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You have a nice camera with a great lens. In order to consistently come home with great images, here are some helpful tips for taking better photos. Learning how to take better photos is a fun journey, plus you can start with some of these immediately. In fact, the sooner you start with some of these, the better!
Basic Rules to Learn
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Any photography tutorial will drill down to a few basics. Beginner photography tips such as the Rule of Thirds for composition, the Exposure Triangle for camera settings, Depth of Field tricks for deep focus or selective focus, and the Sunny 16 Rule for exposure calculations are beneficial to learn and use.
We’re going to take a slightly different route with these photography tips for beginners. We’ll give you some extra working tips for various genres of photography and some other general purpose tips for taking better pictures that our work has taught us.
Keep Lenses Clean
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Sounds simple, but one of the biggest issues with images that will keep a pro from being paid is easily fixed with little effort. Dirt, haze, and fingerprints on a lens element will lower sharpness, lower contrast, and introduce lens flare, all of which lower the quality of the final image.
Be sure to include any filters you use, like your circular polariser filter, in your lens cleaning. A super sharp, well cleaned lens with a smudged up filter attached will lower the overall quality of the image. Since a professional generally gets paid for quality, this can become a big deal.
So, learn this easy step for improving your quality, if it is optical glass such as a lens, polarizer, neutral density, or protective filter, keep it clean and clear.
Clean the Sensor
Digital photography revolves around the sensor as much as it does the lenses. The cleanliness issue is often different than what we concern ourselves with when considering our lenses and filters. Instead of a haze or a fingerprint, it’s usually dust particles that negatively impact our images due to sensor issues. See how to remove these in the video above by Nigel Danson.
Another issue that sometimes comes up is an oily haze on your sensor, often from the shutter or mirror mechanisms. This can lower contrast and sharpness but it also makes it a dust magnet even if the haze is very minor in scope.
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Do NOT use these cleaning tools to clean your camera’s sensor!
Dust and oil can be cleared from a sensor with careful use of the proper tools.
A great alternative I use at times comes from local camera stores that cater to pros and other advanced users - sensor cleaning services. One of my favorite local shops offers while-you-wait sensor cleaning, depending on their workload. It’s a fantastic option for keeping my sensor clean without having to do the work myself!
Change Focus Points
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Beginners searching for photography tutorials that teach how to take better photos may get the idea that you need to do everything manually in order to take better images. The automation of photographic processes has actually been a boon to all types of photography including professional imaging.
The trick is to know what the automation is doing and how to control it. Focus control is one of the automations I value the most. One of the photography tips for beginners I share quite a lot is to check your camera manual for how to control what focus points the autofocus (AF) is using.
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On the Green Dot Auto setting, the camera brain is deciding almost everything for you, including a focus matrix. Take the camera out of that setting while still making use of your camera’s automation. Now, you can adjust the automation. Each camera is slightly different, so check your manual for how to do this.
Change the focus points to correspond with what you’re shooting. If you’re shooting an average scene like we see in our parent’s photo albums, the smart mode is pretty good. For more creative ideas, you'll want to use a few (or one) focus point to ensure that your chosen subject is sharply focused.
Take Advantage of Semi-Auto
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Exposure automation is another boon for photographers and we can control that, too. One way is to pick one of the primary settings of shutter speed or aperture and let the camera choose the other.
If you want a specific shutter speed for stopping action or for creative motion blur effects (as shown above), select the Tv or S setting on your camera’s dial to put the camera in shutter priority mode. Doing so allows you to set the shutter speed and let the camera set aperture.
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Likewise with aperture or f-stop. If you are desiring either deep depth of field or selective focus (as shown above), choose Av or A on your camera’s dial to engage aperture priority mode. This allows you to select the aperture and the automation will correctly expose by adjusting the shutter speed.
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A blurry photo is sometimes due to dirty lenses or sensors, sometimes due to inaccurate focus, and many times due to camera shake because of not holding the camera still.
Practice this stance: Feet shoulder width apart, one foot slightly ahead of the other. Which foot is more forward will depend on which one you feel more steady and comfortable doing. Cradle the camera and lens in your left hand, palm up, camera resting on slightly closed hand. Arms kept to your side with elbows in contact with your torso.
Hold camera grip in right hand. Keep loose while doing all of this. Holding on too tight will introduce the opportunity for jerky movement plus it’s uncomfortable which will decrease the time you’re wanting to shoot. Loose, but secure, and super steady, this is a good stance for about 80% of my own free standing imaging.
Get more details on how to properly hold a camera in the video above by PhotoUno Photography School.
Use Vertical Orientation, Too
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The camera controls make you feel that the horizontal landscape orientation, like how the TV is set up, is the best way to shoot your images. One of my most simple photography tips for beginners is to also turn the camera to hold it in the vertical portrait orientation, like your smartphone is set up.
This can give you a fresh view of many subjects, just look at the scene one way and then view it the other. Take pics both ways and choose later which one you want to work on or share.
Zoom With Your Feet
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I’m not sure why so many of us do this, I do it too, but we start to take pictures and zoom in and out with our lens or even change lenses to get the best view when we could simply walk closer, further away, or to one side or the other.
In my own professional and personal work, sometimes just a few feet one way or the other has made the difference from an image being good enough versus being outstanding.
Squatting, kneeling, lying down, or holding the higher are all valid options for varying your shooting position. Even when you’re capturing action, moving around a bit is a great habit to start.
Look At the Scene First
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Look at the scene first, and then bring your camera to your eye. This tip and the previous one go together like peanut butter and jelly for taking better photos.
Before you even start shooting, look around at the scene and its surroundings, behind you as well. If you have the time before shooting, walk around a bit to find the most optimum shooting position or positions.
This strategy works equally well for events as it does other types of photography. As an example, you might try this at the next outdoor event you get to attend. Being to the side of the action might yield a more interesting image than being right in front of the action. Or, you could shoot from multiple positions if you’re able to move around during whatever action it is.
Move the Subject
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Specifically referring mostly to portrait photography but can apply to still life and other photography, sometimes the best option to turn the photo from good to great is to change subject position.
Important in portrait photography, this is especially in group portraits. Besides moving them around for the best position and grouping, also have your subject pose and position themselves in some non standard arrangements.
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As an aid for portrait and group portrait photography, I like to keep a posing guide with me, either on my smartphone or in my bag. Just a few well chosen directions can really work wonders.
Follow the Action
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Follow the action while holding the camera properly and then try to anticipate the decisive moment. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of capturing the decisive moment, that’s a photography tutorial that is worthy of consideration all by itself.
Basically, it’s a way of predicting when to trigger the shutter for the best effect. Also known as the peak of the action, it is an excellent method to showcase the most recognizable part of the action. Like the moment at the top of a dog’s jump when it has stopped rising but before it starts to fall back to the ground.
Check out the tips from Sports Photography Tips on how to take action photos:
The decisive moment or peak of the action also tends to convey an emotional impact in the image.
So, while a swiftly flying bird may be interesting, a bird just about to alight on a branch might elicit a better response from viewers.
Bonus Tip: You are in Control
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It seems there is never enough room in an article I’m writing or a seminar I’m conducting to tell all of the tips for taking better photos that I want to share. So I’ll leave you with this thought, an empowerment actually.
You are in total control of your photography. If you want to use manual or automatic focus or exposure controls, that’s your choice. Every rule has an exception that also works.
For instance, one of my top selling stock photography images breaks several of the “established” rules of composition and exposure. I knew it was breaking those rules as I was shooting it, but the shot I took was the best for that particular situation.
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Just keep shooting photos. Take your camera out for fun, give yourself shooting assignments, and be ready to change your mind in an instant when your creativity has a second thought. If you see it, shoot it. Welcome to the awesome world of photographic imaging!