There’s an old adage that fancy equipment can only take a photographer so far – the rest has to come from within. While I believe in this to a point, as it’s hard to compete with a macro lens and its exquisite bokeh, I do believe there are some things any photographer can do with any equipment to improve the final picture that comes out of that equipment.
Here’s a few of my tips for improving your photography, no matter what camera you have. Note that these are not suggestions about composition or improving your artistic license, but practical tips regarding light, focus, and using your camera’s basic functions.
Note: While I have been using DSLR cameras for several years (and you can check out my Flickr photostream for some of my more recent photography), I purposely chose photos that were taken with a 3.2 megapixel point-and-shoot camera to help illustrate some of these points.
1. Keep Steady, keep the picture sharp and in focus
Nothing ruins a picture like it being out of focus. Your little-camera-that-could is probably trying as hard as it can, but you’ve got to help it – stay as still as possible to reduce that shake.
Here’s a few quick tips:
- Use two hands. It may seem obvious, but I’ve seen many a photo being taken with just one hand on your camera. Your camera might be light and easy to use so you don’t need two hands to focus and push the button, but it will help stabilize it with two hands. Use both!
- Bring those elbows in. The display screen on most cameras means you can see what the camera is focusing on without putting your eye to the viewfinder, but chances are you are holding it away from your body and increasing the chances of camera shake. Bring your close elbows into your body.
- Brace yourself. Put your back up to a wall, lean on a corner, sit in a chair. Do as much as you can to make yourself into a stable tripod for your camera, and take crisper pictures.
- Brace your camera. If you can’t brace yourself, at least brace your camera. Rest it on a rock, on a counter top, on a low wall to stabilize your shot as best as possible.
2. Emphasize natural light first and foremost – avoid flash when possible
If there’s one thing that’s the bane of most photography, it’s that nasty flash reflecting on the food, in a window behind your subject, or otherwise whitening out your focus unnecessarily. Try to use natural light when possible – open nearby curtains to let in more light, move the subject closer to the light and turn off additional light sources so that you can focus on photographing just that natural light. You can override your flash setting and turn it off so you can experiment with light.
3. Pay attention to where the sun is, where reflections are, and where the glare is
Sometimes a photo is just not meant to be, and the sun has a lot to do with that. Note which direction the light is coming into your photo. If you have a subject you can move, like a person, make sure the light isn’t coming directly from behind their head as you won’t see their face at all (this can be fun for silhouette photography, though). Turn them so that the light source is in front of them or slightly to the side to avoid dark shadows on one side of their face. Make sure your subjects are either completely in the sun or shadow so you don’t have blotchy pictures.
4. Get creative with your light sources
If you don’t have enough natural light to make the shot, before you give up entirely, try increasing the light coming in by reflecting off a mirror, white poster board or other reflective surface onto your subject. Or sometimes, the light can make the entire picture.
5. Use the viewfinder & change your perspective
Most beginning photographers take pictures with their cameras straight out in front of them, and digital cameras with their LCD display screens have encouraged this. Try putting your eye to the viewfinder, and change your physical perspective as well – point the camera above your head, get down on one knee or on eye-level with your subject, or even look behind you to see if you’re missing an equally gorgeous shot.
6. Isolate your subject or change the background
If you’re trying to take a picture of a person, a plate of pasta, or your dog, if that subject’s in the middle of a chaotic tableau, they’ll disappear. To make sure your subject stands out, isolate it as much as possible – ask the person to stand near a wall instead of in the middle of the room; move extra cups, napkins and menus away from your plate of pasta; get closer to your dog so you fill more of the photo’s frame with him.
7. Use the “little flower” macro option
Almost all cameras have that “little flower” or macro as a setting for close-ups. Make sure you’re using the correct setting (little flower = closeups, mountain range = longer-range) at all times, and why not try both settings if you have time? It’s a digital camera after all and you can experiment.
8. Read the manual
Probably the best and most basic advice anyone in the tech world will give you is read your camera’s manual. Why not carry it around with you for a few weeks so you can read a few pages a day, or look up the answer to a question you have about using the camera? You’ll thank yourself later. And that’s why you spent all that money on the camera, right? So you could get good at using it.
Have any questions to ask regarding improving your photography? Any tips to add?
Read these articles for more information about improving your photography:
- BBC’s How to take good photographs
- Kodak’s Top 10 tips for Great Pictures
- Lifehacker’s How to Take Great Digital Portraits