Here are 10 Easy ways to Improve Your Photography
1. Take creative control.
What do I mean by this? Don’t shoot your camera in auto mode. Yes it is very easy to let the camera make all the decisions for you and modern cameras are great at this but if you really want to make better images you need to take back control.
The best way to do this is to put your camera into manual mode and choose which Aperture, shutter speed and ISO best suits what you are trying to photograph.
There are always creative choices when taking a shot. Do you want to blur the background, if so select a large (small number) aperture. Maybe you want to capture fast action, if so set a fast (1/500) shutter speed. Sometimes we want to create artistic blur or show movement by selecting a slow shutter speed (I find that anything from 1/2 second to 5 seconds works great for capturing moving water).
You don’t have to shoot in manual though. If you just want to control your aperture select A on the mode dial and now you have control of your aperture and the camera will select a suitable shutter speed. You can even set your camera to auto ISO (and on Nikon, Olympus, Fuji) and select parameters for the camera to follow such as the minimum shutter speed you require or the maximum ISO you want to use.
So next time you head out with your camera take back control from the computer inside it and you will feel much more in control of the shots you take.
2. Shoot in good light.
Light is the key to all photography. It is what determines the warmth of colour, shadow and highlights, contrast and impact of an image. If you are shooting landscapes then take advantage of the Golden hours of sunlight which happen around an hour either side of sunrise and sunset.
Quick tip, the light in the morning is a little colder. We are also less used to seeing morning light so it ould make your images stand out even more. You will also find this the best time to shoot glassy reflections on lakes because it is usually the least windy time of day.
3. Look for interesting shapes and textures.
Quite often some of the best photos are of everyday objects or scenes captured in an unusual and interesting way. Those without the photographers eye simply pass by these scenes without noticing the beauty within. So next time you are out don’t just focus on the wider scene but look for details that you can bring to life with your camera.
The above image would have been nothing without the symmetry and shape of the two geese creating an X shape. Combine this with the fire in the background and now perhaps the image starts to tell a story. Are the geese fleeing the fire, perhaps the X shape represents a negative thought about the practice of burning heather and the effect it has on wildlife. Whatever your interpretation it makes you stop and think a little longer and that is because of the shape created by the two birds within the frame.
4. Compose with colour.
Remember back to your high school art class. Remember primary colours, complementary and opposing colours. Well colour is a huge part of our lives. It can evoke emotion and that same emotion can be captured in your images. You can create a sense of tension by using opposing colours or perfect harmony by capturing complementary colours.
Great combinations are Orange/Blue, Green/red and purple/yellow.
Try composing a landscape with a red building in a green field or shoot a portrait with your subject dressed in yellow against a blue sky.
5. Check the viewfinder
A really great tip to stop you having to crop images later is to take a look around your viewfinder before pressing the shutter button. Is there anything in the corners that shouldn’t be there. Is there a distracting element that takes away from your main subject. If so recompose your shot to eliminate it and this will not only save you time later but improve your photo helping to keep the viewers focus on your subject.
6. Know the rule of thirds and break it consciously.
The rule of thirds is a very well known compositional theory that says you should place objects at intersecting lines within your photo to create balance and harmony. It is repeatedly endlessly as the main rule of composition in photography. But why stick to the rules. As long as you understand why you are breaking the rule then go ahead and be a bad ass and break it.
Try placing your subject bang in the centre of your image to create discomfort in the viewer, place a small subject towards the edge of frame to show its scale against a huge landscape or shoot a symetrical image perfectly aligned within the frame.
Photography at its best is an artform and artists don’t always conform to rules so neither should you.
7. Ask yourself what your subject is, what story you are trying to tell before pressing the shutter button.
With digital cameras it is far too easy to click away endlessly without any real thought going in to the photo you want to take. Stop, slow down and think about what it is that you are trying to say. Do you want to shoot just another tourist snap of the same location that has been photographed from the same spot a million times before. How can you make your image better, different or more interesting. Try different angles, different times of day or a different creative technique to give your shot the edge.
A really nice good way to do this is to limit yourself to a set number of pictures to take a day or week. I have done this before and limited myself to 3 pictures a day but choose a number that suits you. This makes you really consider whether the shot is worth taking or if you could improve it.
8. Use a Prime lens
A prime lens has a fixed focal length. A 50mm prime is a very popular choice as they can be small, fast and light as well as being close to the angle of view that we see with our eyes.
Often prime lenses are sharper than zooms and they are usually brighter, having a larger aperture. For instance Canon’s nifty fifty 50mm prime costs around $100 US yet has a bright f/1.8 aperture compared with their professional zooms costing thousands of dollars which are f/2.8. This allows the tiny 50mm to let in more light which is great for low light photography. It also allows you to use higher shutter speeds or lower ISO.
The main benefit of using a prime lens is that it limits you and being limited can be creatively rewarding. Once you are limited to a fixed focal length you have to use your imagination and eye to work with what you have. You learn to see the world around you in the way your lens sees and this actually makes you a better photographer. You forget about changing lenses, zooming and all other distractions and start to focus purely on the images that you want to capture.
This is why cameras like the Fuji X100T are so popular. They almost force you to think creatively and focus soley on creating photos.
9. Know your gear inside out.
Cameras can be confusing with such a vast array of setting and functions but at their heart they are simply a box that records light on to an image sensor. You control the amount of light hitting your sensor with Aperture and Shutter Speed and you control the brightness of your image with ISO. Your camera has a meter to estimate the light and shutter/aperture combination required. You can also change the way the camera interprets the light by way of changing the Jpegs settings such as saturation, contrast etc. If you shoot raw the latter doesn’t matter.
Once you feel comfortable with the basics there is a great exercise that I used to do which makes you feel completely at one with your camera.
Sit on your own (otherwise people will think you are weird) with you camera and practice changing the three main controls, aperture, shutter speed and ISO. You can even forget ISo if you shoot auto ISO as a lot of people do. Now take a note of how many clicks of the dials it takes to change your aperture by one full stop. Say from f/4 to f/5.6.
Now here is the part where you will look stupid but stay with me. Close your eyes and practice changing your aperture purely based on feel. See if you can accurately change your aperture from f/4 to f/11 and back again. Once you have mastered this do the same with shutter speed or any combination of the two and see if you can keep a track mentally of your settings.
Once you have mastered this you truly are a master of your camera and you will no longer have to consciously think about your settings. This will allow the camera to be an extension of yourself when taking images. Freeing up your mind to study what’s around you and shoot without hindrance.
Another thing to do is to use your camera and after a week or so work out what your most used settings are. Once you know this you can go in to your cameras menu and make these settings the most easily accessible. With Fuji you can add them to the Q menu. Canon and Nikon have My menu settings or even better you can re-program your cameras function buttons to change these settings. This is where Fuji and Olympus cameras really shine as they allow you to customise the function buttons to set up the camera almost exactly to your style. On many Olympus cameras you can even change the direction of the control dials and zoom ring.
10. Read some books.
There is no excuse not to give yourself the knowledge you need in order to become a better photographer. With the internet knowledge has been opened up to the masses in way like never before. There are thousands of free websites with valuable information on them. There are also some excellent books by experienced and successful authors that give you almost all the information you would ever need to become a great photographer. It is up to you to read them and put the information in to practice. You don’t even have to wait for a hard copy as digital downloads and eBooks are ready in seconds. A new camera will often give you inspiration to go out and shoot more but reading an informative and well written eBook will give you knowledge to actually improve the photos that you take.
I have read hundreds of books on photography and art over the lat 10 years or so. Some are little more than self publicity but some are real gems. I have selected a number of what I believe are the best books if you want to improve your photography. Not only are they full of great information and inspiring images but they are easy to read, not too heavy going and good value.
You can see the books I recommend in this article I have bought, read and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them. I can wholeheartedly recommend them.
There are also a whole host of eBooks available and I have been through and read a lot of them in order to bring you the ones which I think offer the best information and value. Take a look at my eBooks page where you can find everything from books on landscape photography, becoming a professional photographer, post processing and a lot more.