By Jason R. Rich
Author of How To Do Everything Digital Photography (McGraw-Hill)
Whether you’re taking photos with the digital camera built into your cell phone, a stand-alone point-and-shoot digital camera, or a more costly Digital SLR camera, there are a few strategies you can easily implement as you shoot to help you dramatically improve the overall quality of your images, and be able to more consistently take in-focus, well-lit and nicely composed shots that are visually appealing, and that you’ll be proud to showcase within your CEIVA digital photo frame.
First, invest the time needed to get to know your camera. For example, virtually all of the digital cameras currently on the market have a wide range of pre-programmed “auto” shooting modes built into them. Each is designed to be used in a specific situation. Make a point to discover exactly what shooting modes your particular camera offers, and in what situation each is designed to be used in.
You’ll discover different shooting modes for taking shots in bright light, versus low light, for shooting portraits of one or more people, or for capturing vast landscapes, for example. Chances are, your camera will also have special shooting modes for taking photos indoors and outdoors, through glass, while your subject is in motion, or while you (the photographer) are in motion and can’t hold your camera perfectly still.
Each of these shooting scenarios requires your camera’s settings to be adjusted differently. By choosing the best pre-programmed auto shooting mode for the situation you’re in, you’re more apt to take a clear, in-focus and well-lit shot with minimal effort or guesswork on your part. Choosing the wrong shooting mode, however, will often result in a blurry, out of focus, over-exposed or under-exposed image, or some other problem with the shot.
Beyond just getting to know your camera’s shooting modes, become extremely comfortable using your camera. Discover where it’s various buttons and dials are located, and learn how to quickly access the camera’s various on-screen menus.
Ideally, you should be able to instinctively and quickly be able to take your camera out of its case (or your pocket), for example, turn it on and off, adjust the zoom lens, choose the appropriate shooting mode, turn on or off the camera’s built-in flash, and know exactly where the shutter button is located, so that you can prepare your camera to snap a photo within a few seconds and not fumble at all with its various buttons and dials, or accidentally hold your finger in front of the lens or flash.
Knowing how to operate your camera will prevent you from missing shots that are time sensitive, plus allow you to focus on the more creative aspects of photography, which include properly framing your shots, and, if applicable, interacting with your subject(s).
In addition to becoming extremely familiar with your particular camera, which is knowledge that can easily be acquired by reading its owners manual and with hands-on practice using it, invest some time learning basic photo composition techniques. This will help you better position your subject within the frame as you look through your camera’s viewfinder, take into account and fully utilize your available lighting, and incorporate your subject’s foreground and background into every shot in order to make it more visually interesting.
One photo composition strategy you’ll want to learn, and then fully utilize whenever you’re taking pictures, is the Rule of Thirds. Most amateur photographers simply center their subject in the frame as they look through the camera’s viewfinder, and then snap a photo. There’s a much better way to frame your shots, however.
Instead, imagine an invisible tic-tac-toe board-shaped grid superimposed within your viewfinder. Next, position your subject(s) off-center, either at one of the points where the horizontal and vertical lines of the grid intersect, or along one of the horizontal or vertical lines. The goal is to take your subject away from the center of the frame, and to better utilize what’s surrounding your subject, as well as what’s within its foreground and background. This will help you consistently create more visually interesting shots that draw the viewer’s eyes to the intended primary focal point of your images.
At the same time you utilize the Rule of Thirds when composing or framing your shots, you also want to fully utilize the lighting. For example, the main light source (such as the sun, if your taking photos outdoors), should be behind you, the photographer, and shining onto your subject.
If you’re using your camera’s flash, make sure you’re not too close or too far away from your subject, which can easily result in an over-exposed or under-exposed image (and cause red-eye if you’re shooting people or animals). Every camera’s flash has a unique flash range, which is the distance your camera (and it’s flash) should be from your subject, in order to wind up with a well and evenly lit image. Once you determine your flash’s range, stay within those parameters to generate the best results.
Also, keep in mind that on many digital cameras, it’s built-in flash has several different modes, some of which can even be utilized outdoors on a sunny day to more evenly light a subject, such as when your primary light source is behind your subject, as opposed to in front of it. Your flash is a valuable tool, if used correctly, for improving the overall lighting within a photo that’s taken indoors or outdoors.
If you do happen to make a mistake when shooting, don’t automatically delete the image. Figure out what you’re doing wrong and remedy the situation, which might mean using a different shooting mode as you snap the photo. However, if you have photo editing software, you can often quickly and easily fix images after they’re shot. Seriously consider using a program, like Photoshop Elements 9 (PC or Mac), iPhoto ‘11 (Mac), or Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011 (PC), to edit and enhance your photos after they’re shot and have been transferred to your computer.
Learning how to properly use your camera, incorporating basic photo composition strategies and shooting techniques as you take pictures, making full use of your lighting, and practice taking pictures in a wide range of situations (and then editing them), will all help you take better quality and more visually appealing photos.
About the author: Jason R. Rich (www.jasonrich.com) is a bestselling author and accomplished photographer. To learn more about how to take professional-quality photos using any digital camera, read his new, full-color book, How To Do Everything Digital Photography, which is published by McGraw-Hill ($25.00). It’s now available from bookstores everywhere, as well as from Amazon.com and BN.com.