Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Few Photo Tips

People often compliment my pictures, and in doing so, usually tell me they can't take "that type" of photo. I tell them they can. Though my skill is far better than it was five years ago, I'm still miles away from producing professional images. I learned from others, mainly members of my hiking group, and am still attempting to glean information from photography books that usually soar over my head.

Yet I continue to receive compliments for photos I post on Facebook, and on Carolina Towns and Trails. Some organizations have sought permission to use them on their websites and brochures.

So how do I do it? I'm really good at taking advice. Below are the tips I've been given or have learned over the years.

Light

As with creation, light is the first and most important element ("Let there be light"!) You can't take a photo without it. However, too much light can ruin a photo. The pros say don't take pictures between 10:00 and 3:00 because bright sun bleaches out colors. The best light occurs around sunrise and before sunset. During that time, details are visible, and colors are at their best.


However....we rarely leave the house before 9:00 AM, so we end up taking shots in the middle of the day. If it's a bright sunny day, I use the automatic, or sport setting on my camera (which forces a faster shutter speed) to compensate.


Camera

While better cameras—and lenses—do produce better photos, we've taken several decent shots with our point-and-shoot. Some of the photos posted in the slideshow to the right, and on Carolina Towns and Trails, were taken with a 5 mp Canon Powershot. That said, learn what each auto setting does. I often use the night mode, landscape, and macro settings.

Composition

Learn and use the Rule of Thirds. The best article I've read (that I understood) is on Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_thirds

Below is a photo I recently took in Beaufort, NC. If you read the Wiki article, you'll notice I utilized the Rule of Thirds in my composition:


On the subject of composition, as with any art, emulate the pros until your style begins to emerge. As a member of a hiking group that contains numerous stellar photographers—most of whom consider themselves hobbyist—I'm exposed to fantastic galleries on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. I not only look at their photos, I pay attention to the advice they give, even if I don't yet understand what the heck they're talking about.

Study good photos. Notice their subjects, lighting, compositions, perspectives, lines (especially curved and diagonals), etc. Copy them.

Setup

The pros say use a tripod, a timer, and carefully set up your shot, using as much time and as many photos as it takes to get the good one.


However....While I do sometimes use a tripod and timer, my husband and I (especially "I") lack patience. If I see something I like, I whip out the camera, snap off a couple of shots, and leave. No photo blinds, no sitting for a half hour or more waiting for the perfect light to appear (or disappear) or a bird to land. That is, perhaps, why photos taken by fellow hiking group members are far better. For us, Shoot-and-Runs work.

I should mention, to minimize blurring when not using a tripod, my husband taught me press the button as I exhale, and not to jerk my finger away after the shutter clicks. Follow through.

Special photos such as the waterfall shot above use special settings. Search the web before you leave the house. Before our waterfall trip, I read Kevin Adam's instructions in his North Carolina Waterfalls book. It made a difference.

Post Processing

I don't own PhotoShop, so I can't dress up a photo after it's taken, or fix mistakes. I do tweak photos a bit after I download them though, using Microsoft Office Picture Manager. I'll rotate crooked shots, adjust contrast to eliminate gray casts muting the photo, or crop to get the shot I was aiming for (note, this can change photo size and resolution). At times, I'll have to play with color. See the waterfall shot above? Below is how it looked minutes before I posted that:


Just make sure you practice on a copy, not the original.

And that's how I take the photos you see on this blog, and on Carolina Towns and Trails. It's all trial and error, learned over the course of five years. Learned from others. Practiced until I got what I wanted. I'm confident if you're willing to put a little effort into it, you can do it as well.

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