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By Jim Miotke, www.BetterPhoto.com

Here are ten simple, yet often overlooked basics for taking better photographs:

  1. MOVE IN CLOSER
  2. Each time you spot a subject, snap a shot and then move in closer for a better shot. Having your subject almost fill the frame helps your viewer understand and appreciate your photo. Also, details are often more interesting than an overall view. Keep moving in closer until you are sure the photo will successfully represent your subject.

  3. BE QUICK
  4. If it is at all possible that your subject may move, bolt, fly away, stop smiling, or just get tired of waiting for you to take the picture, shoot once right away. Practice getting quicker and quicker to the draw. Do not worry about taking too many pictures. "Shoot First, Ask Questions Later."

  5. BE SELECTIVE
  6. Discern what you are really interested in and center your efforts on getting the best photo of this subject. Be sure to keep anything that would distract out of the picture. The easiest way to do this is to watch your borders and recompose if something unattractive hangs into your picture.

  7. FOCUS ON YOUR SUBJECT
  8. Practice shooting with different apertures and monitor the results from the lab to learn how depth-of-field effects your photo. You will find that a smaller depth-of-field (and smaller f-stop #) focuses all the attention upon your subject. This is great for taking a picture of your child, your dog, or your husband; subjects stand out against a blurry background. Likewise, you will find that a greater depth-of-field (bigger f-stop number) will make everything from here to eternity appear in focus.

  9. COMPOSE WITH CARE
  10. Even if you don't plan on selling your photo to the Smithsonian, make an effort to keep it balanced and beautiful; on one level or another, everyone responds better to a picture that has all elements in balance or that leads the eye along an interesting path through the photo. For starters:

    • Keep the horizon level.
    • Crop out extra elements that you are not interested in.
    • Consciously place your subject where you think it most belongs rather than just accepting it wherever it happens to land in the photo.
    • Play with perspective.
    • Work with the Rule of Thirds (see composition tip below).

  11. EXPERIMENT WITH SHUTTER SPEED
  12. One of the most basic, and fun aspects of photography is that you have the power to slow time down or catch a split second. Play with shutter speed! Use a slow shutter speed and a tripod to make a pretty picture of any creek or stream. You can also use a fast shutter speed (1/500 and up) to capture an object in motion.

  13. LOOK AT THE LIGHT
  14. By this, I don't mean look into the sun; that won't do at all. But it is good to see what kind of light you are working with. Which way are the shadows falling? Unless you want a silhouette effect, itŐs generally best to shoot with the sun behind you. How is the light affecting your subject? Is the subject squinting?

  15. WATCH THE WEATHER
  16. Look outside and decide whether or not you are going to want to have the sky in your picture. If itŐs overcast, simply keep the sky out of your pictures as much as possible. This is usually the best way to avoid both muted tones in your subject and washed-out skies in your background. When the day is beautiful, make the most of it.

  17. KEEP YOUR SETTINGS SIMPLE
  18. While you may wish to have Ňall the bells and whistlesÓ available just in case, you will probably get the best results if you learn a simple set up that works best for you in most situations. Pick a simple, semi-automatic program such as aperture-priority and master shooting in that mode. Tip: if you want a great accessory, bring a tripod. This one item can solve many issues. (See page 37 for our new tripods.)

  19. BE BOLD
  20. If you are afraid of upsetting someone by taking their picture, just go up and ask if itŐs okay. Ask them to sign a release and offer a print in return. With wildlife, adopt a low-impact method when you go places where few photographers have gone before.

There you have it...now go out there, take some great shots, learn from the failures, and most of all, have fun!

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