18 Tips to Take Better Photos

The way we communicate has become increasingly more image-based and if you are trying to make a name for yourself as a creative, photographing your work is a must-have skill. Wading into the waters of effective photography is intimidating. There are so many considerations when composing a great shot or attempting to capture a specific moment or emotion. Hair, in particular, is especially hard to photograph properly. Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs isn’t just another one of those books that’s going to leave you feeling more confused than you already are. It’s actually a very practical resource and a well-written guide for all you DSLR (Digital Single Lense Reflex) camera newbies and budding photographers. Free from confusing graphs and diagrams and “camera-club jargon,” this book walks you through the fundamentals of composition, exposure, light, lenses and the most important of all lessons: the art of seeing. In short, it’s a fantastic guide to help you take better photos.

What makes this book such a valued resource is how the author Henry Carroll has curated 50+ of the most iconic photographs by acclaimed photographers and uses these images as points of reference when discussing and describing specific terms and functions. This approach makes it much easier for visual learners to see the nuances in photographic techniques, rather than trying to visualize them from reading alone. Included in the mix of iconic photographers are works from Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Martin Parr and Dorothea Lange.

If you want to take great pictures, ones that really stand out from the crowd, you need to stop looking and start seeing. Seeing is about turning on your eyes and turning off your brain. It’s about responding to your instincts

Henry Carroll

When you’re delving into the DSLR world, it’s always best to take an informative class from someone who knows what they’re doing. But sometimes, having a person who can break it all down for you just isn’t an option. THIS is your option, and to really entice you to add this to your Barnes & Nobles cart, here are 18 (out of the 100 or so) tips and tricks straight from the book:

Composition

The book explains this best with the following statement: Think of composition as the foundations of your image. And just like those of a building, foundations need to be strong.

In other words, it’s all about putting the elements of your image in a certain order. But in order to put those elements in order, you need to know what you’re looking for, right? Here are some suggestions:

  • Have a strong “leading line.” This is the line that leads the eye down a specific path. It often sweeps in from edge of the frame and gives your composition structure.
  • Format is important. Horizontal shots allow the eye to move from side to side and vertical forces the eye to move up and down. Henry Carroll advises his readers to match the format of your picture to the dominant lines or natural flow of your subject. Keep in mind the shape of your picture and the shape of your subject manner. For instance, let’s say your taking a group shot of four people in front of a mountain. Obviously a horizontal format makes perfect sense because you want to get everyone in the group in the shot and have the eye move from side to side across the mountains in the background. But what about shooting those same four people in front of, let’s say, in a downtown urban setting. Instead of going horizontal, get low (that’s a fancy way of saying crouch down and get your elbows close to the ground) and shoot low to high with the skyscrapers in the background to create an elongated, dramatic effect.
  • Framing is crucial in composition, and if you’re struggling with it, this book recommends you focus on something in particular like a doorway, a window or an opening of some kind. Anything that will help draw in attention.
  • Get in close instead of relying on cropping. This was one of the big takeaways I got. Carroll put it best by saying, “Nothing kills an image more than keeping your distance. Think of cropping as a fine tuner rather than a way of fundamentally altering your image.”
  • Think in thirds. What this means is you want to split your frame into three sections either horizontally or vertically. You’ll then want to position your focal point within this grid. By doing so, your photos will have a sense of balance even if your focal point is centered or off-centered.

Take Better Photos

Exposure

When shooting a photo, your best friend or worst enemy is the L word—light. Allow too much in and your photo is going to look overexposed (too bright) and if you don’t allow enough in, then your photo is going to look underexposed (too dark). Here’s a bit of advice: pay very close attention to this chapter of the book.  Understanding exposure isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. But here are some tips to apply to help your understanding and use of proper exposure:

  • Don’t use scene modes on your settings dial. Scene modes are the little icons that look like a silhouette of a woman’s head, a flower and a guy running. Those are factory presets and do more harm than good for your photo. And while you’re at it, stay away from “Auto.” Henry Carroll suggests using the “P” setting that means “Posh Auto.” By doing so, you’ll have more creative freedom and the ability to adjust exposure.
  • Add “shutter speed,” “aperture,” and “ISO,” to your everyday lexicon and test yourself on their individual meanings until you can’t stand it anymore.  These three terms are key to everything you shoot and create.
    • Shutter Speed: It’s how long your shutter stays open and it controls the length of time light is allowed to enter into your camera.
    • Aperture: This controls how much actual light is entering your camera.
    • ISO: These three letters stand for International Organization of Standardization and it control how sensitive your camera is to light.

All three of these interact and rely on each other. Make it your mission to master them.

Light

“Whether you have your camera with you or not, the only way to learn about light is to observe it constantly.” This statement made by Carroll is on-point and essential to remember. Raise your hand if you instantly stopped what you’re doing and looked around and started the observation process after reading that statement. Here are some things to also keep in mind when you’re studying it:

  • There are two different types of light—hard and soft. Know the difference.
    • Hard light creates contrast. It comes from one direction (like direct sunlight or from a spotlight), creates intensely dark shadows and has a best friend; his name is hard contrast. If you want to draw the eye to one particular item in your picture, hard light will highlight it and create a focal point. Hard light also creates depth.
    • Soft light can also come from one direction, but the shadow it casts is more even and the details are more visible. It can also be considered “flat” yet flattering.

Knowing the difference between these two types of light will help you understand what you’re observing.

Lenses

What do we already know about lenses? Well, for one, they are not cheap. Number two—they are critical to a photographer. But you don’t need a half dozen lenses to take great photos. Remember that. And once you get the technical jargon like “focal length” and “field of view” understood, keep the following in mind:

  • When you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens, pay close attention to what is happening in the background and on the sides of your focal point or subject.
  • And keep in mind when shooting with a wide-angle that the closer you get to your subject, the further away everything in the background will appear. This will create quite a dramatic shot.
  • Before you start shooting with a wide-angle lens, master composition and have a precise understanding on its elements (leading lines, formatting, etc.).
  • Use a prime lens if you’re ultimate goal is focusing on your subject and not having anything in the surrounding frame to be of focus. It is actually the cheapest of all lenses and used most often by fashion bloggers who are capturing street style shots.

Seeing

This is an especially impactful chapter. Carroll sums it up perfectly by saying:

“If you want to take great pictures, ones that really stand out from the crowd, you need to stop looking and start seeing. Seeing is about turning on your eyes and turning off your brain. It’s about responding to your instincts. To do this, he suggests the following:

  • Keep your eyes peeled at all times and have your camera set up in advance. You never know when an opportunity is going to strike.
  • Don’t delete bad photos. This will affect your creativity. Wait until you’re done shooting your subject(s) completely before you edit and delete. That one photo you think is wrong could very well be your best.
  • Create your own beauty and shoot what you think is beautiful, even if it isn’t in the eyes of others.
  • Change your point of view. In essence, get low to the ground, contort your body and put yourself into situations and positions that seem a bit unnatural. Who knows, your next great shot could be where you least expect it.

All in all, Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs is a book that will help evolve your photography skills whether you’re a beginner or someone who is a bit more advanced. Learning needs a starting point and in order to learn we need resources that make sense and don’t complicate the subject matter or the actual learning process. This is one resource that makes sense and one that will truly help you take great photographs. It’ll be the best $17.95 you spend.

Photo Credit: Laurence King Publishing www.laurenceking.com.

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