Top Ten Digital Photography Tips

 

 

 

 

 

by Derrick Story, author of The Digital Photography Companion

 

 

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Mr. Derrick Story for allowing Swirlydoos to share his photography tips with our community of budding, amateur and even some novice photographers. We hope you will enjoy these super easy digital photography tips. 

 

 

 

 

You've heard this before: Digital cameras do all the work. You just push the button and great pictures magically appear. The better the camera, the better the photos. Isn't that right? Heck no!


The truth is that you can make great photos with a simple consumer point-and-shoot camera, or take lousy shots with the most expensive Nikon. It's not the camera that makes beautiful images; it's the photographer. With a little knowledge and a willingness to make an adjustment here and there, you can squeeze big time photos out of the smallest digicam.


To help you down the road to great image making, here are ten tips that will enable you shoot like a pro (without maxing out your credit card on all that expensive equipment).

 

 

1. Warm Up Those Tones

Have you ever noticed that your shots sometimes have a cool, clammy feel to them? If so, you're not alone. The default white balance setting for digital cameras is auto, which is fine for most snapshots, but tends to be a bit on the cool side.


When shooting outdoor portraits and sunny landscapes, try changing your white balance setting from auto to cloudy. That's right, cloudy. Why? This adjustment is like putting a mild warming filter on your camera. It increases the reds and yellows resulting in richer, warmer pictures.

 


      

(1A)                                                                                             (1B)

Figure 1a is shot outdoors in a mountain environment with the white balance set to auto. Figure 1b shows warmer tones thanks to using the cloudy setting and a pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses over the front lens. (Canon PowerShot S200, Program mode)


 

If you don't believe me, then do a test. Take a few outdoor shots with the white balance on auto, then take the same picture again with the setting on cloudy. Upload the images to your computer and look at them side by side. My guess is that you'll like the warmer image better.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Sunglasses Polarizer

 

If you really want to add some punch to your images, then get your hands on a polarizing filter. A polarizer is the one filter every photographer should have handy for landscapes and general outdoor shooting. By reducing glare and unwanted reflections, polarized shots have richer, more saturated colors, especially in the sky.


What's that you say? Your digital camera can't accommodate filters. Don't despair. I've been using this trick for years with my point-and-shoot cameras. If you have a pair of quality sunglasses, then simply take them off and use them as your polarizing filter. Place the glasses as close to the camera lens as possible, then check their position in the LCD viewfinder to make sure you don't have the rims in the shot.

 

 

    

(2A)                                                                                               (2B)

If your camera doesn't accept filters, then you can still achieve the effects of a polarizer by placing your sunglasses over the lens. Figure 2a is shot normally without any filtration. Figure 2b is shot during the same session, but with sunglasses placed over the lens. Notice the enhanced colors and deeper sky tones. (Canon PowerShot S200, Program mode)

 

 

For the best effect, position yourself so the sun is over either your right or left shoulder. The polarizing effect is strongest when the light source is at a 90-degree angle from the subject.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Outdoor Portraits that Shine

 

One of the great hidden features on digital cameras is the fill flash or flash on mode. By taking control of the flash so it goes on when you want it to, not when the camera deems it appropriate, you've just taken an important step toward capturing great outdoor portraits.

 

In flash on mode, the camera exposes for the background first, then adds just enough flash to illuminate your portrait subject. The result is a professional looking picture where everything in the composition looks good. Wedding photographers have been using this technique for years.


 

Figure 3. By placing the subjects in the open shade beneath a tree and tuing

on the fill flash, both the boys and the background are properly exposed.

(Canon PowerShot G2, 1/250th at f-4, flash on)

 

 

After you get the hang of using the flash outdoors, try a couple variations on this theme by positioning the subject so the sun illuminates the hair from the side or the back, often referred to as rim lighting. Another good technique is to put the model in the shade under a tree, then use the flash to illuminate the subject. This keeps the model comfortable and cool with no squinty eyes from the harsh sun, and this often results in a more relaxed looking portrait.

 

Remember, though, that most built-in camera flashes only have a range of 10 feet (or even less!), so make sure you don't stand too far away when using fill flash outdoors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Macro Mode Madness

Remember as a kid discovering the whole new world beneath your feet while playing on the grass? When you got very close to the ground, you could see an entire community of creatures that you never knew existed.


These days, you might not want to lie on your belly in the backyard, but if you activate the close up mode on your digital camera and begin to explore your world in finer detail, you'll be rewarded with fresh new images unlike anything you've ever shot before.


Even the simplest object takes on new fascination in macro mode. And the best part is that it's so easy to do with digital cameras.

Figure 4. Nature looks much different, and sometimes more compelling, at close range. (Canon PowerShot G2, Programmed exposure, spot meter, Close Up mode, flash off)

Just look for the close up or macro mode icon, which is usually a flower symbol, tu it on, and get as close to an object as your camera will allow. Once you've found something to your liking, hold the shutter button down halfway to allow the camera to focus. When the confirmation light gives you the go ahead, press the shutter down the rest of the way to record the image.


Keep in mind that you have very shallow depth of field when using the close upmode, so focus on the part of the subject that's most important to you, and let the rest of the image go soft. 





4. Horizon Line Mayhem

For some mysterious reason, most human beings have a hard time holding the camera level when using the LCD monitors on their digicams. The result can be cockeyed sunsets, lopsided landscapes, and tilted towers.

Part of the problem is that your camera's optics introduce distortion when rendering broad panoramas on tiny, two-inch screens. Those trees may be standing straight when you look at them with the naked eye, but they seem to be bowing inward on your camera's monitor. No wonder photographers become disoriented when lining up their shots.


Figure 5. How do you square up an image in the LCD viewfinder so it appears level when you view it later on the computer? Look for nature's horizontal lines and use them as guides. Sometimes you can use the line where the sky meets the ocean, other times you can use a strip of land as your level. In this case I used the shoreline of a mountain lake to help me align this composition. (Canon PowerShot G2, Aperture Priority exposure set to f-8, polarizer filter)

What can you do? Well, there's no silver bullet to solve all of your horizon line problems, but you can make improvements by keeping a few things in mind.

First of all, be aware that it's important to capture your images as level as possible. If you're having difficulty framing the scene to your liking, then take your best shot at a straight picture, reposition the camera slightly, take another picture, and then maybe one more with another adjustment. Chances are very good that one of the images will feel right when you review them on the computer. Simply discard the others once you find the perfectly aligned image.

If you practice level framing of your shots, over time the process will become more natural, and your percentage of level horizon lines will increase dramatically.





 

 

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Mr. Story's Top Ten Digital Photography Tips will be posted on this page – one tip per month until all ten are listed here for you. We invite you to view each tip as a homework assignment which can be shared via comments below. We are excited to see how you implement these simple tips into your own photography!