Every camera owner knows how hard it is to take great-looking shots. No matter how hard you try, you never quite get the perfect photo of the professionals – you know, the photos you see all the time in magazines.
So what’s the best way? What’s the correct way?
That’s what this blog is all about. To give you the top secrets you need to create the perfect shot every time!
1. Move in Closer
Almost any photograph can be improved just by moving two or three steps closer to your subject.
When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. How often do you end up cropping an image in Photoshop Elements or Lightroom because the original just didn’t look the way you wanted it to? And have you ever thought about what that means for the overall quality of your photos?
It’s always better to get close to your subject in-camera, either physically (walking closer) or optically (zooming in with your camera’s lens). That’s because when you crop in post-processing instead, you get a reduction in file size and resolution — and because you can’t change anything about perspective when you wait until after the fact, you might still not end up with exactly the photo you wanted. So always think in terms of “final image” while you’re standing there holding your camera — that doesn’t mean, of course, that you can never tweak something later on in an image editor — it just means that you shouldn’t have to depend on tweaking for every photo you take.
Your first course of action should always be to simply walk towards your subject.
Get rid of anything that isn’t absolutely necessary
Whenever you’re photographing people, think about what it is that you want to accomplish. If your subject is playing a sport or doing something important with her hands, by all means, including her torso or her whole body.
But in most situations where your subject’s body is not adding any significant meaning to the photo, you should zoom in. Instead, fill the frame with your subject’s FACE only – particularly if she is smiling, is in a moment of reflection, or has an otherwise interesting or compelling expression on her face, such as in this example.
The face is really the most expressive part of a person’s body—it’s where you will capture personality and emotion, and when you include other unnecessary body parts you are limiting the impact of the face.
Judgment call: context is sometimes important
I’d say that the “get close” rule applies in about 85 to 90 percent of the photos you take, but one thing to remember is that you don’t always want to exclude everything that’s around your subject. If you take your kids to the park, for example, and you only shoot super-close, face-only photos of them, your set of images may include a lot of beautiful shots but it will lack a certain amount of meaning. Yes, you may have a wonderful photo of your child’s laughing face, but viewers (and that includes you, 10 or 15 years from now) are still going to wonder what he’s laughing at. If he’s just flung himself furiously down that very steep slide on the playground, excluding the slide in its entirety would be a crime against photography.
Place Your Subject Off-Center
Rather than placing your main subject in the middle of the screen, place it to one side and ensure something interesting is in the background that fills the remainder of the image. This can be especially effective if the background has the same theme. For example, if photographing a child opening a Christmas present, frame them to one side and have the Christmas Tree with unopened presents filling the rest of the image.
There are a few guidelines that can help you place your subject in the frame.
- The Rule of Thirds One of the most popular rules in photography is the “Rule of Thirds”. It is a simple rule that can make your photos more visually interesting. Simply divide the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. When framing your shot, place important elements either along these lines, or where the lines intersect – NOT at the center of the frame.
The rule of thirds is very simple to follow, and it will usually result in a nicely balanced and visually pleasing image. It also forces you to fill the frame with your subject. When you have to put the most interesting part of the photo in one of the thirds, you immediately think of ways to fit your subject into that space. That might mean zooming in a little bit, or it could mean zooming out a bit to fit an entire body into one of the 4 thirds. The below picture of the boy’s silhouette is a good example of this.
- When To Break The Rule Of Thirds
Photography is a creative pursuit, so there really is no such thing as “right” and “wrong,” but there are guidelines. The rule of thirds is one such guideline, and it’s incredibly popular because it works most of the time. Having said that, there are times when you’ll want to break the rule of thirds. When might you do this? Does your image have a real sense of symmetry? If it does, it’s okay to break the rule of thirds and place your subject in the center. That’s because the symmetry takes over, and your eye is forced to pay attention to the symmetry instead of the subject you are photographing.
Can you get up really close to your subject? This is another good time to break the rule of thirds. If you can immerse your viewer in your subject, the fact that it’s centered won’t matter that much. I like to call this the “looking down the barrel of a gun” effect. When you’re that close, the image is simply too powerful for the rule of thirds to apply.
Take More, and Erase Your Shots
Modern photographers are spoiled. We live in a digital world, so that means you can take a bunch more shots than you think you need, and then simply erase the ones you don’t want. Closed eyes? No problem—just delete. Is image too dark? That’s okay, delete the shot and find better light. Blurred image? Delete it, and try again.
Most of us are in the habit of shooting a lot of photos, but only processing a fraction of them in Photoshop Elements or Lightroom. That’s really not too far off from what film photographers used to do—for everyone great image there are many, many that aren’t really worth our attention. So most of the time, you have to shoot a lot of bad photos before you get a few great ones—which means shooting more and deleting more. And with digital you have more freedom to do that than ever before—but it pays to be smart about which images you decide to keep and which ones you ultimately scrap.
Shoot In Continuous Fire And Bracketing Modes
Your camera has two features that will help you take more photos with better results. The first is “burst” or “continuous” mode. This is a must-do whenever you’re taking action shots, but it also applies to other subjects such as candid, animals and wildlife, and any other scene that is likely to change from one second to the next. Yes, you will end up with a lot more photos when you shoot in continuous mode, but that’s the point. You want more photos because more photos give you more opportunities to capture the exact shot you’re looking for.
The second important feature that most digital cameras have is bracketing. When your camera is in bracketing mode, you’ll get three exposures per image—one at the suggested meter reading (or middle point), one a stop below it, and one a stop above. With three images to choose from, you’ve got a much better chance of getting the perfect exposure in the event that your meter misjudges.
- When you’re bracketing, continuous mode helps to grab all three images in one press of the shutter button. Just remember to count the shutter releases so you don’t end up recomposing or shifting position before your camera is done with all three shots.
- Deleting Bad Images Is A Good Habit, But Don’t Get Carried Away!
- Take as many Pictures As You Can, and plan to delete most of them.
- Get into the Habit Of Deleting Pictures From Your Archives
Preset your Exposure and Focus
It’s always very frustrating! You have a great shot lined up, and press the shutter button. But your camera takes an extra second to think about the photo before it opens the shutter. By the time the photo is actually taken, your perfect shot has vanished! Little Johnny has left the frame and you end up with a blank photo! What can you do to stop this from happening?
We Call This Problem “Shutter Lag.” Here’s What You Can Do
When set to automatic mode, some cameras can take a while to adjust for white balance and focus. This is the 2-3 second delay between the moment when you first push the shutter button, and the moment the shot is actually taken. This time period is called the Shutter Lag.
If this happens with your camera, try presetting your focus by holding the shutter release halfway down to tell the camera to focus before you need to take the shot. When you do this, your camera doesn’t have to process nearly as much information (remember, it’s a computer) as you press the shutter button all the way down.
Next, hold the shutter button halfway down until you line up the perfect shot. This turns on your camera’s ‘lock exposure’ feature to keep the exposure settings locked until you find the right time to shoot. You are basically telling your camera, “I want to focus on my kid’s nose, but I don’t want to take the picture right away. I want to wait until the moment is right.” As soon as you’ve got the perfect moment, press the shutter button all the way down and snap the photo.
Most photos are shot at eye level. I think this is because traditionally, you needed to have the viewfinder up to your eye to ensure you got everyone in the shot. Unfortunately, when you shoot this way, you miss out on a lot of photographic opportunities. The angle you pick often reflects the mood of the shot. That’s why it’s best to experiment with different angles so you can communicate different emotions with your photography.
- Don’t Be Embarrassed To Try Unusual Angles
People often wonder what you’re up to when you’re down on the ground with a camera to your face, but believe me, it makes all the difference. Most people are afraid to try unusual because they’re afraid of what people will think. Yes, what you are doing looks weird, but that weirdness is usually what gets you shot.
And here’s a tip… The Pros try different angles all the time!
Think of it this way. Does anybody judge an artist for the way she applies paint to the canvas? Nope. That’s because there’s nothing fundamentally weird about using a different brush stroke. Unfortunately, the best methods in photography are often those that look the strangest to those who aren’t photographers. Get used to it. This will only get worse as you become a better photographer.
- Keep Thinking About The Rules Of Composition When You Do This
It’s still important to pay attention to rules like the rule of thirds, even when you’re trying out different angles. Imagine 4 lines cutting your image into thirds horizontally and vertically (two each way). Keep thinking about where your main subject will be (if you’re up close, it’s usually the eyes. If you’re far away, it can be the entire body), and try to place your subject on one of those imaginary four lines.
That’s the gist of the rule of thirds. If you were to divide the frame into thirds, both left to right and top to bottom, the most interesting locations would be the places where those thirds intersect one another. You should place your subject, for example, where the left third meets the top third. That will almost guarantee an interesting composition.
- Use Angles To Communicate Emotions
Pictures taken from high above make the subject appear powerless or insignificant. Pictures taken from below make the subject appear domineering and powerful. Play with these different kinds of angles to communicate a message.
Angle Tip 1: Here’s a fun one when you’re photographing kids. Put your camera all the way on the ground, facing up. Try to keep your kid’s shoes at the bottom of the frame, and then take the picture. If you are all the way zoomed out, it will make your kid look like a giant! This is a really fun one to show them, and it’s worth a few giggles.
- Keep Looking For Fresh Angles
There’s always more than one way to photograph a subject. Using different camera angles can make an otherwise boring image really stand out. The more you practice using different angles, the quicker you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. It’s all about the feeling you are trying to communicate with your photography. Certain angles are better for certain feelings.
Angle Tip 2: Lie on the ground and point your camera towards the sky for an interesting angle to shoot large monuments. Just like the example above, this makes them appear much larger than they actually are.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your DSLRs and go use these tips to excel your photography tips.