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!
All of the photographs featured on my website are available as prints in just about any size you like.
These are fulfilled by numerous 3rd party labs, and the UK lab is one of the biggest and their quality standards are excellent.
Did you know that most photographs here are to be found by clicking OLDER IMAGES and NEW IMAGES on the main screen?
Older Images are very good photos, but were not taken with the same camera as New Images. Therefore, I have restricted the upper size limit of Older Images to ensure that you only get high quality prints. Camera technology moves on and my newest camera has far higher resolution and image quality.
There are two ways to find the photographs you want. You can click the appropriate link (New Images or Older Images) and inside you'll find other categories, broadly categorised as Landscapes, Nature and The Seaside.
Double click the folder you are interested in, and lots of small images will appear- these are called “Thumbnails”.
When you see a picture you like the look of, (a film strip appears at the bottom, or you can use the arrow icons to go backwards and forwards through the list), simply click it and you'll get a bigger image to look at. At the top is a heart shaped icon- this allows you to favourite the image, so you can come back and find it. The icon next to that allow you to share the image on social networks such as Facebook, Pinterest, Google + or Twitter or even Email. You can also share the entire gallery. This allows other people, such as friends, to see the image.
If you find a photograph that you'd like a print of, look at the panel on the right hand side.
This has prices and sizes. If you can't see the size or format you want, scroll down the price list until you come to “See all products”.
Click the “+” icon for each print you want at a certain size. There's nothing to stop you from ordering the same photo in different sizes, qualities (e.g. fine art) or whatever.
Another good way to find what you're looking for is to use the SEARCH function.
On the main view showing all the folders, (e.g landscapes, seaside and nature), look towards the top right of the web page and you'll see a small “Magnifying glass” icon. This is the search function. Type in what it is you're looking for.
This will show a series of tabs: galleries, collections, photos and videos. Select the Photos tab.
Once you've selected those photographs you want to buy prints of, it is merely a matter of filling in the usual online buying form using your address (for delivery) and your email address (to keep you informed about your order) and payment details. This is done securely, and a third party does all of this.
Also, a the bottom of each gallery is a Guestbook. Please feel free to comment on my photographs.
So, you can see that it's as easy as “find photo” (by looking or searching), select size(s) and finish, and then fill in a simple form, pay, and your order will be sent via third party professional labs to your home.
It's as easy as that!
Your camera's ISO setting
Cameras work with light. However, light comes in different strengths, influenced by weather, location, time of year and time of day. This may sound obvious, and it is.
In the old days of using film, each film would come with a rating of how light sensitive it is. This is expressed as “ISO” and a number, e.g. ISO 200. The “ISO” part means “International Standards Organisation” (derived from “International Organisation for Standardisation”) and is just an agreed upon standard.
The number part refers to just how sensitive to light a film is. The higher the figure, the more sensitive to light a film is.
A film or setting that is more sensitive to light allows higher shutter speeds which, in turn, can prevent shaky images.
When I first started out in photography, back in the early 80's (1980's, not 1880's, thank you very much), film came in 25, 50, 64, 100 and 400 ISO.
Now, ask yourself: why should anyone want to use a 25 ISO film when he or she could use a 400 ISO film and avoid carrying a tripod?
The short answer is because of “grain” (and with digital, noise). All photos are made up of small dots (for film) or small blocks (pixels) for digital.
In the case of film, the higher the ISO, the larger these dots are. Eventually, this starts to show. Sharpness inevitably suffers and grain can look ugly, depending upon the subject. For instance, a grainy sky in a black and white landscape can look great, but if you were shooting a portrait, then grain usually looks terrible.
For digital, instead of grain, we have “digital noise”. Whilst film grain can have a certain charm, noise is just plain ugly. Noise is simply a mass of multicoloured dots or specks, usually in darker areas and often also in highlights. Colours often suffer at high ISO settings and inevitably, so does sharpness. Put simply, noise is best avoided.
Which is why I used to use a film called Kodachrome ISO 25........and a tripod in all but the brightest weather.
The main differences between film and modern digital is that for digital, ISO is not “fixed”. You can almost always adjust this. However, most cameras arrive from the factory with their ISO set to “AUTO”. This is where the camera's meter automatically works out when to push the ISO (light sensitivity) up. Obviously, some do this better than others.
But plainly, cameras are not infallible. They are not to know that you're using a tripod or support, for instance. Most cameras will assume that you're holding the camera in your hands and hence will set a high ISO to stop camera shake by setting a higher shutter speed.
As I've already mentioned, though, digital noise is rarely attractive. So, you're left to choose whether to leave the camera on AUTO ISO or control it yourself, maybe resorting to a support of some kind. A monopod, tripod or similar.
Some more expensive cameras do have noise control features built in. However, use these carefully, as noise removal almost always causes a loss of detail. Some cameras are better at this than others, and full frame DSLRs tend to have the edge.
In photography, it's rare to get something for nothing. You can keep the ISO high and risk noise, or you can keep the ISO low and endure carrying a tripod. Sometimes, you may be forced into raising the ISO because you really need that high shutter speed. To catch a fact moving object, for instance. Or you may need the slowest possible shutter speed to allow those “blurred water” shots beloved of landscape photographers.
The choice is yours, but my advice is to work out your own ways of working with ISO- but don't just leave it to the camera. Adjust to suit your aims and working conditions.
As a rule, I keep my camera's ISO usually at ISO 400, dropping to ISO 200 on very bright days or conditions. Only rarely will I go above this.
See what works for you. Study your photographs at least at 1:1 (full size) and see how the noise level is.
Most areas of photography are a compromise. Find your own way of working, but you'll find this best by experimenting and finding out exactly what these settings do. Come back here often, and I'll hopefully help with this.
It seems that popular opinion tends towards two extremes: the apathetic claim that one does need an expensive camera to take great photos, and the defensive tend to claim that “My phone takes great photos”, implying that all one needs is a phone.
So, who is right? Well, neither, really. But neither are entirely wrong, either.
There ARE reasons why people like me carry all that heavy gear about. However, it is important to realise that the reasons for this are not just image quality reasons. They're for reasons of having greater flexibility and control over our images and the subject. In short, all that gear allows one to get the kind of images a phone just cannot. A phone is primarily a telecommunications device with an inexpensive camera tacked on. That's absolutely fine, and it's always better to have any camera than none, but understandably, it has limits.
At the other end of the scale, a rucksack full of expensive gear, tripods and so on is of no use unless one can “see” images and one can use that equipment to get the image. Without a photographer's eye and a little photographic theory, all expensive gear allows are.....high quality failures.
They may be sharper, have more resolution, better colours than a “cheap” camera. But unless they're interesting, engaging and well put together images, they're still failures.
If I had to put my money on who would win: a good photographer with a phone versus a person who has not learned to “see” images with the expensive gear and who has no technical skills, I'd go for the former.
Yes, for ordinary purposes, you can get great images on a phone. In fact, you can get great images on any working camera. If you doubt this, take a look at the work of masters like Ansel Adams, the American landscape pioneer, or Henri Cartier Bresson, who back in the 1930's pretty much invented street and candid photography. Both used primitive cameras, with fixed lenses, with black and white film (mostly) and their method of “zooming” was to pick up the camera and walk!
What set them apart was their photographic “vision”: what was in front of them, what they saw, and how they chose to show it. All the technology in the world cannot help one to do this.
Over the years, I have seen camera fads come and go. (Takes a deep breath)...
Polaroid instant cameras, Kodak Instamatics (126 cartridge film), 110 cameras, disk cameras, 35mm compacts, 35mm “APS” (which allowed different image shapes and made loading 35mm film easier, allegedly), digital compacts, bridge cameras, digital SLR, medium format (6x6, 6x4.5, 6x7 and others). Some of these are still with us.
But each was mostly eagerly adopted by ordinary users and was often a disappointment. Why? Well, it is true that some of the above were pretty bad (110 film, for instance, has a negative not capable of much more than a standard photo lab print of 4 x5 inches). But mostly, it was because of the expectations camera manufacturers engendered in their advertisements: something modern photography magazines are equally as guilty of. Such advertisements as good as proclaim “With our camera, you'll suddenly become a great photographer!” and, of course, “With all this gear, you can't fail!”.
Well, yes you can.
Without the photographer's skill of seeing images, no amount of gear can help. So, how does one develop this “eye”? It starts with 3 things. And none of them cost money.
The first is to realise what it is you are trying to do. Photography is about LIGHT. Even when you're not carrying a camera, learn to study light. Not just in one place, but at different times of the day, or different times of the year. Autumn, for instance, (in Britain), frequently has early mornings with beautiful soft, golden light. Light is your palette. The camera is merely the brush. You are the eye and mind behind the brush. I will write a lot more on the subject of light in the future.
The second is obvious. Look at your images critically. What do they say? What were you trying to say? Are they sharp enough? Was the light right? Are you pleased with them?
Lastly- but absolutely most importantly- take LOTS of images. Get out there and take photos! Memory cards are cheap. If you can, have a camera of some kind with you always.
It doesn't matter whether you use a phone, an old Instamatic, 35mm, medium format or the latest offerings from Nikon and Canon. A photographer takes photographs. Go and take photographs!
And finally, to answer my own question (kind of). Do you need all that gear? That's up to you. Most keen photographers find that they want the level of flexibility and control (and, maybe) image quality a DSLR can bring. And some obsess over relative irrelevances such as megapixels, full frame versus cropped or endless tables on how lenses perform. Really, that's a sideshow.
Take photos however you want or with whatever you want. But take photos!
Hello to everyone, and I hope that you like my photographs and website.
This being the first post to this blog, I thought that I'd spend some time explaining what my photography is about and what to expect from this blog.
I got my first "real" camera at the age of 15 or so. A long time ago now! It came with the standard lens (55mm), a 35mm wide angle, and a 135mm telephoto. It used 35mm film and it wasn't long before I became dissatisfied with the results from the local automatic film labs. I'd shoot a glorious sunset and the print came back an insipid pink. If I was lucky.
And so on to monochrome, or black and white if you prefer. I could develop this myself, but printing proved rather more difficult. Every time I tried to print, someone would open the darkroom door or switch the light on. I resorted to taking the light bulb out.
Films like Ilford Pan F, Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 gave tremendous results. But I also started to use positive (slide) film. I learned immediately that there is little or no leeway when using this kind of film. The finished slides are merely the film, cut into frames. If you get the exposure wrong, there was nothing you could do. And slide film was extremely exacting about exposures.
I suppose that what this taught me was the old fashioned truth about photography: a modicum of technical knowledge is required, in order to be able to fully use the camera and get the best from it. You can get by without such knowledge, but you'll just make it harder to go that extra distance and get results where you wouldn't normally do so.
At the same time, all the technical knowledge in the world won't help if you don't learn to see things, and what's more, to see them in unusual ways. One thing I have learned is that the ordinary is often very beautiful, and that many people simply don't see it.
Whilst I also do landscapes, I also enjoy detail, such as a leaf over a river which reflects Autumn leaves. Or the delicacy of spiders webs strung with early morning dew.
So often, when I'm out and about, I see walkers. Few carry cameras, despite the fact that cameras in general have never been more portable and convenient. Many merely stampede past and quite often, they don't see what I'm looking at, and very often, they don't even see me or my dog.
Such a waste of a walk!
This blog will be to show you new collections of photographs, and will also have lots of useful tricks and tips and ideas to encourage people to use their camera, understand a few technical facts which WILL help, and hopefully to help you develop your own way of seeing good photographs.
Because it starts with your eyes. The camera is merely there to record what the eyes and mind can see. It's not rocket science and it's not all about equipment. There's a (probably) apocryphal story about when famous American landscape photographer Ansel Adams met the writer Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway remarked that Adams' photos were so great that he must have a very expensive and fancy camera. Later, Adams remarked that Hemingway's books were so good, he must have a wonderful typewriter.
Or, as a friend of mine commented, when David Beckham scored a goal, no-one said "Wow, he must have really good boots".
You can buy expensive camera gear, but your eyes are far more important and cost nothing. The trick is to learn to use them. Come back here and I'll show you how.