Mastering photography is a whole field in it’s self and like any skill it can take years of practice to become a master at it. However, with the ease of access to high quality photography tools we have, anyone can start to take great photos and photography is an important skill for creatives to have under their belt in todays mixed media world.
Taking a good photograph is actually very simple and I’m writing this because I find that creatives often over complicate things and think of it as much harder than it really is. We don’t need to capture the spirit of a revolution for National Geographic here, so not being a master photographer shouldn’t stop us from taking photographs of our work or taking cool band photos for our musician friends to put on their websites. This guide should show you all the steps necessary to get out there and take a great photograph, by following basic guidelines and having a basic understanding of the functions of a digital camera.
Get in Focus
This is the first and most important thing to think about… Is your subject in focus? Most phone cameras will do this automatically but on a digital camera the focus is usually best set manually. On a digital camera, this is done by adjusting the ring around the lens. Similar to how our eyes work, the camera lens needs to focus on the distance of the object it’s looking at.
The best way to do this I find, is to zoom in close to the subject and set the focus on the object from there. This helps you to see exactly what you’re looking at and when you zoom back out to frame your shot, the focus should still be set to that object. You don’t always need to zoom into your point of focus, but this is a good way to check if you are not sure.
Frame the Shot
Don’t take the shot at an awkward angle. Framing the shot should be simple and done fairly quickly, just make sure your subject is straight and not at an angle. Take an overall look at the background and if there are any straight vertical or horizontal lines or edges in the shot, you can use this as a point of reference by lining them up to the shot. Although photos can be rotated in post production, which can usually save an off kilter photo, it’s much better to line them up in the first place as this will make for less work later on and overall better photos to work with.
Think about overall composition as well. A basic understand of the rule of thirds is a good guideline. For portrait shots, make sure your subject is in the centre of the photo and that you are looking at them straight on. It doesn’t have to be as rigid as a passport photo, but looking at them straight ahead with them in the centre like you were making eye contact with them will help with capturing profile & portrait photos.
If you use Instagram you will be familiar with the grid that comes up when you are cropping your photos. Imagine this as you are taking photos, and try to see if your subject matches up nicely with the lines where the grid would be.
Look at Your Subject
Not everyone is photo ready the whole time. Is their posture good? Are they at a good angle? Are you looking at them from a good angle? Do they have the right expression for the shot. Before you hit the button to take the photo, are they focused on the camera? Should they be looking away? Are they distracted, about to sneeze, scratching their nose, getting something out of their eye or playing with a nearby puppy that just ran up to them? Is there a group of tourists about to walk into the shot and start pointing at things?
In short, use your common sense to decide whether what you are about to take will be a good photo. If you are not sure, take the photo anyway and look at it to see what is right and wrong.
Take a Lot of Photos
Most of the time with digital photography, we won’t be seriously limited with the amount of photos we can take. We don’t want hundreds of photos to shift through to find the good ones, but to avoid the problems listed above, it’s usually better to take several variations of a shot than to only take one and find out that you pressed the button just as someone was closing their eyes. It might be that you take the shot to find out that you wobbled the camera by accident or that you moved to quickly while you were taking the photo. Find the balance, and of course this will be dependent on how much space you have on the device, but in general it is better to take a few extra ones than to only have a few which all have something slightly wrong with them.
Learn the basics of Digital Photography
I won’t get into too much detail here as this information can be found elsewhere and I don’t want to complicate things by giving you too much technical information. These are just some photography basics that are good to know if you are using a DSLR camera.
- Shutter Speed:
I usually leave this at 1/150. This basically determines how long the camera shutter stays open, with 1 being 1 second and 1/150 being one hundred and fiftieth of a second. Increasing the shutter speed will allow more light into the camera when you take a photo, but it will also record the entire range of light over this time, so a shutter speed of 1 second will create more blur with moving objects. In short, a longer shutter speed allows for a brighter image but also creates more blur. I usually find it best to leave this at a very quick speed and use the methods below to increase the lighting.
- Camera flash:
Turning on the flash creates a bright flash when you take the photo. This isn’t usually needed on a bright day or a well lit room, but otherwise will generate a significant amount of light to bring clarity to your photo.
- ISO setting:
Increasing the ISO setting increases the brightness of your photo but also adds digital noise (grainy distortion) to your photos. As such, it’s best to keep the ISO as low as possible and use natural lighting and the camera flash to give your photos enough light, but turning up the ISO can be useful for bringing enough light to dimly lit rooms and night time photography.
- F Stop:
The F Stop of the camera effects the Depth of Field and the amount of light that goes into the camera. This is probably the hardest function to explain, so for the sake of not confusing anyone with technical details, I’m just going to say leave this somewhere in the middle where it looks good for what you are photographing and experiment with it only if necessary.
Like I said earlier, it’s better to get things right in the moment than to have to edit mistakes out later, as this is both time consuming and will sometimes not look as good as if you just got it right in the first place. However, some basic post production can be used to make your images stand out. Some image editing programs have features like Auto-Contrast and Auto-Colour correct which will automatically adjust your images. A good trick to use is to duplicate a photo in the layers panel and change the layer blend mode settings to add contrast an character to your images. Setting it to overlay for example, will deepen the shadows and colours in your photo, making it look much more eye catching.
Of course there are also filter modes on Instagram and several other photo editing apps and desktop programs which can be useful for making your images more outstanding.
I hope this helps anyone who needs some guidance for getting started with photography. It might seem like a lot of information to take in at once, but if you recap and go through it, this is really all you need to go out and take some great photographs and with a little practice, you can build up your confidence with the camera and get take some great shots in no time. It really is just some basic understanding and common sense that is required.
Until next time, Peace & Prosperity,
- Bobby Bey