4 October 2015

3 Tips to Improve Your Photography and Get Better Photos

3 tips tricks better good improve photos photography

I've loved taking photos ever since I was about 12 with all that I've learnt a result of experimenting or watching YouTube. Over the years, I've (thankfully) refined my photography craft and become prouder of the photos I've captured, finding a noticeable difference in the quality of my work. Here are the 3 tips that I focus on most when taking and sharing photos (with lots of example photos thrown in).

1. Don't think like everybody else

Has somebody already taken this shot?  That is always my initial and immediate thought when considering taking a photo. Now sometimes, you'll be in a place where inevitably your photo will end up looking like countless others (Eiffel Tower, Houses of Parliament, etc and I've definitely been guilty of that) because you want to capture the whole scene and treasure the moment of being there. But there are ways to immortalise that memory that still allow your photo to stand out.

Try and take the shot in places most people won't be (or wouldn't think of). Below is one of St Peter's Square and Basilica taken in the middle of the road (Via della Conciliazione) when there were still lots of cars about! Obviously be very careful and aware of what's around you, but after some darting back and forth from the pavement, I got the central, face-on shot I wanted. I could have taken it from St Peter's Square but then I would have missed out on the outside buildings creating a natural frame and reduced the field of view (and it would have looked like everybody else's). 

St Peter's Basilica via della conciliazione
Think about your location and time of day.

Probably one of the most photographed places in all of the world (and rightly so) but most people will probably have taken their picture of the Eiffel Tower from the Champ de Mars, south-east of the Tower, or from the Jardins du Trocadero, with the fountains and water in the foreground, which is fine (and I did as well) but it was the below shot that I decided to go for. I took this in the open space by the Palais de Chaillot, wanting to capture that large open space and yet also portray a sense of city life and busyness with the numerous people milling around, the Tower towering over them.

Avoid the photography crowds.

Lake District
Gateways, doors or anything similar are great ways to capture scenes from a more first-person perspective whilst also 
allowing the features of the image to frame the picture for you.

Rhossili bay
Go high or low for a different look.

Rome mopeds scooters
Look for alternative things which capture the atmosphere and/or essence of a place.

St Peter's Basilica
Although not the best and clearest image (I should have stopped down to reduce the bokeh effect, making the 
background sharper), it's something a bit different.

Mount Snowdon Snowdonia
Find subjects which portray height, depth or scale for a stronger sense of immersion. Use natural features (e.g. the clouds) 
to frame your subject.

2. Look into the light

This was a technique which took me a lot longer to figure out for myself and make work. Whenever and wherever you are, always take into consideration your lighting conditions. This will affect your camera settings (lowlight will affect shutter speeds and require higher ISOs and wider apertures) but also allow for creativity and subsequent impact.

St Peter's Basilica
Also consider the rule-of-thirds during composition.

As I was beginning to make my way out of St Peter's Basilica, I noticed the light coming in from the overhead windows and falling perfectly onto this statue of St Teresa of Jesus. I had to take this picture: the statue was at a perfect angle, with her face tilted just right towards the light. The light frames the statue perfectly, leaving everything else in darkness, allowing the viewer to focus solely on her.

St Peter's Basilica
The aforementioned light coming in. Try to find rays of light and work with it, finding subjects for it to fall on 
or just capturing the rays in the air. 

zell am see
Here the light is falling on the chosen subject, illuminating the mountaintop and cable lines, leaving the foreground
(slightly) in shadow. The viewer's eyes are immediately drawn to the mountain due to the light.

zell am see
Light reflecting off water can create a pleasing sparkling effect.

Light can also be used to create silhouette effects of buildings or people allowing them to stand out.

3. What's done is done except that it isn't

I used to be of the belief that once the photo was taken, that's it, nothing else should be done to it; a proficient photographer need not edit their own photos as their ability will enable them to overcome any difficulties and be able to get the perfect shot without editing - a photo should be left unadulterated to present the most realistic image taken from the camera. Oh how wrong I was. As idealistic (and virtuous!) as that is, I soon realised that a) camera technology will still struggle to capture the near image of the moment and b) editing allows for even more creativity and impact so I quickly scrapped that philosophy!

Here is an image I took for one of my recent blog posts. 

The original white balance cast an orange glow across the whole scene.

Left: unedited. Right: edited. Result: huge difference. The original was shot in RAW in very poor light (one energy-saving bulb) and handheld. It wasn't ideal, it wasn't great, it was quite bad, but I had to get a shot. Thankfully I was able to brighten it up, replace the orange cast with a more natural looking feel and reduce the noise as well as sharpen up the overall image and balance the colours. The end result was something more acceptable, not amazing but better enough to post.

The shadow extends further to the left in the edited photo, leaving only one and a half pillars in light compared to the two 
and a half pillars in the original. This subtle difference narrows the viewer's attention further to focus more upon her.

Here's the original and edited version of the St Teresa photo I used earlier. It's not a massive difference compared to my first example but it still highlights how editing can be used to emphasise an effect (in this case, the light falling on the statue) and deliver the artistic impression that the photographer wants. For this photo, I boosted the shadows and blacks, creating more contrast (deeper blacks in the shadows of the statue) and changed the colour balance ever so slightly for a more transparent, ghostly feel.

I altered the colours to deliver a more natural, appealing colour palette to the sky and lake as well as increase the overall contrast, reducing the 'flatness' of the image and creating a greater sense of depth.

I always shoot in RAW file format and edit using Adobe Lightroom (Windows/Mac) which allows me control over colour temperature, brightness and noise reduction amongst many other things. I find Lightroom to be a perfect complementary tool for my shooting: developed and advanced enough that I can employ a wide variety of techniques and fixes but not too overwhelming like Adobe Photoshop. If you have a Mac, Photos (the successor to iPhoto) will also do a decent job but not allow for as much flexibility. GIMP is a free alternative for Windows and Mac users but has a slightly steeper learning curve (compared to Photos) and a rather basic and uninspiring UI.

Adobe Lightroom
Adobe Lightroom can appear overwhelming but is quite straightforward to use and will improve your photos.

Shooting in RAW means the camera captures all the information ready for editing whilst JPEG compresses this information as the camera decides what post-processing techniques to deploy before applying them, throwing away the detail it didn't deem necessary and giving you the final image saved onto your SD card. With RAW, you can extract so much more information from a photo, especially when it comes to adjusting the brightness and shadows, as it can retrieve detail from even the darkest and brightest places. You can still edit JPEG files but you won't be able to do as much with it and any editing can result in degrading the photo, rather than improving it.

If you need to shoot a quick photo that doesn't need to be edited, shoot JPEG, otherwise shoot RAW (if your camera allows for it) as it will give you much more flexibility.

So there you have it, my 3 tips that I adhere to when shooting. Obviously, there are many other tips and tricks to improve one's photography but I find these 3 to be the biggest help in capturing and creating a portfolio to look back on proudly.

What tips/tricks do you use/follow when shooting?

What editing software do you use?

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