When the daguerreotype (an early type of photography) was a new phenomenon in the early 1800s, technology determined pictures could consist of nothing more than stoic-faced people in a studio, standing or sitting in stationary poses. While the days of restricted photographic technology are behind us, many amateur photographers are still stunted by a lack of skills necessary to take good pictures.
Below are four main areas and several simple tips to help you take more visually pleasing photographs. They can be incorporated into any kind of shot with any kind of camera, and they only cost the time it takes you to read this article.
1) Know Your Equipment and its Limits
“I don’t see a lot of technical problems in photography,” said Dr. Jay Friedlander, director of the Mass Communication Program and photojournalism professor. “Most people are using automatic cameras with auto exposure and auto focus.”
If you do not have an automatic camera, take the time to learn how to use your equipment. Different shutter speeds can dramatically alter a photo, as can the focus (or lack thereof). Learn the benefits of a flash and when to use it. For instance, most people think a flash is only necessary in dim light. If it’s a bright, sunny day, the flash can define your subject when the sunlight is behind it. Different lenses offer different effects, and even the type of film can enhance a picture’s quality. As a rule of thumb, the higher the film speed number, the better the pictures.
If you are inclined to stick with disposable cameras that can be purchased at Wal-Mart for $3.94, feel free to shoot away. Just remember your artistic endeavors will be limited.
2) Focus on Composition
The first element is knowing the purpose of the photos you’re going to take. Wedding pictures differ from art class pictures, which differ from snapshots of your friends. Pinpointing a purpose can help you decide how to set-up and take the shot.
“A good picture should tell a story,” said Stephanie Bolling, editor-in-chief of Omnibus and an amateur photographer. “There needs to be something to grab the viewer’s attention and it needs to be interesting to look at.”
Avoid cluttered or distracting backgrounds to keep viewers focused on the main subject. Also try to employ the “rule of thirds,” a widely accepted photography technique which states that subjects should not be dead-centered. Instead, when looking through your viewfinder, divide the picture into nine equal squares (think tic-tac-toe board), and place your main subject at one of the intersections of the lines.
As simple as it sounds, get close. Minute details that enhance a person or the photo’s story are missed if the camera is too far away. Kodak recommends a three-foot distance between photographer and subject, as a closer range may cause blurriness. If you’re trying not to disturb your subject, employ the use of a zoom lens.
Keep the camera steady and focused, and watch the horizon line to make sure it’s straight.
3) See Things Differently
Remember, rules were made to be broken. As Lil’ Jon and the East Side Boyz continuously suggest, get low or sometimes get high, just get out of the norm. Friedlander suggests using a variety of angles to spice up your photo albums and avoid clichÃ©d photographs.
“Time and lighting also give a different view of things,” he said. “Framing a picture, or looking through something, can offer a different look.” An example of framing would be to take a picture through a window using the casing as a frame.
Bolling added that to view things out of the ordinary, include unusual subjects. Instead of always trying to incorporate people, try taking pictures of scenes and landscapes that will help trigger fond memories.
“When I take photos, I try to capture the essence of being with something that is beautiful and shows life. I also like pictures that say something and will make the viewer think,” she said.
A change of film can also add some flavor to your pictures. Since most of us see the world in color, black and white photos add a new perspective on everyday observations.
Change is your friend.
4) Edit or throw away imperfect photos
Not every picture is worth a thousand words. Some aren’t worth anything, so shut them up and throw them away.
Friedlander reasons that if you take multiple shots of the same subject, there’s no need to show all of them, especially the bad ones. That said, he understands many people don’t share this philosophy.
“I think people just have a hard time throwing them away after having spent money on them,” he said.
But not all “bad” pictures are unfixable. Digital technology allows you the freedom to erase the bad pictures and only upload and print the ones you like. Also, programs like Photoshop can clean up lackluster shots. Not only can you crop, or cut, photos, you can also fine-tune the focus and adjust the coloring so they look more natural and sharp.
After all is processed and developed, your pictures only have to look good — and mean something — to you. But please, heed Friedlander’s advice.
“Every thought is not great and every sentence written is not a great sentence, and sometimes you just have to start over,” he said. “It’s the same with pictures; some just aren’t worth inflicting on everyone.”