I learned the following tips from two professional photographers I happen to know. These are not the most common tips that any amateur receives like “Try shooting the same frame with different exposures and see what works best” or “To freeze action use fast shutter speed”. These tips are more profound and “rare” as I call them, having more meaning than I can actually explain here, so you will have to rethink for yourself some of them. And one more thing – some of them can be achieved only with SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera.
1. When looking through the viewfinder “scan” with your eye the whole frame.
Human eye is seeing the sharpest only the object that it looks at. All other objects are not in perfect focus. But camera sees all the things that are in the same plane in the same sharpness, and if your aperture fairly small then many more planes will get sharp. So when taking the shot you have to be aware of other “sharp” objects that will be visible in the final photo.
- One way to do this “scan” is to first focus with AF (auto focus) on what you want, and then rotate the manual focus ring just a little bit. It will make the whole frame a little blurred. When everything is blurred your eye will automatically scan the whole frame for something sharp, thus going over the whole frame.
- Another way is just to stare into the view finder for a few seconds, not trying to focus on anything specific. This is something that takes a little practice to master.
2. Use manual focus override to adjust focus to what you need.
Sometimes you need to control the DOF (Depth Of Field) to achieve the desired result. First you focus on your main subject using auto focus, and then while the shutter release button is half-pressed you turn the manual focus override ring to adjust the focus to what you need. Have in mind though that manual focus override is not featured in all lenses. There are cheaper lenses that can work only in automatic or manual mode but not both simultaneously.
3. Initially compose the photo for cropping or adjustments.
Many amateur photographers just shoot the photo and then when they open it in photo-processing software (such as Picasa, Lightroom, Photoshop, ACDSee etc.), and only then, they start thinking what they can do to improve it. Maybe crop it like this? Maybe emphasize a little more shadows? Try to think about these things (especially the crop) before pressing the shutter-release button. It will make it much easier to perform cropping and other adjustments later. You will also be forced to THINK before you shoot.
4. During the shoot of an event – shoot on manual.
When you are shooting events that happen fast, you can’t afford to mess with camera controls. You can miss the shot of the day that way. So what you can do is: set your camera to aperture priority mode, and choose the desired aperture. Then half press the shutter-release button and on the screen (or inside the viewfinder) you will see the suggested shutter speed. Take a few photos and see if you like what you get (in terms of exposure), if not adjust exposure compensation. After you are satisfied, switch to manual and set the same values of shutter and aperture. From now on shoot on manual during the whole event with the same settings, unless there are drastic changes of light in the scene. I realize that this is kind of “half-tip” and many professional photographers are working only in manual changing between f-stops and exposure automatically to get the best results. But here I am talking about amateurs, like myself, who are not just yet there.
5.Don’t look at the back LCD screen after each photo.
Actually this tip is pretty controversial, but I’ll stick with it. Not looking at the LCD display after taking each shot makes you THINK more before each shot, and also leaves a room for anticipation towards the final images. This is a good exercise, and while it might not be a good idea during an important shoot, I advise to do it wholeheartedly during your everyday shooting. Think of it, if you have this habit of looking at your back screen after each photo, and you are in a scene where everything happens fast, you just might miss an interesting shot while looking at the LCD display.
6. Don’t just convert to b&w – shoot with intention for b&w.
Instead of going over your photographs after a shoot and thinking “Well, this photo might look good in B&W, lets try to convert it!” Shoot the photographs with B&W in mind, think B&W. When shooting B&W, highlights and shadows have more importance, and also other artistic aspects of the photo (such as facial expressions, hand gestures, etc.) stand out more in B&W, because you don’t have the “distraction” of the color. When shooting with B&W in mind you pay more attention to tones (light/dark) than to colors.
7.When shooting people in low light take spot light metering from their skin.
In difficult light conditions, particularly in low light, when using center-weighted average metering most of the chances that you will over-expose your photo. So it would be better to switch to spot metering and take the measure from the skin of the person you are about to shoot. If for some reason it is impossible, then take the measurement from the palm of your hand while placing it in similar lighting.
8. When shooting with slow shutter speeds hand-held, don’t release the shutter button.
When you shoot with slow shutter speed, you have to do everything in your power to reduce the camera shake, so in addition to holding it steady, leaning against the wall etc., when you press the shutter button, don’t press and release it straight away, but press it smoothly leaving your finger on it for a while after you hear the shutter sound. This little trick can improve greatly the outcome. In many ways shooting photos with slow shutter speed is like sniper-shooting a rifle – most of the actions are the same: for example it helps to take a deep breath in, then breath out, and then press the shutter-release.
Well, I hope you’ll find these tips useful and would really like to hear your thoughts about them. I probably will write more on some of these tips in my future articles.