[Written for Better Digital Photography magazine, 2004]
10 tips for taking better photos
1 Get to know your camera
There are few things more irritating when posing for pictures than having to wait ages and trying to hold a smile, while the photographer fumbles around trying to find the zoom or shutter button. Familiarise yourself with at least the basic exterior functions (and preferably the on-screen menu options) so you can react and shoot quickly.
2 Zooming in
If at all possible, avoid using the digital zoom. Since this feature works by magnifying the central portion of the frame (and, therefore, the pixels), it greatly reduces quality. It’s far better to use only the optical zoom, or move closer to the subject. Similarly, you should avoid using some of the in-camera special effects, as it’s better to apply these later. That way, you can always change your mind.
3 Foreground interest
The best scenery shots often have points of interest at different distances from the camera, rather than everything being at the horizon. A picture of a mountain, for example, will probably be more successful if you can compose the shot so that you get a lake, stream, cottage, harbour or other item of interest in the foreground.
4 Avoid camera shake
Many a potentially stunning shot has been ruined due to shaky hands. Camera shake produces an unpleasant blurring effect, which can be reduced by holding the camera steady with one hand cradling the lens barrel, and pressing gently on the shutter button rather than jabbing at it. In low-light situations when the shutter speed may be low, leading to an increased risk of shake, try resting the camera on a table, wall, or other solid object. Alternatively, pull your elbows in to your sides, press the camera into your face and try to remain as still as possible while you take the shot.
5 When to avoid flash
Sometimes the ambient mood of a setting is what makes it appealing (a candlelight room, for example). Using flash would kill the atmosphere.
Instead, either switch the flash off, rest it on a solid object and carefully press the shutter (or use the self-timer), or if your camera has it, use ‘slow’ sync’ or ‘night-flash’ which combines flash with a slow shutter speed to record the ambient surroundings.
Remember that your flash only has a range of three to four metres at best, so there’s no point using it when photographing something five miles away.
6 The golden hour
The most photogenic times of day for outdoor photography are early in the morning and late in the afternoon. At these times, the light is warmer in hue and lower in the sky, casting a more interesting and flattering light with attractive shadows.
7 Capture the moment
The best pictures – the ones that say something about a person’s personality – are usually candid, unposed shots. To get such pictures though, you must be ready for the moment, keeping a sharp eye on what is happening in front of you and trying to anticipate any great photo opportunities. Keep your camera on and ready to shoot. When you feel the moment approaching, keep your finger on the shutter, perhaps even pre-focused on the subject, if this feature is available.
8 Gaining focus
Most cameras focus on whatever is in the centre of your frame. If your main subject is off-centre, the focus sensor may well miss them and focus on the background instead. The same can happen when you’re taking a shot of two people side by side: the sensor may be aiming at the space between your subject’s heads. To avoid this, use the focus lock. Point the central part of your viewfinder (usually indicated by a square, circle or pair of brackets) at your subject, press halfway down on the shutter release, then, without releasing pressure, re-compose the shot and press the rest of the way down to take the picture.
9 Telephoto for portraits
Use the telephoto for portraits. Pictures of people usually look more flattering if you zoom in a bit from slightly further away. Using the wide-angle setting from up close makes their nose and chin appear longer and their features generally more distorted.
10 Frame your shots
With pictures of views, it’s always good to use natural framing devices. Arches, door frames or tree branches appearing around the edges of your picture all provide a setting for your main subject and help keep the viewer’s attention.