Expert marketers have led us to believe that if you upgrade to a new camera you will be good as a pro! The costs in getting the latest and greatest camera can be in excess of $2000. Then you begin to understand the different lenses and before long you are bankrupt!
Nowadays it is the pro-consumer (prosumer) that is keeping the the digital camera market afloat. Professionals are slow to upgrade and the average consumer just uses their smartphone.
What if you were to learn that it isn't the camera that takes a the photo, it’s you! It isn't possible to take a great photo every time you push the shutter button. But, with practice you can improve your odds.
Here are 10 tips for taking better photos:
1. What is the Subject?
There are a lot of boring pictures out there. A lot of these images are taken without an obvious subject in mind. Before clicking the shutter ask yourself “What is the Subject of this photo?” The subject can be anything from a can to your grandma or the light falling across a scene. This is the most important part of a photograph and it should be obvious.
You will start to realise that a lot of photos you have taken are just good backgrounds, without an obvious subject. If this is the case, try waiting around to see if a subject will appear. This is especially true in street photography. A person walking through your "backround photo" can make all the difference.
2. Fill That Frame!
Get close to your subject. If you can’t fill the frame then crop down afterwards to simplify the scene. The easiest way to create a more powerful image is make your subject fill the frame. Hint: walk forwards!
3. Check the Edges
This it the best price/performance piece of advice on how to improve your photography. Before taking the photo run your eye around the edges of the frame. When doing this you are checking for distracting elements. These can be random posts or the branch of a tree etc. If there is something distracting move around and try to remove it from view. Two footsteps now will save you time in photoshop later.
The shot below was ruined by the post in the background. A result of rushing and not taking the time to review the edges of the frame.
4. What About the Light?
Light is what makes photography possible! Without light we would have no photography. Come to think of it you would be (not) looking at a black screen right now! Consider the direction and quality of light that is falling onto your subject.
Daytime photos are easy to make boring. Is it possible for you to come back at a different time? The light at sunrise and sunset has a warmer quality, instantly making your images more compelling. There is also less dynamic range in the image. This means that the difference in brightness between the brightest bright and the darkest dark is less than it is at high noon. Making it easier for your camera to capture all the information that it needs.
If you can’t come back at another time or plan to take your photos in “better light”, you are going to have to work with what you've got. Can you position yourself or the subject to take advantage of the light? Direct noon light will create harsh shadows on a person’s face. Completely overcast days will have flat light. This means that you will have to work harder to get those compelling shots. In situations like these it is better to work in black and white. Take the time to focus on improving your composition.
5. Raise the Shutter Speed
Keep your shutter speed fast. The longer the shutter is open the more light you let in, but any movement in the frame is also captured. It you are shooting subjects that move (think: trees, grandmas, dogs, cars etc.) then this is an important consideration.
The general rule of thumb is: 1/Focal Length. So for a 50mm lens then shoot at 1/50 or above, 35mm = 1/35 and 100mm = 1/100. This avoids blur of you moving when shooting. For moving subjects try to stay above a minimum of 1/250 of a second, unless you have to lower it because of low light. This will ensure you capture a sharp image without any motion blur.
6. Check Your Focus
Don’t always rely on your autofocus to detect the face and focus on it. When using auto focus, have a quick zoom in afterwards to check that the subject is in focus. If the subject is blurry then take it again and watch the autofocus process. You can fix a lot in photoshop, but focus is something that you cannot fix (yet) in post.
7. Missing Hands
If possible then make sure that you don’t cut off any important parts of your subject. Cutting off a hand or part of a foot can usually be avoided. Take a step back (literally). Remember in point number 3: run your eye around the frame before taking the image. See this infographic from Digital Camera World for a guide to pleasing human cropping locations. The image above ia an example of where not to crop an out of focus person.
8. Points of view
Humans see everything at eye height already. When looking at your subject think what it will look like from another angle. Would getting below or above your subject create a more compelling image? The answer is almost always YES!
Why is drone photography so popular? It gives the average person the ability to take shots from a birds eye view. Gopro cameras are in the same category. These are selling so well because of the unique points of view they can offer. Only a few years ago these viewpoints were not affordable to the general public.
The rule of thirds is the most accessible compositional technique. Divide your frame into 9 equal squares. You will often see this grid superimposed on the back of your camera in live view mode. Put your subject on one of the 4 central intersecting points. It is as simple as that.
Perfect symmetry is a tricky composition to succeed at. Unless you know how to use it well it is best to avoid it. A quick tip is to make sure your horizons are not running through the centre of the frame. If the sky is interesting, make the frame 2/3 sky and 1/3 foreground. If the foreground is more interesting (image above), then make the frame 2/3 foreground and 1/3 sky.
10. Edit Down Before Posting
Since the “digital” photography age the cost per click is almost nothing. This means people are taking more photos than ever before. This is great. It speeds up the feedback loop and can make you a better photographer, faster. Do not show people your “outtakes”. To often people come back from holiday and dump 200 photos in an album on Facebook.
Attention spans are at an all time low. After 10 photos most people will leave. If they do stay they will likely miss your good shots. Cull down your photos to the best 5-10 from any shoot before sharing. Be hard on yourself and you will grow much faster.
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Ben Kepka - The Cultured Kiwi