Lesson Three - Zoom with your camera and your feet
One of the best ways to draw attention to your intended subject is to zoom in on it. Make it the predominant feature in your photograph. Zooming in on your subject will help both by making your subject appear larger in the shot and by eliminating distracting elements. Even blank space in your photograph can be distracting to the eye, so zoom in as much as possible.
Zooming can also alter the mood of your photograph for instance by making them more intimate and more intense. One thing to consider is that zooming in will also change your Depth of Field (DOP). While it narrows the height and width of a scene, it also reduces what is in focus in front of and behind your subject.
Types of Zoom: Optical and Digital
Optical Zoom extends the lens of your camera to magnify the scene in front of you. It minimizes the appearance of distance between you and your subject without degrading the optical quality. In much the same way as moving a magnifying glass away from your eye increases the size of what you see through it; zooming a lens magnifies what your camera "sees". Another thing optical zoom does is compress the appearance of space - the space between you and your subject, but also the space between your subject and other objects. This compression can add interest to your photos or it can make things look as if they are all stacked on top of one another.
Some digital cameras offer digital zoom. Digital images are composed of pixels, and resolution refers to how many pixels an image contains. Imagine creating a painting using only tiny dots; each of these dots would represent a pixel. The smaller the dots are, the more dots you would need to fill your canvas, and the more detail you would be able to represent (high resolution). The larger the dots or pixels, the less detailed and more grainy your painting would appear (low resolution). The situation with digital cameras is the same. The more pixels your photo contains, the higher the resolution and the quality. This is why the price of a digital camera offering 6 mega-pixels (6 million pixels) is higher than one offering 3 mega-pixels.
Digital zoom selects a portion of the image and stretches it across the frame by either making the pixels larger or adding fake pixels. While both make your subject look larger, both also reduce the quality of your photograph. Increasing the size of the pixels reduces the resolution, and adding filler pixels (called interpolation) relies on your camera to guess what the filler pixels should look like (not a true representation of what you see).
An image quality degrades as the digital zoom is increased, making it appear grainy or "pixelated". You must use your own best judgment when choosing to use digital zoom. While using it can degrade the photo's quality, in some situations it can also mean the difference between getting a shot or not. A grainy picture of the elusive black rhino is better than none, right?
Digital zoom can be emulated by selecting a portion of the image with editing software, cropping it out and enlarging it.
* A word of caution: Zooming in will also magnify the effect of camera shake, one of the main causes of blurred photos, so keep your hands steady or use a tripod when you are at maximum zoom.
Another way to increase the size of your subject in frame is to walk closer. Almost anytime you have composed and taken your shot, try taking two steps closer and taking another shot. You'll be surprised how often those "two steps closer" can make a more dramatic photograph.
Walking closer will also change the perspective and therefore the weight of your subject. Moving in closer will make the subject seem larger in relation to its surroundings. This can be used to create visual impact and hold your viewer's attention, but be mindful of this when photographing people, as you can end up with photos where your subject appears to have a distorted head! Be careful not to photograph people from too close.
If you walk close enough to take extreme close-ups (macro photography) you will need to check your lens or camera's minimum focusing distance. If you go closer than this set distance, you will be unable to focus and your photos will be blurry. By changing to "Macro Mode" on your camera, you may be able to reduce the minimum focusing distance.
Example of Macro:
If you are using a point and shoot camera, because what you are viewing is not actually what the camera "sees" through the lens, you will have to adjust your composition to account for the "Parallax Effect". To visualize this, fully extend your arm in front of you and focus with only your left eye on your hand (right eye closed). Now without moving your hand, switch eyes and notice how your hand's position in the "frame" moves. Because your viewfinder and your lens are not perfectly aligned, this hand movement is very similar to what happens when you take a photo with a point and shoot camera. At an arms length, this effect is not of much significance. Now move your hand close to your face and try again. Moving your hand closer to your face increases the effect in this illustration, just as photographing in macro does with your camera. You may have to practice a bit to account for this or your viewfinder may have lines superimposed to help guide you, or if your camera has one, you can use the LCD screen.