There are a number of hints and tips we can pass on that can help you in taking better photos. Many of these tips cover shooting techniques, others may simply be advice about equipment and understanding a little more about your camera. You don’t have to use them all but pick out a few that work for you, develop them and make them a part of your creative photographic process and they will stand you in good stead as you progress your skills.
1 Choose the Right Camera
When you’re looking to buy a new camera for your photography, make a list of your requirements and set yourself a budget. Don’t forget to allow for accessories such as lenses, a tripod and cleaning kit if you need them.
Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that a more expensive camera will make you a better photographer. You’re much more likely to improve your technique by overcoming the limitations of cheaper kit than by spending more money than you need to.
2 Choose the Right Lens
If you’re buying a compact system camera or DSLR, it will probably come with a standard telephoto lens that is ideal for general photography and snapshots but there is a wide variety of special lenses available for other types of photography.
If you like to shoot landscapes, get a good wide-zoom lens but avoid super-wide lenses as these will distort the image. If you want to shoot wildlife, you’ll need a high quality fast telephoto but this will be expensive.
3 Get a Tripod
The quickest way to improve your photography is to invest in a decent tripod. For the best combination of strength, rigidity and portability, the ideal choice is carbon fibre. Carbon fibre tripods start at around £120 ($175, €165), but can cost ten times more, so if that’s too expensive get a good quality aluminium one.
Features to look for include a ratcheted centre column, portrait-format tilt and all-metal construction. Avoid ones with plastic heads, as they are seldom rigid enough to prevent camera shake on long exposures.
4 Be an Early Bird
Shooting a landscape in bright midday sun is fine but if you really want your shots to shine, you’ll need to get up early and catch the light available just before the sun rises, and as it climbs above the horizon. The shadows are long, giving definition to objects and the light has that special golden ethereal quality.
The same is true at the opposite end of the day, at sunset. The period of time around sunrise and sunset is called the golden hour. Simply switching the time you take photos can have a dramatic improvement on your shots.
5 The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a simple guide that can help the composition of your shots and make them much more visually appealing. When framing a shot, you have to imagine that what you can see through the viewfinder of your camera is divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally with lines, just like a noughts and crosses game (or tic-tac-toe if you are in the US). Placing your main subject on an intersection where these lines meet is a simple and quick way to improve composition.
6 Pick a Prime
Fast glass is much prized in the world of portraiture. Fast glass has very large apertures, letting in more light and offering faster shutter speeds in low-light conditions. A good portrait lens that has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 – f/1.2 is fantastic at creating the background blur so sought after by photographers.
The quality of defocused light this blurring produces is referred to as bokeh. The ability to shoot at f/1.2, for instance, means you can shoot more natural light portraits, without the reliance on strobes.
7 ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed
ISO, aperture and shutter speed are the three pillars of exposure. The main idea is that altering one of these three settings has an impact on exposure and therefore how your image looks. One or both of the other settings will have to be altered to maintain a balanced exposure.
As you develop as a photographer, you will realise that once you are in control, you can create images that look more as you want, rather than what the camera thinks is right when in full auto mode.
8 Use Image Stabilisation
Camera shake is the unwanted movement of the camera taking the shot and of the subject of the shot. Modern cameras offer image stabilisation and it can work well up to a point but the lower the light, the more the likelihood is that your shots will be blurry as you need longer shutter speeds to gather enough light for a balanced exposure.
If you buy one thing to go with your new camera, make it a tripod. Use a robust tripod and your images will be rock steady in all manner of challenging shooting situations.
9 Use Depth Cueing
A photograph only has two dimensions and any indication of depth in a photograph is purely optical. One of the simplest ways to add depth is to use leading lines like the curve of sand on a beach image or railway lines converging towards the horizon.
Another method is atmospheric perspective where mist and fog shroud distant objects making them lighter and with less tonal contrast compared to darker foreground objects.