Do you like to take pictures? Then this article is for you. You will find in it 10 simple methods that will enhance the quality of your images.
A famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said: “The destiny of the photographer is continuously disappearing things. And when they leave, no creativity, nothing in the world will make them go back.” In order not to miss “things that disappear,” you need to perfect your skills. Here are some tips that will help you.
1. Rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is an extremely useful compositional tool that helps you produce images with elements that align well. In the past you had to imagine dividing the scene into three equally sized columns and three equally horizontal slices, but these days most cameras have a ‘rule of thirds’ view that places a grid over the image in the screen, or even the viewfinder.
Then all you need to do is make sure that the horizon (for example) lies along one of the horizontal grid lines and that key elements such as trees in a landscape fall where the grid lines cross (aka the intersection of the thirds).
While it’s called a rule, you don’t need to follow the rule of thirds slavishly. Some scenes call for a uniform composition for example, where the main subject is at the centre of the image instead of at the intersection of a third.
Other scenes may work better when a subject is on the very edge of the frame. The point is to think about photo composition at the shooting stage and if in doubt use the rule of thirds.
2. Use aspect ratio
Although many shots may look good at the native aspect ratio of your camera (usually 2:3 or 4:3) alternative aspect ratios can have a dramatic impact and significantly improve the image.
Rather than leave any consideration of aspect ratio to playing with the crop tool in post-production, it’s far better to look carefully at the scene and think about which ratio it suits at the shooting stage.
Many cameras enable you to set aspect ratio in-camera, but if you shoot raw and JPEG files simultaneously you usually have a raw files with information from the whole sensor for post-capture cropping.
The main advantage of this is that it allows you to see how the image looks with your chosen aspect ratio and move the camera or subject to improve the composition.
Once you start shooting in square or 16:9 format it becomes quite addictive and your understanding of composition improves.
3. Spot metering
Modern digital cameras have sophisticated metering systems that average the exposure across a number of spots or zones distributed over the whole scene and they generally do a great job of delivering correctly exposure images.
However, the spot metering option is very useful in high contrast conditions or with very light or dark subjects.
A spot meter takes a light measurement from a very small section of the scene, usually at the centre of the frame or under the active AF point.
It is usually used by taking a reading from a mid-tone area of the scene and it will suggest exposure settings that ignore any bright or dark areas in other parts of the scene.
The more you use your camera’s spot meter, the more you will understand exposure and how to read it.
4. White balance
Although a raw file has all the necessary data for making post-capture white balance adjustments, if you want accurate looking JPEGs straight from your camera in artificial or mixed lighting conditions it’s best to set a custom white balance.
The way this is done varies from camera to camera, but the basis is always the same; you need to photograph a neutral target (such as a grey card) in the same light as your subject and tell you camera to use that image as the white balance reference. Once it’s done, subsequent images should be neutral.
You can also use the custom white balance controls to create colour casts by taking a reading from non-neutral subjects. Using a cool-blue target for instance results in images that have a warm, yellowish hue, which can be useful for shooting misty sunrises and the like.
Whether it’s a pop-up unit or an external strobe, lots of photographers are afraid to use flash, but once mastered it can make a huge difference to your images.
The humble pop-up unit built-into a camera is often derided, and while it’s true that a remote flashgun will usually produce better results, it is still useful for adding a little sparkle to the eyes or filling-in shadows.
Using a flashgun needn’t be complicated, there are plenty of dedicated flashguns that will work with your camera’s metering system to produce a balanced exposure.
Once you start using it you’ll soon start to enjoy fiddling with its output and experimenting with the manual controls. Just give it a try, it really is for everyday and not just for special occasions.
6. Depth of field
Deciding which aperture to use is one of the most important steps in determining how an image will look.
A wide aperture such as f/2.8 will result in shallow depth of field, while a narrow one like f/16 will produce a more extensive sharp zone.
You can also control depth of field through subject distance and focal length; getting closer to the subject or using a longer lens reduces depth of field while moving further away and using a shorter focal length increases it.
So next time you’re switching lens for a better composition, think about the impact it will have on depth of field and if necessary adjust the aperture and/or shooting distance accordingly.
Hyperfocal distance focusing
Hyperfocal distance focusing is a method of getting the most benefit from the depth of field (or sharp zone) available at any set aperture and focal length.
It relies on the fact that depth of field extends further behind the focus point than it does in front, in fact it usually extends twice as far behind.
There are tables and smartphone apps that explain the perfect focus distance to use at any given subject distance, aperture, focal length and sensor size.
However, you can estimate the required focus distance by focusing roughly one third of the way into the scene that you want sharp.
This will ensure that as much of the foreground and background as possible is sharp and avoids ‘wasting’ depth of field by focusing on a distant subject.
Film photographers routinely use graduated neutral density filters to help balance the brightness of the sky with that of the land in landscape images.
Digital photographers, however, have an alternative method available to them; shooting two or three images from the same position with different exposures and then combining the shots to create one with a with a greater range of tones than the component frames.
This technique is known as High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and it often conjures up visions of images with lots of haloing, no black or white tones and vivid colours, but it can be done much more subtly.
Shooting a sequence of image of two or three images with an exposure variation of 1-3EV can be enough to create a composite image that has detail in the highlights as well as the shadows.
The images can be combined in any image editing software that supports layers and its just a case of dragging the shots into one and then reducing the opacity of some areas so that the detail from the shot below becomes visible.
You’re not trying to render everything a mid-tone, you just want to have a little detail and tonal variation in the shadows and highlights.
When photographers used cameras that displayed the scene upside down and laterally reversed they developed a good sense of composition based upon seeing the scene as a series of shapes rather than recognisable objects.
Trying to think about the shapes made by your subject and the objects around will help you improve composition.
City scenes and shadows are great ways to get started, but it can apply just as well to portraiture and still-life.
Black and white
Many photographers turn their colour images black and white as an after thought post capture, but it’s far more satisfying (and successful) to shoot with a monochrome conversion in mind.
The best way to do this is set your camera to record JPEG and raw files simultaneously and then select the monochrome picture style, picture control or film simulation mode.
The camera will capture raw files with the full colour information so that you can make bespoke conversions post capture, but you will see a black and white photograph on the screen.
If you’re using an SLR in live view mode or compact or compact system camera you will also be able to preview the scene in black and white.
Any professional photographer makes tens of thousands of disgusting images.
The methods described above will help you improve the quality of your images. They are particularly useful for beginners. Do not be afraid to try because understanding comes with practice.