You don’t have to be a technology expert to take better pictures. The art of photography lies just as much in how you ‘see’ the world as how much you know about camera settings. So here are our top 15 tips for better photography that almost anyone can use. The more advanced your camera, the more control you’ll have over the settings, but in the end it’s the eye behind the camera that makes the difference…
1. Change your viewpoint
Don’t just shoot everything from head height. Try lying on the ground to get a worm’s eye view or getting up high on a balcony or a rooftop to look down on your subject. It can make everyday subjects look new and different.
2. Fill the foreground
If your subject is far away it can leave the foreground looking empty, so look for some interesting objects to fill it, such as a bed of flowers or a cafe table in a city scene, rocks in a landscape or a boat in a seaside scene.
3. Look for frames
Trying using natural frames for your photos, such as archways, doorways or windows. They can act as a kind of natural enclosure for your subject, whether it’s a portrait, a landscape or a photo of a landmark. It stops your viewers’ eyes from wandering out of the frame and subtly focuses attention on your subject.
4. Shoot at night
The rule with digital camera is, if you can see it, you can photograph it! You can shoot city streets at night by bracing your camera against a wall or a table and using a high ISO, but it’s better still to get a tripod, set a low ISO for best quality and use the camera’s self-timer to fire the shutter so that you don’t jog it and blur the picture.
5. Move in closer
Don’t just take ‘long’ shots. Move in closer and fill the frame with your subjects. It doesn’t matter if you crop off the edges because this can give the picture even greater impact. Try this with patterns and textures, such as fruit on a market stall or brightly-coloured fabrics.
6. Change the exposure
Digital cameras can only estimate the correct exposure – they don’t know whether your subjects are intrinsically light or dark, or how you want the picture to look. So if your picture looks too light or too dark, use the EV compensation control to reduce or increase the exposure. You’re the one who knows what you want your pictures to look like, not the camera!
7. Watch your speed
Camera shake is the single biggest cause of failed photos, so watch your camera’s viewfinder or LCD for the shutter speed indication (you can switch on info displays on most cameras). A speed of 1/30sec or below is risky for hand-held shots, and with telephoto lenses you may need to shoot at 1/250sec or faster. If the light’s too dim for the camera to use these speeds, increase the ISO setting.
8. Capture movement
You can use shutter speeds creatively on cameras with shutter-priority or manual modes. Slow shutter speeds of around 1sec will blur moving water, and 10sec or more will blur pedestrians, and turn traffic at night into trails of light. All you need is a tripod and time to experiment.
9. Switch off the flash
If you’re taking pictures in sports stadiums, theatres or museums, turn off the flash! The only way to get well-lit, natural-looking shots is to increase the ISO setting and use whatever natural lighting there is. Besides, flash is annoying for other people – it’s why photography is banned in so many places.
10. Find your focus
You can’t always trust the camera to choose what to focus on. It might pick the object nearest the camera or whatever is in the centre of the frame, depending on the focus mode. Instead, on most models you can choose the focus point manually, moving it around the frame to position it over your subject.
11. Level it up
Nothing looks worse in landscape shots than a sloping horizon, but did you know keeping the camera level can also fix converging verticals in pictures of buildings? It’s tilting the camera upwards that makes the sides appear to lean in, so move further back, keep the camera level, and the problem is fixed!
12. Stand back for portraits
If you get too close to people when you take their pictures, you exaggerate the features closest to the camera – usually noses, but sometimes chins or foreheads! Instead, move further away and use a longer zoom setting. This produces a much more natural-looking perspective.
13. Choose your moment
If the sun’s gone behind a cloud, or some people are standing in the way of your picture, just wait. It sounds obvious, but a little patience can make all the difference between the perfect photo and a near miss. Photography isn’t just about choosing your subject – it’s about choosing your moment too.
14. Change the background
Don’t become so fixed on your subject that you overlook the background. It’s actually just as important, because it can either complement your subject perfectly, or ruin the picture. So take a few moments to change your position or zoom setting to find the perfect background before you press the shutter button.
15. Lock your settings
If the camera’s not focusing on the right thing or giving you the right exposure, reframe the shot until it does and half-press the shutter release – and keep it half-pressed – to lock the focus and exposure settings. Now reframe the picture how you want it and press the shutter button the rest of the way to take the picture. It’s a lot quicker than changing the focus or exposure settings manually!
What is the single biggest thing you did to improve your photography overnight? Let us know below…