Fellow Weddingbee writer Quiche is headed to Paris with her mom this weekend (lucky girl!), and mentioned that she would like to hear a few basic tips for taking better pictures. I’ve tried to write this post with all of you in mind, including those of you who are still using the point-and-shoot you got for Chrismtas from your mom 4 years ago (p.s. you might want to think about giving up that new pair of shoes and investing in a new camera if that is the case, you will be so happy you did.)
I tried to write the tips progressively, so that each tip would build on the one before. Hopefully this will help you see how putting each of these steps together can work to create beautiful photos no matter what kind of camera you have.
The first step to taking better pictures is reading your manual. After you read through these tips, go track down your manual (either in person, or by searching for it online), and figure out which buttons you need to push to change the settings.
Try turning your flash off.
The flash off setting symbol looks like this:
I see a lot of people post pictures like the one below and then say “Sorry, my camera sucks.” Your camera probably doesn’t suck, you just need to learn how to use it a little bit better.
Here’s the same setup, with the flash off this time. This photo could still be improved upon, but it looks much better than the one above.
Here’s another example. When I use the flash from farther away, the results are much better, but I’ve got that distracting shadow in the background, and if your intention in taking the picture was to capture the rings they are really blown out.
Though the color isn’t as nice in this photo, when I look at it, my eyes go right to the rings and the statue it is sitting on.
Learn how to use the macro setting.
When someone wants to take a close-up picture of something and they leave the setting on their camera set to Landscape, represented by this symbol , they end up with a blurry picture like the one below. Then they cry and say “If only I had a nicer camera, then you could see how pretty my rings are!” Again, the camera isn’t the issue, your settings are.
The only change I made to the settings on my camera between the photo above and the photo below was to change my setting from Landscape (represented by the mountains), to Macro, which has a symbol that looks like this . I can’t tell you exactly how to do this on your own camera, you are going to have to read your manual to figure it out. But those 2 minutes of manual reading can have such a drastic effect!
Utilize the rule of thirds, aka, stop centering all of your images.
In short, the rule of thirds divides your images up into 9 boxes. If you are a rule of thirds stickler, you will try and get important elements of your photo to fall along the lines created by the boxes. In the photo below (from Wikipedia), the horizon sits on one line, the tree sits on another, etc.
Can you picture how this wouldn’t look as nice with the tree sitting exactly in the middle?
That’s all really complicated though, and I don’t actually think to myself “Do the elements of this photo fall along the lines of the nine boxes?” when I am taking a picture. Instead, just think about moving your subject to a point in the frame other than the center.
Here is a nice picture, but it’s almost exactly centered. It looks good because things are in focus and there is a giant gold cocktail ring front and center (and who doesn’t want to look at a giant cocktail ring?), but by utilizing the rule of thirds I can make things look a little bit more interesting.
I like the way the shot below looks much more than the one above, with the hand positioned slightly on the right side of the photo. If my goal was to get my engagement ring in focus I probably would have thrown this shot out, but since my goal was to illustrate the rule of thirds, I kept it to show it to you.
Change your perspective.
Instead of taking pictures of things directly at eye level, give your photos a paradigm shift!
You could crouch down and shoot up…
Or lean over your subject and take a picture with the lens of your camera pointed down toward them.
Either way you do it, changing your perspective can sometimes give you drastically different (better!) photos than you would have captured by shooting at boring old eye level.
Try taking more than one photo.
Don’t go overboard, filling up your memory card, but sometimes it takes time to get just the right picture. Right now for my engagement shoots I take about 400 pictures and only keep around 130 of them. That’s definitely higher than what I do normally, but if you are taking pictures of your mom standing in front of a fountain, take a full body shot with her to the right of the frame, one with her doing a funny pose, and another from the waist up. When you get home and look at all of them on your computer you can decide which one you like best and only keep that one (or keep them all if you like!)
A few other tips to think about:
- Try changing the white balance settings on your camera. By default it is set to AWB, or auto white balance. When it is cloudy you can change it to , which will warm up the color in your images for you. If you are inside under tungsten lighting you can change it to . If the colors just don’t look right in your image, try changing the white balance. It’s a great way to edit “in camera”.
- Try shooting on “P”, which means Program, instead of Auto. Program lets you make minor adjustments to things like exposure (how bright your photo is), and then does the rest of the calculating for you based on those settings. Go find your manual, so you can learn what the different settings on that twisty dial on top of your camera mean.
- It is absolutely, positively, beyond a doubt okay to cut off the top of someones head. If you are doing in a delibrate way, it can look really nice. I sometimes hear people say “Oh, what a pretty picture that could have been if only the top of her head wasn’t cut off!” That is just silly logic to me. Does the top of her head really add that much to the photo?
I realized that some of my photos from my last engagement session illustrate a few of these principles really well. Many of you already read and comment on my photo blog, so please indulge me in reposting them here!
Here’s a centered photo to show you that it’s sometimes okay to put your subject right in the middle of the frame.
And here they are again, in the same location, but I put framed them in the lower right corner instead of centering the camera right on their faces.
Here are two good examples of changing your perspective.
For this picture I came in close and pointed my lens down toward them.
And for this shot I crouched down low (which always makes my pants fall down my bum) and made the focus of the picture their shoes, not their faces.
And a good example of a cropped head. I like that part of his face and the top of his head are cut off. Photos like this are definitely personal preference though. Do you like close crops like this?
Some of you might be saying “Well, it’s easy for you to follow these rules when you have that fancy-pants camera of yours.” So, I thought I would show you a few images from my trip to Europe with my mom last May. I didn’t have any fancy-pants camera then, just my lovely little G9 point-and-shoot.
Here’s a good example of what not centering a photo can do. By shifting the coliseum to the right in my frame, I was able to capture one of the most historic buildings in the world AND the pretty blue sky behind it.
If I remember correctly flash photography wasn’t allowed in this museum, so I had my flash off. If it had been on, the photo of this photo would have been completely blown out and awful. Also note that he isn’t centered.
Oh, and if you ever get a chance to visit the Vatican, turn your flash off. It’s downright rude to take pictures of the Sistine Chapel with your flash after specifically being told not to. And your photos are going to suck with the flash on anyways so you are ruining one of the most priceless artifacts in the world for nothing.
Here I did my best to center my subjects, but instead of shooting from a distance at eye level I got really close and shot up.
And a photo of some lovely looking Italian tomatoes, taken using the macro setting. Don’t they look mouthwatering?
I hope that these simple steps (really, they are so simple, just try them!) will help you take your photos from okay to good. If you want to take them from good to great, you are going to need to know a little bit more.
If you end up using my tips and posting your results, please let me know. I’d love to see any changes you make to your photo taking skills, and if I hear back from enough of you I would love to write a post on it!