Most of you hoping to learn photography online are probably going to have a little bit of experience with cameras. Some of you will have more experience, just looking to take things to the next level, and some of you are going to be absolute beginners – that’s totally fine, these lessons will offer something for everyone, no matter what skill level you’re at. No matter what skill level you’re at, you’ve probably taken a picture before. Maybe you were happy with it, maybe not, but you probably thought to yourself, “How can I take a better picture?” That’s why we’re here!
There’s a bit of technical stuff we have to get out of the way in the first few lessons, but to make sure that you see results right away, we’re going to teach you how to take better photos by the time you finish reading this article (and, ok, maybe we want to show off a little).
It’s happened to all of us at one point or another. We’re out with friends, out for a walk, or maybe just cuddled on the couch at home with the pets, and we see something absolutely beautiful. After feeling moved, we often want to take a photograph of it so that we can look back later and remember how beautiful it was. So we take out our camera (or more and more often, a camera phone, but whatever), snap a quick picture, and eagerly check to see how it turned out. And it’s rubbish. We know we saw something beautiful, but the camera just isn’t capturing what we see. That’s where your skill as a photographer comes in.
There are a few different common problems that can make a potentially great photograph turn ugly in a hurry. Actually, there are tons, but for the sake of the introduction, let’s look at some of the more common ones.
Most fine art photographs follow a very simple compositional rule. It’s not a guarantee of success, and many beautiful photographs ignore it, but for most shots, it’s a good place to start. It’s called ‘The Rule of Thirds’, and it can make a boring photo look dynamic and impressive just by moving the camera a few centimeters. Imagine you divide the photo into equal thirds, horizontally and vertically. You’ll wind up with a grid of nine rectangles, and from there it’s simple. All you have to do is figure out what is the most important element in your photo, and then place it at one of the four spots where they dividing lines intersect. If you’re taking a photo of your spouse, place their face at one of those intersection points. If it’s a flower, place the blossom there, etc. Instantly better compositions! Naturally, there’s a lot more to composition techniques and we’ll dig deeper into them later on, but this is a great one to help you take better photos right away.
It’s unfortunate, but the flash on your camera is probably never going to help you take a beautiful picture – so turn it off. This is one of the most helpful things for easily taking better pictures. If you want to just see what’s going on in the frame, it can be useful, but when your light source (the flash) is too close to the camera lens, it creates nasty shadows – and everyone has at least one family photo taken without red-eye reduction and seen how terrifying it can make people look. A more expensive add-on lens for DSLR cameras can overcome this, and there are a few tricks and tools that can turn your pop-up flash into a more useful light source, but most of the time you’re better off not using it.
Motion Blur and Focus
If your handshakes when you hold your camera, even if it’s a nice light point and shoot camera, this can ruin a great shot. Nobody likes to carry a tripod around with them 24/7 but you can steady things dramatically just by using two hands. Don’t just grab the camera body with both hands, though. Hold the camera in your right hand as you normally would, but use your left hand to brace just below the lens. There are two good ways to do this, depending on what’s comfortable for you: either use the base of your palm just above your wrist or use the curve between your thumb and index finger. Pull your left elbow in so that it’s close to your body, and gently press the shutter. Pushing too hard on the shutter button can move the camera at the worst possible split-second – right while the shutter is actually open!