Even if it’s a quick snap or a humble (no such thing) selfie, you want people to like your photos. If it’s the pictorial history of your latest travels, or a portrait of your (always fabulous) kids – you’re looking for a response. Getting a slow ‘that’s nice’ is like a limp handshake.
Getting some great training from Bring Your Own Camera is a great start – we’ll show you how to make the most of the camera you already have. But until then, here are 5 common photography mistakes, and we’d love to share how you can simply avoid them.
The best part for you is that most of these suggestions don’t require a fancy camera or accessories, just a bit of common sense before you shoot and share.
#01 Want interesting photos? Photograph interesting things.
Really, do we need to see a picture of the bathroom from your last trip to Disneyland? Unless Goofy comes out of the sink on demand, we’ve all seen a bathroom before. And we really don’t want to imagine you in it.
Stop and think about what’s the most interesting thing you could photograph. Hint: it’s the canals in Venice, not your hotel lobby. Smart Phone snappers (and the dreaded iPad view blockers) abuse the convenience and ubiquity of their devices to shoot everything. Social scientists tell us that doing that means you’re not engaged in what’s happening around you and your phone is the one collecting the memories.
If you’re doing something memorable, enjoy it – but don’t expect it to mean anything to the rest of us if its a poorly lit, poorly framed ‘selfie’ from your phone where the Statue of Liberty takes second place to your ‘duck face.’
And when you realise there is something worth looking at, take the time to take a couple of great photos. Walk around a bit, change angles, check your camera settings. Just take the extra minute or two.
#02 Photography is all about light. Very rarely does it look good in the dark!
Noisy, sickly green and out of focus makes the view feel the same. Cameras don’t do well without light. A lot more light than you think. And when cameras don’t get enough light (like in the middle of the crowd in a theatre 100’ from the stage) they struggle to make a picture.
On most cameras other than DSLRs, low light means the autofocus can’t actually see what to focus on – often defaulting to whatever is brightest, and therefore visible, but not your BFF’s face. And the auto focus is slow. Solution? Manual focus – which sadly rules out 2/3s of the cameras out there.
The camera has to increase its sensitivity (increase the ISO) to make an exposure. Modern cameras are getting faster – that means more sensitivity without objectionable noise. But if your camera has a sensor less than APSC (most DLSLRs) then you’re already suffering from have less sensor surface area (and smaller pixels) so you’ve started from the back of the pack. The bigger the pixels/sensor, the more light you take in. If it’s smaller, or it’s just plain too dark, the camera amplifies the signal from the sensor, but adds a lot of noise in doing so.
This is not ‘grain’ like the days of film, but noise that kills colour and contrast and gives you murky results.
Solution? Find an area or time that has more light. Not always easy, but especially if people’s faces are involved, you’ll be glad you moved (usually a few feet in a modern city) to where there was more light.
Try not to underexpose or shoot where the light is of a colour not complimentary to what you’re shooting. Green neon is not your friend, move on until you find something closer to white and you won’t get odd colour casts to your portraits.
The quality and direction of light is a lifelong study, and whether you bring your own (flash) or look for the best available light in your vicinity, light is the thing that separates great photographers from happy snappers.
#03 Out of focus is not just unfixable – it’s irritating to look at.
There are 3 reasons why something in your photo is out of focus. The first is depth of field. That’s the technical term for how much can be in focus from the front of your camera to the back of the scene. The larger the sensor in your camera (especially DSLRs) the less depth of field (the less that’s in focus) you have. If you want to blur out a background in a portrait, then shallow depth of field is your friend. If you are trying to capture more than one player in your kid’s football game, it’s your nemesis.
Depth of field is controlled by a combination of the lens aperture (f-stop) and focal length (the size of your lens in millimetres) and the size of the sensor in your camera. The more you open the lens (lower f-stop number) the more light you let in, but the less depth of field. The longer the lens (zooming in) the less depth of field. If your camera has a large sensor (like a ‘full frame’ DLSR) then you get less depth of field. Compact cameras and camcorders have tiny sensors often 8x smaller than a DSLR. You get a lot more depth of field.
So if you want an out of focus background, use a longer lens (zoom in) and a wider aperture. Want more in focus, try to get closer to the action so you can use a wider lens, and ‘stop down’ or select a smaller aperture (eg. Go from f 2.8 to f8).
The next most common reason for something to be out of focus is that your camera autofocused on the wrong thing. Turn on face detection, or use manual focus. If your camera allows it, turn on the function that shows on screen or in the viewfinder what part of the frame the camera is focussing on.
Some cameras allow you to select focus areas or manually ‘steer’ the autofocus so that it’s doing its job, but looking where you told it. Or focus it manually if you can. At least check before you fire.
Here’s a quick hint – your camera usually over sharpens the image on the screen that appears after you’ve taken a photo. Zoom in and check focus on the critical things in frame such as eyes or details. It’s really easy to miss an out of focus shot on the camera’s screen.
If you try taking a picture where there’s little or nothing for the camera to focus on (snow and blank walls are trouble) – you need to take control.
Finally – objects in motion appear…blurry! If something’s moving while you take a picture it’s going to ‘smear’ across the image sensor. Choose a faster shutter speed: you’re reducing the amount of time it takes to ‘capture’ the image, and the faster you capture, the less motion blur you get.
Using a tripod gets rid of motion blur – handholding even when you have image stabilisation on your camera will blur out fine detail, and you won’t notice until you print the image or try to crop in closer.
#04 On camera flash is the evil within – and your camera knows it.
Red eyes, overly bright faces and generally unnatural looking photos are all the frequent work of the flash built into your camera. In fact, the camera is the last place you should put your flash. Why? Well, does the sun shine out of your nose (let alone anywhere else on your personage)?
The light’s coming from the wrong place. And the smaller your camera is, the closer the light is to the lens axis (imagine a line coming straight out of your lens like a laser beam). That light is going to reflect straight back from anything in front of the camera, and the human eye adds vampire lighting effects when that happens. On lesser cameras, the camera just fires the flash without compensating for the ambient light, or how close the things in front of the camera are. Ever gotten that picture back with a white hot alien instead of your Mom in the middle?
But you see professional photographers with big flashes on their cameras. Yes, because they have nowhere to put a light on a stand or no one to carry the flash. That’s news, and it’s a compromise. To their advantage, the huge size of a professional flash means it’s a few inches further from the lens axis – but it’s still an unnatural place for light to come from. That’s why light comes from the ceiling, not the floor. Light from the floor is another page out of vampire movies.
The on camera flash is a tiny point source of light. Ever noticed how shadows are sharper on sunny days and non-existent on cloudy days? The larger the light source (eg, clouds for miles) the ‘softer the light. The smaller the light source (the 1x5mm on camera flash tube) the harder the shadows, especially zits, and even the pores of your skin.
Solution? On camera flash is there to cover the fact that your compact camera has very poor sensitivity to light and needs a flash just to grab a shot in less than ½ a second (practically hours in photography). So find an area with better (more at least) light, or look at an off camera flash if your more than just a casual photographer.
At the very least, many cameras let you set your flash to ‘fill’ which just adds a touch to fill in the shadows, and can look good to great depending on how smart your camera is, and how bad the ambient light is. Often times you can simply turn the flash off knowing that most ambient light looks better than ‘nuking’ your photos.
#05 Edit your photos – we don’t want to see everything.
There are 2 ways to interpret that statement. Firstly, you can use software to edit the colour and quality of your images, and crop them to remove distracting or unnecessary parts. Almost every photo looks better after cropping.
Your camera shoots a ratio of 3:2 – three wide for every 2 high. Or you can set it to square, you beardy hipster Instagrammer. Your computer screen and TV are 16:9. You can buy 4x6, 5x7 or 8x10 prints. Instead of panicking at the number of choices – make a great 3:2 master image, then make digital copies and ‘crop’ (resize) for what you need. Square does look nice and hipster retro, I will admit.
The second, and just as important, is to NEVER SHOW THEM YOUR DUDS! Select the best photos and don’t share the rest. Especially don’t show the ones that are badly framed, badly lit or out of focus. It makes you look bad, and bores us. Harsh, but true. I like you enough to be honest.
Sit down with a decent coffee and some perky music, laugh at the bad ones then purge them from your selection. If you have more than one picture of someone or something – just choose the best one.
This last tip – not showing us the bad photos – is what makes an awesome photographer look awesome. You only see the good stuff. Imagine if your favourite band released every single (teen poetry addled) song they ever wrote? At the least it’s boring, and potentially embarrassing. Regardless of quality, there is the issue of attention span. Don’t deluge us with too much of a good thing.
You’ll look awesome if you just conquer a few of the things that make your photos look bad, and if you only show us the best photos of interesting things. The rest you can keep for yourself – but I guarantee you’ll only want to remember the good ones.
If you’d like to learn more – have a look at the many great photography training opportunities offered at Bring Your Own Camera.
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