Thursday, 22 May 2008

Improve Your Photography with these Easy Tips

What makes a great photograph into a "work of art" and a snapshot into nothing more than a memory?

The secret is generally in the photographer's knowledge. Knowledge and understanding of composition and light. A feel for colour and choice of subject and shooting scenes that pass most of us by.

A great photograph is the result of a photographer's vision - the ability to see. Being able to visualise what will be captured through the lens and looking for different angles and fresh views.

Technical aspects help. Creative use of the F stops, shutter speeds and exposure all contribute towards the effectiveness of the picture. But with today's range of digital cameras, automatic exposure and auto-focus makes this technical knowledge much less important if not totally redundant.

Using a high-end cell phone today is enough to produce great photographs.

These elements combine to make for a photograph that other people want to see.

The rules of photographic composition work very much in the same way as the rules for painting. Look at the great masters of the romantic, classical, impressionistic and modern eras in painting. What rules can you decipher from these?

Breaking the rules is often a way to get attention. An unexpected view of a scene. An object captured from an unusual angle. The rules should be regarded only as guidelines. If a picture breaks all the rules but is effective, then go ahead!

The focus of the picture or the focal point is the first consideration. What is the theme of the picture? Other elements are arranged accordingly. The picture should lead the eye from the focal point through the other features of the picture.

The rule of thirds is one most often applied. This involves dividing the scene into thirds horizontally and vertically. The line of the horizon may lie along the bottom or top third. An item of interest may be on the left or right third. Placing objects of interest at or near the intersections of the horizontal and vertical thirds works well in drawing attention to them and making them look interesting. Photograph the sun setting over the sea. Place the horizon on the bottom third with the sun a third from the left or the right. It is effective and works.

Simplicity is often regarded as key. The focal point has all the attention and there are few distractions. Using the F stops effectively can help to achieve this. A small F stop will keep the focal point in focus - the background appears fuzzy and blurred.

Movement can be depicted in a number of ways. Horizontal lines are used to depict tranquil peaceful scenes. Diagonal lines provide a more dynamic look creating a sense of movement. A moving object before a static background is very effective. Using a slow shutter speed can help achieve this. The moving object appears blurred showing a "tail". A crisp moving object with a blurred background is achieved by panning. Both are effective.

The inclusion of people in a picture helps to create the final effect and to provide perspective. The inclusion of human figures next to the Great Pyramids needs at least one person to give an indication of their size and grandeur. The same is true of a landscape or natural scene.

A common tourist error is to photograph the girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse in front of the Eiffel Tower. This does no justice to either. Of course these pictures provide the "I was there" view, but that is where their value ends. A person or people next to the Eiffel Tower is incidental - providing perspective. Photograph your lover separately!

You can use interesting backgrounds for portraits. These are best achieved if you can show some relationship between the two. A child viewing a monkey at the zoo - especially of the monkey is looking back. An artist at an easel with paintbrush in hand. But remember where the focal point lies. Is it the person or the scene? Never try to achieve both in the same picture. Quite effective is a portrait with a blurred sea-scape as the background.

An important rule is to avoid symmetry and even numbers. Odd numbers are always more interesting! This is known as the rule of odds. Odd numbers avoid symmetry which makes for a more interesting composition. Photographing a couple is different. A man and a woman are very different so there is no risk of symmetry.

A technique that helps to create a sense of interest is that of a line meandering and disappearing into the distance. A long road or pathway curving and disappearing behind a hill. A river disappearing into the distance. These help to create a sense of mystery.

Use back-lighting to produce soft photos of people, but make sure to adjust the exposure to the subject rather than the background. If using lighting remember that a diffuser softens the effect. Bounce the flash off a white wall or ceiling. Strong lighting from the front tends to flatten a face and may produce harsh shadows.

With today's digital photography, composition can be improved after the event using a photo editing package. Cropping can be used to achieve the rule of thirds. Additional light may be added, contrast, brightness and colour saturation can be changed. You can even blur (or remove) the background.

As a photographer with a digital camera you are free to shoot many shots to get the one you want. Try shooting from all angles. Experiment with exposure and light.

Perhaps the key is the same as for all visual arts. Learn to see. Look at scenes in different ways. Think photographically.

All photographs on this page by Barry Marcus

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