Today, anybody with a smart phone can be a photographer – no fancy equipment needed. See something interesting? Whip out that smart phone and capture it! Every day, people are taking amazing photos – I mean truly amazing and incredible images. Having a smart phone has unleashed the creative juices of millions of people who might otherwise go through life creatively frustrated. Before smart phones and digital cameras, most people would go about their business and say “Wow! You should have seen this really cool thing I saw! It was sooooo awesome!” Now they have proof. In the blink of a digital eye, they have preserved history for all the world to see, and I think that’s great. As a professional photographer I am awestruck by some of the images I see because they are beautiful. So, for all those people clicking away and creating compelling and mesmerizing works of art, thank you. For anyone who would like a little helpful advice, I’d like to offer some tips.
Sometimes capturing a great image happens by luck. No forethought or preplanning involved. “I came, I saw, I snapped a wicked awesome cool pitcha!” (For everyone not living in New England, that’s my Boston vernacular making itself known). Other times, taking a great photograph is all about the preparation and the perseverance: sitting outside in a blind in the middle of some God forsaken bad land at night with lots of biting, stinging, mauling, hungry insects, and beasts who make horribly terrifying, snorting, growling noises for example. Sometimes this self sacrifice is levied to capture a dew drop glistening on a left handed unicorn’s antler-horn at sunrise, so that we who have day jobs (or are scared of our own shadows) can marvel at it. These tips are not for the seasoned veteran photographer. These tips are for people who would like to improve their photography without a lot of fuss. So, for what it’s worth, here is a list of twenty tips that might improve your photography. It is by no means an all-inclusive list, nor is it listed in any order of importance. It’s just a few things I’ve picked up over the past four decades as a professional photographer.
1. The rule of thirds should be learned, practiced and incorporated in your everyday photographs. This tip will help to improve 90 percent of the images taken today. If you don’t know what this term refers to, I have handily supplied a link to Wikipedia’s definition here: Rule of thirds Read it, memorize it, live it.
2. Try to hold your image capturing device still when you take a picture. Motion is the number one culprit when it comes to images that appear to be out of focus or blurry.
3. If shooting outdoors and you don’t want to capture a silhouette of your subject or colors that appear washed out and faded, try positioning yourself so that the sun is behind, above, or left or right of the camera. Try to avoid having the sun shine directly into the lens by shielding it. If the sun is behind your subject, unintended issues may arise. Remember, lens flare can be ugly and is not your friend.
4. Pay attention to what is going on behind your subject. Ask yourself questions like “Does my subject benefit from appearing to have a telephone pole growing out of his head?” or “Do you think if I photograph this ant on a sandy beach, the background might be too busy?”
5. If you are taking a picture of a person and want to be able to identify them afterwards, try to include their head in your composition. I see a lot of pictures where peoples heads are cut off or half of their head is cut off. Remember, heads are more important than feet when taking portraits.
6. If taking a picture of a group of people and the environment is not important, center them in the frame. Group photos that have lots of foreground or excess sky are usually not considered engaging. Same thing is true of excessive space to left and right of the group.
7. If it is safe to do so, fill your frame / image area with your subject. When you take a picture of your friend with your smartphone, and they are sitting on the other side of the football stadium, chances are they might be tough to discern.
8. If you are taking pictures of a night time event like a circus or a hockey game, and you happen to be sitting more than five yards away from the action, forget the flash. You will have the same success of capturing a well exposed picture as you would trying to light the planet Pluto with a firefly from Earth. You will, however ,get a nice picture of the back of someone’s head in the next row, or blind someone who will not be able to see what’s happening at the event until their eyes adjust.
9. Don’t take pictures of approaching trains while standing on the tracks. Please be aware of your surroundings and be safe.
10. Try to photograph children at their level. History has proven that most kids are short. If you are 4-8 feet tall and have to point your camera down to take a picture of a child, you will only exaggerate their shortness.
11. Use a telephoto lens to photograph dangerous subjects, e.g. grizzly bears, muggers, lightning, tornadoes and anything that is out of control. If you don’t have a telephoto lens, just take the shot of whatever it is without getting close to it. If your photo is uninspiring, it’s okay. Ninety percent of the pictures taken can’t be wrong about this. Better to be safe than sorry.
12. If you take a really great photo or a not-so-great photo, turn around. There might be an even greater photo right behind you.
13. If you’re not happy with a picture or somebody’s expression, take another. Memory is cheap. If you’re still not satisfied, maybe you’re trying to capture a not-so-great picture or a person who is having a bad day.
14. Recharge your smart phone or camera or have fresh batteries in it before you head out the door. Who knows, you might stumble into Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster or a unicorn, and if your battery is dead all you can do is say “Wow! You should have seen this really cool thing I saw! It was sooooo awesome!” And of course, everyone will believe you.
15. Download the images you have taken, often. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of people losing images that were sacred to them (with subjects like Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster or a unicorn).
16. Get up early if you want to take pictures of landscapes or wait until late afternoon. Long shadows create depth and if the sun is directly over head everything looks flat (Kate Upton aside). Nobody wants to see a picture of a flat uninspiring Almost Grand Canyon.
17. Don’t take portraits of people when the sun is overhead unless they prefer to look like a raccoon or they love the Goth, addict or zombie look.
18. Learn the features of your camera and become familiar with how it works so that using it becomes intuitive. We have all been witness to people posing for a photographer who takes too long to take the picture.
19. If you are debating about taking a picture that is not rude, offensive, demeaning or unwelcomed, take the picture. You might be pleasantly surprised by the result. Naturally, I am not referring to paparazzi type photos.
20. Practice, practice, practice. . . .and have fun out there!
Thanks for reading – Chuck