Take your photographs to the next level with these simple tips! This article is targeted towards people capturing photos on smartphones, point-n-shoots, DSLRs, tablets, and anything with a camera. Read on:
1. “The best camera is the one you have with you.” - Believe this with all your heart.
How many times have you seen a picturesque landscape or been a part of a perfect candid moment and sighed in regret - “…if I just had a better camera or a DSLR”, and lost that moment forever because you thought (or assumed) that the tiny camera on the smartphone in your back pocket wasn’t just good enough?
The ground reality is, no one is ever satisfied with what they own, because there’s always something better in the market, of course, for higher prices. Average smartphone owners lust after flagship phones like iPhones, Samsung Galaxy series, and Google Pixels. Point-n-shoot camera (the ones where the lens can't be replaced) owners lust after DSLRs. Entry-level DSLR owners want professional full-frame DSLRs. And it doesn’t end here - you may not know this, but Canons, Sonys, and Nikons aren’t at the top of the camera-pyramid. There are cinematic cameras from RED, Alexa, IMAX, etc. which are used in high-end Hollywood productions that shoot 6K, 8K, and even 12K videos, which isn’t even a popular format available for consumers nowadays! Medium and large-format cameras from Hasselblad, Mamiya, and Pentax weigh kilograms, costs tens of thousands of dollars, and capture pictures of 100 to 500 megapixels in size!
The point is, there is no end to human greed and lust. Trust the camera in your hand. Believe that it is capable of taking great pictures. Cameras are just tools. The best camera in the hands of an average person would mostly result in crappy pictures since they aren’t trained or ready for that amount of control and precision such advanced cameras offer which professionals would find useful. On the other hand, good photographers can get amazing pictures out of smartphones and other generic cameras! It’s just a matter of how much you've mastered your device.
Trust the camera in your hand. Believe that it is capable of taking great pictures.
So if you've been neglecting your cameras and underestimating its potential, go show some love and respect right away. ;)
2. Don’t follow the crowd!
Most of you may take photographs when you are on a trip, or at an event, or a festival. The crowd is usually littered around touristy spots and landmarks - taking selfies, family pictures, and videos. You could do the same, and add one more photo to the millions of cliched pictures on the internet that look the same, or, you could simply avoid doing that.
Step back, look around, and watch out for something everyone else is missing
Step back, look around, and watch out for something everyone else is missing - a higher viewpoint, a different perspective - something that would make people go - “Woah! I’ve been there but this looks unique. Why did I never see this from there? How did you take this photo?!”. Many people ask how to take photos that stand out with creative composition, and I can guarantee that this is the simplest and easiest tip that would level up your photography game. P.S.: If there’s a celebrity or something “special” on the street, go ahead, beat through the crowd, and by all means bang that selfie or photo or video shamelessly!😉
3. Use the flash at day time, not at night!
Even though photographers prefer shooting at the golden hours and soft lighting conditions, most of us take pictures at any time of the day. When clicking portrait pictures in bright daylight close to noon, you might have noticed that there’s a lot of harsh shadows on the forehead, under the eyes, nose, and neck (due to the vertical position of the sun at noon-ish times). This ruins the look of the face.
How do you remove the shadows? Set off the camera flash on the face! Flashes are always associated with low-light & night-time photography, and most people are unaware of this nifty little trick for shadow-free faces and sparkling eyes in broad daylight.
Now, if you are taking a picture at night-time, I strongly advise against using the generic flashes for two reasons:
- The flashes on most cameras can illuminate objects at a maximum of few meters in front of it, hence it has no effect on shooting night landscapes (since the distance from the camera to the landscape is huge), except maybe sending an SOS or Morse code signals as spies used to do back in the days.😛
- The flashes on most cameras are front-facing and directed at the face of a person. Such pictures usually turn out unflattering and gross at times. The reflection of the flash from the eyes can cause devil-like red eyes also. Professionals usually point the flash in other directions to bounce the light on the face indirectly, to get a more natural shot. Improvisations can be made by lighting up the person using light from a streetlight or a nearby building with white or yellow lights. You can get more creative by switching on the Flashlight on a different phone and pointing it towards the person at a desirable angle and height. Even car headlamps at low intensity can be used. Get creative!
4. Get down on your knees!
A big mistake that parents make when shooting photos of kids - standing upright and point the camera downwards at the kid, who looks up in a weird way with wide petrified eyes.
The most pleasing and neutral photos of people are the ones taken with the camera at THEIR eye level.
If you don’t have a case of paralysis, do get in the right position suitable for the photo! Lift your camera over the crowd at a concert, lay down on your stomach to get a picture of that cute puppy, squat down to shoot close-up photos of flowers and bushes. The picture you get from these perspectives will make it worth the extra effort!
P.S.: The next time you see photographers squatting and jumping and doing weird things, don’t judge or laugh at them. :P
5. Ask for help.
Have you ever been at some beautiful location, and wanted your (or your group’s) picture from there, and the hundreds of selfies you click just don’t represent the awe and wonder you felt? Just ask a passer-by to click the photo for you!
Before you hand the camera over to a passer-by who is willing to click your picture, make sure you’re in the right app and have the settings right. If you are not sure whether they would take the picture you want, then move over to the point from where you like the frame, and ask the passer-by to stand at the same spot, and help them with the positioning of the camera. Let them know if you want a close-up or a full-length photo. The only thing the passer-by should have to do is “click”. Then head over to your position, get into the pose, and get a few pictures. Don’t force the same person to take more pictures, and don’t forget to thank them for their time and compliment them (even if the photo is crappy). You could always hang around for a few more minutes and repeat the process with another passer-by to try a different pose, background, or get a better picture. This can be a little awkward in the beginning, but you’ll get over it after a few attempts. It can get tiresome, but hey, it’s way better than “selfies”.😛
The alternative - travel with friends who are good at clicking photos, or, my personal choice, to master the technique of shooting self-portraits using a self-timer and a tripod if you don’t trust the skills or intentions of random people. :P
6. Think before you click.
Photography requires no preparation these days. Smartphones have dedicated buttons and gestures that take you directly to the camera app, and you can click a photo in less than a second. Storage devices have also become cheap. The result - people mindlessly click tens of thousands of pics just because they can. Most of these pics are not even re-visited anytime. They just add to the thousands of junk photos in their galleries.
In earlier days, there used to be a cost associated with every photo, so people had to make every shot count. Nowadays, we boast of trillions of pictures available in the digital space, but most of them have very little value in terms of content, storytelling, and composition. Before you go bashing that shutter button, take a second to think about what, why, how, when, and where you are shooting. This small change in attitude can instantly give you so much better pictures, and also reduce the junk in your phone galleries and SD cards.
7. Wait for the right moment.
Don’t rush. Wait for that truck to pass that monument so you get an unobstructed view. Wait for the birds to peck the rice grains. Wait for that half-toothy giggle from the baby. Wait for the wind so that her hair flutters over her shoulders. Wait for the clouds to hide the sun and scatter soft light over the city. Wait for the sunset over the mountains. Wait for all the best moments. It’s just a matter of a few seconds or a few minutes, and you can go home with the perfect shot.😀
8. Use both hands to hold the camera.
You don’t need to start explaining how steady your hands are. Whether you are an experienced surgeon or a seasoned burglar or a Formula One racer, there is always some degree of shake in your hands. The camera is most prone to shake when held in one hand (since there’s three degrees of freedom - horizontal, vertical, and rotational movements of the wrist and arm joints). Holding the camera with both hands significantly limits its motion, subsequently reducing shakes. To go even further, stretch both your arms and lock your elbows while holding the phone or camera between the thumb and index finger of both hands. (In case of DSLRs, push the top of the viewfinder against your temple while holding the DSLR with both hands in a generic manner to get the most stable position).
In bright daylight, these extra steps may not make a huge difference in picture quality, but as soon as the light starts to fall in the evenings, nights, and even indoors - reducing the camera motion to a bare minimum is extremely important (since the sensor stays exposed for a longer time) to prevent blurry pics. Also, don’t forget to tap the subject of interest on-screen to focus before taking the picture.
P.S.: Don’t try taking selfies in this manner.😛
9. Ditch the “filters”. Explore the settings and options!
Filters are everywhere these days - Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook Stories, and so on. It is very convenient to swipe and try all the filters and slap on the one that looks the best on your picture. But so much more can be done on photos without filters. Basic settings such as Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, etc. which are available in most smartphone editing apps are very powerful. Here are some simple techniques that I stumbled upon by just playing with these settings and their sliders (in Google Snapseed and Instagram apps):
- To get more detail from a night/low-light photo, decrease the Contrast.
- To make a scene look more lively and cheerful, increase the Warmth and Saturation.
- To make a scene look gloomy and ghostly, decrease the Warmth, Saturation, and Brightness.
- To reduce noise and artifacts from images, decrease the Sharpness or Structure.
- To emphasize a face or element in the center of the frame, add Vignette.
These are just very few of the numerous ways to fully control a picture, and get it to represent what composition, mood, and story you had in mind. Explore the magic of photo-editing beyond filters!
10. Click. Click and Keep Clicking.
Practice is the only fail-safe way to excel in any art. When I first bought a DSLR and started clicking those pictures with background blur (or bokeh), I was proud of my “skills” and used to show it off to my friends and family with pride. 40,000 pictures later, when I review the pictures I used to click back in 2013, all I see are mistakes. I have learned a lot over the years and I am pretty sure that after a few years, I wouldn’t be happy with the quality and the technique of the pics I shoot today. But this is how we learn - through mistakes and criticism.
Tips and articles like these can provide some guidance and direction, but knowledge without experience on-field is pointless. So head out and start shooting! Do post the clicks you are proud of on social media. The online community of people has always been the source of a great deal of motivation, inspiration, and criticism over the years, and they would help you in ways beyond imagination.
Head out and start shooting!
Thank you for reading till the end! I have tried my level best to reduce the length of the article, but there’s just so much information to share. I stumbled onto all of these tips and techniques during my experiments in photography, and have served me well in improving my skills. Feel free to disagree with my personal opinions above, but do let me know why. Also, I’d appreciate a message if there are any factual errors to be corrected. Constructive criticism on a writing style is also always welcome!
If the above tips helped you, please share this blog post with your friends as well as on social media. Let me know if you have more general tips in photography that isn't a part of the above list. Contact me over social media for any queries and explanations.