10 tips to taking a better picture the next time you break out the camera

From fancy phones to digital SLRs, many people received cameras for Christmas. Marjorie Brennan dips into a book with top tips for keen amateurs

Steady Camera

One of the most obvious challenges for a photographer is camera shake but it’s possible to limit the effects depending on how you support your camera. If possible, a kneeling position is steadier than standing. If the camera has an eye-level viewfinder, hold the camera firmly to your face with your elbows tucked in firmly towards your chest, cupping one hand just under the lens.

Lens Power

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Когда у меня закончатся фотки ноябрьского Парижа я буду вынужден сесть в самолет и улететь туда вновь за его неповторимой атмосферой и новыми крутыми снимками. Обратите внимание, что фотка сделана на фишай. А потом обратите внимание, что тут есть боке. Боке на фишай, ребята! Теперь вы видели всё. Я очень горжусь, что являюсь амбассадором компании Olympus. И мне жутко нравится, что они разрабатывают в последнее время настолько крутые объективы и камеры. P.S.: снято на M.Zuiko fisheye 8mm 1.8

A post shared by Саша Левин (@sashalevin_life) on

Lenses are, typically, a big expense for an amateur photographer. There are ways around this — one is to look for second-hand lenses. Do not be put off by a couple of scratches on the barrel: if the optics work then it’s worth going for pre-loved. The other option is to look at third-party lenses. Obviously camera manufacturers will recommend their own lens brand, but independents such as Sigma, Tamron and Tokina are worth investigating. A standard lens delivers an angle of view roughly equivalent to our own eyes. Telephoto, wide-angle, zoom and fisheye offer more variety.

Exposure

Choosing the suitable amount and quality of light for your photograph is one of the most important aspects to get right. There are two ways to control how much light reaches the sensor in your camera — varying shutter speed and adjusting aperture.

Shutter speed and aperture are varied by set amounts known as ‘stops’. For example, by increasing the shutter speed by one stop, you halve the amount of light that reaches the shutter.

The aperture is a variable iris in the lens, and like the iris in your eye, it can be increased or decreased in size to take account of lower or higher light levels. If you decrease the size of the aperture by one stop, you halve the amount of light that reaches the shutter and if you increase it by one stop, you double the amount of light. As the aperture is made smaller, a zone of sharpness extends out from the point of focus. This effect is known as depth of field.

Clear Focus

Focusing on the subject of your photograph can sometimes be tricky, because the camera presumes that what you wish to focus on is in the centre of the frame. This isn’t always the case, but if you do want to focus on a subject that’s off-centre either adjust your active focus point or lock focus. If using the latter, many cameras have a dedicated autofocus lock button which allows the photographer to change the composition of the shot without the camera refocusing.

The closer your subject is to the lens, the less depth of field is available, even at the smallest aperture settings. This makes it essential that you focus accurately.

Composition

There are a number of classic ‘rules’ when it comes to composition but these are only a guide. The rule of thirds is the most commonly practised — an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, with important compositional elements placed along these lines or their intersections.

Tripod

If you’re serious enough about photography, you should consider a tripod for your camera. While the obvious drawback of setting up a camera support is the loss of spontaneity, this can be flipped around to your advantage: slowing down makes you think more about the precise nature of the photograph you want to take, not to mention allowing you to use longer shutter speeds. Don’t forget how cold a metal tripod is when the weather turns frosty, though — wrap some foam insulation around one of the legs to make carrying it less of a chore.

Sun light

The oldest photographic advice is to stand with your back to the sun and to take advantage of the light coming over your shoulder. The sun’s light is described as ‘hard’, and often produces shadows, sharply-defined edges and high contrasts between the areas which are lit and which are unlit. This may not suit the effect you’re trying to achieve, but many photographers use hard light for portraits and architectural shots, as hard light emphasises texture.

Most cameras have a built-in flash but they are limited by their low power and proximity to the lens, often causing red-eye. A separate, horseshoe-mounted flash is more powerful and versatile.

Right time

The time of day at which you take your photographs is important: dawn light is clearer because there is less dust in the air, but many photographers forget that when the sun rises it does so quickly — within a few minutes the light has changed completely once the sun has cleared the horizon, from soft and warming to quite hard. Be aware of precisely what time the sun will rise, and have your filters ready if you plan on using them.

More than one great sunrise shot has been lost because the photographer reached for a filter at an inopportune moment. Regarding filters, bear in mind that there’s no standard filter thread size — if you have lenses with different filter thread diameters, therefore, you may end up buying multiple filters of the same type in order to fit all those lenses. An easy way around this is to buy a filter for the largest thread size, and then to buy step-up rings so you can use the same filter for all your smaller lenses.

Shooting modes

Full auto is the shooting mode most commonly used by beginners. It is capable of delivering great images provided there aren’t any lighting issues — you are giving up control, not quality. Scene modes are geared towards specific shooting situations such as portrait, landscape and sports. These are also helpful for the beginner but remove any incentive to learn how to use your camera to its full capability. Program mode offers a little more control, while in manual mode, the user has to set the aperture and shutter speed.

10 Printing

Now you’ve taken some photographs, presumably you’ll want to print them, but remember that just like cameras, not all printers are created equal. If you’re going to be printing large numbers of photographs, then speed of printing will be a consideration, but if you’re using the printer only occasionally, it won’t be a huge factor.

Also consider cartridge costs. For instance, some printers use a single ink cartridge for all the colours, so you’ll have to replace the entire cartridge when one colour runs out, even though the other colours are still usable. Avoid those in favour of a more cost-effective model.

The Complete Book of Photography: The Essential Guide to Taking Better Photos, Ammonite Press


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