored it. As it turns out, I wanted the dark blip, which happened to be my son. (Isn't digital great? You can check your LCD, and say, oops, that wasn't it, let's try again! BTW, that's called 'chimping' because when we look we usually say 'ooo' like a monkey...)
Oops, didn't just want a silhouette
Not what I wanted
So this time, I pointed the camera directly at my son, putting him in the middle of the picture, basically saying 'here, dummy' to the camera, depressed the shutter button halfway to tell the camera to hold that thought, then recomposed my picture by pointing the camera where I wanted it in the first place so we could see the skyline and the big 'Safeco Field' sign in order to remember the day. That way the camera knew what the important part of the picture was, focused and set up it's exposure settings around that, and then I reframed the shot so that I got the shot I wanted.
That's better!
That's more like it!
I took these pictures with a $130 Nikon Coolpix, not anything special or amazing, and it was the first day I used it. Every camera can do this. Every camera I've ever used has that half-way point in the shutter button so you can force it to pay attention to something that it usually wouldn't. It will be a very important trick that helps you improve your photography immensely. Go play with it! It's fun!