The early bird catches the worm
It is no secret that the quality and the mood of your photograph depends on the lighting. With good lighting you can achieve great results.
Taking a photo of a beautiful landscape on a sunny afternoon is completely OK. However, if you want your photographs to stand out you will have to get up before the crack of dawn in order to catch the golden hour. The golden hour is roughly the first hour of light after sunrise (and the last hour of light before sunset). During these times the sun is low in the sky, producing a soft, golden light and long shadows. This diffused light is much more flattering than the harsh midday sun we are used to shooting in.
Just by choosing the best time, you can make your photos look like they were taken by a professional photographer.
Say goodbye to bad composition
If you are a complete beginner you might not have heard of the rule of the thirds. It is a simple rule that divides your photo into nine even squares with two vertical and two horizontal lines. This can then help you to achieve a clean composition. Some photos will look best with the focal point in the center square, but placing the subject off center will often create a more aesthetically pleasing result.
A lot of modern cameras offer the function to show this grid when you are looking through the view finder or when you are using the camera’s LCD screen, and this can help you immensely.
Three fundamental settings
When you feel confident enough to stop using the auto setting on your camera, you will realize that the quality of your photograph depends on 3 things: ISO, aperture and shutter speed. These are the three fundamental elements of exposure. Creating a harmonious exposure using the aperture, shutter speed and ISO is a juggling act. As soon as you make a decision about one element, you will need to compromise with another. The trick to achieving optimal exposure is to get all three elements working together so you get the results you want, and not what the camera tells you you can have.
This might seem complicated at first but with a little practice achieving perfect exposure will become a piece of cake. You will quickly figure out that using settings other than auto results in much better photos.
Blurry photos are a thing of the past
A lot of photographers have to deal with bad shooting conditions, which can lead to photo noise or blurred photos. Camera shake is something that can plague any photographer and here are some ways to avoid it. First, you need to learn how to hold your camera properly; use both hands, one around the body and one around the lens and hold the camera close to your body for support.
A lot of cameras already come with some kind of a built in stabilization feature, and DSLR cameras most often have this feature included in the lenses. This stabilizer is known under different names in different camera brands — Optical stabilization (OS), Vibration reduction (VR) etc. In most of the point and shoot cameras this feature is available and known as “anti-blur”, “steady shot” etc. Refer to your equipment’s manual and use it appropriately. However, if you are shooting in bad light blurry photos are still possible because you will need to use a very slow shutter speed to catch enough light. In this case you cannot go wrong with using a monopod or a tripod. If you do not have one you can always use a wall or something else to stabilize the camera. But remember one thing: when you are using a monopod or a tripod you must turn off image stabilization!
Edit your photos
If your camera offers the option to take photos in the RAW-format definitely use it. You can set your camera to also save photos in the JPEG-format, the RAW photo is crucial for the post-production. This format includes raw, unprocessed photos and also all of the photo information (such as ISO, shutter speed and aperture you used). You have certainly seen a photo or two you really liked and wanted to know the author’s secrets. Every great photo had to undergo an extensive editing process. There are a number of different photo editing programs you can use, from Adobe Photoshop to Lightroom. You can edit the photos in any way you see fit, the possibilities are endless.
Correct exposure is everything, correct White Balance even more!
Even if you always use the auto setting you will soon realize that your camera cannot achieve perfect exposure every single time. Many times you will end up with a photo that is over- or underexposed. But do not fret! You still have control over the brightness of your photo. All digital cameras offer a quick setting to brighten or darken a photo even when your camera is set on auto. The exposure compensation button usually has a plus and minus symbol on it.
A great number of cameras will also offer you a preview of the photo when you change the settings, and when you are satisfied with the shot you only have to press the shutter-release button.
Correct exposure indeed is everything, but even if you follow the above tip your photos may still not look as perfect as you would like them to. This is where White Balance comes into play. White Balance balances the color temperature in your photo - so if your white shirt appears blue or orange it should appear white after correctly white balancing a photo. All digital cameras have an in-built Auto White Balance, but oftentimes the camera can be fooled. The best way to correctly set your White Balance is by using an incident meter such as the Lumu Power light and color meter. Lumu Power enables you to measure color temperature of the object you will be shooting, so that you can manually set the correct White Balance on your camera. Lumu is the best because it is compatible with your iPhone, and it is so small that after you measure the color temperature, you can just put it in you pocket.
In the above photos, photographer Bonyo Bonev perfectly demonstrated how Lumu Power can help deliver accurate exposure and colors. On the left, is an original photo where he used Auto Balance, and on the right he measured the color temperature with Lumu Power and then accordingly adjusted his camera.
You can see Bonyo Bonev’s original blog post on his and be sure to check out more of his wonderful work on his website at http://www.bonevphotography.com.
Learn from others
Everyone has to start somewhere and even professional photographers were beginners once. You can look for inspiration in photos posted on various social media. You can also join a number of different photography forums and find a lot of useful information and tips. Or why not join a local photography club or take part in a photography class or two? This can be a wonderful chance to meet people with similar interests and different experience, who can share their knowledge with you. Societies, clubs, classes or photo trips are an excellent chance to get motivated and work harder. On these different meetings you can examine your work and the work of others, ask for advice, find out some new editing tricks, etc., and as a result your photos will improve in no time.
Don’t be afraid
When you acquire enough knowledge and find your confidence in your work, do not be afraid to go further. Find a location you would like to shoot and explore its surroundings. Make a plan beforehand. Come to your location before the sun rises and take a couple of remarkable photos. Make use of the space, try different compositions and settings. Do not be afraid to experiment. To put it differently, try everything that comes to mind and, most importantly, enjoy your journey. This is what photography is all about. Do not worry about the mistakes you will make. Do not delete the shots before you come back home. When you are finished, go through all of the photos on your computer and try to figure out why some of them did not turn out the way you wanted them to. Just remember, practice makes perfect!
Sharpness is key
One crucial thing that can ruin your photo and you cannot really fix in the post-production process is sharpness. When using the auto setting, your camera will choose the focus point on its own. This is great, but what happens when you want to put something else into focus? A bit more effort is needed at this point because you will have to manually set the focus. If you’re feeling brave you can set your camera to Manual Focus or you can choose the focus where you focus on only one spot. The latter technique is great but you have to be careful. When you select your focus point, press the shutter button half-way down and do not let go, otherwise you will loose the sharpness - if you move your camera even a little bit your object might not be sharp anymore, as the focus point will move.
Change your perspective
Another simple, yet effective way to make your photos look more professional is to choose the right perspective. Most beginners will take a photo in their eye level. However, if you just slightly change your perspective the end result will be drastically different. The two most simple ways to do this are to take a photo of your object from above or shoot from a low angle. The choice depends on the situation, the surroundings of your object and the effect you wish to achieve. Do not forget about making the object appear closer or further away by using zoom. You can also play around with a telephoto lens or a wide angle lens. Use your imagination and try different angles. This way, your photos will shine in a completely different light.