Introduction to Photography – Tips for Taking Better Photos Part 1

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Way back in November 2005 when I was doing traditionally painted pet portraits, I wrote an article ‘How to take Good Photos of your Pets’ for clients who I wasn’t able to visit in person to take photos as reference material for their paintings.  This blog post article has been one of the most frequently visited pages on my website since 2005.  Even though I had not started my career specifically as a professional photographer at that time (I was taking pet portrait photos for reference material for paintings and selling stock images from 2003 but was still primarily a traditional artist), the suggestions in the article remain valid today.  

Before I go any further, I think I should pat myself on the back for having maintained this blog for 12 years in August.  That is no mean feat!  Twelve years of (relatively) consistent blogging that chronicles my progress as both an artist and photographer.  I never imagined that I would still be blogging twelve years later when I posted My First Ever Blog Post on 1 August 2005.

Anyhoo, while I was cleaning up the hard drives on my computer today, I unearthed a document that I wrote for an Introduction to Photography course that I held at my local community resource centre in Boyup Brook in 2012.  I had planned to add it to my blog back then but obviously didn’t, so I thought it might be a good idea to add it now as I frequently get asked all sorts of photography related questions that my Intro to Photography course notes can answer.

I will start with the basics that anyone with any type of camera (even a phone camera) can start with, some things are common sense, others are little tips that people can struggle for years with until someone points them in the right direction.  I will separate my Intro to Photography course notes into several blog posts and then will expand the information to include information specific to dslr cameras and more advanced photographers.

Tips for Taking Better Photos  ©2012 Michelle Wrighton

Get to Know your Camera

Knowing what functions your particular camera has and how and when to use them is the first step in taking better photos, especially if your camera has more creative functions than a basic point and shoot model. 

The user manual is an invaluable tool to help you learn how to get the most out of your particular camera.  Read it thoroughly several times, and every few months read it again to refresh your memory.  

Underline important information and experiment with different camera settings for the same subject as you read the manual to get a feel for how each setting alters the end photo. 

If you do not have the user manual for your camera, they can normally be found by searching the internet.

How to hold a camera

Moving the camera (camera shake) while taking a photo is a common cause of blurry photos and chopped off heads in photos of people.  Both of these problems can be easily avoided.

  • Use two hands rather than just one to stabilise the camera. 
  • Hold the camera up to your face, rather than at arms length as this will reduce camera movement that will cause blur.
  • Use the viewfinder rather than the LCD screen whenever possible as this will help prevent blur and make composing the photo easier. 
  • Stand either with feet shoulder width apart, or with legs together, one foot in front of the other, toes pointing outwards to stabilize your body. Tuck your elbows into your sides so they don’t move around.
  • Use your right hand to hold the camera with forefinger lightly on the shutter release button. Depending on the camera, the left hand either supports the weight of the camera or the lens barrel.
  • Make sure the camera is perpendicular to the subject ie: vertical (or horizontal if shooting from above) to the ground. Taking a photo with the camera at an angle to the subject will create distortions in the photo.
  • For dslrs, especially with a long lens, using a tripod, timed shutter delay or shutter release cable will always help prevent blurred photos from camera movement (especially if you have shaky hands), but you can also lean the edge of the camera or your body against a solid object such as a pole, wall or tree to help you keep still while the photo is taken.

Practice makes Perfect!

Unlike the days when photography was film based and costly for rolls of film and printing, digital cameras allow us to take as many photos as we want without costing anything.   Memory cards are relatively inexpensive and worth having several in the 16-128GB range.  

There is nothing like frequent practice to improve your photography skills.  Don’t be afraid to press that shutter release button! Think about each image before you create it, the composition, the angle, the lighting and try different variations taking several photos with each variation.  Use the zoom on your camera, or your move your position to get different views of the subject, from close up to including as much of the background as possible and with the light source coming from different directions.  

Take photos looking both up and down at an angle to the subject to see how the angle of the camera lens will cause distortion in the photo. This can make some very creative photos, but it can also ruin a good photo and can be very unflattering for portrait photography when it is not used intentionally.  By practicing these things you will soon work out what makes a great photo and what makes an awful one.

When starting out with photography it is best to keep the sun (or main light source) behind you so the subject is fully lit (backlight photography is beautiful,but it does take some experience and knowledge to get it right).

Play with different creative settings on your camera, shooting the same object to see how each setting changes the final photo.  These creative settings will be discussed in more detail later in the course.

Look through the different photos you have taken and select the ones you do and don’t like.  Doing this shortly after taking the photos when the memory is still fresh will help speed the learning process.   With experience, you won’t need to take as many photos to get good ones, but its always a good idea to take 2 or 3 photos of the subject (pausing for a few seconds between each one) to allow for accidental movement of the camera or subject, or people blinking etc.

It doesn’t cost anything but a little extra time, your number of really good photos will increase and you can simply delete the ones you don’t like.

This article is continued in  Part 2 of the Introduction to Photography.

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