Tips for taking better photos

Most people who take photos with a compact will want to be able to simply pull out their camera, turn it on, point it at the subject and push the shutter to take the photo. Usually this works quite well assuming everything goes to plan and the camera has been well maintained, however, there are many times something will go wrong, such as heading out on a scenic trip without a flash card in the camera!

Be prepared!

Resolution - Unless you absolutely have to, always leave the resolution set to the maximum resolution and quality. Buy a larger card if you find your card does not hold enough photos. You can always use photo editing software to resize photos down to a lower resolution or quality for e-mailing, but you cannot resize low resolution photos back up and get back all the detail if the camera was accidentally set to VGA mode!

Lens - Periodically check for fingerprints and dust, especially if someone else used the camera. It is very easy to get fingerprints on the lens when playing back photos, especially when the person viewing them may not realise the lens is still extended. Note that some cameras can playback photos without extending the lens by holding down the ‘Play’ button (if present) to turn on the camera or setting the switch to ‘play’ before powering on (for cameras with a play/capture switch).

Remaining card capacity - If the card is over half filled, consider transferring the contents to a PC and erasing the card or keeping a spare empty card with the camera. This will reduce the likelihood of picking up the camera only to find it full. Always remember to keep a card in the camera.

Batteries - Lithium Ion/Polymer batteries don’t have a memory effect, so they can be repetitively charged even after taking just a few photos. Unless you have a spare battery handy, don’t wait until the battery goes flat before recharging it, as this can easily happen when you most need to use the camera! Think of it like your smoke alarm - try to always keep a working battery in your camera.

Spare batteries - Before going on holidays, consider picking up a spare battery, as it is quite easy to forget to recharge the battery each evening. Even if your camera takes AA’s, beware that some corner shops in busy tourist areas charge a hefty premium for them.

Spare card - Always have a decent size empty card handy. Don’t leave your spare cards lying around full of pictures! Should you find your current card full and have to resort to a spare card, the time it takes to empty it could be the difference of getting and missing the shot.

Mode Dial - Always set the dial back to “Auto” (or “P”) after you take video footage or use another mode. It’s quite easy to try taking photos in the wrong mode while in a hurry only to find out later on that they were all blurred, dark or 1-2 second video clips as I’ve once seen someone end up with!

Switches - For cameras with switches, set these back after use, i.e. Macro switch to ‘Off’ and Play/Capture to ‘Capture’.

Flash - Be sure to set the flash back to ‘Auto’ after using another mode. It’s quite easy to accidentally leave the flash set to ‘Forced’, causing the flash to go off when not needed and reducing the remaining capacity of the batteries.

Before going on a trip:

2 Cameras - If travelling with someone else, it’s worth bringing with two cameras instead of sharing the one. This way in the unlikely event that a camera goes missing, stops working or a card goes bad, there will still be some pictures to take home. If only one digital camera is available, consider bringing a disposable as the second camera.

Contact Details - Consider taking a photograph of contact information (phone number or e-mail address) on each card that will be brought along. This way if a camera or card is accidentally left behind and are lucky, someone who later comes across it will be able to try returning it back to its owner, especially if left behind in accommodation.

When taking the photo:

Rule of Thirds - Instead of placing the subject in the centre, think of the frame divided into 3 columns and 3 rows and consider lining up the subject or a horizon to one of these virtual lines. On some cameras, the rule of thirds lines can be shown by pressing the ‘Display’ or ‘Info’ button. This Wikipedia entry explains this in more detail.

Shutter Button - Point the camera at the subject and hold down the shutter half-way to let the camera prepare for the shot and look at the screen to ensure there are no warnings (e.g. flash requirement). For a photo of people using face detection, there should be a square shown over each space. Finally, push the shutter button the rest of the way down to take the photo. This process is most important when photographing a subject where timing is crucial, as when the shutter is half-way pressed, it will take the photo almost instantly when fully pushed.

Pre-focus - On the auto mode, most cameras give focus priority to the middle. However, if you need something off to the side in focus, first point the camera at that subject, press the shutter button halfway to focus. With the shutter still halfway pressed, reposition the camera to how you want the photo to come out and finally push down the shutter button fully.

Shadow reduction - When taking a photo of people on a sunny day, it can be annoying when their faces end up dark or with shadows. To overcome this issue, set the flash to forced on or fill-in (depending on the camera model.)

People - When photographing scenery, personalise some photos by getting a friend/partner to stand in and get them to take a photo of you also with the scenery. This not only shows you were there on holidays, but also that these photos were taken by you also.

Camera Shake - When taking a photo in low light or with a longer shutter speed, lean against something such as a wall or tree to reduce camera shake. Use both hands where possible.

2 Second Timer - Ever wonder what the 2 second timer is for? If you do not have a tripod handy, this setting allows for taking photos in very low light or for maximum image quality with the camera placed down. The 2 second timer gives time for the camera to steady itself after pressing the shutter button before taking the photo. Even for hand-held photography, the 2-second timer also reduces handshake, as most blurring by handshake is caused when pushing the shutter button to take the photo.

Motion - When taking a photo of something in motion such as water or a group dancing, try setting the camera to shutter priority and reducing the shutter to like 1/15th second to capture the motion. Note that for very slow shutter speeds, the camera will likely need to be placed on a tripod or at least rested on something to ensure a clear picture.

Background - When taking close-ups of items such as flowers, try blurring the background as follows: set the dial to aperture priority (if available) and choose the widest aperture (lowest F-stop #), enable Macro, zoom in as far as the lens will go, move the camera as close to the subject as possible where it can still focus on it and take the picture.

Check - Go into the playback mode and zoom into the last photo to ensure it is in sharp focus and that it looks as how you would like it. Remember, it’s usually a lot easier to fix a photo before pushing the shutter than in photo editing software. For example, it’s usually much easier to chase away a pigeon or remove an unsightly object before pressing the shutter than it is to edit this out later on.

Effects - Try out the different film effects such as sepia and black & white. While the effects generally come out better with processing in photo editing software, applying the effects in-camera has the advantage of having the photos ready for print. Be sure to turn the effect off afterwards to avoid the effect being applied unexpectedly to the next photo.

Experiment - Try taking photos from different angles, low down, closer-up and further away. If taking photos outdoors with trees around you, stand below a branch and allow part of it or even a few leaves to appear at the corner of the photo.

Maintaining your photos:

Flash as film - Flash memory has come down in price to the point where low capacity flash cards are as cheap as film in some shops, but with the ability to store several hundred photos. Instead of blanking the card each time its photos have been transferred to a PC, consider locking it and keeping it in a safe place. Unless you are an active photographer, this is a good way of having a second backup of photos. If each holiday costs several hundred quid, surely you can afford one or two 2GB flashcards for each trip.

Categorise - When transferring the photos to a PC, store the photos of each event in its own folder and group them by year. This makes it much easier to find photos later on instead of looking through a huge folder of mixed photos!

Share your tips!

Did we miss something? Come share it with us here. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the tips, Seán, nice job! :flower:

Believe me, I need all the tips I can get ;)…I love to take pictures, but my photography skills are almost non-existent hehe.

Most newer cameras even film ones are so automatic that it is hard to take a poor photo in daylight, but with indoors with flash a digital camera realy shines, you can see the results of direct flash, bounce flash, fill in flash; results that can take hours with film and by that time the moment is gone. Batteries drain quickly when using flash; bring extras.

Don’t forget a tripod; your camera may go to 15x+ but you may not be able to hold it steady enough for a clear photo; even with IS.

With a digital cameras take lots of photos; you can select only the nice ones to print; so experiment with speeds, f-stops and dstance.

Move your feet; a zoom lens can only do so much; distance to the subject has a great effect on perspective.

For night-time photography, including lightning at night, try the following:

[li]Set up your camera on a tripod or on a steady surface either outside or pointing out a window.[/li][li]Change the mode dial to “Shutter Priority” or the “P” mode if this setting is not present.[/li][li]If you can, change the shutter speed to ‘8’ seconds.[/li][li]Change the ISO to 400.[/li][li]Set the flash to ‘Off’[/li][li]Set the self timer to ‘On’ or to “2” seconds if this option is available.[/li][li]Turn off any lights around you. [/li][li]If you’re shooting form a window, turn off anything that has an LED in the room.[/li][li]Press the shutter to take the photo. :)[/li][/ol]

If the camera does not have shutter priority, check if it has a night-scene mode, as some cameras with this mode chosen gives the ability to specify the number of seconds for the shutter.


[li]If you have a camera remote, use this instead of the self-timer, especially for lightning. [/li][li]For a photo of lightning, just keep taking one picture after another until lightning strikes. You can delete the unwanted blanks later.[/li][li]If the photos come out too bright, reduce the ISO, e.g. to 200.[/li][li]If the photos come out too dark, increase the shutter duration. Only increase the ISO if the shutter time is maxed out.[/li][li]If the photos are too noisy or grainy, reduce the ISO (e.g. to 200) and double the shutter duration if possible.[/li][/ul]

The following is one I took from a hotel Window in Cologne while on a business trip. The glow in the sky is from a thunderstorm taking place at the time:

I may be accused of being a tad pedantic, but I usually try to get horizons straight, and often correct them later in Photoshop.
It may be a small detail, but as a tip…try to avoid technical things which may distract the viewer from the real content of the photo. For example, the horizon, the focus, the depth-of-field (sharpness over a range), the amount and angle of the light, … a few simple “tweaks” and you´re off to a good start

An effective tip learned from the great film director, John Ford.

The horizon belongs either at the top, or the bottom - never in the middle.

Rules are also made to be broken!

…but, there is one rule about that which MUST be obeyed: “Understand the rule you want to break!”

[QUOTE=deanimator;2423799]Rules are also made to be broken!

…but, there is one rule about that which MUST be obeyed: “Understand the rule you want to break!”

LOL! Very true! :iagree:

Great thread BTW Séan!


[QUOTE=Arachne;2419580]Thanks for the tips, [B]Seán[/B], nice job! :flower:

Believe me, I need all the tips I can get ;)…I love to take pictures, but my photography skills are almost non-existent hehe.[/QUOTE]

I hear you! I also like taking pictures, but don’t have any skills (yet) :slight_smile:

Great guides Seán, I’ll definitely go through them - very nice the stormy sky @ Cologne :clap:

Thanks for these great tips!

No problem :slight_smile:

Another tip came to mind and something I rarely see mentioned:

This tip may sound strange to start with, but read on: :slight_smile:

[B]Take photographs of the following:[/B]

[li]Your house[/li][li]Your street / garden[/li][li]Around the house[/li][li]Few places around your village/town[/li][/ul]

Get these printed, put them in a photo album and [U]date[/U] the album.

Things change all the time, e.g. new house extensions, paint work, buildings get put up or knocked down in your area, garden may be redone, etc. In a couple of years time, you may ask “I wonder what my house, town, etc. back then”

The more the time passes, the more interesting these photos will become. :iagree:

when i remove the flash option in my camera the pictures won’t be stabilized even though the stabilizer setting is on.

my camera is cannon (IS1100)

Any suggestions?

Even with image stabilisation enabled, it will generally only stabilise down to 2 to 3 stops below what you would get without stabilisation. One stop improvement is the equivalent to doubling the shutter time. So if you are able to take a clear photo with a 1/60th second shutter with image stabilisation off, enabling it will let you take photos up to between 1/15th and 1/8th of a second depending on how effective it is. However once you go beyond this, such as taking indoor photos in low light, you’ll most likely end up with a blurry shot even with image stabilisation on.

Before you take a photo in low light or indoors with the flash off, press the shutter half-way to focus and have a look at the shutter speed on the screen (if shown). If this is longer than 1/15th second (e.g. 1/5th second), you may need to take several photos with stabilisation enabled to get a clear photo.

Finally, if you are using a tripod, make sure image stabilisation is turned off. If used on a tripod, it will often end up causing image blur, something I’ve experienced myself on a few occasions.

Wow o.O … a lot of explanation!

Thanks :slight_smile:

Comments on composition.

Some links if you are interested
The impact of horizon placement
General composition tips

Nice story about the horizon and two artists

Some notes on some of my favourite masters

Sean is trying out his new camera.

What is he doing wrong?

a) He placed the horizon in the middle
b) He is NOT in the middle
c) He is not wearing sunblock
d) There is no film in the camera
e) He is wearing thongs on his feet
f) Nothing. Everything is correct.

HHMMMMM! I say F Nothing everything’s correct…:stuck_out_tongue:

[QUOTE=deanimator;2525194]Sean is trying out his new camera.

What is he doing wrong?[/QUOTE] g) He’s checking out his camera settings instead of checking out the chicks.

…or depending on how you interpret it, “b” could also be correct. :stuck_out_tongue:

b) He is NOT in the middle

It looks sorta like he’s trying to catch a pic of them BUT now if the camera’s not at least pointed their way I’d say he’s dead or…

[QUOTE=DrageMester;2525243]g) He’s checking out his camera settings instead of checking out the chicks…[/QUOTE]

Huh? What chicks? :confused: