How to Easily Improve Your Photography

Photograph of a lily, both as shot and manually white-balanced

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

High contrast scene

CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Anybody can take a good picture but unless you have mastered some of the techniques and know your camera well, you are likely to get good images through the grace of your equipment's technical advances and pure luck.

By far the best techniques to learn to not only get a grip on your camera"s workings and begin to get creative is to learn how to use the focusing points, learn about white balance, and be able to capture high contrast scenes appropriately.

In most digital cameras and many SLR film ones, you can preset the preferred focusing points and your camera will then give preference to those points. Lets say that your subject is not in the center of the frame and you want to make sure that the entire scene, including your main subject are exposed properly and in sharp details, then you need to tell the camera which focusing point you want unless the main subject happens to be in the center of the frame.

On most Canon DSLR cameras you will get a nine point focusing screen which looks like small squares when viewed through the viewfinder; press the AF button and look through the viewfinder, then rotate the dial on the back of the camera body until you get the focusing point you want and this will be highlighted for you. Keep in-mind that you should be on manual focus for this to work best.

When all the small squares turn red again, you have set the point you want the camera to emphasize and then proceed to take the shot.

This lets you get creative because if you leave it on auto, the camera will use all points to get an overall focus with the emphasis on the center of the frame. This may render a subject that is away from the center to be slightly out of focus.

Sunflower and its corresponding histogram plus exposure compensation samples

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source
Public Domain
Public Domain | Source
+2 stops (CC BY-SA 3.0
+2 stops (CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source
+4 stops (CC BY-SA 3.0
+4 stops (CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source
-2 stops (CC BY-SA 3.0
-2 stops (CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Your camera's white balance works great in most instances but when you are faced with a scene that has one primary dominant color, then it can fool the white balance settings.

The camera will tend to try to counteract this dominant color palette and here is when blue skies or green grass can seem faded.

Take a picture of a white piece of card that fills the entire frame. Then select your camera’s custom or preset manual white balance setting.

If everything is done properly then this is the white balance that your camera will use instead of the one pre-selected by the manufacturer which may not always be the right one.

Learn how to use the exposure compensation mode. If the scene has a lot of light or dark areas the camera will automatically try to compensate and will either overexpose or underexposed the entire scene making light patches seem unnaturally too dark or making dark patches seem unnaturally too light.

This is mainly true with scenes that have large areas of dark or light like a patch of flowers which lay in the shade and the surrounding areas are in bright Sunlight.

For these types of situations press the exposure compensation button on the back of the camera body and rotate the back dial until you get a number with the plus or minus sign.

These means that you are manually compensating positively or negative.For example +1 is one more stop or -1 is one less stop.

High contrast scenes can pose a problem with even the best DSLR or SLR cameras like a scene with a white bunny in the snow or a black gorilla in a heavily shaded patch of shrubbery.

These scenes can often prove to be too much for your camera to handle properly because it may exceed the model's dynamic range.

When unsure start by taking one shot and checking that the shadows reach the left of the graph in your camera's histogram display. Then activate the highlight warning display. If the display is blinking it means that there are highlights without any detail, then your camera will not be able to capture the entire brightness range.

In the histogram display look at the levels; levels close to 0 represent shadows, levels close to the middle of the range represent mid-tones, and levels close to 255 represent highlights.

To understand a histogram keep in mind that black is on the left and white is on the right. The height of the bar signifies how many pixels are black or white.

To prevent a too light or too dark scene simply move the bar like so; with lighter images move the graph to the left and for darker ones move it to the right to get the bar as close to the center of the histogram as you can.

For a general scene in which the dark areas and the bright areas are evenly distributed try to keep the bar in the middle but for scenes that have a main subject that is too bright (white bunny) or too black (black gorilla) in relation to the surrounding space move the bar to the corresponding white (right) or black (left) side until you get a graph that you are comfortable with.

This is a lot of trial an error. Compare shots when you moved the bar and decide how much moving one side or the other works best for you.

High Contrast scene

CC BY-ND 2.0
CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

Did this help you understand some of these techniques?

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Different focusing settings

CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

© 2015 Luis E Gonzalez

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7 comments

Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 21 months ago from Planet Earth

Luis - you are such a great photographer! Thanks for these tips - I have a joy for that hobby (and I love it) but oh, my - I am still honing my skills. I'd love to be your second shooter on a project - I know I'd be learning from the best.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 21 months ago from Miami, Florida Author

Marcy, make it a habit of just taking pictures, even a few each day or when you can. Soon and little by little you begin to "see" your photos differently. Instead if seeing a good shot, you begin to notice mistakes and what you could have done differently. This is your first step, then as you grow, start trying out different techniques one at a time. Try not to leave everything on auto. Better to use manual mode and various lens sizes.


DaphneDL profile image

DaphneDL 21 months ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

Thanks for the great tips you've shared here. Now I just need to work with my camera to see if I can figure out how to do all this. I'll probably be rereading this one.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home

i use my cellphone with 5megapixel to take shots, couldn't get a perfect one


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 21 months ago from Miami, Florida Author

peachpurple: Cellphones, no matter how fancy and advanced they may be, are by their very nature, limited in how creative you can be. The ability to use various lenses, manipulate the settings (f-stop,shutter speed etc) is what gives rise to your artistic interpretation of a scene. However, cell phones do allow you to practice with angles and framing which are also two important aspects of good photography. Good to see you trying!


Blackspaniel1 profile image

Blackspaniel1 19 months ago

This is great advice. I have never thought of these things.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 19 months ago from Miami, Florida Author

Blackspaniel1: Thank you

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