Many people think they can improve their photography by buying a brand new camera. The reality is that in photography the technique is much more important than the equipment. And taking good pictures is something anyone can do with any camera, if you practice enough and avoid common mistakes.
Step 1. Read the camera manual, and learn what each dial, switch, button, and menu item does
You should at least know how to turn on, turn off, and auto-set the flash, how to zoom in and out, and how to use the shutter button. Some cameras have a small beginner's guide in a booklet, but also offer a larger guide for free on the manufacturer's site.
Step 2. Set the camera's resolution to capture high-quality photos at the highest possible resolution
Low-resolution images are much more difficult to digitally adjust later; it also means you won't be able to crop as enthusiastically as with a higher-resolution version (so you can still print the result). If you have a small memory card, get a bigger one; if you don't want that or you can't buy a new one, use the "fine" quality setting, if your camera has one, at a smaller resolution.
Step #3. Start by setting your camera to one of its automatic modes, if you have a choice
Most useful is the "Program" or "P" mode on DSLRs. Ignore the advice that you should use your camera completely manually; the advances made in the last fifty years in automatic focusing and metering have not been in vain. If your photos are poorly focused or poorly lit, start using certain features manually.
Step 4. Take your camera with you everywhere
If you always have your camera with you, you will see the world differently; you search and find opportunities to take great pictures. And of course you will take more pictures; and the more you take, the better you become as a photographer. Plus, if you take pictures of your friends and family, they will get used to the idea that you always have your camera with you. This will make them feel less uncomfortable or intimidated when you take out your camera; this leads to more natural, less "posed" photos. Also, don't forget spare batteries, or charge it if you have a digital camera.
Step 5. Go outside
Motivate yourself to take pictures outdoors in natural light. Just take a few shots to get a feel for the light at different times of the day and night. Go outside at different times, especially when normal people are sleeping, eating or watching TV; the light at these times is often dramatic and unusual for many people, precisely because they never see it for themselves!
Step 6. Keep the lens clear of caps, thumbs, straps, and other obstructionsYes, it's obvious, but it can completely ruin a photo. This isn't much of a problem with modern digital cameras where you see what the lens sees, and even less so with an SLR. But people still make these kinds of mistakes sometimes.
Step 7. Set your white balanceSimply put, the human eye automatically compensates for different types of light; white looks white to us in almost any light. A digital camera compensates for this by shifting the colors in certain ways. For example, with light from incandescent lamps it will shift the colors towards blue to compensate for the redness of this type of light. White balance is one of the most important, and underused, settings on modern cameras. Learn how to set them and what the different settings mean. If you're not working in artificial light, the "Shade" (or "Cloudy") setting is usually a good choice; you get very warm colors. If it looks too red, it's very easy to correct later with software. "Auto", the default setting for most cameras, sometimes works well, but sometimes results in too cool colors.
Step 8. Set a slower ISO speed, if conditions permit
This is less of an issue with DSLRs, but especially important with compact digital cameras (which tend to have small sensors that are more sensitive to noise). A slower ISO speed (lower number) means less noise in photos; but you also have to use slower shutter speeds, which means that you can photograph less well-moving subjects, for example. For stationary subjects in good light (or low light, if you're using a tripod and remote), use the slowest ISO speed you have.
Step 9. Think carefully about your composition
Frame the picture in your head before you do that with the camera. Remember the following rules, but especially the last one:
- Use the rule of thirds, where the key points in your scene are on the "third" lines. Don't try to make horizons or other lines "split the picture in half."
- Avoid distracting backgrounds and clutter. If this means you and your girlfriend have to move around a bit so it doesn't look like a tree is growing out of her head, then do so. If a glare comes from the windows of the house across the street, change your angle a bit to avoid it. If you're taking vacation photos, have your family put down all the gear they're carrying, and take off backpacks and fanny packs. Keep that clutter out of the frame of the photo, and you'll get much nicer and less cluttered photos. If you can blur the background in a portrait, do so. And so forth.
Step 10. Ignore the advice aboveThink of the above as laws, which usually work but are always subject to legal interpretation - not absolute rules. If you stick to it too much it will lead to boring photos. For example, clutter and sharp backgrounds can add context, contrast, and color; perfect symmetry in a shot can be dramatic and so on. Every line can and sometimes must be broken for artistic effect. So many beautiful photos are taken.
Step 11. Fill the frame with your subjectDon't be afraid to get closer to your subject. On the other hand, if you use a digital camera and have enough megapixels to spare, you can crop later with software.
Step 12. Try an interesting angle
Instead of shooting the subject straight from the front, you can look down on it, or bend over and look up. Choose an angle that shows maximum color and minimum shadow. To make things look longer or higher, a low angle can help. If you want a striking photo, it's best to be flush with the subject. Or you may want to make the object appear smaller, or as if you are floating above it; to get that effect, hold the camera over the object. An unusual angle makes for a more interesting photo.
Step 13. Focus
Poor focusing is one of the most common ways photos are ruined. Use your camera's autofocus, if you have one; usually this is done by half-pressing the shutter button. Use your camera's "macro" mode for very close-up shots. Don't focus manually unless your autofocus is failing; as with light metering, autofocus usually does much better than you do.
Step 14. Keep still
Many people are surprised by how blurry their photos are when they are close-up, or when shooting from a distance. To minimize blur: If you're using a large camera with a zoom, hold the camera (with your finger on the shutter button) with one hand, and support the lens by holding your other hand underneath. Keep your elbows close to your body and use this position to secure yourself. If your camera or lens has stabilization capabilities, use them (this is called IS on Canon gear, and VR, for Vibration Reduction, on Nikon gear).
Step 15. Consider using a tripodIf your hands are shaky, or you're using very large (and slow) telephoto lenses, or you're trying to take photos in low light, or you need to take several identical shots in succession (like HDR photography), or you're taking panoramic shots, you'd better use a tripod. For very slow shutter speeds (more than a second), you can use a cable release (for older cameras with film) or a remote control; you can use your camera's self-timer if you don't have this stuff.
Step 16. Don't consider using a tripod, especially if you don't already have one
A tripod limits your freedom of movement, and the possibility to quickly change your framing. It's also extra weight to lug around, which is discouraging to go outside to take pictures at all. As a general rule, you only need a tripod if your shutter speed is equal to or slower than the reciprocal of your focal length. If you can avoid using a tripod by using faster ISO speeds (and therefore faster shutter speeds), or by using your camera's image stabilization capabilities, or simply by going somewhere with better light, then do so.
Step 17. If you're in a situation where you'd really like to have a tripod, but don't have it handy, try one or more of the following suggestions to reduce movement:
- Turn on image stabilization on your camera (not all digital cameras have this) or lens (only some expensive lenses have this).
- Zoom out (or use a wider lens) and get closer. This will reduce the effect in a smaller change toward the camera, and increase your maximum aperture for a shorter exposure.
- Hold the camera at two points off-center, such as the handle near the shutter button and the opposite corner, or near the end of the lens. (Don't hold a sensitive collapsible lens on a compact camera, don't hold anything in front of the camera that wants to move itself like a focus ring, and don't hold anything in front of the lens.) This will reduce the angle at which the camera moves when your hands are around and go again.
- Press the shutter button slowly, gradually and gently, and don't stop until after the picture is taken. Try to keep your index finger above the camera, and press the shutter button with the second joint of the finger for a smoother movement (you'll be pressing the top of the camera all the while).
- Rest the camera against something (or do so with your hand if you're concerned about scratches), and/or hold your arms against your body or sit down and rest your arms against your knees.
- Place the camera on something (a bag or a strap) and use the self-timer to avoid the motion of pressing the button when the camera is resting on something soft. There is a small chance that the camera will tip over, so be careful not to drop it too far, and avoid this with a very expensive camera or one with accessories such as a flash that can break or break pieces of the camera. If you plan on doing this more often, you can bring a bean bag with you, which will work well for this. There are also "beanbags" available especially for this purpose, bags of dried beans are cheap and the contents can be eaten if the bag wears out or you buy a new one.
Step 18. Relax when pressing the shutter button
Also, try not to hold the camera up for too long; this will make your hands and arms shaky. Practice bringing your camera to your eye, focusing and metering, and take the shot in one quick, smooth action.
Step 19. Avoid red eyes
Red eyes are caused when your eyes dilate in low light. When your pupils are large, the flash will illuminate the blood vessels in the back of your eyeball, which is why it appears red. If you must use a flash in poor light, try to keep the person from looking directly at the camera, or use a bounce flash. Aim your flash above your models' heads, especially if the surrounding walls are bright, to avoid red-eye. If you don't have a separate flash gun that you can adjust, use the red-eye reduction feature on your camera, if you have one - it will fire a few times before the shutter opens, causing your models' pupils to constrict, causing red eyes. reduce eyes. Even better, don't take pictures that require a flash; find a location with better light.
Step 20. Use your flash wisely, and not when you don't have to
A flash can often cause ugly reflections in poor light, or make the subject of your photo look pale; the latter is especially the case with photos of people. On the other hand, a flash is very useful for filling in shadows; for example, to avoid the "raccoon eye" effect in bright daylight (if you have a fast enough flash sync speed). If you can avoid using a flash by going outside or holding the camera steady (allowing you to use a slower shutter speed without moving), or setting a slower ISO speed (for faster shutter speeds), do so.
If you don't want the flash to be the primary light source in the photo, set it to give the correct exposure at an aperture about one stop wider than what would otherwise be correct and what you would actually be using for the exposure (which depends on the ambient light intensity and shutter speed, which cannot exceed the flash sync speed). This can be done by choosing a specific stop with a manual or electronic flash, or by using "flash exposure compensation" on a modern camera
Step 21. Browse your photos and pick the best one
See what makes them best and keep using the methods that produced the best photos. Also, don't be afraid to throw away photos. Be ruthless; If you don't think it's a very nice picture, throw it away. If, like most people, you use a digital camera, it costs nothing more than your time. Remember that before you delete them, you can learn a lot from your worst photos; find out why they don't look good, then don't.
Step 22. Practice, Practice, Practice
Take lots and lots of photos -- try to fill your memory card (or use as much film as you can get developed, but don't use film until you can get lots of good photos with a simple digital camera: until then you'll have a lot of mistakes to make to and it's nice to make them for free and see it right away, when you can find out right away what you did and why it was wrong under those circumstances). The more photos you take, the better you get, and the more you (and everyone else) will love your photos. Use new or different angles, and find new subjects to shoot, and keep busy; you can make even the most boring, everyday thing look great if you shoot it creatively enough. Also get to know the limits of your camera; how well it performs in different types of light, how well autofocus performs at different distances, how well it handles moving subjects, and so on.
- To find an interesting angle in a tourist spot, you look where everyone takes their picture, and then you go to a completely different place. You don't want to have the same photo as everyone else.
- Remove your photos from your memory card as soon as possible. Make backups; make several backups if possible. Every photographer has experienced, or will experience, the loss of a beautiful photo or photos unless he or she develops this habit. So make backups!
- If you're taking pictures of kids, do it at their level! Photos looking down at the top of a child's head are usually pretty dull. Don't be lazy and get on your knees.
- Install photo software and learn how to use it. You can correct color balance, adjust exposure, crop your photos and much more. Most cameras come with software to make these simple adjustments. For more complicated operations, you can buy Photoshop, download and install the free GIMP program, or use Paint. NET, a free lightweight photo editing program for Windows users.
- If the camera has a strap, use it! Hold the camera so that the strap is stretched as far as possible, which will help keep the camera steady. It also prevents you from dropping the camera.
- Buy a National Geographic newspaper or magazine and watch professional photojournalists tell stories with images. You can also look at photo sites like Flickr or deviantART for inspiration. Try Flickr's camera finder to see what people are doing with the cheapest compact cameras. Look at the Camera Data on deviantART. But don't spend so much time finding inspiration that you stop going out on your own.
- Have a notebook ready and write down what works well and what doesn't. Read your notes regularly as you practice.
- Upload to Flickr or Wikimedia Commons and maybe one day you'll see your photos on wikiHow!
- Your camera doesn't matter. Almost any camera can take good pictures under the right conditions. Even a modern camera phone is good enough for many types of photos. Learn the limits of your camera and bypass them; don't buy new equipment until you know exactly what these limits are, and are sure they are bothering you.
- If you are taking digital photos it is better to leave the photo underexposed as this can be corrected later with software. Detail in shadow can be retrieved; blown highlights (the white areas in an overexposed photo) can never be recovered because there is nothing to recover. With film it is the other way around; shadow detail is usually poor compared to digital cameras, but blown highlights are rare, even with massive overexposure.
- If you take pictures of people, their pets, or even their home, get permission. The only exception is if you're recording a crime. It is always polite to ask.
- Be careful when taking pictures of statues, art, and even architecture; even if it is in public places, in many jurisdictions it could amount to copyright infringement in these works.
- Beware of taking photographs of statues, artwork, and even architecture; even if it is located in public places, in many jurisdictions this can often constitute a violation of the copyright in these works.