Picture this. You line up your shot and frame it in your viewer, taking careful aim. You hold your breath and gently squeeze. You could be shooting a gun or a picture. Taking the shot with either is similar. With a camera, try not to jerk the shutter release, which results in a blurred picture. Although taking pictures may have changed with the digital age, the basics remain the same.
The idea behind setting up the shot in photography is to plan it. You are composing. Look through that viewer as if you were looking at an album. How does it look? Is it interesting? Is it something you would print or show to others? If not, regroup and start again.
There are a few things to remember with photography. First, know your camera. I can’t stress that enough. It is a versatile instrument. If you have more than an automatic mode, learn them and the relationship between shutter speeds and f-stops. The latter controls the aperture and the depth of field. What that means is the smaller the opening, the greater your range of focus, but with less light. To compensate for that you can slow your shutter speed, which will make it lighter; so will moving to a higher ISO.
You may say it’s too much trouble and opt for the auto shot. But by doing it manually, you control the shot. You can be creative with what’s in focus, what is light. You can even create the idea of motion in an action shot by panning.
Shooting at noon will produce long shadows. The best time for photography is early or late. Not only are the shadows less, but the light itself is softer. Try to shoot with the sun at your back, illuminating your subject. Don’t be afraid to use a flash for fill-in of shadows. Most flashes will lose their effectiveness after 6 or 8 feet so keep that in mind. It always amuses me at a stadium when I see all those flashes go off. They accomplish nothing.
Keep in mind when shooting by a reflective surface, don’t shoot directly into it. Remember angle of incidence equals angle of reflection. If you shoot your subject directly in front of a window, the flash will reflect right back into your lens. If you stand at a 45-degree angle, the flash will bounce off at the same angle, avoiding that hot spot.
Contrary to popular belief, a centered photo is not the most interesting. Place your subject off-center and have them looking into, rather than out of the picture. A dog jumping into the frame looks infinitely better than one jumping out of it.
Consider the Rule of Thirds. Draw a tic-tac-toe grid over your image. You have nine boxes from two horizontal lines over two vertical lines. The areas where the lines intersect, (four spots) should ideally be where your subject should be placed. It just makes for a more interesting shot.
Don’t be afraid to get close to your subject. If the background is not important, forget about it. If you’re shooting a person, then get close. Show us their facial features. Let us look into their eyes. Capture the expressiveness of the person.
Take lots of shots. Remember, you’re not buying film anymore. You can always delete the bad images from your card. When I take pictures of school plays, I shoot about 200 pictures — and use maybe 30 of them.
Try to keep extra batteries (or a charger) and an extra flash card or two on hand. Experiment with macro mode. Change settings. Use a tripod. Try panning. Have fun.
Just because you finished taking pictures doesn’t mean you’re done. Chances are your camera came with an imaging program. If not, go to download.com and look for one. If you can splurge for Photoshop, it is well worth the investment. Whichever you use, they all have the same basic elements.
Open your photo in the program, get rid of any red-eye, crop the image and optimize the tonal quality. Just like the camera, it can be done automatically. But what’s the fun in that? You have more control over the final result if you do it manually.
After all, photography is a hobby and you’re supposed to enjoy the time you spend with it. You will find great satisfaction after shooting and manipulating an image by yourself from start to finish. And everyone appreciates a good picture.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer, a local computer technician and an avid amateur photographer.