Stop right now! Wherever your photography is right now, it doesn’t matter. You could have ten years of experience with your camera, or you could be a total beginner. I am about to show you five simple steps you can take to get a good photo right now. If you follow them every time you’re out in the field, you’ll notice a dramatic improvement. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, give these 5 steps a try.
Get Closer To Your Subject
No matter what you’re shooting, it almost always helps to get in a little closer. This is the first step. Just walk up closer to your subject. If your subject is the sunset or something far far away, consider zooming in a little more. You don’t have to do anything drastic. A bit of extra closeness helps to solidify the central theme while adding drama.
Also, don’t believe that just because you don’t have a big fancy zoom lens you can’t zoom in really far. In most scenarios, you can walk right up to your subject to fill the frame with it. Walking accomplishes the same thing, and it doesn’t set you back a few hundred dollars.
If you're a reader of my free photography tips, you'll remember that "Move Closer" was my number one tip. And for good reason. It's hands down the most effective way to turn your mediocre photo into an awesome shot.
Look For The Good Light
Now that you’ve moved in closer, it’s time to asses the lighting situation. If you’re outside, it’s important to pay attention to the direction of the sun. You almost always want it shining on your subject. If you have to change your camera angle to accommodate the light, do so. Your subject will be much more illuminated, giving you a better looking photo.
I oftentimes find myself circling around my subjects, looking for the best possible angle for the light, something that works well with the other aspects of the photo including framing.
Think long and hard about how you’ll compose your subject
Once you know how the lighting will work with your subject, it’s time to compose. Almost everything comes down to this. Where you place your subject is critical on so many levels. You ultimately want to create visual movement in the scene you are photographing. It’s all about the way you use positive and negative spaces, making openings for the eye to enter the photograph and exit. Photographers and visual artists call this “composition.”
You can compose your image in a variety of ways, but the best ways tend to follow what is known as the “rule of thirds.” Imagine dividing a scene into three distinct regions, both from top to bottom and left to right.
What you get is a grid that looks like this:
Do you see where the lines intersect? That’s where you usually want to place your subject. Take a second look, and you’ll notice the person where the bottom and right lines meet. You’ll also notice the tree where the top and left lines meet.
The upper right corner is a good place for your eye to exit the scene. In most compositions, you’ll need to place something positive (i.e. a subject) and something negative (i.e. empty space) where these two lines meet. The better you can balance these two visual forces, the better your photo will look.
Wait for the right moment and keep checking
A lot of amateur photographers are about as patient as the people they photograph, and when it comes to taking a good picture, that just doesn’t work. You have to keep snapping and snapping with the settings you’ve picked, and you need to keep doing it until the right moment arrives. Be more patient than your subjects. Be the one convincing them why it’s important to keep taking more pictures.
And keep checking. Digital photography is awesome like that. Have a good look at the LCD, and if you can, bring a laptop with you to the field. That’s what the paid photographers do, after all. They’re always checking out their images, looking for little ways they can improve them. Once they think they’re on to something, they change a setting and take more pictures. That’s the habit you need to get into.
And That's it!
Be aware of the above three tips when you're taking your next shot, and you'll have a much better photo.
Now that you know everything you need to know about setting up your photo, it’s time to dial in your camera settings.
Most of the time, your camera's auto settings will take an adequate photo, but because your camera's sensors aren't perfect, sometimes you need to give it a helping hand and let it know how you want it to take the shot.
I personally like to start with the white balance because it’s the easiest. All you need to know is the kind of shooting situation you’re in. If you’re outdoors, pick the outdoors pre-programmed setting. If you’re indoors, pick the setting that corresponds to the lighting in the room.
You can also set the white balance by taking a photograph of a neutral object like a gray card or a blank white piece of paper. Most cameras have a custom white balance setting that allows you to pick a reference photo for your white balance. When you do this, your white balance turns out perfect, and your colors truly pop. See my article on White Balance for more info.
With the white balance figured out, it’s on to the aperture. What kind of scene are you photographing? If you’re getting really close, and you want the background to be out of focus, switch to Aperture Priority Mode and pick a low f-numbered aperture like F5.6. If you’re shooting a giant landscape, and you want to see far into the distance, pick a high f-numbered aperture. It’s all up to you.
When you select Aperture Priority mode, your camera will change the shutter speed to make sure the photo is correctly exposed. But sometimes, that will cause problems like for sports scenes where the shutter speed needs to be fast to freeze the action. So for sports shots, instead choose Shutter Priority Mode.
ISO speed is also important, but it’s only something that matters if you’re indoors and running out of light. If, for example, you’ve found a good aperture setting, but the shutter speed is unreasonably low (1/30s or lower), then it doesn’t make much sense to take the picture because it will be blurry. But if you increase your ISO, you’ll be able to use a faster shutter speed without darkening the shot.
In the grand scheme of things, the best pictures are taken when all of the right factors come into alignment. As a photographer, watch the lighting, composition, and camera settings. But nature will decide when the time is right for the ideal picture. You just need to be there waiting for it to happen, pressing the button.
Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?