I’ve been wanting to do this post featuring some photography tips for quite a while but kept putting it off because I felt as I was still too much of a newbie to be offering any advice. But then I realized I’ll probably always be learning and there is nothing wrong with sharing what I’ve learned so far. So I want to clarify that this not some expert offering premium advice, just a gal who has been experimenting for many years.
Back in 2009, after a long time scrimping and saving, I bought a refurbished, “already-outdated” Canon Rebel XTi. Over the years, having an older camera never really bothered me because I often preferred the blurry or grainy look of some photos—the ones that looked like they were found in a shoe box full of old memories. I also didn’t—and don’t—believe in running out to get the latest gadget because the manufacturer moves one button and adds a couple megapixels and shames you into thinking the one you bought last year is obsolete. But after borrowing my brother’s T2i (now already 3 years old) earlier this year, I realized digital photography took some strides in the four year gap between our cameras and I longed for an upgrade.
I tend to use titles for the sake of convenience. Just like with Artist, Seamstress, Gardener and many other titles, I always hesitate before calling myself a Photographer. I sure don’t feel like a photographer, just someone who is having fun learning how to take pictures. People think I know a lot about cameras and photography, but honestly, I don’t. I’ve simply taken pictures every single day since getting a DSLR camera in 2009. Every. Single. Day. But I am still learning things, even basic things. (Which may just mean I am a slow learner…)
Some people consider a photographer to be someone who takes a perfect technical photo, where all the settings are just right. Other people think photographers are those who tell a story or evoke a feeling through a picture, regardless of it’s technical quality. I tend side with the latter camp but I think a happy medium is where I want to be. You have to learn to crawl before you can run.
I’m not a brand-loyal person with too many things but I guess I would now consider myself a Canon Girl. I had a Canon A640 for the three years before my XTi. And I use my Grandfather’s old Canon AE-1 film camera. When I decided to get a DSLR, Canon just made sense (plus as far as refurbished/used options, the Canon was more in my price range.)
Like I said earlier, I really don’t feel like the most qualified person to be sharing tips and advice. But I have learned a few things (mostly through trial and error) over the years and maybe, jut maybe, they are things that you could benefit from. If you are interested in some articles filled with tips from photographers who really know what they are talking about, check out my Pinterest board on the subject. In the meantime, here is a hodgepodge of tips and lessons learned, both technical and design oriented, general and personal opinions:
- Say No To Auto You’ll never learn anything about photography by having the camera do everything for you. And you’ll have wasted a lot of money on a DSLR when you could have just stuck with your phone’s camera to get decent point-and-shoot shots. DSLRs have many different manual settings, such as aperture priority, shutter priority, etc, so you can learn one setting at a time.
- Sneak Peek But with that said, sometimes you need a signpost. If your stumped, go ahead and use full auto. The settings your camera chose can give you a good spring board for where to start manually. I did this a lot in the beginning when I was having trouble matching up shutter speeds, apertures and ISO.
- Reset Remember to reset your settings back to ‘auto’ or whatever your normal is before turning the camera off. You don’t want to grab your camera to shoot something this morning only to realize that you still have all the settings set for the dark lighting of last night’s festivities (or the self-timer setting still turned on!) The moment could pass before you get to get things back to normal.
- ISO Lower ISOs are great for bright light situations. Higher ISOs are needed for brightening darker, indoor shoots. But the higher the ISO, the grainier and noisier the photo will be. So, choose the lowest ISO setting your light situation can afford.
- Shutter Speed It’s just that, how fast the camera opens. The slower the speed the more you risk blur; the faster the speed, the more sharpness. The slower it opens the more light can get in so your photo will be brighter. So a lower number=blurryier but brighter, higher number=sharper but darker.
- Aperture This part controls how wide your lens opens. Unlike the numbers suggest, the wider apertures are the smaller numbers (called f-stops) while the narrower apertures are the larger numbers. So the higher your f-stop/number, the less it opens and the less the light will get in. Also, the higher the number/f-stop, means more of your scene will be in focus (good for landscape or group photos) while a lower f-stop number will give you more blur in the background (good for specific subjects.) I’m a bit of a f/1.8 junkie because I like the short, specific focus and since it’s letting in more light, I can use use a faster shutter speed and hopefully get sharper, clearer photos.
- Natural Light I’m probably a bit biased because I loathe flash. But, I do believe you should avoid flash and learn how to get good photos in natural light.
- Think Odd and Off-Center You really have to gauge what your situation is but as far as composition, try taking photos with an odd number of subjects/items in the frame. I once read that our brains love symmetry and process even numbered things quicker. An odd number takes a bit more work for the brain and will hopefully keep your viewer’s eye longer. Same goes for having your subject be off-center.
- Don’t Fear the Shutter It’s digital! As long as you have a large enough memory card, don’t worry about taking too many photos. Eventually you can get to a point where you know enough of what you’re doing to get the perfect photo after just a shot or two. But in the beginning, take as many as you can. Weed through them later. (Film is different, there is a lot more hesitation. Every frame requires money to develop.)
- Be Selective I was being very serious about weeding through them, though. Don’t post or share every single photo you took to Facebook or your blog. Be selective. Pick one or two that speak the best.
- Crop/Zoom There are differing opinions on whether or not to crop. It’s tempting to snap a picture and crop your photos later. I do it. But you risk losing quality when you do that. You may want to aim for the exact cropped frame you want when taking the photo. But I have learned that the further you zoom in with a lens, the more sensitive it can be, so you’ll need a super steady hand or else physically get closer to you subject. (I generally use a prime/non-zoom lens so I have to do this anyway.)
- Digital Editing Post processing is another issue that has differing opinions in the photography world. I used to be more of purist when it came to digital photography. I still don’t like overly-edited/overly-processed photos but I have slackened up on the likes of Photoshop these days and I use it quite a bit. Like the quote at the top of this post states, photography isn’t always about capturing a perfect visual representation of something but more how it makes you feel, what you, as the photographer, are trying to convey. Don’t be afraid of playing with your photos in Photoshop or other editing software. They are just tools in the whole digital photography experience. (When it comes to my film photos, I never edit them in Photoshop. That kind of defeats the point of film photography in my opinion.)
- Re-Size This bit of advice is more for bloggers and people who upload their photos to the web. Even if you are dead set against editing, the one thing you should always do is re-size your images to make them internet-ready. For people like me who have well-below average internet speeds, waiting for huge files to load is annoying. (Sadly, in our fast-paced culture, if your page takes too long to load, most people will give up and move on to the next thing.) Somewhere around 1000 pixels wide is best.
- Candid is Beautiful Deep down, I think everyone prefers honest, candid photos. That quick snap of someone laughing, even if it’s blurry and the lighting is all wrong is so much more meaningful than a forced, posed photo. It usually comes down to people being uncomfortable in front of cameras. Oddly enough, for someone who takes a lot of pictures of herself, I’m really camera shy and awkward when someone else takes my picture. And even shy about taking posed photos of other people. (But I’ve taken some pretty amazing ninja candid shots of people, without them knowing.) Aim for candid or interact with your subject to loosen them up. Try handing the the camera back and forth so you feel like equals.
- Get in the Frame It makes me sad to see how many photo albums moms or dads have of every single move their baby/child has made but are, themselves, in very few of those photos. Use the self-timer if you have to. You were there, you were part of it, you deserve to be documented as so. If your friends have grown tired of you practicing your photography on them, try taking some photos of yourself.
The internet is a big wide place and there is so much more info out there. But the best way to learn is by doing.
What tips or tricks do you have for digital photography?