10 Pro Tips: How to Take Good Photos
Photo Credit: Redd Angelo
Want to know how to take good photos without having the best camera in the world? Wish you could take better photos with the camera you currently have? In this article you will learn 10 awesome tips on how to take good photos no matter what camera you have.
This, by no means, will make you an amazing photographer overnight. It will, if committed to memory and consistently practiced, give you an advantage over a lot of other people!
Most of the photography tips we are going to cover relate to portrait work of people with natural lighting but can also apply to other genres of photography.
1. Learn your camera inside and out
This is the part everyone wants to skip over but you really can’t if you want to master your camera. No matter how boring it is, it’s time to get out your manual and read through it! If you don’t have a manual, just run a Google search of the name of your camera and find videos with walkthrough tutorials on how to use it. You really need to know how all the settings work and what they all mean. Most cameras have more settings than one will ever need to know or use. Even if you don’t use all of the features, it’s important to get comfortable and commit it to muscle memory.
Learning your camera inside and out will give you the confidence you need to go into any situation. Most photographers are sweating bullets during a shoot because they don’t understand how their camera works and are fearful of being in a situation where they get stuck. Don’t get stuck. Do your homework and you will be grateful you did.
2. Shoot in manual mode
Most people spend years avoiding manual mode because let’s face it – it’s kind of confusing. Not all cameras have a manual mode that you can switch, but if your DSLR has it, make sure to take advantage of it. Just so you know: manual mode is the one with the “M”. Shooting in manual mode means you can lock in all your settings so all your shots are consistent from image to image. It will slow down your shooting process which will give you time to think and process what you’re doing. However, it will significantly speed up your editing process. Once you find the correct settings needed for a scene, you can keep taking tons photos and move around (in the same area) without needing to change a thing. Plus, you’ll have the confidence knowing the setting you apply are not going to switch up automatically on you and cause the image to look different.
It’s not a big deal if your camera does not have manual mode. Just apply whatever settings you can find to get it as close to manual as possible. You want to be in full control of how your images look. Don’t let your camera decide.
3. Shoot during golden hour
Photography is mostly about lighting. The golden hour is the time just before sunset and is the best time of day to shoot outdoors. Typically it falls one hour before the sun sets behind the horizon. The sun is much lower causing the lighting to become super soft and relatively even throughout the entire shoot, great for flattering light. Plan your shoots around that time and you will significantly increase the cool factor in all your images. This lighting creates sun flare and really makes your images pop. Plus golden hour has a magical feel to it which makes the images look way more interesting. As you get closer and closer to sunset you may need to begin changing your settings as the light slowly fades away. During this time the sky colors are also changing constantly which will give a you ton of variety!
If lighting is so important, why not just shoot portraits at the brightest time of the day? Great question. The sun at midday can cause deep dark shadows on your subjects face. The more you shoot during golden hour the more opportunities you will have to stumble upon really interesting light.
4. Shoot interesting things
Not going to lie about this: If something doesn’t catch your eye, it’s probably not going to be too interesting in photos either. Sure, you can definitely make things more interesting in photos. By “cropping out sadness” (Portlandia) and creating a world that you want to be a part of. But if you’re not shooting things that interest you, your work can only be so good.
You have to get out and explore; find locations and scenes that are beautiful and different. Always be on the lookout for places people wouldn’t normally go to. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a beautiful sky with mountains it could be a dirty back alley or a foggy road. Just go shoot in places no one else dares go and you may just start seeing a difference in how your work looks. This same thing applies to your subjects wardrobe, makeup and overall style. Let’s face it, some people are more interesting looking than others. This isn’t necessarily a beauty contest. It’s more about shooting people who have a unique look that stands out. Don’t let this step limit you. Most of us have to make the most of what we are given but this shouldn’t be an excuse to give up.
The picture above actually proves this. Most of my work does not look like this but for some reason I came away from this wedding really loving this shot. Normally I take couples into spots where the lighting is super soft and easy to work with. However, for this one wedding I was working with a videographer from California who is obsessed with shooting in the woods (ie. Oregon/Washington). Unfortunately, we don’t have much of that in South Florida but somehow he made it happen. We were wrapping up with bride and groom portraits on the beach when he had the idea to take them into the mangroves. It was a tight little area to work with but it was an idea I never would have thought to do (mostly because our brides don’t like dirt – lol). But the reality was that little spot really caught his eye and he went after it and because of it we got some really unique pictures.
5. Backlight your subjects
For portrait work in natural lighting, it can be flattering to backlight your subjects. This is especially true if you are shooting during the golden hour. This sunlight behind the head of your subject can create a rim of light that makes them pop off your background. It provides separation between the scenery and your subject. You don’t necessarily want to shoot directly into the sun so move around by changing your position constantly and try a variety of looks. I sometimes use the subject’s head or body as a shield to block the sun light from spilling into the lens too much. If you’re noticing the light is leaking into the camera and making the image appear muddy or washed out, you can correct that by using a lens hood or positioning yourself higher and shooting down.
6. Shoot with low aperture
Depending on what lens you have this may vary but since you read your manual, this should be no problem! Some lenses can shoot at really low apertures. Some lenses can range anywhere from f/1.2 – f/3.5. Don’t get stuck on the exact number; Try setting your aperture to its lowest setting when shooting portraits. This low aperture creates shallow depth of field which means the background will look very blurry and the skin tones appear much softer. This look is very flattering for people. It also creates an all around intriguing look, focusing your attention toward the subject in your image. We usually shoot at f/2.0 but if your lens only goes to f/2.8 that is really good! During our shoots we usually set our aperture and leave it at the same setting for the entire shoot so all our images appear consistent.
7. Expose for skin tones
If you’re new to manual mode, this might be a little confusing so it’d be helpful to follow the above tips so you can better understand what exposing for the skin tones means. In short, when shooting portraiture, you want the skin of your client to be exposed properly. The background and foreground are not necessarily the main concern unless there is some particular look you are trying to create. Exposure is how bright or dark your image is. Since we are not using flash, we cannot make everything balanced at the same exposure in our images unless all the natural lighting in our scene is evenly lit.
8. Focus on your subject
Set all your focus points so that the camera manually select them. Most beginners don’t use this feature. You want to have full manual control on these points so you can choose your focus exactly. The auto focus points feature will guess your focus which means it can grab other parts of your scene that you don’t want. Don’t let this term confuse you; This is not to be confused with the A/M (auto/manual) button on your lens or A/M knob on your camera. This is a function within the settings of your camera. However with an iPhone this can be as simple as pressing your finger down on what you want to focus on.
When we take pictures of people, we manually choose one focus point, aim that point directly on our subjects eye, compose the shot and take the pictures. We are constantly focusing and refocusing on the subject to guarantee the images are tack sharp. To quickly get a good focus, you want to set the focus point on an area that has contrast: something that is dark and light. This helps your camera focus more quickly and accurately. This explains why going for the eye is good: you get some dark and light shades around the eye and skin. Sometimes if we’re too far away, we will just aim for the face and give it our best. If you really want to get serious, try focusing in on the subject with video mode. A lot of modern DSLR cameras let you visualize the shot in the preview screen. However, you may have to manually adjust your focus with the lens.
9. Slow and Steady
Don’t rush the process. Make sure you are aware of everything happening. Sometimes when you are taking pictures of people, there is a tendency to want to move quickly because you’re concerned about what they are thinking. Pretend you’re using film and every shot costs you money. Make sure when your subject is set in the right place they are relaxed and comfortable. Get yourself set up in a place where you want to take your frame. Follow all your steps and be deliberate about every decision you make. This will help you to really make the most of each shot and not just shoot like crazy. Shooting slower helps you to wait for the right moment and capture it well. When you shoot too quickly, you can move the camera and make things blurry. It also takes a little time to move yourself around and try different frames, angles and positions. Shoot low, shoot high, move in close, go far back, try different sides and try different positions. Just be sure to explore a variety of shots before bouncing to the next spot.
10. Practice every day
This sounds like a no brainer but the only way to really get good is to practice all the time. If you are not shooting daily or weekly, you are probably not going to advance. You have to learn from your mistakes and shooting regularly will allow you to do that. When you take a lot of pictures, you start to see patterns in your work; This could be things you like and things you’d rather not repeat. This process takes time but you’ll refine and perfect your look. It takes continual discipline and commitment. The more you do it, the greater chances of stumbling across making good photos.
We hope you loved these tips on how to take good photos!
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