If you are just starting out in photography or simply wish to refine your skills then learning a few basic techniquies can really help. Composition, exposure settings and lighting are all key elements to consider when taking any photograph. By learning some principle rules you can take away some of the hard work and focus on getting creative with your camera.
1. Get your exposure right
First and foremost, make sure that you are exposing your images correctly. Blown out highlights can be detrimental to the quality of an image, so be sure to never overexpose. Underexposing your images will lead to a loss of detail in the shadows which, although not ideal, is better than blowing out highlights.
Exposing images correctly can be quite challenging, especially if you are using the small screen on the back of your camera to do so. However, by pulling up the histogram you will take away all of the guesswork and instead be able visualise exactly what your camera’s sensor is seeing.
Moving from left to right, the histogram shows dark to light tones with a representation of how much of that particular tone the image contains. If you are overexposing you will see that the histogram is bunched up to the right. In contrast an underexposed image would have a histogram that is squashed up to the left side. Try your best to have a balanced histogram where most of the information lies somewhere towards the middle. Obviously each scene will be different and in some cases, such as bright mid day sun, getting a well balanced histogram might be almost impossible.
2. Use the best lighting you can
For beginner photographers the quality of lighting is often overlooked. Even the most interesting subjects can look flat and boring if not lit properly, In contrast, a boring subject can very quickly be brought to life if painted beautifully with light. You can get really creative with your lighting and it is worth expirmenting a lot to find setups that really work for you.
In many cases daylight can work extremely well, especially at the right time of day and with the right weather conditions. However, for a more controlled lighting environment, studio lighting can be a great choice. Using the right lighting you will be able to control your shadows and bounce light evenly over you subject.
When shooting outdoors, try photographing during the golden hours. These occur just after sunrise and before sunset, when the sun is low in the sky. This lighting is very easy to work with as there is a low level of contrast and the light is less intense when compared to mid day. Get up early and enjoy the morning light, it will be worth the effort!
For other lighting ideas check out this article: 8 Cheap and easy studio lighting ideas
3. Have a well structured composition
Having a strong composition is vital. Without some structure to your images your viewers will have no direction to move in when viewing them. The good news is that there are some general rules that you can follow that will make finding compositions much easier.
Rule of thirds
This one is the most commonly used and definitely the easiest to understand. Break your image up into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and ensure that key elements are positioned on these lines. By doing so you will be able to easily find a balanced compostion. If you have a horizon visible in your shot then position this on one of the horizontal lines.
The golden rule originated from a ratio that is naturally occurring in many aspects of the natural world. There are several ways that the golden rule can be applied. One of the most common is by using the Fibonacci spiral. This technique encourages the viewer’s eye to move through the composition and travel comfortably to a point of interest.
Find those leading lines
Nothing pulls your viewers’ eyes into your image better than some strong leading lines. If you are shooting at a wide angle then these are especially useful as they prevent vewers from getting lost in an otherwise busy composition.
Using symmetry can be great for creating really striking images. Symmetry encourages the viewer to look directly into the center of the image at a point of interest. By utilising this you can ensure that even the busiest of scenes can quickly be simplified.
Look for frames
Look carefully at the scene you are trying to shoot and you will probably find some form of natural framing that you can use to your advantage. Much like symetry this can really help in guiding your viewer to a central point of interest. Be sure to check edges of your frame when using this technique to make sure that there are no distractions.
4. Look for any distractions within your frame
Distracting elements can destroy an otherwise well structured composition. When looking at the scene you are shooting, examine your frame carefully to see what may pull the attention away from your point of focus. In many cases small distractions can be removed in Photoshop using the clone tools. But, if you can avoid getting any in frame to begin with then you will save yourself some work.
5. Check the edges of your frame
A big mistake that many photographers make is not checking the edges of their frame for distractions. It often isn’t until you get home and view the images on a big screen that these become apparent. Therefore, it is a good idea to make a conscious effort to always perform a final check of the edges of your image before and after taking a shot.
6. Make sure the horizon is straight
A wonky horizon can completely throw off an image. Nothing is more frustrating than looking at an image and realising it is ever so slightly off balance. Most cameras come with built in tools for making sure that they are level, however, even without this you can easily achieve the same result by using the grid overlay to check.
7. Use depth of field to isolate subjects
When photographing small scenes, portraits or framing a subject with a long focal length, a shallow depth of field can really help to isolate the subject. By using a wide aperture at a long focal length you can blur the background and foreground elements so that they form clean bokeh. This can be really useful if the background is particularly busy and distracting.
8. Use Filters
This is a slightly more advanced method for producing great images but if you are looking to take your photography to the next level then it might be worth investing in some filters. Different filters do different jobs and the more you pay the better they perform. Polarising filters are a great first choice as these can help in many situations. They reduce glare and increase the saturation levels – brilliant for landscapes, water and bright skies.
Another filter type worth considering are neutral density (ND) filters. These work in much the same way that sunglasses do by reducing the amount of light that hits the sensor. These filters come in different “strengths”, this is dictated by the number of stops of light that they prevent from passing through. For long exposures ND filters really come into their own as they allow you to open the shutter for longer without overexposing.