Taking photographs is so easy these days that you don’t need an instruction manual any more. That is correct for 95 percent of the time, but not 100 percent of the time. Unfortunately.
There is an unfortunate concept that today’s electronic digital cameras will always provide you with great images. And the more pixels, the better. Unfortunate, because it just isn’t so!
Along with the advent of “selfies”, we also have the group photos at some event or other with a row of people all holding their thumbs up. No longer does this mean “good” it now apparently means “like” after Mr. Zuckerberg was allowed to massacre the English language with his pictogram.
If you read this column, then it goes to say that you want to improve your photography and get better pictures. While there are plenty of photography books for sale in the bookstores, most of those are of the genre, How To Photograph Crocodiles or similar. (The answer is with a very long lens, don’t bother buying the book.)
I have been asked, more than once, for a few easy ways to get better shots, so here are a dozen simple rules, which if you follow them, I will guarantee you will get better photographs. And get more photographic fun.
The first is simply to take photographs every day. Photography, like any sport, recreation or pursuit is something where the more you do it and practice it, the better you get. With memory cards and the like, it is no more expensive to shoot four as it does to shoot one!
The one major fault in most amateur photographs is taking the shot from too far away. From now on, make the subject the “hero” and walk in several meters closer to make the subject fill the frame.
Focusing! With modern auto-focus cameras the most obvious focusing problem is where the subject is off-center. The camera’s eye doesn’t know this and focuses on the central background, leaving your close-up subject soft and blurry. Focus on the subject and use the focus lock facility of your camera.
Tripods I have mentioned frequently, but one of these will expand your picture taking no end. Camera shake becomes a thing of the past, and you will take more time to compose your shots. Even a ‘mini-tripod’ is better than nothing. Get one.
Always carry a spare memory card. There is nothing worse than deleting on the run trying to get the shot of a lifetime.
Keep your interest and pride in your work by making enlargements of your better photos. This is very cheap and enlargements do make good presents at Xmas time too.
We all get lazy and it is too easy to end up just taking every picture in the horizontal (landscape) format. Make it a habit to always take at least two shots of each subject - one in the horizontal format and the other in the vertical. You can get some surprising results that way. Don’t be lazy - do it!
With color photography, which covers about 99.99 percent of most people’s pictures these days, the one major factor to give your skies and seas and scenery some color oomph is the use of a polarizing filter. Get one and use it every time the sun shines.
You will always miss some “classic” shots and regret it later, but you certainly will never get them if you don’t have a camera with you. With so many incredible photo opportunities in Thailand, you should be ready at all times!
To give your daytime shots some extra sparkle, use “fill-in” flash. Most new cameras have a little setting that will do this automatically for you - even with point and shooters. If you haven’t, then spend some time learning how to do it. It’s worth it when you see the results you get.
To give yourself the impetus to go out and take photos, develop a project and spend your leisure time building up the images. It can be flowers or fashion, cars or canaries, but fix on something and follow it through. Don’t do buses, because that’s my long time project.
Finally, at the end of every year, give the camera a birthday by buying it some new batteries. You won’t have a problem damaging the sensitive innards with neglected battery acid and the camera’s light metering system will work correctly every time. It’s cheap insurance.
Here is the list.
1. Take more shots
2. Walk several meters closer
3. Use the focus lock
4. Buy a tripod
5. Carry a spare memory card
6. Make enlargements of your better prints
7. Use different formats
8. Use a polarizing filter
9. Carry your camera with you
10. Use the flash during the day
11. Develop a project
12. Change the batteries
Get out there this weekend!
There is a trend in photographers to become technocrats and want the very latest DSLR, with all the bits and pieces that goes with it. Whilst all the paraphernalia might make the budding photographer feel good, it does not necessarily mean the photographs will be any better.
Weekend photographers who used polarizing filters in the days of film (remember waiting anxiously outside the one hour D&P shop for your prints?) have strangely seemed to avoid this filter for their digital cameras, especially DSLR’s.
If you take a look at professional photographs of people outdoors, you will see photographs of people positively ‘glowing’ with health and vitality and have you ever wondered whether people actually look like that? Sickeningly brimming full of goodness, and golden hues just radiating from their every pore.
There is an unfortunate tendency to think that children cannot take good photographs. This is wrong. Children can, and do, take good shots.
With every child and the neighbor’s dog having a smart phone these days that can take photographs, there is the starting point for the young photographers. However, please make sure they are using the phone’s camera to record something other than “selfies”.
So, if you are teaching your children to take photographs, the first lesson is to get them to take several shots of the same subject, but vary the approach. Shoot in landscape format and portrait formats. Shoot from above, low down and central positions. If possible, with your camera, use different lenses or at different extremes of a zoom lens.
Backgrounds can make or break a photograph. Teach your children to look at the background as well as at the subject. Backgrounds do not add to a shot, but they have the ability to ruin a shot. How many photographs have you made with trees growing out of people’s heads?
Another problem which shows up with many new photographers is the horizon line being off at a drunken angle. Teach your children to look critically at the framing of the shot before squeezing the shutter button. And after, when reviewing the shot in the LCD, to take it again if the horizon is skewed.
Teach your children how to hold a camera with two hands and none of this one-handed approach while waving three fingers with the other and saying “Nung, song, sam”. Despite anti-shake technology, there is a limit!
For me, one of the first ‘rules’ for photography is to Move In Closer. Make the subject fill the frame. In other words, make the subject the obvious ‘hero’ and your child will get better photos.
Another factor to teach is that when illustrating a school outing, for example, they will need to show where they went, as well as their class mates who went on the trip. This is also a time to take plenty of shots, but not 100 shots all the same!
It is important for your child to understand that good photographs are ‘made’, they just don’t happen. To sparkle up their shots, look for points of interest to include in the viewfinder. Then work out how to really use that point of interest in the shot. This may require shifting position, but is worthwhile.
No lessons on photography can go by without mentioning the Rule of Thirds. Placing the hero at the intersection of thirds can be a little hard for youngsters to understand, but even to show them to place the subject off-center can be enough.
Provided your child is a teenager, he or she is old enough to be taught the different ‘modes’ offered by almost all digital cameras these days. This includes ‘Portrait’, ‘Sports’, ‘Flash’ and ‘Fireworks’ and many others. Teach them that modes just take some of the mechanical/optical steps away from the photographer and uses the automatic functions in the camera instead. However, the modes do not signify the only way to take a sports photograph, for example.
Just as their teachers grade school homework, sit down with your budding photographer and discuss their images. Get them to understand which shots are good, and which are not so good, and why.
One of the most important items for new photographers is a small notebook and pencil. Teach your children to make notes as to the camera settings they are using for every shot. Then while going through the shots with them you can see areas where they can improve over the settings they used to take the shot. But with no notebook, both of you are flying blind.
Older children can be introduced to the basics of exposure values, using the Aperture Priority mode and the Shutter priority mode, and the concept of ISO ratings. They can then take shots moving between the three variables and have a very practical lesson in how these affect the final images.
Photography is a good hobby for children and teaches them to think and look critically at their own images. Just stop them from taking “selfies” and what they ate.
There is a tendency to put the camera away when thinking about taking photographs at night. It all seems a little hard, and the built-in flash on the camera is lucky to illuminate your shoes, let along palm trees on the beach 50 meters away.