Ten top tips for better photographs
The internet is very fond of lists, so I see no reason why I shouldn't have one!
But seriously, the following are the kinds of things I wish someone had taught me as a novice photographer. None of them are particularly difficult. Yet, they should make one thing clear: that whilst great photographs can be a result of pure luck, more often than not, planning and thinking makes “lucky” shots a lot more likely.
So, in no particular order:
Photography is about LIGHT. I will elaborate on this in another post, but suffice to say: extraordinary light creates extraordinary photographs. Think about light: is it harsh or soft? Cold or warm? The best light conditions for nature and landscape photography are, in my opinion, at both ends of the day, i.e. sunrise and sunset and an hour or so before and after these.
Viewpoint is very important. For instance, think about crouching or even lying down, or getting higher up. As humans, we're used to seeing things from our own eye level. If you take photographs from eye level, they can often look ordinary and therefore they run the risk of being rather boring. Don't stand where everyone else does: think outside the obvious.
Get CLOSER. When I see photographs taken by self confessed amateurs, the most common fault I see is that there's a lot of space around the subject. Sometimes this is the result of not having a long enough lens, but most of the time, it is simply that the photographer did not get close enough. Walking usually works!
Learn about lenses (if you use different lenses) or different focal lengths. It's not particularly hard and it will boost your creative powers massively. Most people understand that a wide angle lens lets you “get more in” and that telephoto (long) lenses “let you get closer”, but there's a lot more to it than that. I will elaborate on this subject very soon.
Learn how to use (or not use!) your camera's functions. Do you know what all of those buttons do? Have a look at the manual or search online.
Consider taking the camera off “AUTO” setting. This will give you far greater control and will, coincidentally, greatly increase your understanding of how to achieve certain goals.
Don't fixate about gear. Remember that whilst ultra expensive lenses do tend to be sharper, they're useless unless you've mastered your techniques and understand how to squeeze the best image quality from both lens and camera. Also remember that modern photography magazines are almost always blatantly commercial: they rely on advertisers and hence want to sell their products for them. Journalistic integrity often falls by the wayside, since without product sales, the advertisers will not renew their advertisements. More on this soon.
Become “lucky”. Whilst just “going for a walk” and taking the camera is absolutely fine, you will get better results if you think a little more about where you are going, what time of day it is, what time of year it is, and what's happening. For instance, if you go to a seabird colony in November, you won't get anything like the opportunities you'd get in the bird's breeding season. Similarly, think about the sun's position, how crowded a place is with people, or what flowers or trees are like at that time of year. Suddenly, you'll become a lot “luckier”.
So many otherwise good shots are ruined by soft (out of focus or blurred) images. The main cause, particularly with longer lenses, is camera shake. And here I am, advising you to work at both ends of the day! There's two ways around this: either push the ISO up (See my post about your camera's ISO setting) and risk noise or carry a tripod. Also consider investing in a remote release. Simple ones are low cost. A tripod is cumbersome and really can feel like a millstone around your neck, but it's a sure way to getting sharp images in low light, particularly when using longer lenses.
Study your own work. Be reasonably critical. Were you close enough? What is the light like? How about composition? Is the image sharp? Are there any distractions? How could you make the image better?
And at this point, I'd like to point out a serious pitfall many photographers have when evaluating their own work. And this is saying things like “It's only a cheap camera” or “It's only a phone camera” or “my lens isn't up to much” or “I didn't really have time”.
These are more statements about image quality rather than a true assessment of one's own compositional skills or eye for a good photo. Image quality is things like sharpness, distortion, colour transmission and defects like Chromatic Aberration. Assuming you've done everything right, there's not a tremendous amount you can do about these, so don't fret too much unless you like spending lots of money.
Think more about the artistic side of photography. Also, perhaps try to to imitate the work of a photographer whose work you like: chances are, you'll never be the same, but in trying, you'll discover your own style. Look at other people's photographs. How did they do it? When was it taken? And so on.
But here's the one tip someone DID give to me and I've followed it ever since. And it works.
TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOGRAPHS!