Sep
6
2011

Helpful tips for taking better photographs

You don’t need to be a pro to take decent pictures. Here are a few simple tips, which will help you on your way.

Being able to take decent pictures of your children is magic and a skill that I think many dads acquire out of interest, as a result of having children. When my son was born, we wanted to be able to capture valuable moments and thus decided to upgrade our very first, old-school digital and buy a new camera, a compact camera, one that would fit in your trouser pocket without bringing them down to your knees, a Sony DSC-W70. Initially, while shorty was still small and not moving a lot, the camera was great, it had decent resolution and could focus well. But as he got older and learned how to transport himself, quickly, most of the pictures we took of him became blurs and smudges, which quickly became a bore. After talking with some chums and doing lots of reading about camera makes and models, we decided to buy a new one. We weren’t interested in spending loads on a new camera but we did want a camera that was good enough so that I wouldn’t be able to blame the gear for crap photos. This was good. We ended up buying a Canon 550D with a 18-55mm lens. It was way more of a camera than we had ever had in the past, a real camera, real in the sense that it had a body and a lens. This reminded me of my old Pentax K1000. I spent some time reading and re-reading the manual and ended up being able to take some decent pictures, in fact, some of the best we have of our son. Now, a few thousand pictures later, I feel that I have a decent idea regarding which settings, when correctly fiddled with, result in the best pictures.

Here are some helpful tips for taking better photographs, which includes some of the variables I focus on when taking pictures, which seem to have the greatest impact on the quality of my pictures.

 

Zoom

Zooming into your target fills up the frame with what you’re taking a picture of, and enables you to get close and personal with your target. Doing so, also enables you to capture some extra detail, detail that may very well have been left out without zooming. Filling up the frame with your target also makes a much bigger impact, much more so when compared with snaps where your target is not the most dominating element in your frame, unless of course this is intentional.

Here are to examples:

 

Shadows & Light

Shadows & light can play a magnificent role in the result of your pictures. Shadows can add some remarkable detail to a picture, and can also give your snap depth. If you’re walking through a city or a forest, notice how the light coming down through the layers above (e.g. buildings & trees) changes as it reaches your target. Notice how you can use light to emphasize the shadows in a scene and vice versa.

As an example:

 

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds (also called the golden ratio) is the aesthetically pleasing positioning-ratio in visual art (e.g. photography), which has a tendency to draw the observer’s eye into an effective placement of observed visible elements within a photographic constellation. A photographic frame is divided into nine equal parts via two equally-spaced horizontal and vertical lines. Aligning photographic elements within a frame according to this rule, creates a picture, which will have a tendency to appeal more to the observer.

The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section. The main reason for observing the rule of thirds is to discourage placement of the subject at the center, or prevent a horizon from appearing to divide the picture in half. (wikipedia)

Here is an example:

 

Exposure Settings

Mastering exposure settings (e.g. shutter speed, ISO, and aperture) can bring your pictures to life, and this is where the magic begins. Flash-bleached pictures are so yesterday; they rob your snaps of colour and can create some awful results. Slowing down shutter-speed allows more light to to enter the camera, which in turn increases the brightness of your picture. Doing so of course can make focussing a challenge, as the shutter is open for a longer time, thus introducing the potential for blurs for moving targets. Increasing ISO (e.g. 100, 200, 400, 3200, etc.) can also help add colour and light to your photos, in low light settings, but should be used with caution, as high ISO values can add grainy texture to your snaps, which can result in a shoddy product. It’s best to play with these settings and look at them on your computer, really get close to them in order to see what effects the different settings have on your pictures.

TIP: If you like the natural light of candles, and want to add it to a picture, place a lit candle somewhere where it will be seen in the frame and slow down the shutter speed. This will allow the colour of the candle to pour into the photo, which can, if done carefully, create magical effects. Try also using coloured lights (e.g. red, orange) and see how they also affect the result, you may be surprised.

Here are a couple of examples:

 

Complementary Colours

The human eye longs for the presence of complementary colours in visual elements. This is something that Johannes Itten mastered profoundly via his colour theory and via his teachings at Bauhaus. The three main colours, Red, blue, and Yellow, when combined correctly, all include each others complementary colour. Red combined with blue creates purple, which is yellow’s complementary colour. Blue combined with yellow creates green, which is red’s complementary colour, and finally, red combined with yellow creates orange, which is blue’s complementary colour. If you have a look at the first two pictures in this post of my son, leaning against a blue wall, you may also notice the orange wall on the opposite side of the path as well as the yellow pots positioned along the path. The colour of the walls, orange and blue, are complementary colours and while the pots are yellow, they are close and thus create a rather beautiful and harmonious balance in the picture.

Here are a few more examples:

 

Summary

The most important thing I have learned whilst tinkering with my camera is that you just have to take loads of pictures while at the same time paying attention to the effect the chosen settings have on the picture. If you have the Rule of Thirds in mind whilst taking pictures, then you’ll probably do slightly better than you normally would.

Outdoors, there is normally enough light to prevent the need for the flash. Find some good exposure settings that enable you to take pictures without using the flash and perfect them. learn to quickly make small changes with these settings on-the-fly and you’ll find yourself doing much better.

Finally, read your camera’s manual. Read about your favourite settings so you understand them and how they affect pictures. Having a basic understanding of what setting do to a picture, gives you the ability to make better choices, and gives you the freedom to be flexible.

If you have any masterpieces you wish to share with our readers, please send them in and we’ll be sure to post them at the end of this post for all to see.

Thanks for reading.

 

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