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2 tips: How To Take A Photograph Like A Pro

Monday, June 09, 2014 - by James Swan

As a professional photographer, the one question I always get asked is how to take a better photograph.

In today’s world nearly everyone has a camera, whether that be on a smart phone, a compact or a full DSLR. There are even some who still use film. In the following blog I will attempt to help you use your camera in a simple but very effective way.

As a professional photographer I am constantly asked by my friends and family to look at their holiday photographs and give my opinion. I also have to say how wonderful they are for fear of offending aforementioned friends and family.

So how do I overcome this plethora of photographs that with a little more thought could have been so much better. The answer is Light and Composition. These two factors are what make up any image, and if thought about and used correctly can drastically improve a photograph.

I am not going to go into how you must learn the theory of photography before you could possibly take a good photograph because it is not necessary. Modern cameras have several different settings to help you take the perfect picture, ranging from landscape settings to sunset settings to portrait settings. These are all fine and well, but what the modern camera cannot do for you is to compose the image in the first place.

The secret to good composition is simple. Take your time and think. The amount of photographs I have seen with people standing in front of a scene with poles sticking out of their heads or wires going through their ears. The wonderful landscape behind them with the local bus waiting at the bus stop or a car driving along the road behind them. All these pictures would have been great if the person taking the picture had taken the time to compose it.

This means that when you look either through your viewfinder, or at the screen on the back of the camera take a little extra time to make sure that the wonderful landscape is clear of any rubbish. Take the time to make sure that poles are not sticking out of people’s heads or wires going through their ears. It sounds easy doesn’t it, but you would be amazed at how easy it is to get it wrong if you don’t take the time. A quick point and snap very rarely produces a perfect image, because no thought has gone into it. If, however, you take the time and a little thought, you will be proud of what you have taken and proud to show it to your friends and even stick it on the wall or in a frame.

Another composition fault I see all the time is what I call the “sheep syndrome” photograph. The world is dotted with famous landscapes, buildings and general points of interest. It seems that as people take their own photographs of these sights, they are like sheep following each other. They take the photographs in the same place and the at the same angle.  DON’T!!  Again take some time to look around you and see what this sight looks like from a different angle. If you can walk around it to see if it looks better, crouch down on the ground or climb up to see if you can get a different perspective.

When you think that you have found the perfect angle, take the time to check the composition, (poles, wires, etc) and then think of the next topic I mentioned at the beginning of this blog… Light!!

Light is obviously a major factor in producing a great photograph. Without it we would not see what we can see with our eyes, and would certainly cause us problems reproducing it on camera.

Without a doubt, light and composition go hand in hand in photography. Bad composition and good lighting or good composition and bad lighting both have the same result. A poor photograph.

Taking photographs in the controlled environment of a studio allows us to easily play with the composition and the lighting, but out of this environment it becomes harder. Considering that I do not know of any of my friends or family who take location lighting with them on holiday, there are a few things to think about when taking a picture.

Bright sunny days do not necessarily make for easy photography. Not a problem if you are photographing a beach with a palm tree and a boat in the sea, but if you are talking about people things become a little different. In general people do not like looking directly at the sun since it makes them squint.

Most modern cameras have what is called a fill in flash. Yes this means using flash on a bright sunny day. Get your “people” to look away from the sun, making sure you, the photographer, are not pointing your camera directly at the sun. Then turn on you fill in flash and think about the composition and then take the picture. Try it at home and see the results. You will be surprised..

Use the available light to your advantage, and very much like the composition aspect I have mentioned, take your time to look at what the light is doing and where it is coming from.

Shadows and sunlight will add definition to a subject you are photographing, but be careful that one does not outweigh the other. Most modern cameras will compensate for the light that is coming through the lens, but this is not always the case. Point your camera at a different area of the scene you are trying to take and half press the shutter button then, keeping the button pressed, move back to your original composition and take the picture.  The wonder of digital photography is that you can see the result on your camera, if it does not look right, try again.

Light throughout a day will change in both its intensity and its colour. If you are trying to get a great landscape shot, or building shot, and you have the time, then come back to the same spot 3 or more times in the same day. You will be surprised at how things change.

Watch out for reflections where you don’t want them and bear in mind that if you point you camera towards the sun you are very likely to get what is called lens flare, which will show up in the final picture.

One tip regarding reflections is that if you know what a polarising filter is and you don’t want reflections, then use it. If you don’t know Google it.

Play with light, look for shadows that add to the composition of the picture. I am sure a lot of you have photographed your shadow on the beach or the ground, and this can be fun. However, beware that if you are not paying attention you may well find part of your shadow making it into a picture that you don’t want it in. Shadows, as you can imagine are longer in the morning and the evening due to the height of the sun, use this to your advantage if photographing a long distant landscape to add definition and contrast to your shot. The middle of the day is much more of a flat light that does not always look good.

My final words to you are this. Take your time, think and try to be creative by looking for that different angle. Think Light & Composition if you do, you may surprise yourself at what you can produce.

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