March 26, 2012

Ten Quick Tips To Take Better Photos

1.      Know Your Camera – I’ll say it again, know your camera. Does this sound familiar? These days’ people go out and buy the latest and greatest digital camera out there, come home, rip open the box, and then proceed to fiddle with the device. Sometimes they might briefly flick through the camera manual and then they never look at it again? Not a good idea! If you buy a digital camera, you owe it to yourself to understand its ins and outs. Take some time to read the manuals. I always carry my manuals in my camera bag. Learn how to control exposure, how to use different camera modes and how to use the flash if it has one. The knowledge you gain about the camera will be invaluable when you're out in the field taking those special photos. Even if you’re an old pro and are experienced with photography, every new camera has new and improved features that will probably surprise you.

      2.  Shoot in the highest or largest quality file your camera can produce. (preferably large RAW mode)  You can always reduce the file later, but you can't always make it bigger.  Why buy a 16 or 20 megapixel camera if you’re not going to take advantage of all those pixels? People say they don’t want to fill their cards up but face it, these days you can get a 16 GB card for as low as $10 on the Internet.  Shooting larger files also helps if you’d like to zoom in on a specific part in your photo and crop your shot while retaining a quality image.

    3.  Rule of thirds and composition – One of the most popular 'rules' in photography is the Rule of Thirds. It works like this: Imaginary lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, sort of like a tic-tac-toe game. You place important elements of your composition where these lines intersect. But like all things, rules are meant to be broken. Sometimes when you compose your shot, you either need to move your subject around or get in closer yourself. Try to frame it so that your intended content fills most of the picture area. Remember, as photographer Rick Sammon says:  ”the name of the game is to fill your frame”.

    4.  Tripods and Ballheads – I consider these “must have’s” for anyone who wants to try to take better landscape shots or for taking group photos.  They also come in handy when shooting in dim light to avoid camera shake or when you’re shooting macro style photography.  A couple useful tips when shooting on a tripod, try to use the lowest ISO and remember to turn off Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization on your lenses (if they have this feature) or else they will try to find some movement and that can also cause some vibration in itself.

5.  Cable Release cords.  If you want really tack-sharp landscape photos, then you definitely want to use a cable release cord. Believe it or not, just pushing the shutter button will cause the camera to move slightly. Remember, if you’re out shooting and forgot yours, you can always use your cameras self-timer feature in a pinch. These days just about every Digital Camera has this feature. 

    6.  Get down to their level - This is a great tip if you’re shooting kids or pets (and even flowers)  Next time your shooting photos of your kids, get down on one knee (or on the ground) and shoot at their eye level. You’ll be amazed at how much better your shots look. 

    7.  Lock the focus – Sometimes your subject is not in the center of the picture, in these cases, you might need to lock the focus to create a sharp picture. Usually you can lock the focus in three steps. First, center the subject and press and hold the shutter button halfway down. Second, reposition your camera (while still holding the shutter button) so the subject is away from the center. And third, finish by pressing the shutter button all the way down to take the picture. Most cameras these days will let you change the focal point (or points) in the camera for times like this, but I always have my center focal point active so it’s easier for me to just recompose this way. In these images of the geese, the red box shows where the focus was locked by the camera. Using my method will avoid that mistake and ensure your focus is correct.

I personally have all my DSLR's set up for Back-Button focusing which is an even more accurate focusing mode, but that is a whole lesson in itself. To find out about this feature or to see if your camera will allow you to set it up this way, Google Back-Button focusing for your camera model, you just might like it yourself. 

   8.   Try to use natural light and take lots of pictures - Digital cameras are great for this. You can experiment by taking as many test shots as you like using various camera settings, compositions, etc. You also get instant feedback by way of the LCD preview screen. If you don't like the shot, you can delete it right away. For this image of the Christmas tree (taken in Bryant Park in New York City) I wanted the natural light. I knew I’d have a little motion blur with the people walking by unless I pumped the ISO out of site so I kept it at 400 and that was ok with me. Remember the rule, “Practice Makes Perfect”.

9.  Using flash outdoors - In photography, everything is about the light.  Flash allows you to take control during those times when you don't have the luxury of great natural light. Become proficient at carrying and using flash outside and you’ll be able to take your photography to new heights. Using a little fill-flash when shooting back-lit subjects can save the day and help fill in all those dark spots, like under the eyes for example.  

  10. Take some vertical pictures – Are you one of those people who never shoot any vertical photos?  All sorts of things look better in a vertical format, anything from a lighthouse near a cliff, the Statue of Liberty or your grand-daughter jumping in a puddle. Next time you’re out shooting make a conscious effort to shoot some vertical pictures too! 

    These are just a few tips and ideas to help you take better photos. Look for another set of tips soon. Like all things, practice makes perfect.  Don’t be afraid to take a bunch of shots or to shoot something different, you might just find your own little niche.
Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!
© D. Gould Photography