Photography Techniques

Whether you are a novice or an experienced photographer, learning new photography techniques will help you improve skills, regardless of whether you use digital or film cameras. In some cases, you may use both, especially if you”re an advanced or professional photographer. The first step in learning how to take pictures is having a thorough, working knowledge of your camera, along with its limitations and possibilities.

While the quality of a camera is a part of the equation, many users produce great photography with even the lowest-end models. Learning proper focus, composition, lighting and exposure techniques, along with developing a willingness to experiment is another key aspect to becoming a better photographer.

One way to think about yourself as a photographer is to picture yourself as the director of your picture taking. By taking charge of your camera and setting up the scene just right, you”ll see an improvement in the resulting pictures. As you start to manipulate lighting, prop placement, camera angles and exposures, you will become a more effective storyteller through your pictures.

In this section, we will provide some general tips on how to start using (or improve upon) various photography techniques so that you can learn how to take better pictures.

Photography Techniques for Lighting

Without proper lighting, trying to implement other photography tips is useless because the image isn”t effectively reproduced. Even in darker settings, exposure techniques still rely on available light.

When setting up a photo-scene, you”ll be faced with three different lighting properties, each with its own pros and cons. The three aspects of lighting include:

  • Backlighting: Illuminating the subject from behind (so that the light points toward the photographer), backlighting can add a dramatic effect by creating stunning silhouettes. However, too much backlighting can make the central subject completely dark, erasing detail so that it only appears as a silhouette.
  • Front Lighting: This is the type of light that comes from behind the photographer and illuminates the scene. While the right amount of front lighting adds clarity to a scene, excessive front lighting can create harsh shadows and squinting eyes.
  • Side Light: As light that illuminates a subject from the side, side light can produce intense shadows that lend artistic value to a photograph. However, too much (or unbalanced) side light can create shadows that obscure the other details of the photograph.

As you are designing the lighting concept for your picture or series of shots, keep in mind that each of the so-called disadvantages above can also be purposely invoked to add dramatic effect. Just be aware of the role each type of lighting plays so that you can manipulate each to create the effect you want.

Tips for Exposure and Using Flash

In general, most point-and-shoot cameras take much of the guesswork out of exposure settings, the controls that dictate how much light will enter the camera. While over-exposed shots are extremely bright, potentially whiting out the subject, under-exposed pictures are incredibly dark, blacking out the image.

However, as you improve your skills, you may want to learn how to manipulate exposure and aperture settings, as well as shutter speeds. Learning how to work with these photography techniques can help you fine tune your shots and create the exact effect you are going for.

Another aspect key to learning how to take better pictures is to understand how to use flash appropriately, even outdoors. While using flash correctly on digital cameras simply means leaving the feature on, film models can be more complicated. Along with using an inset unit, a photographer using a film camera may want to use a flash attachment or a fill-flash (a separate unit that creates an indirect flash).

As you play around with these different types of flash, you will learn which one is most appropriate for different settings. One tip for using flash attachments correctly is to choose one that allows for “bounce.” Angle it upward when possible for the best effects.

When using flash, be sure you”re within range. Follow the manufacturer”s instructions or try to work within 10 feet of the subject. Take advantage of ambient lighting and use it for improved results.

The key to making any aspect of lighting, exposure and flash successful is to always keep your subject in mind. For instance, use softer, subdued lighting for older individuals to reduce the presence of wrinkles. Alternatively, if you are photographing someone wearing glasses, try angling the camera a little to the side or tilting it slightly downward to avoid unsightly glare.

Techniques for Composition

Part of the fun of expressing yourself through photography is composing the picture to convey your perspective. As you learn how to take pictures, you”ll also discover how the elements of photography come together and play off each other. Some of the aspects that are central to composition include:

  • camera angles
  • depth of field
  • exposure
  • film format (i.e., black-and-white, sepia, color, etc.)
  • focal distance (how far away the photographer is from the subject)
  • lighting
  • the interplay of textures, shapes and patterns.

While these aren”t all of the compositional features that contribute to a unified picture, they are some of the most important ones. As you take pictures, experiment with each of these elements so that you can understand how each affects the resulting shot.

Here are some compositional photography tips that can add dimension and flare to your practice:

  • Adjust exposure times (slightly) to make a picture softer or more intensely lit.
  • Avoid busy backgrounds that tend to distract from the strong points of a subject.
  • Create a sense of movement in your shots. While the traditional balanced shots create a static scene, creating asymmetrical lines lends a flow and movement to your pictures.
  • Experiment with different lenses (i.e., fish-eye, wide-angle, zoom, etc.) to capture various aspects of a scene.
  • Incorporate props that add to your theme or statement. However, be careful when adding props. Too many will clutter the scene and distract from the message.
  • Place your central subject off-center to add a dynamic element to otherwise conventional photos.
  • Try extremely low or high angles to change the tone of your photos.
  • Use flashes to enhance the texture, shape and silhouette of your subject and contrast it with the background.

Composition for Special Situations

While the above compositional photography techniques work well for stagnant scenes in which your subject holds still, there are situations in which your subject is moving and the scene is constantly changing. In these circumstances, you will have to be patient and alert so that you can capture the perfect shot.

For example, if you”re photographing your pet or shooting pictures of waves crashing on the beach, you will need to be prepared for fast shooting. The key is to study the surroundings and pick out the focal elements in your scene. This will help you to orient the camera and set up some basic compositional elements. Then, you just have to wait for the moment and be quick about snapping the shot!

Other Tips: Take Advantage of Camera Accessories

While learning how to take pictures involves manual skills, you can also improve your practice by incorporating a wide range of camera accessories. Here are some basic camera accessories that can get you started:

  • Cable Release: As a cord and button that triggers the camera to take a picture, a cable release is a camera accessory that increases the photographer”s freedom in moving away from the camera. With a cable release, you can compose the scene and take a picture the moment you see the exact image you want to capture. Typically, cable releases are used in conjunction with tripods.
  • : This camera accessory can produce many exciting results, ranging from capturing shots that are true to the original lighting situation to adding hazy or psychedelic effects to a scene to alter the mood and tone of it.
  • Memory Cards: When you”re traveling, keep plenty of memory on hand for those high-resolution, award-winning photographs. Most digital owners carry laptops and peripherals for downloads that leave plenty of room on their cameras for new shots. With non-digital cameras, you can find film readily, but often for a heftier price in tourist areas.
  • Tripods: Keeping the camera steady is important to snapping clear, elegant pictures. As a result, tripods are an invaluable camera accessory, especially when you”re shooting in low-light or fast-frame situations. Although setup is not always convenient, using a tripod can make the difference between a blurred picture and an outstanding photo.