Photography is a fun way to spend your free time, and can be a great way to make a side income as you learn new techniques and skills. But getting to that point can be a little daunting given that there are so many tips and tricks, rules and suggestions, camera settings and menus, and compositional elements to keep in mind.
In this article, we explore three tips that every beginner photographer needs to learn: how to get sharp photos, how to blur the background, and how to freeze movement. These techniques are a great launching point for tackling more complex photography concepts. Let’s begin!
Getting Your Subject Sharp
The autofocus systems in today’s cameras are better than they’ve ever been. In many situations, relying on the autofocus will get you good results. However, the autofocus system is not infallible, and no matter how great it is, it will never be as good as your own eyes.
If you want sharper photos, give your camera a helping hand by taking control of the focusing.
In autofocus systems, the camera will usually assume that the area you want in focus is near the center of the frame and is the nearest object to you. That’s not always the case. So, your images will benefit from you learning how to select the autofocus point yourself.
Each camera manufacturer is a bit different, so you will need to consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions, but usually, what you want is single-point AF. Once you engage single-point AF, you will most likely have to use your camera’s navigation buttons to select the desired AF point. If you have a camera with a touch screen, all you have to do is tap the desired AF point on the screen. After you get the AF point set, you can compose your photo with the point of focus where you want it, not where the camera thinks you want it. Sharper images await!
Blur the Background
Looking at the portrait above, what do you see in the background? That beautiful blur is called bokeh and really helps to bring the focus of attention in a portrait to the subject. So how do you get that blurry goodness?
Simple: Use a large aperture.
A large aperture (which is denoted by a small number, like f/2.8) gives you a very shallow depth of field. Looking at the picture above, the subject is in perfect focus even though the background is not. The reason for this is because as the size of the aperture widens, the depth of field shrinks, so there is only a finite amount of space in front of and behind your point of focus that will be sharply in focus.
The easiest way to control the aperture is to use aperture priority mode, which is most often labeled as A or AV on your camera’s dial. When in aperture priority mode, you get to select the aperture, in this case, a large one like f/2.8, and the camera will select a shutter speed to match so that you get a well-exposed image. Just beware that if you’re shooting in low light conditions, your camera might select a shutter speed that’s too slow for you to hold your camera without blurring the image. In such cases, have a tripod and a remote handy.
Another trick you can use to enhance the blurriness of the background is to position yourself and your subject appropriately. The closer you are to the subject, the shallower the depth of field. Additionally, the further your subject is from the background, the better the blur you will get.
Freeze Rapid Movement
How many times have you tried to photograph your child playing sports, only to have the images be nothing but a blur running by?
The culprit in such situations is a shutter speed that’s too slow to freeze rapid movement. But the changes you need to make to freeze that movement are pretty straightforward.
Set your camera to shutter priority mode, which is typically labeled as TV or S on your camera dial. In this case, shutter priority mode gives you control over the shutter speed, so you can select an appropriately fast speed to freeze movement. For children running, that might be in the 1/250 second range. For faster subjects, like cars passing by 1/1000 seconds might be necessary. Some trial and error will be necessary to find the precise setting that you need.
Note that if your camera won’t select a sufficiently fast shutter speed that there may not be enough light. As a result, you will need to increase the ISO setting to make the camera’s sensor more sensitive to light. Many cameras have a button labeled ISO; simply press it to access the ISO menu and increase the setting. ISO 100 or 200 is a good choice for daytime shooting, but try ISO 400 or 800 when light begins to fade.
The journey to becoming a better photographer and producing better images starts with baby steps. At first, these techniques may seem a bit confusing, but with time and practice, they will become second nature. Take some time to work with each tip discussed here, and soon you will be taking images that are sure to impress!