Nine tips for taking great digital photographs
By Christopher Thomas
Modern cameras are highly automatic in operation. They have auto focus and auto exposure. The camera will focus on the subject - often identified by a small circle or square at the centre of the viewfinder - and calculate an appropriate exposure by detecting the level of reflected light - usually from the same spot. A slight pressure on the shutter release will activate those two functions, without taking a picture. Further pressure on the shutter release will result in a photo being taken.
1 Take care to Focus and Expose on the Subject of the Image
Imagine you are taking a picture of your girl friend against the background of an interesting harbour. Your girl friend is six feet away while the harbour is around 50 feet away. You position your girl friend carefully - she is important to you - at one side of the picture with an interesting view of the harbour in the distance. Now do you want to focus on the harbour - or your girl friend? Position the square or circle at the centre of the viewfinder over the spot that you want to focus on and correctly expose - take a slight pressure on the shutter release - and keep that pressure while you move the camera to frame the image you want to take - then, and only then, push the shutter release fully down and take the photo.
If you want to have everything in focus - then see 7 Depth of Field.
2 Carefully Compose Your Shot
Before taking the picture take a careful last look through the viewfinder. Check the composition, and particularly that heads and feet are included, and that all faces are visible in anything other the smallest of groups. With the camera taking care of focus and exposure - you have the time to concentrate on getting the composition perfect. Photographic amputation of limbs is unforgivable!
3 Set the Colour Balance Correctly on the Camera
Digital cameras have controls that allow the operator to set the nature of the lighting illuminating the subject. In general they will default to daylight, since shots are likely to be taken outdoors. On this setting, pictures taken indoors under artificial tungsten lighting will look yellow - they will have a yellow cast. Pictures taken under strip lighting will look green. Setting the camera appropriately will produce consistent balanced photographs. Look in the camera manual to see how to set the control - it is very easy. Flash guns produce a light, which is very similar in colour 'temperature' to that of daylight.
4 Don't Expect Too Much from the On Camera Flash
The on camera flash is designed for convenience when shooting a small group of people. It will not illuminate a hall. When watching public events on the television it is somewhat surprising to see members of the audience in the Albert hall take a pocket camera out and shoot a picture with their flash. This is unlikely to be successful. Better to turn the sensitivity of the camera up - say to 800ASA - the 'film speed', or sensitivity. This might produce a better result. Do not confuse sensitivity of the camera with shutter speed. They are different.
An on camera flash will illuminate only a short distance - as a guide pick up your cat firmly with two hands by the tail and swing it around at arms length - that is the sort of distance the flash will illuminate!
5 A Tripod is Essential for Long Distance Shots
Most modern digital cameras come with a zoom lens that can take both wide angle and telephoto shots. This is extremely useful. However remember that when the camera is on its furthest telephoto setting, camera shake will become a problem. If you are taking a telephoto shot and the camera chooses a slow to medium shutter speed, the result might be blurred due to the movement of your hands while taking the exposure.
Use a tripod - all wildlife photographers use them. They are a pain to carry but improve quality by orders of magnitude.
6 Fast Moving Subject Require a Fast Shutter Speed
The shutter is that part of the camera which opens briefly to allow light to strike the sensitive surface of the detector to produce an image. Fast moving object require extremely short shutter speeds in order to capture a crisp sharp image. Slower shutter speeds will produce a blur as the object moves.
In general outdoor photography a shutter speed of 1/60th or 1/125th second will be acceptable. In contrast, shooting a formula one car in motion will require shutter speed of say 1/1000th of a second.
7 A little About Depth of Field
In days past, a photographer would measure the level of light at a location with a light meter and then calculate the best combination of shutter speed and aperture to correctly expose the film.
This is now done automatically by the camera. Aperture is the measure of how much light is passing through the lens. The lens has an iris, which can be 'stopped down' to reduce the amount of light passing through the lens. A fully open lens will pass the greatest amount of light - full aperture - but this also reduces the 'depth of field'. The depth of field is the band of distance over which the subject is in focus. In 1 above, with full aperture either your girl friend or the harbour is in focus - but not both. By 'stopping down' the lens - reducing the aperture - both can be brought into focus. But as a consequence the amount of light passing through the lens is reduced. The length of time which the shutter is open will have to be increased to compensate.
8 When taking Landscapes Avoid Putting the Horizon Across the Centre of the Image
Drawing the picture horizon in the middle of the image simply looks naff. It divides the picture in to two and fails to engage the viewer. Best to concentrate on the sky or the foreground. Photograph a setting sun with red sky, or a rainbow with the horizon low in the picture. Or concentrate on the landscape and place the horizon high in the picture.
9 Be Aware of the Effects of Back Lighting
Let us go back to the example given in Hint 1. Imagine that in the picture of your girl friend in front of the harbour, the sun is setting, casting its golden rays across the sea and reflecting on the masts and other metal objects of the harbour with white clouds illuminated red in the dying rays of the sun. An evocative and romantic shot.
Taking the shot with the camera will result in a beautiful background but a black shadow of a girl friend! Now that might be appropriate should you have had a particularly bad day with her and it might correctly reflect the mood. However using the on camera flash to fill in the darkness - to illuminate her face and show her features might be more appropriate on a better day!
About the author:
Christopher Thomas is both keen photographer and company director of Viewlink Ltd based in Amersham, Uk. The company focusses on digital photo developing for both amateur and commercial photographers. For more articles by Christopher Thomas please visit the company website at http://www.view-link.com
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