Most newer digital cameras are able to compensate for human error in several different ways. But the art of composing a good shot still requires a bit of firsthand knowledge.
Avoid making an embarrassing or expensive photographic mistakes with these top photo lessons from the pros. As professional photographers, we put together the most common pitfalls that plague most of us when shooting a subject.
Here we offer you 13 tips used by professional photographers that will help you achieve not just a good photograph, but a great one. Don’t worry if you don’t remember all of them every time you take a photo. Even if you remember one or two, you will still have better than average photographs. Most importantly, have fun! There’s a wealth unique and amazing images out there still waiting to be shot.
Download your photos right away
It’s annoying enough when you fill a memory card mid-shoot and have to change to another, but if you reach into your bag and realize that you don’t have a single empty card, you’ll really be kicking yourself.
It also doesn’t impress a subject if you waste their time while you scroll through your images looking for duff shots that you can delete to create space. Save yourself the hurt, and download your images straight after every shoot. Then format the card so it’s ready to be used as soon as you need it.
Think before you shoot
Taking tons of pictures may seem like a good idea while you’re trying to capture that perfect moment, but when you transfer all those photos to your computer and start looking through them, you’re going to wish you hadn’t taken quite so many. Too many images is always a burden later. If you take the time to compose your shot, rather than hold down your shutter and hope for the best, you’ll end up with the photo you want and less work to do when you’re back at your computer.
Make wise digital decisions
If you’re shooting digital (and we’re assuming you are), don’t compromise quality. Instead, capture all the pixels you can. It’s the amount of pixels per square inch that gives quality to your images, and you wouldn’t want to take that perfect shot that can only be enlarged to the size of a credit card. So always shoot at your camera’s highest possible resolution.
Showcase your subject
Decide what you’re really taking a picture of, and center your efforts on taking the best possible photo of this subject, be it a person, place, thing, or even mood. Be sure to keep anything that would distract out of the picture. Also check the area behind the subject, looking for trees or phone poles sprouting from a person’s head. Remember, a clean background will emphasize your subject and have a stronger visual impact.
Work around your baby or kids
Photographing babies (especially your own) can be very rewarding, but it will be a frustrating nightmare if you don’t bear in mind your little one’s normal routine.
If you planned to get shots of your child’s big eyes looking into the camera and he or she is fast asleep, wait until they naturally wake up and have been fed, changed, etc or you may get ear-piercing cries and lots of tears instead.
Conversely, if the baby is wide-awake and you want shots of them asleep, you’ll just have to wait until his or her usual nap time. That’s just how it goes with babies.
Don’t be afraid to get close
Try to zoom or move in to fill the frame with your subject, and don’t be afraid to get really close. That way you can truly make an impact. Even cutting into the subject a bit can be dynamic and change the mood of the image. Use the Macro or Flower mode on your camera for smaller subjects. Even the simplest object takes on new fascination in Macro mode.
Put the person at ease
We are always talking to the people we photograph, on and off the set. The worst thing is when the photographer doesn’t say anything. Your subject is there and ready to work so give them a little direction. Children especially need to hear your voice and hear the enthusiasm in your voice while you shoot. Talking with your subject before you start will also help make a photo session go much more smooth from start to finish.
Shoot with the light behind you
If you’ve ever looked directly into a source of light, you know it’s not only unpleasant but makes it very hard to see much else around you. This same problem applies to your camera. If you point it at a light source, it’ll have trouble seeing anything else. Whether it’s the sun or just a bright lamp, whenever you notice a bright light in your frame just move so the light is behind you rather than your subject. Sure, this may take a little rearranging, but it’ll make your images more visible and generally add nice light on your subjects. It’s a win-win.
One of the most important aspects of composition is the Rule of Thirds. The basic idea is that you split your frame into three equal horizontal sections and three equal vertical sections. This creates a grid of nine boxes (like a tic tac toe board) and four main points of intersection. These four points of intersection are areas that tend to draw the eye, and that’s where you want to place your subject.
Master outdoor lighting
There are three main times of the day to keep in mind when shooting outdoor photography. If it is the middle of the day, harsh midday sunlight is especially problematic, because of dark shadows it casts on your subject. A terrific solution is your camera’s Fill Flash mode, where the camera exposes for the background first, then adds just enough flash to illuminate your subject. Use Fill Flash midday to lighten dark shadows and even on cloudy days to brighten faces and separate them from the background.
If it is early or late in the day, the light is usually best for your outdoor scenic shots. That’s when you get the warm tones and long shadows that make people and animals look great in this light.
If it is the very beginning or very end of day (also called the magic hour), this is the part of the day when the sun has just set or is just about to rise. Its brightly diffused light is the darling of photographers of hard-to-light surfaces. This even, pinkish light is terrific for shooting people.
Master indoor lighting
Working with Indoor photography can be especially tricky. Without a flash, indoor lighting tends to cast a funny color to your images. To correct this, set your white balance if shooting digital. To combat harsh shadows from an indoor flash, try covering it with diffusion material. Even bathroom tissue or a white T-shirt works. Light from a north-facing window can be exceptionally flattering. Try a “window-light” portrait, in which your subject is placed next to a window without direct sunlight coming through and then, often, turned to the side so that only part of the face is illuminated by the window’s even light.
Try other modes
Nobody is carrying a lighting kit around on their back for everyday photos, and most people don’t want to use a flash to brighten up a scene because it washes out the photo and making things look worse. That said, you have to do something when you’re in a low light situation or your image will end up too dark to be worthwhile. To control certain aspects of your exposure in order to produce desired effects, take the camera out of automatic mode, and try the other exposure modes. Pros know how to optimize their camera’s settings to make the best of a poor lighting situation and you can use that same knowledge to do the same.
The three settings that matter are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Almost every camera (with the exception of some cell phone cameras) will allow you to control the these three modes. The ISO is a number that represents how sensitive each exposure is to the light it captures. Simply set your camera’s ISO to a higher number (400 is standard for indoors, 800 or 1600 for darker circumstances) and snap the photo. This will help pull a little more light out of each picture.
Aperture refers to how wide open the lens is, and a shutter speed refers to how long you expose the camera’s sensor to light. A wider aperture means more light is let in to the camera. Widen the aperture on your camera when you need more light. This offers the fewest compromises in quality. If you still need more light, reducing the shutter speed can help but it comes with the disadvantage of potentially blurry photos. If you’re using a slower shutter speed to capture images in lower light and you are still experiencing blurring, it is because you can’t keep the camera still. Pressing the shutter while exhaling can help to solve that problem.
Keep your lens clean
This may seem obvious, but dust and smudges can ruin photos. It’s important to clean your lenses regularly and know how to do it properly. For the most part, you can get by with a soft cloth (microfiber is ideal) and some rubbing alcohol. Simply apply a little rubbing alcohol to the cloth and wipe your lens’ glass in a circular motion. As you get to the edges, try to pull the dust off as you lift up.