5 Tips for Making Better Photos

 
You can’t make this kind of photo in automatic mode!

You can’t make this kind of photo in automatic mode!

I wonder, do you have a digital camera that you take out for special occasions? But use it in automatic mode?

Well, that leads me to two follow up questions:

  1. Why do you use your sophisticated camera in its most “cave man” function?

  2. Why do you only bring out your camera for special occasions?

I have a feeling that we both have a few things in common, since we both have “nice cameras”. So, I’m writing this post so you can throttle your potential to make better photos of your life as it happens.

Below are 5 tips to keep in mind as you make the leap to learning more about making better photos.

Tip #1: Shoot in Manual Mode

If you shoot in any other mode, your camera is taking over some of the function. But your camera does not have your complex brain, and assumes (to a certain degree) that you do not know what you are doing.

This assumption is the reason why some of your photos look horrible, even though you have a fine piece of equipment. If you switch to manual mode, I promise that things will get better soon. And when I say “manual” I mean aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance.

This may sound a bit scary, but again, I promise that things will only get better from here!

 
You can meter for the “highlights” in a scene. This way you still keep some details and the human eye will not be overly attracted parts of the scene that are overexposed.

You can meter for the “highlights” in a scene. This way you still keep some details and the human eye will not be overly attracted parts of the scene that are overexposed.

 

Tip #2: Your Camera Meter Is Your Best Friend

The light meter is the most useful tool that your digital camera has, and will be your best friend as you learn to make better photos.

This is because when you point your lens at any given scene, the meter will tell you if the spot you are focusing on will be underexposed, overexposed, or “just right” (middle grey in photographer speak).

This is where shooting in manual mode comes in so useful. If you want to let in more light, lower the number on either your shutter or aperture, or both.

If you want close out some light, raise the number on either your shutter or aperture, or both.

You may be thinking, “But wait, what about my histogram and preview screen. Aren’t those really helpful tools?”

Well, no. They are not a helpful as your meter.

The histogram is your camera’s brain telling you how balanced your photo is overall. This is not what you need to know if you meter for a certain spot in a scene.

The preview screen will not necessarily be correctly calibrated for your eye and is also not reliable for what a photo really looks like.

The only reliable tool for measuring the light in a scene is your camera’s meter, and this is why it’s your best friend.

 
A “shallow” depth of field keeps one aspect of the scene in focus, and blurs the rest.

A “shallow” depth of field keeps one aspect of the scene in focus, and blurs the rest.

 

Tip #3: Your Aperture Captures Light and Depth of Field

You can use your aperture setting to capture both light and depth of field. This is important to remember as you create exactly the type of photo you want.

If you have a lot of light in a scene, and you want most of the scene to be in focus, keep your aperture setting in the middle numbers.

This is because if you lower your aperture below f/8, you will likely find that some aspect of your photo will seem blurry. You may think this has do with the focus of your lens. But it’s actually the work of your aperture.

What exactly is a middle number?

Well, the full measurements, in photographer speak full stops, for aperture are 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, *11, 16, 22, 32. You’ll notice that every other stop doubles, except for 11.

Early on, camera companies thought that having to double 5.6 would be too complicated, so they kept that stop at 11.

One of the main reasons to know the full stops is for how much a change in aperture will really affect what you see in a photo. The different between f/8 and f/5.6 a lot of times is a photo that is completely clear and one that has some aspects a bit out of focus.

If you know this, then it’s your decision to make the kind of photo you want.

 
Long shutter speeds blur movement, which is why the water here looks smooth.

Long shutter speeds blur movement, which is why the water here looks smooth.

 

Tip #4: Your Shutter Speed Captures Light And Movement

You probably noticed that your shutter speed and aperture both capture light. But your shutter speed is the only thing that captures movement too. And movement is what can bring a scene to life.

In order to effectively use your shutter speeds, it’s helpful to know the full stops here. They are 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/*15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/*125, 1/250, 1/500. These are rather easy to remember, because every number doubles. Except for 15 and 125.

Why is this?

You guessed it. Back in the day, camera companies thought it would be too complicated to double 8, then double 16. They also thought that it would be too complicated to double 60, then double 120.

So they gave us the anomaly measurements of 15 and 125.

These numbers are helpful to know so that you can demonstrate or freeze movement in a photo. Generally speaking, a natural human movement is frozen above a shutter speed of 60. And if you want to show movement, slow your shutter to between 30 and 60.

But be careful to not slow the shutter too much, or a moving object may disappear altogether from the photo!

Tip #5: Don’t Worry or Stress!

Photography is where creative art meets technology. When you are learning how to use the technology, don’t stress out so much that you lose sight of your own creativity.

You probably didn’t get your nice digital camera so that you could be an overnight sensation. So, have fun with the events you photograph and enjoy the people that photography allows you to meet.

Influential and celebrated photographer Henry Cartier-Bresson famously said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Well, Mr. Cartier-Bresson did not live to see the full digital revolution of photography. If he had been able to see how superfluous photos are in today’s society, he probably would have upped this number.

I bring this up, because getting better at this pairing of art and technology is a long road.

If you listen to interviews with celebrated photographers, you’ll soon notice the trend that they admit to getting better with practice. But this doesn’t stop them from getting out there, making photos, and having fun!

Do you want guidance on making better photos?

This is where I can help!

I offer customized lessons for beginner to advanced amateur photographers.