Ever get back from a vacation and been frustrated with your pictures? It is a common complaint. Here are some general tips that I think can help many people take better pictures:
1. Use a tripod. I know, they are a pain – it is so much easier to just hand hold the camera. But not only does using a tripod give you better picture quality by stabilizing the camera – it also forces you to slow down which is the next tip.
2. Slow Down. Take your time and really think about your picture, the composition and all the elements. Instead of rattling off 5 mediocre pictures, spend the time to take one good picture. This is where a tripod can come in helpful.
3. Own the frame. You own the frame, put in and take out whatever you need to to improve the picture. Is there a distracting tree branch showing in the upper corner of the frame? Would including flowers in the foreground help the picture? Move the camera, zoom the lens spend the time to get the just what you want in and out of the frame. It is easy to look at the subject, but take the time and move your eyes around the entire viewfinder, even into the 4 corners. A tripod comes in handy here as well.
4. Shoot early and late. The golden warm light that takes place just after sunrise and just before sunset can’t be beat. It can make an ordinary subject extraordinary. The low light usually means a longer shutter speed – again a tripod can come in handy.
5. Shoot at night and twilight. You would be surprised how well night photos can look with todays digital cameras. The hour before sunrise or after sunset can provide some interesting light as well. Cities, stars, lots of subject are better at night. Now you will definitely want a tripod.
6. Shoot in cloudy or overcast weather. Sunny days equals harsh light. Clouds or overcast conditions diffuses the light and eliminates harsh shadows much like the large panels used by fashion photographers with their models. Unlike handheld panels, clouds can diffuse an entire landscape. I’m not a big fan of white skies, if the clouds aren’t interesting, keep them out of the frame. The more clouds, the less light, the more likely the need for guess what – yep a tripod.
7. Shoot a lot! I had a photography class in college where the professor had us roll our own film to save money. This way we could shoot more. His take, if most people take 2,000 pictures a year, take 2,000 picture a month and you will learn 12 times as fast! Have you ever taken a picture that you really liked and were surprised it came out so well and you had no idea why? The more you shoot, and the more that happens, then you begin to learn what it was that gave you the results you like. Now you can begin to repeat those conditions and add to your keepers. Digital cameras make it so much cheaper to shoot volume, this can really speed up the learning process. Granted, using a tripod probably won’t help you shoot more – but it still helps for the first 6 out of 7 tips so it isn’t an excuse. 🙂
8. Experiment. Zoom, pan put the subject way over in the corner of the frame, shoot into the sun and away, anything you can think of, try it. You never know what might just work. Sometimes a mistake leads to a nice picture – well experimenting will lead to lots of mistakes, but can also result in some of your best photos as well. Heck, even try hand holding your camera every once and awhile.
9. Buy new gear. I’m not an overboard gear head, but adding a flash, filter, reflector, maybe a really wide angle or telephoto lens can be a great way to stimulate the creative juices. Of course if you don’t own one, adding a tripod can help as well :).
10. Explore. Drive down a road you normally don’t drive, or hike a trail you have never hiked. If you don’t do close-ups, spend some time on your hands and knees looking at the amazing little world at our feet. Explore with your camera.
11. Have fun! This is the most important tip of all – if you are having fun with your camera, it will show in you pictures.