Have you ever wondered why some people always seem to take good pictures? And how come yours don’t turn out that well? Photographers come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak, from great to good to mediocre to downright terrible.
Great photography is something that takes time to develop – no pun intended. Photographers in that category have special talents that can’t be taught with a few paragraphs. Creating good photos can be done with some basic tips, however, and most don’t require any special talent.
Use a decent camera. Decent doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend a fortune. Many of today’s moderately-priced cameras, both digital and film, are capable of producing excellent results. Try to avoid cheap disposable-type cameras, though. And don’t expect great results with the camera feature of many cell phones. They work, but pictures aren’t what cell phones are designed for, and the absence of quality shows. If you’re using a film camera, SLR (single lens reflex) models are best. These are the types without the separate viewfinder. You’ll see why later on.
Read the camera’s instructions. It’s always tempting to shoot pictures as soon as the camera comes out of the box, and you can usually do so without harming anything. But to get the most of its features, you should know where everything is, what it does, and what to avoid. This can prevent many problems and poor photos in the future. You don’t need to study every single feature before using it, but at least learn the basics.
Point-and-shoot is a popular feature. It may be referred to as “auto,” but both mean the same thing. Nothing to set, just aim it and take a picture. But a large part of it is you, the photographer. There’s a bit more to it than simply pointing the camera and pressing the button.
When using auto, give the camera time to focus on the subject. Most digitals require you to press the shutter button down part way while the camera focuses, and then the rest of the way to take the picture. The camera must read the distance between it and the subject and react to it. If the picture is taken too quickly, before the camera has time to adjust, the photo will probably be out of focus. Wait for it. It only takes a second or two.
Regardless of your light source, have it behind you whenever you can. This will avoid your subject being in a shadow, and will produce much better results.
The viewfinder is something that’s misused constantly. Most digital cameras have a viewfinder and an electronic display screen. Use the display screen instead of the viewfinder whenever possible. About the only time you should not use the screen is when you’re in bright sunlight and the screen is difficult to see. Despite the fact that using the screen will eat the battery power a little quicker, there are many advantages.
The viewfinder and lens don’t “see” exactly the same thing, since they’re a couple of inches apart. When your subject is at a distance, it’s insignificant and you don’t have to worry about it. But when you get up close, it becomes a big issue. If you were shooting an object a foot away and centered that object in the viewfinder, the lens could very well miss it entirely, or chop off a good portion of it. Center it in the display screen and what you see is what you’ll get.
Using the viewfinder has other disadvantages. If your finger or camera strap got in the way of the lens, you wouldn’t know it by looking through the viewfinder. If you’re shooting through a window, you might take a picture of part of the window frame. There’s no chance of these errors when using the screen.
Film cameras obviously don’t have display screens, and that’s why single lens reflex models are ideal. The viewfinder looks directly through the lens, so you’ll see exactly what will appear in the picture, just like the display screen on digitals. If your film camera has only a separate viewfinder, just make sure you take these issues into consideration. Keep the fingers and camera strap clear. If you’re close to the subject, make sure the lens is pointing directly at it, and don’t rely entirely on the viewfinder. Although it can require some guesswork at times, it’s not impossible.
Use a steady hand. Gently squeeze the camera’s shutter button. Don’t push it down hard or abruptly. It’s not necessary, and doing so can cause camera movement, which nearly always results in blurred pictures. And try not to move the camera when taking the picture, unless you’re following a moving subject. Any movement of the camera usually shows up in the finished photo.
Don’t settle for just one shot unless you have no choice. Many photo opportunities offer you the chance to take more than one. If so, do it. When taking a group picture, a good rule of thumb is to take at least three shots. Someone will usually be blinking, looking away, or doing something else to spoil the shot. Take three and choose the best one. This is also true when taking a portrait of someone. No more than three, though, or your subject(s) might start to get a little irritated.
Photographing babies and small children is another area that requires several shots, so don’t be afraid to do it. They may all seem the same to you while you’re taking them, but they won’t be. Chances are one of them will stand out far and above the others. As long as the child is cooperating, get as many as you can.
If your camera has red-eye reduction, use it. It’s always frustrating to see those bright red eyes in flash pictures, but it’s not normally the fault of the photographer. It’s a phenomenon resulting from a bright flash into the wide open pupils of the subjects’ eyes. Red-eye reduction eliminates much of the redness, but it’s not totally foolproof. There are many photo retouching programs available, and it’s a good idea to get familiar with one. Once you do, eliminating red eyes is a relatively simple process.
There are other good reasons for using photo programs. You can adjust the brightness and contrast of your pictures, which improves them even more. You can control the size, and that’s very important if you want to e-mail them. Many pictures are very high resolution images when they come directly from the camera. Reducing them makes life much easier for your e-mail recipients without high-speed internet connections. Film camera users will need a scanner, but once the pictures are scanned and loaded into a computer, they can be manipulated in the photo program the same way as digital images.
The camera’s flash can also be misused, and it happens quite often. You always see people using it when shooting subjects at great distances, such as at football games, concerts, and even fireworks displays. When they did it years ago it was considered a waste of flashbulbs or cubes. Nowadays it’s just a waste of battery power. It doesn’t harm the picture, but doesn’t help it either. Flashes are only good for a limited distance. Beyond ten to fifteen feet or so, they won’t provide enough illumination, so there’s no point in using them. As long as your subjects are in good light, your pictures will come out fine without the flash. If they’re in dim light, you might as well forget it. Your flash isn’t going to help.
Windows and other glass surfaces present problems. Never use a flash when shooting through glass. This may seem obvious, but many people do it. Flashes should never be used when pointing at any reflective surface. If you’re shooting through a window, another factor to take into consideration is focus. Use manual focus instead of automatic. If your camera is set on auto, it may focus on the glass instead of the subject beyond it. The result is an out-of-focus shot.
Never have a window in your background, unless the drapes/blinds are completely closed. This is true regardless of whether it’s light or dark outside. If you take a photo of someone with a bright window behind them, the subject will undoubtedly come out too dark, since the camera will react to the window and adjust accordingly. If it’s dark outside the window and you aim a flash at it, you’ll get a big white glare that will spoil what could have been a good shot. That’s easy to correct. If you can see your reflection in the glass, move to where you can’t.
When using zoom, it’s best to place the camera on a tripod or other sturdy surface. Since most people don’t lug tripods around, go with the sturdy surface. It can be very difficult to hold the camera steady enough with just your hands. Camera movement is magnified when using zoom. This also applies to extreme close-ups.
There are many other tricks to good shots. They involve bouncing of flash, time exposures, varying shutter speeds, lens openings, and much more. There’s no need for the casual photographer to go into all of them. If you’re interested, by all means find some info and read up on it. Photography can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby. But for all the other casual photographers, simply using a little common sense and following these tips can turn you into the one that others will be talking about. The one who takes good pictures.