Thanks to modern technology; Periscope, Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr… we’re all photographers.
Or are we? Well, it’s so easy to get snap-happy at a moment’s notice these days: we just reach into our pockets for our smartphones, click away at anything and everything, and have the shots all over the internet in the next thirty seconds.
The problem is, it’s so easy to be a very bad photographer! You think you’ve taken an excellent snap of the beautiful girl standing all by herself, but what you’ve actually done is capture the awkward moment when she has closed an eye and opened her mouth. You think you’ve captured a shot of your grandparents sharing a cake on their anniversary, only to realise you captured… a blur.
While the old adage that a workman is only as good as his tools bears some truth, technique plays an equally important role in photography. Of course you need a good camera, but then you need to improve your skills if you are to get the best out if your gadget. Below are a few tips on how to improve your photography that might come in handy.
1. Know your lighting
One thing that can really make or break a snapshot is the lighting. You can use lighting for dramatic effect, but then too little or too much of it can mess up an otherwise excellent shot.
If possible, avoid taking pictures around midday. During this time, the sun is directly overhead: images will come out really flat, and there will be unflattering shadows under people’s chins, eyes and noses.
The best pictures are taken during the golden hour, as photographers call it. This is the moment one hour before dusk and an hour after dawn. The sun is lowest in the sky and light takes an almost magical quality. Objects are lit from the side instead of overhead, making the shadows softer and hues brighter, lending your images the vibrancy they need.
2. Stay Composed
Composition is one of the key yet most overlooked aspects of photography. Most photographers fail to pay attention to what’s happening on the frame, resulting in unbalanced shots, over-inclusive images, cut off feet etc.
The best technique to go about this and achieve an amazing difference is pressing the shutter halfway so that the focus is obtained and locked, before recomposing, to get the whole body in. Also, as much as you focus on your subject, pay attention to what’s behind it, because a lamp post or a tree sprouting out of your target’s shoulder or head could ruin your otherwise great shot.
3. Shoot from the right angle
Too many of us are fond of taking photos from our eye level because that’s what we have come to accept is the natural way of doing it; but actually, the image comes out much more natural-looking when the camera is brought down to the subject’s eye level.
You can also turn a simple image into a more dramatic one by changing your perspective, tilting the camera to one side, or changing its angle altogether.
4. Using the flash
One big challenge with taking photos outside is that some parts of the face cast shadows. There is however a technique known as fill-in flash that you can use to even this up. With this setting, the camera will flash even in the presence of plenty of light, eliminating the shadows and giving a better tonal range to your target.
If you’re taking shots of say lit buildings at night though, you can turn the flash off but ensure you keep the camera still due to the relatively longer exposure time.
5. Get up close and personal
Most cameras come with the Macro Mode feature which enables you to perfectly take close-up shots. While it won’t offer you the same flexibility you will find in an SLR camera’s macro lens, getting as close to the target as possible will enable you to capture full-frame pictures of large insects, flowers and other small-scale objects.
For perfect macro shots, you’ll have to experiment and see the closest you can get and still have a clear image of the object. A lot of light is needed, and due to the closeness of the lens to the object, the flash won’t be of much help in this mode. You thus need to choose a very sunny day and use the white card (if necessary) to reflect light onto the target object.
6. Understand manual and mode settings
While automatic mode would be great for most budding photographers, manual settings will give you even better results.
You can set your camera to shutter priority or aperture priority mode, depending on the camera. Aperture and shutter speed are linked, such that a fast shutter requires a large aperture, and vice versa. A large aperture is good for portraits as it blurs the background and focuses on the target.
For sports, a faster shutter is needed to freeze the action. An exception to this is when you want to shoot a racing car, for instance, and you want to throw the background out of focus and portray a sense of movement.
7. Maximise quality from the start
Always take pictures at the highest resolution, labelled as Large or L on most cameras. Use Fine or Superfine options too if your camera has them.
Compact digital cameras happen to use the JPEG format but if your camera has the TIFF or RAW options, use them because these formats don’t lose any image information, unlike JPEG.
These are among the few things you should always keep in mind every time you’re behind the camera. Just ensure you practice thoroughly, as the paramount thing.
8. Practice your photography skills
You can choose a simple household object such as a coffee table and make it your subject. Take at least 20 photos of this object under different lighting conditions, from different angles and with different focal lengths.
As you pick different items daily or even weekly, you will no longer be content with just seeing objects as they look on the surface. You will start recognising intriguing shapes, colors, shadows and patterns. Your perspective and the way you see’ will change gradually. You will become curious and want to know more on the subject. And, by the way, if you get this urge, don’t let it pass.
Study other people’s photography, especially the masters’, and find out what makes them so good. It is not about copying their work, but incorporating their tested-and-tried techniques into your style. That’s possibly how they begun too.