It’s great when technology in a field advances to a state where the field suddenly opens up to the masses in a way that was never possible before. You could say things like YouTube have done that for the world of video, but long before that development, photography was brought into the mainstream in a whole new way with the popularisation of the digital cameras. Sure the film camera was very popular before then, but there was the developing and the waiting, all of which went out the window with digital. Now you didn’t need to think too much before taking a photo because you weren’t wasting precious film. And that is the crux of the matter. You know what the best thing is about digital photography? Anyone can now take photographs. You know the worst thing about digital photography? Anyone can now take photographs.
It shows. Most photographs taken by the average guy or gal is not quite hight-art, to put it mildly. In fact, if you’re honest with yourself you could even get yourself to admit that most people take photographs which are absolutely BAD. Now wouldn’t it be great if there were some simple tricks you could use to make your photos look better? These are the cherished memories of the people you love (most of the time), after all. They deserve to be good. If that’s the way you feel, try out these basic techniques to take your holiday snapshots and party memorabilia to a whole new level.
1. Use the vertical
The handheld camera has traditionally been a horizontal or landscape instrument. It is the way cameras are designed to be held, one of the reasons being that it is easier to hold them steady that way. But it is not the only way to take a photograph. Regular snapshots are often plagued with a boring consistency of being in the landscape format and sometimes it pays to think differently.
If you think the shot doesn’t look quite right, try turning your camera on its side and you will be surprised at how much of the difference it can make to your pictures. The camera might be designed in a landscape format, but unfortunately the world isn’t always suitably wide to fit into the frame. In fact, if you think about it, you probably spend most of your time behind your camera taking pictures of people, and the last time I checked people are most certainly not built in a landscape format. Make this simple change and you might be able to stand taller the next time you are sharing your holiday photos with friends.
2. Switch off that flash
One of the best developments in modern photography for the lay person has been automatic cameras. With auto-focus, auto-exposure, and auto-flash, you can safely take photos without a thought. Unfortunately to take good photos a bit of thinking can sometimes help, and the cameras can’t do it for you. They can only calculate. A camera doesn’t decide to turn on the flash because it thinks the picture needs more light, it just turns it on because a mathematical calculation shows that it needs more light. That mathematical calculation is not always right, and right or wrong the flash almost always ruins the final result.
Dead white faces, blue tinged scenes and people who look like they were caught in front of the blazing headlights of an oncoming truck. These are all symptoms of the photographs that relied too much on the camera’s judgement on flash usage. Try second guessing your machine, and rely on the miracle of natural light on some occasions. You might need to take a little extra care in holding the camera steady for longer exposure times, but you will marvel at the results.
3. Get close to your subject
An instant way to recognize the clueless photographer is that they stand too far away from their subject. This is fine when you need to take a wide angle shot of the grand canyon with your friends dwarfed before it for effect, but most of the time it’s not. The majority of the photos you take will be about the people, and even if you want to include some of the cool background for posterity, you will find that you need less of the background than you think.
Use the miraculous zoom lens you have on your camera. Better yet, take a few steps towards those wonderful people holding maniacal grins on their faces just for you. Don’t worry, they wont bite. And what you’ll get will be photos that are much more dramatic, much more personal, and much more beautiful than those shots you’ve been getting of whole famous buildings where you need to convince people that that tiny speck at the bottom is indeed you.
4. Use the Rule of Thirds
All good images come down to good composition. Artists and designers can spend years understanding and practising the nuances of what makes a good visual composition. But since you don’t have years to take that shot as your wife/girlfriend/miscellaneous family member balances precariously on some ledge, you need a quick fix and this is one of the easier ones. The rule of thirds isn’t so much of a rule as it is a guide line. The idea is that if you drawing lines over your image to divide it into three equal horizontal rows and three equal vertical columns, you are most likely to get an attractive result if you place your major points of interest at the intersection points of the lines or along the lines.
We don’t need to analyse why this works, but know that it does in the majority of the situations. If you’re used to putting everything smack dab in the middle of the farme and turning up some very boring shots, try this out. It can be a good rule of thumb to decide on a shot, and it rarely makes things worse. Like all rules though, once you truly learn and master it, you will have a lot of fun breaking it in creative ways.
5. Save face with telephoto
By default, most cameras have a wide-angle lens. This basically means your camera can look at a very wide view of the world around. Our own eyes are not as wide-angled and a bit more “zoomed-in”. These zoomed-in views are possible in a camera using a telephoto lens. The problem occurs when you try to take close up shots of people with a wide-angle lens. Their faces end up looking funny because this is not how you can see them with your eyes. Heads become distorted, faces seem to bulge, and arms and shoulders that are closer to the camera begin to look too large in proportion.
The way to solve this problem is to use your zoom lens and step back a little from the person when taking a portrait shot. This way you get a close up of the face without all the wide-angle distortion. Now you won’t have to hear all those complaints about you always ruining people’s faces in your photographs. Another relationship saved by the power of good photography!
Hope you enjoyed these quick tips. What are your secret formulas for taking good shots? Please share them by leaving a comment here. I would love to hear what you do to dazzle your friends with your photographic prowess. Keep on clicking.
for learning …
- Complete Digital Photography by Ben Long
- Designing a Photograph: Visual Techniques for Making Your Photographs Work by Bill Smith
- Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera by Bryan Peterson
- Advanced Photography by Michael Langford
- Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua