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Making High-Quality Photos—Tips and Tricks

Whether digital or film, here are some standard tricks and tips that will help you improve your picture-taking results.

Putting an End to Blurry Images

The biggest problem in amateur photos is blurry pictures. The principal cause is camera movement, but there are several other reasons, including the following:

  • Camera movementFigure 3.2 shows a classic example of the results of camera movement. Instead of gently pressing the shutter, many amateur photographers abruptly push it, shaking the entire camera. Digital cameras exacerbate this because shutter lag time leads many digital camera users to press down even harder.

  • Figure 3.2FIGURE 3.2 When everything in an image is blurry, you can bet camera movement is the culprit.

  • Autofocus on wrong subject—Autofocus usually sets the focus based on whatever is in the center of the viewfinder. If you're framing a scene with something in the foreground, as in Figure 3.3, the autofocus might "see" the frame, not the subject. Adjust the camera angle to place the subject at the center of the viewfinder, depress the shutter halfway to set the autofocus, compose your shot, and then press the shutter the rest of the way.

Figure 3.3FIGURE 3.3 The autofocus saw the cornstalk frame, not the pumpkin picker subjects.

Composing Your Shots

Composition is critical, and for most photos only a slight change in camera angle or location will make the difference between a mediocre snapshot and an effective, pleasing photo. Here are some tips:

  • Get close to your subject—Instead of typical tourist shots of family members off in the distance standing directly in front of some fountain, frame the fountain to fill your viewfinder and then have your family stand close to the camera and a bit off to one side of the frame.

  • Depth of Field

    If you put your family up close with the fountain some distance away and then focus on your family, will the fountain be out of focus? It depends. In daylight, the auto aperture (iris) will be very small, creating a deep depth of field. Foreground and background elements will all be in focus.

    In low-light settings, however, the aperture is wide open and the depth of field is very shallow. Therefore, the fountain will be out of focus. Using a narrow depth of field well can lead to dramatic images.

  • Add a foreground element—Adding something between you and your subject gives depth to your images.

  • Use the rule of thirds—As shown in Figure 3.4, divide your image into thirds, vertically and horizontally, and place the object of interest at one of the intersecting lines. That creates much more visual interest. One quick and easy way to adhere to this rule is to keep your subject off-center.

  • Figure 3.4FIGURE 3.4 This image has elements from each of the three previous tips: It has a foreground element, the subject is off-center, and it uses the rule of thirds.

  • Shoot at oblique angles—As shown in Figure 3.5, instead of shooting straight on, shoot a subject from a nonperpendicular angle.

Figure 3.5FIGURE 3.5 Use oblique angles to add interest.

Other Photo-Taking Tips

Fuzzy photos and poor composition are the most frequent culprits in the picture-taking snafu department. Here are a few other tips you can follow to improve your photo-taking skills:

  • Watch backlit scenes—As shown in Figure 3.6, your camera's autoexposure sets itself for the light behind your subjects, meaning they'll be silhouettes. Either set the autoexposure on them first and then compose the shot, or use fill-in flash—or do both.

  • Use fill-in flash—Whenever you shoot outdoors, adding flash brings out the colors and details of your subject. Figure 3.7 shows how fill-in flash can overcome the silhouette effect of backlit shots.

  • Figure 3.6FIGURE 3.6 When the sun is behind your subjects, silhouettes might be all you get.

    Figure 3.7FIGURE 3.7 Fill-in flash can overcome backlit scenes (getting your subjects to stop squinting takes much more effort).

    Flash Goes Only So Far

    Flash has a very limited range, about 10–15 feet. Next time you're at a concert or nighttime sporting event, note all the fans with point-and-shoot cameras taking flash photos from 100 rows back. What they'll get is brightly illuminated backs of heads from a couple rows in front of them. Don't waste your time. The only way to use a flash is to get close to your subject.

  • Don't overexpose foreground objects—As shown in Figure 3.8, when you're using flash, objects close to the camera will be over-illuminated. This is one time when adding a foreground element might not work.

  • Figure 3.8FIGURE 3.8 The flash tends to illuminate the closest object, which might not be your desired outcome.

  • Avoid stiff poses—Encourage your subjects to do something, such as walking, talking, pointing—anything to add interest.

  • Keep the background simple—Distractions draw the attention away from your subject.

  • Use lines to add interest—S-curves and diagonal lines, such as those in Figure 3.9, add visual interest.

Figure 3.9FIGURE 3.9 Diagonal lines help draw attention to the subject (the backlit cloud of dust is a nice touch, too).

Compensating for Lag Time

Here are some tips to overcome lag time inherent to digital cameras:

  • Turn on your camera before you need it but, if possible, keep the LCD viewfinder and flash turned off (they drain too much battery power).

  • Get used to depressing the shutter release halfway to lock focus and exposure and then depressing the shutter all the way when you are ready to take the picture.

  • When shooting action, switch to the burst or sequence mode. However, those modes typically create less-than-perfect images.

  • If you let your subjects know when you're going to take the photo by counting down from three, press the shutter on "one."

  • Anticipate action by shooting sooner than normal.

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