How to take a better photograph
Getting acquainted with your camera is important, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of taking a great photo. I am a firm believer that the cheaper your camera, the better the results. The bells and whistles of an expensive camera are great if you know how to use them but they are not essential building blocks for creating a beautiful visual record of your life. What follows are some simple steps to consistently taking better photos in the most common scenarios.
Not so cheap lookinng photos taken with a cheap camera.
Shoot from the hip
I can’t tell you how many photos I’ve taken without looking through the viewfinder. Why would I do that? Well, for one, I hate being stuck behind the lens. If you go through your life with one eye shut, you’re missing half the fun. Then put that one eye behind a lens designed to crop off my view? Forget about it. No. I can see who’s coming and going, and that’s where the action is. Plus, when you’re not aiming, your photos don’t end up looking like everyone else’s photos. They’re instantly entertaining because they not only capture the story of the moment, but they do so from a unedited perspective. Ah, that’s the stuff!
These were taken by holding my arm outside and above the car.
From the aisle. Seated. One handed. Slam dunk.
Above the head.
I shoulda had a V8
My wife is constantly making fun of the way I shoot photos. I absolutely refuse to hold the camera steady. If you want the easiest way to make a scene a little more interesting to look at, tilt your camera. Your brain will ask you to make a perfect horizontal line with the horizon. Forget about it. Tilt the horizon. Make those moments more interesting by giving them some weight and balance problems. Photos on the edge are just plain fun.
Quick! Get that beer before it tips over!
What’s good for the tilted goose is good for the tilted gander.
OMG! The church is sliding off the earth!
Kill your flash
Especially in low light situations. It may be a little funky at times, but more often than not you’ll get a perfect photo that keeping your camera on auto-flash would have otherwise killed. It’s kill or be killed.
One of the reasons I love to turn off my flash, by the way, is that you can see much more clearly how yellow and rad most indoor lighting is. The more photos you take over time, the more you see how colors around you are affecting the quailty of your image. In low-light situations, where there is often only one source of light, you get to see exactly how light works. Take that knowledge outside and you’ll see marked improvements, I guarantee.
One word of caution: make sure you haven’t had too much caffeine. The shaking in your hands will show up in the image. Often you will need to find a hard, steady surface to set your camera on in order to stop “the shakes.”
No flash. Preserve those colors!
No flash. Colors and action. Blurred, but no worse for the wear.
No flash, indoors, night. Very steady hand. Why would anyone photograph themselves in their PJ’s watching TV is another matter altogether.
No flash, bright backlight, camera-phone. Kind of a cool image.
No flash, plenty of light, but action is captured better.
Don’t be shy
Seriously. If you’re going to take on the mission of being the documentary film-maker of the bunch, get rid of your inhibitions. What’s the worst that could happen? The worst thing that ever happened to me while I was taking a photo to its logical limits was accidentally stepping in a pond at a restaurant. And what a better memory than that? So get out there and step in it!
Sometimes its about the audience.
Sometimes it’s about the show.
Sometimes it’s about a hole-in-one.
And sometimes you just can’t resist the urge. “It’s so important.”
As an adult it’s always a challenge to photograph kids. Here’s a couple of things to keep in mind. Kids love it when you’re on their level. Get down on your hands and knees and shoot upwards toward them. They love it. Same is true of most adults, although they rarely admit it!
Don’t waste your breath making kids behave for the photo. If they are doing things in a photo that you would let them do anyway, what’s the harm? If they’re being goofy, let them be goofy. You’re not a wedding photographer, so don’t worry about losing your job. You’re not stuffing a portfolio – you’re capturing the moment. Look at it this way. In twenty years you’ll have an embarrassing photo for the kid to boot!
Up high is OK.
But eye-level is better.
Kids of all shapes and sizes.
Some are tame.
Just let them be.
Eye-level is good. Carpet-level is great! Now if only I’d used a flash!
That’s a little fat me. My mom took this!
Let the kid shoot the picture
You’d be amazed what they come up with. Kids have an untrained eye. The less intimidated by the fear of “shooting a good photograph” the better the image. Kids have pure talent. Let them go wild with it. Their perspective is just as important.
I wish I had some examples of this: SEND ME A PHOTO AND I’LL INCLUDE IT HERE. email: kelly ‘at’ dandelife ‘dot’ com
Be The Hef
Fact: when people are gathered for a group photo, they tend to tilt their heads toward the person in the center. It’s as true in the society pages of your local gossip mag as much as it is in the oodles of photos you have in your photo albums. Why do people do that? All it does is make them look uncomfortable. So if you see somone tilting his head, make sure you help him straighten up. Or, as Stephanie says, “Just be The Hef”
“The Hef?” you ask. My wife once pointed out to me that Hugh Hefner never tilts his head in a photo. Why? Because he’s “The Hef.” People are always gathered around him in group photos. The Hef knows that it’s the photographer’s place to get all the heads in the shot.
The Hef in our family is MorMor. She’s 94 years old and leans in for no photo.
No lean-in. Good.
Lean-in. Not bad, but could be better.
Most people are uncomfortable with you getting right up in their face for a photo. But you know what? You get a better portrait that way. Most of don’t have time for messing with the zoom. Nor do we have the money for “good” zoom lenses. You’ve got the best zoom in the world with your feet. Get close. The closest you’ll ever have to stand for a close-up is normal conversational distance. So don’t think of it as a photo but as a conversation. In the end, you’ll have a better picture and they’ll thank you for it.
Tip: keep breath mints cose at hand.
Far away, no detail.
Up close, detail.
The closer the better!
Most of the examples here are of social situations, featuring people in their environment. Some of you will be photographing buildings, streets, the countryside and places of interest. For those situations I don’t have much advice. They’re not my forte. I did find a couple of good photographic resources for you to look up though. So follow these links and learn some more.
- Kodak’s 10 Tips for Great Pictures
- BBC’s Guide: How to Take Good Photographs
- National Geographic Photography Guides and Gear
Links via lifehacker’s photo archives:
- How to take great group photos (via Digital Photography School)
- CNET Photo and Video Courses (sign-up required)
- Taking Professional Looking Photos without a Professional
- Less Cursing, Better Pictures (David Pogue from the New York Times)