Improve Your Photos 60 Seconds at a Time
If you are tired of reading long explanations and confused by tricky photo techniques, here you can have it short and sweet. Arranged by topics, each subject takes less than 60 seconds to read.
Once you’ve read the ideas and tips, picture in your mind some photographs you have already taken. Think of how they could have been improved by applying what you have learned here. Visualize how you might have taken your photos differently. Already your photography is improving!
Dancing with light
- Light from the side brings out shapes, textures and structures. That’s why early morning and evening are rich times to photograph.
- With the sun behind your subject, you get some of the most dramatic visual effects … but exposure could be tricky to get right. Try it anyway!
- When the sun is high and the light is hard, don’t fight it to try to get it all. Concentrate on exposing the bright parts properly and work with the shapes of shadows.
- For light and shadow effects you need the sun, of course, but colours are often more intense on half-sunny or overcast days.
The color of color
- Natural light is white, while artificial light is often shades of yellow, orange or green.
- Our eyes naturally adjust to colored or tinted light sources to make them appear white and so will your digital camera but only within certain limits
- If you want warm-colored pictures work earlier or later in the day when natural light tends to be more orange.
- This image shows warm light from an evening sun but bluish shadows from the cloudless sky
- Balance the flash with day light for stunning results. Your camera may offer a ‘slow flash’ or ‘synchro flash’ or ‘daylight synchro’ setting.
- Direct flash on groups of people produces better-looking images than direct flash on a single person.
- The latest cameras allow you to set high ISO speeds e.g. ISO 800 which can help avoid using flash altogether.
- Avoid red-eye by turning up or providing more light in the room.
- If you use your camera’s red-eye reduction setting when taking flash photographs of people you avoid red-eye, but there’s a delay in taking the shot which may cause you to miss the moment.
Choosing your time
- Low or cross lighting at dawn or dusk produces wonderful lighting and colors.
- At dawn and dusk there are natural shadows to help give depth and form to your subject.
- For early evening shots, you will need longer shutter times i.e. longer exposure to make up for the low light. This makes it likely your photographs could be blurry due to camera shake, so lean your camera on something – anything steady – to keep still during exposure.
- Don’t be afraid to point the lens at a setting sun , but whatever you do avoid looking at the sun directly, especially through the viewfinder of your camera.
- It’s best to keep your horizons level in your photographs, otherwise your shots will appear crooked (unless that’s what you want!).
- Keep the main points of interest away from the centre, and from the extreme edges – better, still, try placing them in different parts of the image and see which works best.
- Don’t shoot everything from a standing position. Look for unusual angles by changing yours (and the camera’s position).
- Better to avoid completely empty space in your photos.
Framing the lines
- Don’t be afraid to use take portrait photographs – that is, with the camera on its side.
- Use natural features in the environment to create a frame for your subject or to lead the eye through the image.
- Zoom in to create a sense of intimacy. Remove from your shots elements like the sun or the sky, which give a feeling of open space.
- Experiment with framing. Try framing your shots with lots of foreground and very little sky, or lots of sky and very little land.
- Zooming-out allows you to capture more of the view.
- A wide-angle lens will keep everything in focus while helping to maximise the ‘depth of field’, or feeling of depth in your shots.
- Zooming-in will flatten the sense of perspective and make distant objects appear closer together.
- Zooming-in will also affect the amount of your picture that is in focus allowing you to isolate details against an out-of-focus foreground and/or background.
- Be careful to avoid camera shake when zoomed right in, as tiny movements in your hands become magnified.
Prospecting the perspective
- Create perspective by using the lines and shapes within the shot to draw the eye.
- Tall buildings can appear to ‘lean back’ when photographed. Getting something in the foreground of your shot helps balance this.
- Increase the sense of perspective by using a wide-angle lens and adding foreground interest.
- A low viewpoint and wide-angle setting helps to contrast the size and shape of objects in interesting ways.
- Foreground is the area that is closest to the camera: the stronger it is, the stronger the rest of the image.
- An object in the foreground first invites the eye, then lead the viewer deeper into the photo.
- Include foreground objects to add a sense of scale and perspective
- Experiment with allowing the foreground to totally dominate the photo
- The central part of your scene usually draws the camera like a magnet so it ends up in the centre – try resisting that tendency
- Place the main point of interest towards the sides of your photographs for more dynamic compositions
- Place your horizon near the top or bottom of your shots to add emphasis to the ground or to the sky
- In this picture you can see there is a smallish amount of sky while the rocks have been placed high in the image to allow the silhouette of the trees to be significant.
- The soft light you get on overcast days is especially good for photographing people, as it delivers the best skin tones
- Side or ‘cross’ lighting is more interesting because it gives depth and form to your portrait sitter
- Keep backgrounds and other distractions to the minimum so that the viewer can concentrate on the face
- In this picture, soft light from a window lights the faces of the girls from the side, while a zoomed-in setting throws the foreground face out of focus.
Depth of feeling
- Use your zoom lens to shorten the ‘depth of field’ (depth sharpness) in your photograph, and throw the background out of focus. This adds emphasis to your subject.
- Use your zoom lens to fill your photograph, rather than leaving your main point of interest floating in space.
- Zooming in will flatten perspective, which generally produces a more flattering shot of your subject.
- In this picture, a zoomed-in setting focuses on the girl, throwing the foreground objects out of focus.
- Use a person’s surroundings to be a natural picture frame the photo
- People will often smile and pose stiffly for their portrait: if you don’t want a smile take two or more pictures – a second or two after a smile, the pose relaxes and you have a more natural shot.
- Look for the natural junctions of the human body (where it seems natural to ‘cut-off’) if you are not including the whole person in the shot.
- Soft light is easiest to work with: try sitting your subject near a window.
- Get the children used to you and the camera by firing off lots of shots first.
- For small children , pre-focus the camera. This is done on most digital cameras by pressing down halfway on the shutter button. Then move yourself backwards and forwards with the child to keep the shot in focus.
- Get down on your hands and knees to stay level with your subject and appear less intimidating.
- Use something to draw the child’s attention away from the fact that they are having their photograph taken.
- Redder colors will create a warmer feel for your shots than blues or greens.
- color affects the way we look at pictures, so try to use color creatively in your shots.
- Look for images that contain contrasting colors, such as red and green or yellow and purple, to add tension or drama.
- Using shades of the same colors will create a sense of harmony.
The best light is free
- Bright sunlight gives colors a more intense or ‘saturated’ feel.
- Midday light has a bluer quality, which can give photos a harsher feel.
- Try to place strong colors against large areas of even tone or color – this helps bring out their intensity
- Look for color contrasts – red with blues and greens, for example.
- Photographs taken at the beginning or end of the day will have a warmer tone due to the natural orangeness of the light.
- Different dominant colors lead your viewer towards different emotions which impacts on the way your shot is experienced
- Yellow is associated with happiness, but orange may moves us toward concern – hence the use of amber as a warning light.
- Red is the universal color of warning. Use it with caution – a little bit of red in your shot goes a long way!
- Greens and blues usually have a calming effect, hence their association with landscape
- The many colors in this shot are held together by the large areas of yellows, giving it an unmistakeable sunny Mediterranean mood.
Lines of force
- You can create a sense of direction using naturally occurring lines.
- Slanting or ‘oblique’ lines imply movement, action and change.
- Curved lines or S-shaped lines imply quiet, calm and sensual feelings.
- Lines that converge imply depth, scale and distance, for example, the outer edges of a road converge as it disappears into the distance, giving a two-dimension image three-dimensional depth.
- Repetitive elements create a sense of rhythm, which is often more interesting if the rhythm is broken by a missed element.
- Imagine two horizontal and two vertical lines equally dividing your shot, then place subjects on the lines or where they intersect with each other: this can be a help in deciding on compositions
- Place your horizon on the top or bottom line to add emphasis to the ground or to the sky respectively.
- In this picture, the composition combines color contrasts with proportions closer to another principle, the Golden Section, which gives pleasing proportions.
- Just pushing your composition slightly to one side so it feels a little uncomfortable can give your photos a dynamic it wouldn’t otherwise have.
- The human eye is drawn to elements that are in focus, and this will influence how your photo is seen.
- Auto-focus (standard on most digital cameras) will focus on what is in the centre of the frame. Use pre-focus to move your subject away from the centre of the frame. (This is done on most digital cameras by pressing down halfway on the shutter button.)
- Use your zoom lens to reduce the ‘depth of field’ (sense of depth) and throw the background out of focus. This will emphasise any in-focus element in the foreground.
Photo © Wendy Ang
Drive your motor
- Take lots of pictures. With digital cameras shots cost you hardly anything at all.
- Move around as you photograph to experiment and give yourself plenty of choice later.
- Stay alert for that chance-of-a-lifetime shot: keep your camera turned ON, keep your mind switched to ON.
- In this picture, the golden eagle put its wing on the falconer for only a few very short seconds, and the falconer grinned for even less time!
- It is almost always worth clambering up a wall or steps to get a little higher – but don’t get yourself into trouble with authorities.
- You may also have to wait for the best light.
- And you might have to wait for a composition of passing people to arrange itself
- The best position may depend on the zoom setting that you choose.
- In this picture, I had to wait nearly thirty minutes for everyone to get themselves into position.
- Shutter lag is the time a digital camera needs to capture a picture after you have pressed the shutter button.
- Reduce shutter lag by focusing beforehand, hold the shutter button down half-way or half-pressure and wait for the moment.
- Reduce shutter lag by turning off any unnecessary automatic features such as red-eye reduction.
- In this picture, the only way to catch the air force jets at the right instant was to release the shutter just before they reached their ideal positions.
- If you see a good picture you may be early: an even better one may come in a few seconds
- Get your exposure and focusing and framing set up while you wait for the perfect shot
- Hold the camera to your eye all the time; in the half-second it takes lift the camera you could miss the shot
- In this picture, I spotted the shepherd from a car, screeched/skidded to a halt, got the car to disappear and waited for the flock to approach me – using the time to work out the best viewpoint to meet them.
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