April 26, 2016
I just returned from a week in Mexico! Whew!
It’s amazing what you see and learn while you are traveling. First and foremost, there are an awful lot of aspiring photographers out there. If only….I repeat…if only, they knew what they were doing! I see the I-phones, I-pads, Android phones, mirrorless cameras, DSLR’s, compact cameras, Go-Pro’s and more at every turn. And I wonder what most of them are doing? Don’t get me wrong…I am not judgmental about anyone’s choice of hardware! You can shoot a wedding with an I-phone (although it isn’t necessarily my recommendation)! Just plan it out appropriately….and the same applies to anytime you are planning to take your “stellar” shots!
Here are a few simple tips that will help you on your next “photo adventure”!
First and foremost….like I said before….don’t stress about the quality of your camera! (I always used to say “digital camera”…but you know that’s what I mean! )
It’s easy to get caught up in the “oh my” syndrome when it comes to camera equipment, and way too easy to believe that the camera you own is your downfall, or not expensive enough. But really, it doesn’t matter! Any camera can produce an amazing picture. Of course there are some digital cameras with the features, that will give you a wider dynamic range and others that may have a more responsive AF system, but that isn’t necessarily going to benefit you. Ultimately, the success of your image will really boil down to its composition – simply stated…what you put into (and leave out) of the picture, and how you set it up in the frame.
Your next challenge is to choose the right shooting mode for the job!
Your digital camera’s scene modes are fine for snapshots, but if you want to take more creative shots, then take a chance with the more advanced shooting modes. Please note that a number of today’s newer phones and apps available for those phones can provide you with a variety of shooting modes as well! See…I told you…it’s not about the hardware!
Aperture Priority (A or Av on the mode dial) is the one to choose if you want to control the depth of field – how sharp your photos are from front to back. As a result, it’s a smart choice for portraits, landscapes, macro photos – pretty much everything! Aperture Priority is a semi-automatic mode: you set the aperture, and the camera then sets a corresponding shutter speed for a ‘correct’ exposure, based on the camera’s reading of the scene.
Shutter Priority (S or Tv) works the same way, although you control the shutter speed instead, with the camera setting an appropriate aperture. This makes it a good shooting mode to plump for when you’re shooting sports and action.
Program mode (P) is like an advanced fully automatic mode, where the camera sets both the aperture and shutter speed.This makes Program mode a good choice for on-the-fly shooting where you just want to be sure you’re going to get that picture. However, you can rotate the camera dial to ‘shift’ the aperture and shutter speed combination in order to get a different effect while still maintaining the same overall exposure. I am not familiar with all of the apps out there…but based on the quick advancement happening today, I am sure you can make those adjustments on your phone as well!
Next, if you are a DSLR shooter (or even a number of the compacts today)…don’t be pressured into using the camera manually!
I am the first one to shout out the benefits of taking as much control over the camera as possible for consistent results. But here’s the truth…a lot of the automatic camera settings give perfectly good results. Let’s take white balance as the example.
The Auto White Balance (AWB) setting does a decent job in a lot of instances. It may get a bit screwed up in mixed lighting, and it can leave sunsets looking a bit lack lustre, but overall it’s pretty good at eliminating unwanted colour casts. And, truth be told…if you get really stressed about the shot, you can always do a bit of post processing on your computer!
The camera’s autofocus system is usually much faster than manual focus, although you’ll get more accurate results if you tell the camera where you want it to focus by manually selecting one of the AF (auto focus) points in the viewfinder. Again, there are apps for your phone that will let you do this as well!
Auto ISO can be another life-saver. Let the camera raise and lower the ISO sensitivity as you move from dark to bright conditions, improving your chances of taking a sharp photo. You’ll be glad you did!
What else can you do? Sometimes, you just have to wait for the right light!
This is what photography is all about, really: thinking about the light in terms of its quality, quantity and direction, and how it suits the subject of your photo. If you plan to reveal the detail in your image and want to reduce the contrast of a scene, you need to shoot when the light is soft and diffused. Outdoor portraits and macro photos look great when they’ve been taken on bright but overcast days. Not so much in the middle of the day, particularly when it is a bright, clear day! The light is just too harsh and overwhelming. Landscape photographers shoot at some crazy hours (for the best shots0! I am sure you have talked to a few who set their alarms for ridiculously early hours…and not without good reason. The rich, raking light at sunrise (and sunset) adds warmth and texture to those unique rural and coastal photos. Just flip through a photo magazine…you’ll see what I mean! And don’t forget to try experimenting with backlighting and taking your shots when your subject is lit from the side for some nice dramatic results. Of course, shoot with the sun behind you…but make sure your shadow doesn’t sneak into the shot! Just keep an eye on the light and find a great position that you’re happy with and best takes advantage of it.
While this doesn’t apply to your phones just yet, those with a camera should still know why it’s better to shoot in RAW!
Most digital cameras offers a choice of two file formats to record photos in: RAW and JPEG. If you save your photos as JPEGs, then all the choices you make in the camera will be locked into the final image. If you find that your pictures are too dark or too bright, or the colours looks wrong, then you’ll have no option, but to try and fix them in Photoshop. Lightroom or similar image-editing software. You see, the problem is that JPEGs are a compromise. Compared to some other file formats, they are really heavily compressed, and the quality gets progressively worse as you make further edits and continue saving the file. If you save a photo as a RAW file, then you’re just saving all the raw data from the camera. In fact, all digital photos are shot in the RAW file format. It’s just that if you use the JPEG option on the camera, then it processes the raw data and saves the resulting JPEG to the memory card. If you choose to save images as RAW files rather than JPEGs, then you have to process the images yourself, either in-camera with a compatible model or in software, like Lightroom. Saving the RAW file enables you to go back in time, allowing you to change some of the picture settings after you’ve taken the shot. If you want to try a different white balance or Picture Style, or tweak the exposure and sharpness? You can with RAW. But remember, you won’t be able to change the aperture, shutter speed, ISO or focus point though, so you’ll want to get these right at the time of the shot!
Be careful and try to avoid ‘clipped’ highlights!
All this means, is that if a photo is overexposed, there’s a risk of all the key detail being bleached out of the brighter areas. These ‘blown’ or ‘clipped’ highlights look ugly, and it’s usually preferable to make sure you prevent this happening when you take the shot. To do this, you need to find your camera’s brightness histogram. The histogram is the graph that can be displayed alongside a photo during playback or Live View. And you can get this is a select group of apps today as well. The histogram is your visual guide to the picture’s exposure. The highlights are on the right and the shadows are on the left. Or at least, that’s where they should be. If the histogram is squished towards the right-hand side of the display, then the picture is likely overexposed. Depending upon your camera, you can double-check this by using the camera’s Highlight Alert function, which you can find in the Playback menu. It causes areas of the picture that are potentially overexposed to blink when you play back an image. If this happens to you, learn how to use your camera’s Exposure Compensation function to reduce the exposure and take another shot.
Understand your camera’s shutter speed!
There are a lot of reasons why you can end up with a blurred photo, including the wrong autofocus mode being set on the camera and the lens not being focused in the right place. Trust me when I say, I have been on the “oops” end of a lot of blurred photos! It’s the choice of shutter speed that makes a massive difference to how sharp your photos are. The rule of thumb is that it needs to be equivalent to the focal length of the lens. Personally, I like to ensure my shutter speed is 1/125 sec. or faster to ensure I get sharp handheld shots. It is so easy to forget to check the shutter speed when you’re concentrating on getting the shot. An easy rule of thumb is…if you can hear the shutter opening…and closing, the chances are pretty good you’ll end up with blurry photos.
Why is everybody so afraid of making a mistake?
The best of the best…the pro’s, the superstars, didn’t just wake up one day and decide they were going to be great photographers and immediately start taking amazing million dollar photos. They did what the rest of us did (and occasionally still do!) Yes,they fumbled with dials and buttons, they became frustrated when their pictures turned out too dark or too bright and were ecstatic when they finally managed to take a clear/sharp photo. It was landscape legend Ansel Adams who was widely quoted as saying, “12 significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” If one of the world’s greatest photographers wasn’t too worried about his hit rate, neither should you be about yours. And it was Henri-Cartier-Bresson who said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” So, don’t worry! Take a chance! What’s the worst that could happen?
For gods sake (and mine), turn off all the sounds!
You know, the annoying beeps and clicks that happen when your camera is focusing or shooting or whatever! This tip may not improve your skills as a photographer, but it will certainly help maintain the sanity of everyone around you.
Last, but certainly not least, please, take a look at the background!
The background can make or break a shot, regardless of how stunning your subject may be. Keep your eyes open for bright and colourful objects, or other elements that will draw attention away from your focal point. One day, you just might be lucky enough to have persuaded a superstar from the pages of a magazine to pose for you.(It could happen!) But…if there’s a flashing green light in the background or a tree branch that appears to be shooting out of her head, all eyes will be on those distractions instead.
There you go…just a few thoughts that might get you on the straight and narrow!
Good luck and good shooting!