I’ve seen a million of these posts before, and if I were to write another one next week, it’s likely to have about 6 different things in it. But for this week at least, here are 10 tips to improve your photography :)
- Be very conscious about what your subject is before you take the shot. Knowing what story you want to tell is key to figuring out the best way to tell it. What lens you should use, what angle, what depth of field and shutter speed etc. Photography is an interpretive art, so knowing what you are trying to interpret is pretty important., Think and decide before you compose the shot, what it is you are trying to emphasize. So much depends on that initial choice.
- Shoot lots of frames. Don’t expect the first shot is the best you can do. You have to work the subject. Digital is FREE, so try all sorts of different angles, camera viewpoints and orientations, even times of day. Look at them and decide which one is working better. Work the subject again. You can delete all the other shots if you want. You only want the HERO shot! :)
- Ensure you are shooting with a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake if you’re shooting handheld. There is a guide for this (shutter speed should be equal or greater than the inverse of your focal length) or if you shoot in Aperture Priority you should explore the option of turning Auto ISO on as it takes care of that rule for you. If you have Image Stabilisation on your lens, turn that on too. Camera shake is evil and needs to be destroyed from the world! :)
- Try different camera orientations. Portraits tend to work better in portrait orientation and landscapes in landscape orientation. It’s funny that…but it’s true. You can, of course, get great portraits in landscape orientation and vice versa, but it’s probably smarter to start with the logical orientation. I always try and shoot both orientations no matter what subject I am shooting.
- Come in closer. Particularly for portraits or shots of specific objects, photos look a lot better when the subject fills the frame. A portrait, for example, is about the eyes and the face and if they are filling 1/100th of the frame, then perhaps you are too far away. Personally, I like pretty tight crop portraits, head and shoulders, but don’t shoot from the other side of the road. :)
- Keep it clean and simple. Photography is a graphic art and shots that are clean and simple, as opposed to cluttered and busy, tend to work much better. Photography is a reductive art and it’s often more important what we take out than what we keep in. Choose your backgrounds well and pass your eye around the frame before you shoot to see if there are elements you’d like to remove from the shot.
- Chase impact. Impact is what gives photos that eye-grabbing quality we are all chasing. There are many elements that contribute to impact, including the aforementioned simplicity, but also contrast. Contrast is also a bit more complex that what we might first think. It can provide separation (of subject to background), good colour schemes (colour contrast is an art in itself) as well as arty stuff like conceptual contrast (the use of contrasting subject matter to attract the eye). Contrast is a huge subject and one to start thinking about.
- Always the light.. Light is the most important ingredient in a photo (at least according to me). Good light is a critical part of a good image, whereas bad lighting can ruin a beautiful subject very easily. Avoid the direct sun except at times when its contrast is lower and the qualities are beautiful (around sunrise and sunset, the sun is a much nicer light than in the middle of the day). Soft, diffused light is always a safe bet (think open shade). Look for good light and be careful of too much contrast.
- Avoid high dynamic range situations. Following directly on from the last point, cameras can only capture 12-13 stops of light at most so if a scene is too contrasty, somethings gotta give, That means either the highlights r the shadows will clip (become pure black or white.) Controlling contrast is one of the most under-considered jobs of the photographer and one of the most complex. Contrast makes things pop, but too much cannot be easily captured well, resulting in bad exposures. Go to the edge and lean into it. That’s how we learn.
- Learn how to use flash. Off camera flash is the simple most powerful tool to differentiate your photos from the masses. Not so suitable for landscapes perhaps, but most photographers rely entirely on ambient light. Learn how to bring your own light along and suddenly you have control of the contrast and the light direction and all of a sudden you have so many more choices. Even a single off camera Speedlight is a very powerful addition to the photographers toolbag.
Photography is a unique artistic pursuit and not all these tips will apply to all situations or people. The best thing is to listen to your own intuition and learn from your own photos about what you like and what you don’t.