It's that time of year when it seems that everyone has their camera out. There's so much to photograph!
It's spring, the flowers are blooming and nature is ready for it's camera call. It's the time of year for graduations, proms and first communions. And, of course, wedding season is upon us too.
So with everyone getting ready to do some photography, it seems like a good time to talk about a few quick tips for taking better pictures.
It's important to know how to use your camera so that you don't miss a great shot while fiddling around with the settings and controls. Read or at least page through the manual so that you know what all the controls, buttons, switches and menus do. Learn all the basics such as how to control the flash, how to zoom in and out, how to change the focus point if your camera has multiple, where the shutter button is and how to preview your images. If your camera features more advanced functions, learn those too.
One of the easiest things that you can do to make your photos look better is to get up close and personal with your subject. A photo that features your subject up close and personal is often a stronger image because it reveals potent details of your subject, giving the photo an intimate and personal feel. This type of composition allows your subject to be seen by the viewer as the unencumbered star of the photo.
So each time you snap a photo, try to get into the habit of taking a step closer, recomposing and snapping another. Then take another step closer and shoot again. Aim to fill the frame with your subject.
I think you'll find that the images taken when closer are stronger and more compelling. You can see an example of this in the two images below. The photo on the bottom feels more personal and intimate.
The first hour or two after sunrise and before sunset are called the Golden Hours because the light during those hours is soft, diffuse and imbued with a wonderful reddish-orange color. Photographically speaking, it's light that's easy to work with and the most universally flattering sunlight of the day.
Beautiful, sunny days seem the perfect time for photography! Right? Not so much really.
Unfortunately bright and sunny days are usually not the best time for snapping pictures. That's because the strong, direct sunlight of a cloudless midday sun can cast harsh and unflattering shadows on your subject, create too much contrast, cause people to squint (never an attractive look) and leave colors looking washed out and faded.
Instead, opt to shoot on cloudy days if possible or consider moving your subject into a nearby area of open shade. In either case, you'll find the indirect light provides a soft, diffuse illumination that flatters almost any subject since it keeps strong, unflattering shadows at bay and allows the colors of the scene to be recorded in all their rich, saturated glory.
The images below show the difference that indirect light can make. The photo on the left was taken directly under a midday sun and it shows. The intense lighting causes the extreme contrast and shadowing and the colors seem bleached out. The image on the right, however, was taken in diffused light. The severe shadow contrast is gone and the colors look richer.
By the way, Mother Nature didn't cooperate to give me sudden cloud coverage for the photo above. So I created my own "shade" using the Photoflex Litedisc 52" Circular Collapsable Disc Translucent Diffuser
While your first inclination may be to set your main subject in the center of the frame, that's often not the best position if you are looking to create a compelling and dynamic image.
A centered subject, with its equal spacing on all sides, can feel static because there's no perceived need for movement. In the viewer's mind, the main subject doesn't need to move to create a balanced image because that subject is already in the center of the frame and, therefore, the scene is already visually balanced.
Moving your subject off-center can add drama and interest to a photo because it adds a sense of tension. The viewer mentally wants to balance the scene by moving the subject into the center and, so, there is an implied sense of movement.
An easy way to compose non-centered images is to employ the classic Rule of Thirds.
To see how the Rule of Thirds works, imagine dividing your photo into thirds both horizontally and vertically by superimposing four lines—two vertical and two horizontal—over the scene. The result is a tic-tac-toe-like grid as below.
When you compose your photo, place the key elements of the scene along or near one of these lines or the four points where they intersect—the sweet spots.
This simple technique will often result in a photo that is visually appealing, nicely balanced and dynamic.
As an example, consider the two photos below. The top photo features a centered composition while the on the bottom employs the rule of thirds. Which do you like better?
It's all about the eyes.
Whenever you are photographing a living creature, be aware of the eyes. Make sure that the eyes are in crisp focus in your photo. When using the rule of thirds, try to compose your image so that the eyes are at one of the four sweet spots. To add an intimate and personal feel to an image, try shooting the photo at your subject's eye level. If you are photographing children or pets, get down on their level to capture the eyes.
You will often find that simpler compositions create stronger images.
A good, strong image should be built around a single subject, idea or story. And anything in the frame that isn't part of that subject or story or that doesn't add to that idea is really just clutter. Including too many elements in a single image can make that image look messy and unfocused.
So simplify! Resist the urge to fill your photo with stuff, with elements that don't add to the composition. Ask yourself to describe the story of your image in a single sentence and then eliminate any object in your viewfinder that isn't part of that sentence.
Practically speaking, this can mean experimenting with different shooting angles to find one that isolates your subject by eliminating background clutter. Move to a different location or elevation or get down on your knees. Try zooming in or, if you have the option, switch to a larger aperture to reduce the depth of field to isolate your subject against a blurry background.
Consider the two photos below. The left photo is just too cluttered. But by getting down on my knees, zooming in and opening up my aperture, my subject—a single flower—is isolated in the photo on the right, creating a simpler—and stronger—image.
You can avoid blurry photos by learning how to work with your camera's shutter button.
Pressing the shutter button should actually be a two-step process.
After you compose you image, first press the shutter button halfway and you will feel a soft stop. When the shutter is pressed halfway, the camera knows to get ready to take a picture by determining the correct exposure and focus for the scene in the viewfinder. Then, once that process is complete, take the shot by pressing the shutter button down all the way to snap the picture.
If you skip over the first step, your camera won't have time to focus and that could mean blurry images.
And, in addition, quickly snapping the shutter button can cause camera shake and that will also mean a blurry photo. Taking the two-step will help slow you down just a bit at that most important moment to ensure that you capture the picture that you're hoping for…
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We've seen how managing the ISO setting allows you to control the amount of grain that shows in your photos. But it does more than that. Understanding and working with the ISO setting gives us added flexibility in terms of setting the other two exposure settings–aperture and shutter speed.
The bottom line is that ISO is an important and useful tool, and one that you will want to be comfortable with if you are looking to take creative control of your exposure.