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Try These Tips for Taking Better Pictures

Updated on July 6, 2013

So you have a great new camera...now what?

In this lens I will provide tips and resources for moving beyond snapshot photography to taking pictures that will make your family and friends say "Wow!". You will find additional tips and resources at http://blog.erbephoto.com.

Are you taking snapshots or making photographs?

We've all taken snapshots - a scene catches our eye and we quickly raise the camera and "snap" a "shot". Occasionally, we hit on a winner. More often than not, we end up with an image in which the main subject is dead center and the background is filled with distractions. Even worse, the main subject may be out of focus or poorly exposed. In these cases, the moment is gone and the image that we hoped to capture is lost.

On the other hand, if you set out to make photographs you will spend a bit more time thinking about the elements of the scene that you wish to capture. You will be familiar with your camera and photo gear, you will have a basic understanding of the rules of composition and exposure, and you will attempt to capture the image from a variety of angles and/or distances in order to produce a pleasing image.

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Choose the proper setting(s) on your camera

WARNING: You may need to read past page 1 in your camera manual!!

I'll be the first to admit that when I open that box containing a brand spankin' new camera, the last thing I want to do is sit down and read the manual. The manual, however, is a necessary evil and your time spent with it will pay dividends in better, and more creative, images.

Most digital cameras have a so-called "dummy" setting (often represented as a green box) on the settings dial. This setting allows the camera to make all of the decisions regarding your image. Here the camera decides the aperture, the shutter speed, whether or not to fire the flash, etc. You can certainly produce quality images using this setting; however, it is to your benefit as a photographer to learn how to take more control of the decision making involved in producing your image.

At the very least, you should consider the Av and Tv options that are likely present on your settings dial.

The Av option represents the Aperture Priority setting. When using this mode, you choose an aperture (which is the size of the lens opening) and the camera chooses an appropriate shutter speed. The Av setting gives you control over the depth of field present in your image. Depth of field refers to the amount of the photograph that is in sharp focus. A small numeric aperture (e.g., f/5.6)actually lets in a lot of light and, therefore, results in a shallow depth of field. This is useful for rendering producing an image with a sharp subject against a soft, or blurred, background. A large numerical aperture (e.g., f/16) lets in relatively little light and, therefore, results in a large depth of field which keeps the foreground and background in focus.

The Tv option represents the Shutter Priority setting. When using this mode, you choose a shutter speed (or how long the shutter remains open to allow light in to the camera) and the camera chooses an appropriate aperture. This is particularly useful when you are concerned about stopping the action in a photo. A fast shutter speed (e.g., 1/1000) will freeze the action while a slow shutter speed (e.g., 1/100) will result in a blur.

ISO

Choosing "film" speed

Back in the days of film, you selected your film based on ISO, or film speed. A 100 speed film was considered a "slow" film - it required more light for proper exposure, but had very little grain. A 400 speed film, on the other hand, was a "fast" film - it required less light for proper exposure, but tended to be more grainy.

Your digital camera also has an ISO setting and the same rules apply. If you choose a low ISO, you will require longer exposure times but your images should show very little noise (i.e., grain). At high ISOs, you will require shorter exposure times but this comes at the expense of "noisier" images.

Most digital point and shoots will choose your ISO automatically. However, many also allow you to set your ISO manually. Why bother? Well, suppose you want to shoot indoors without a flash. In order to achieve an exposure time that allows you to avoid the dreaded camera shake, you could set your camera to a high ISO. Want to create that dreamy, slow moving water effect? Try a low ISO.

Composition 101

Follow these tips to avoid boring photos!

  • The Rule of Thirds - learn to see your image in thirds (horizontally and vertically) and place points of interest at the intersections of these imaginary lines
  • Use leading lines to draw the viewer's eye into the photograph.
  • Simplify! Be sure that your subject stands out - eliminate distracting background elements by adjusting your camera position or zoom.
  • Horizontal or Vertical? Your camera fits nicely in your hands in a horizontal position but don't be afraid to turn it on its side and shoot a few vertical exposures of the scene. You might find that the change of direction makes all the difference.

Use a Tripod

Are you over-caffeinated? Nervous? Just plain shaky? Are your photographs blurry? Just a bit out of focus?

Use a tripod! Your photography can benefit greatly from this simple change. Not only will a tripod eliminate much of the camera shake that you may be suffering from, but it will also help you take control of your images by forcing you to slow down and think about the image that you wish to make.

Setting your camera on a tripod will also allow you to experiment with slow shutter speeds, long exposures, and night photography. Of course, by combining your camera's self-timer with the use of a sturdy tripod, you can also include yourself in the image.

Can't stand the thought of dragging a tripod around? How about a monopod? Or, invest in an image stabilized camera and/or lens.

Recommonded Tripods & Monopods - Get Stable!

Learn how to use your flash

Your camera almost certainly has a built-in flash. Do you use it or do you let the "dummy" mode control whether or not the flash fires? Learning how and when to use you flash can make a significant difference in the overall quality of your images.

As an example, think about that portrait of your friends that you shot in strong sunlight. Remember the deep shadows on the faces of your hat-sporting compadres? Using a fill-flash in this situation would open up those shadows, resulting in a much better image.

How about those images from your visit to the aquarium? Did you capture the fish and sea mammals or simply the reflection of your flash off the glass enclosure?

Check your camera manual and learn how to control your flash. Better yet, if you camera allows, invest in an external flash unit. The external flashes are more powerful and provide far more options than the built-in flash on most cameras.

Choose the Correct White Balance Setting

Lose that color cast

Digital cameras, including most point and shoot varieties, offer several options for white balance. White balance is used to make the whites (and grays) in your image appear neutral (as opposed to having a noticeable color cast). Many of these cameras will automatically choose the white balance setting for your image; however, as with most automatic choices, it may be to your advantage to have a say in this choice.

In addition to the automatic setting, typical digital cameras will offer settings for indoor light (tungsten), daylight, cloudy skies, shade, and fluorescent light. Just for fun, find a scene to photograph and take an image with the automatic white balance selected and then one with each of the other option selected. See the difference?

Reader Feedback

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    • profile image

      Dolley 2 years ago

      Woah nelly, how about them apslep!

    • profile image

      KDimmick 6 years ago

      Great lens! Blessed by an angel and featured on my angel lens :)

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Thanks for the photo advice. I'm hoping to move up to a higher level camera in the future, but until then I'm learning with what I have.