Aren’t digital cameras great!
No more thinking you were winding the film on only to discover you’d made 36 exposures on the same frame. No more chemicals or films lost in the post. No more creeping out of darkrooms with eyes like a Morlock.
George Eastman, who founded the Kodak company in 1892, invented the legendary box brownie camera with the slogan ‘You press the button, we do the rest’. These days, with your digicam, you press the button and the camera does the rest. Pretty much perfect shots every time and yet, why is it, when you’re back from a quiet week in Magaluf and invite your friends around to view your snaps on the widescreen, do you suddenly find they’re all washing their hair that evening.
The answer is, of course, that despite the technical advances, your pictures just aren’t that interesting. Since the advent of digital technology it seems that everyone with a reasonably high-end camera thinks they can become a professional. This isn’t the first time this has happened as those who can remember the catchphrase ‘Who does he think he is? David Bailey?’ will attest.
Sadly, this attitude is as wrong now as it was then. Yet even for the amateur; the absolute beginner with a basic compact camera and no real interest in the rituals of photography, it is a straightforward matter to produce photos your friends will want to see just by following ten simple rules. As luck would have it, I’ve listed them here:
How Low Can You Go?
Kids are nothing more than little adults, even if they have to look up to you. Get down and hold your camera at their eye level and create the feeling that you are a part of their world. They don’t have to look at the camera – catch them off guard when they’re playing. If you’ve got a wide angle function, get in close and it will give the background real depth.
Clear The Area! [Fig 1]
Sometimes you can’t avoid scenes cluttered with people or things, but a plain background – a wall, a hedge – will emphasise your subject. Check your composition to ensure there are no trees or poles emerging from your subject’s head!
Even outdoors the fill flash setting on your
camera will improve your snaps. Use it in bright sunlight to lighten dark shadows on the face, especially when the sun is behind the subject, or overhead. On cloudy days the flash will brighten your subject and make them ‘stand out’ from the background.
Move Closer [Fig 2]
When you spot a subject, shoot it then move or zoom in close for a better shot. The close-up eliminates busy backgrounds and fills the frame with the subject. Think flowers, for example. Don’t forget – your camera may have a macro mode, often shown as a flower symbol, to allow you to get closer still.
Let’s Get Vertical [Fig 3]
Sometimes a memory card full of horizontal images can get boring. Make an effort to turn your camera sideways and take some vertical pictures for a change.
Compose Yourself [Fig 4]
Liven up your picture by placing the subject off centre. Imagine you’ve drawn a noughts and crosses grid on your screen or viewfinder. Now try placing your subject on a point where the lines intersect or place the horizon on one or other of the horizontal lines. This is called ‘The Rule of Thirds’ and is the most basic, and one of the best, compositional aids. Simple! Remember though: most cameras focus on the middle of your view. Check that your camera has a focus lock facility – most do. Focus centrally on your subject, lock, then re-compose your shot.
Watch The Light
Great light makes great pictures. Study it. Advice that says remember to ensure the ‘sun shines over your shoulder’ dates from a century ago. Modern cameras have sophisticated systems that calculate exposure so you don’t have to. For people pics avoid harsh or overhead sunlight that casts ugly shadows – this is where fill flash helps. For scenics, early or late in the day is best when the shadows are longer, giving your image depth. Indirect light gives a soft, pretty effect – ideal for kids.
Be The Director
Don’t be passive – take a bit longer and direct your cast. Get some props for fun, try a different viewpoint and group your stars for best effect.
Don’t be afraid of politically correct social policy. If you don’t want to upset someone by taking their picture – go and ask. They can only say no – one way or another – and they might just say yes. This is especially important in foreign countries. If you’re out in the landscape try going where no man has gone before to get that extra special shot! Please note: we cannot be held responsible, etc!
Read The Manual
No, seriously; read it. Your camera can do more than you think.
So, there we are. Ten simple rules to improve your snaps and make it worthwhile for the rest of us to come around. Oh; and don’t forget to take the lens cap off!