Do you believe that in order to take great pictures you need a digital SLR? Are you taking thousands of mediocre pictures, and wish to improve your skills? Do you want to author those fantastic few shots that leave your friends and family in awe, praising your photography skills?
This goal is easy to achieve, thanks to modern digital cameras and a few helpful tips that I am about to share with you.
My friends and family often praise my photography. I feel like an impostor at times, because in my mind, I used no technical or professional knowledge to have pictures come out impressive. However, when I thought about the steps I took to create my images, there were things I did that others sometimes omitted.
You, too, can take pictures that are far above average – even without paying for fancy equipment and photography courses. The advances of modern photography and editing software enable anyone to excel in what was once the domain of photographers by trade. This is because you can do so much with a picture AFTER you take it. But there are, in fact, some rules that I follow to make sure there is a promising picture to begin with.
Here are my top five tips for creating great pictures:
1. Use a camera easy to travel with
Before you spend your hard earned money on a digital SLR and fancy lenses, go to the store and try to hold that camera and carry it around. You will notice that it’s heavy, expensive, and clunky. Think of carrying it around Paris for hours on your excursion. Think of climbing a mountain in China with this heavy equipment that makes your shoulder hurt. And believe me that an automatic digital camera that is mid- or high-range will provide a better bang for your buck.
You see, it will have both optical and digital zoom to help you edit your picture, and a big memory card, so that you can take a lot of pictures from different angles and discard them ruthlessly afterwards.
If you don’t have expensive lenses and heavy equipment, you can still capture wonderful pictures – because the mood and the beauty is ever changing and all you need is the eye to see it – any modern camera will do the rest.
All you need to do is to be present in the moment, notice interesting things, and ensure that your hands are not shaking when you take that picture. Being excited rather than tired of pulling out that camera helps to focus on the moment.
2. Use the highest possible resolution
When choosing between the Large, Medium, or Small setting on your camera, you affect the amount of pixels your camera records. This will greatly impact your ability to zoom in or creatively crop parts of your picture later.
Choose wisely. I select the largest possible format. Though by doing this, I fit fewer pictures on my SD card, I gain a significant advantage in picture editing.
Oftentimes, I would take a landscape picture and dislike the composition. Zooming in and cropping that picture, I ensure that things I want to focus on really stand out. Check out the rule of thirds if you want to know how professional photographers approach their picture composition.
Once I find the best angle, I reduce the picture size for e-mail and Internet publishing.
3. Know thy camera’s modes; especially manual mode
Of course, it helps if your camera has both automatic and manual mode. Most of them do these days.
But it also has portrait mode, landscape mode, and even sunset mode. Experiment with them, and you will find that in some life situations those modes really help to improve your picture.
You can even try manual mode.
Travelling China, taking pictures of mountains, I was unhappy that the mountains came out really dark. At some point, I decided to switch to manual mode and change the exposure.
Your camera probably has the +/- sign to control exposure. Exposure is measured in 1/nth of a second. The longer the exposure, the more light the camera will catch. The longer the exposure, the more visible the effects of a shaky hand become; so you should either use a tripod or try to hold your breath for a second when you take the picture.
Usually, exposure is selected for you automatically; but if you are not satisfied, you can go to the manual mode and play around with it. Just by my changing exposure from 1/200 to 1/60 during my attempt to capture the lush, green Guilin mountains, I got a picture where the greenery on the mountain became visible, and the mountain converted from a dark blob into a lively landscape, just as I saw it.
This is the easiest way to change landscape pictures, which can come out pretty dark, especially contrasted by the bright sky.
4. What Photoshop? Use Picasa
Most people will never need more functions than those offered by the free software from Google called Picasa. It allows you to do basic editing without learning special skills. For example, it has this cool button called “I am feeling lucky” which you can try on almost any picture to improve its quality. You can also play around with light. And another cool feature is “Straighten” – you know, when you took a photograph that is not perfectly horizontal, you can rotate it to improve its layout.
5. Crop, export, and sign.
After you took a great picture, do you really want it to “gather dust” on your hard drive, or would you like to share it with the world?
I like to share; and I came to appreciate that a text explaining the mood of a moment or a place adds to a good picture.
Crop, export, and add text – these are three important functions that Picasa supports easily and intuitively.
Firstly, I play around with pictures by cropping them in Picasa. I crop, zoom and undo, crop and undo until I find the best angle possible.
Secondly, I often add text to describe it. To do that, you need to push the text button and start typing anywhere on the picture. You can edit your text easily.
Lastly, I select a bunch of pictures ready to be shared with the world and export them with lower size and resolution.
To conclude, you can and should take great pictures with a lower-end camera. You can improve your photographs by taking them with the “large” setting, and further editing them using a free tool from Google called Picasa. Take your simple small camera with you; and capture, capture, capture those special moments around you. Life is a sequence of these moments. Happy picture taking!
Olga Krakovna blogs about good things in life: travel, food and health. Together with her partner David, she runs Cook’s Bay Getaway, a cottage on Lake Simcoe, welcoming travelers to Ontario, Canada’s most beautiful province.
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Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist from America. His latest book of photography, Suenitos tells the story of the only daycare inside the dangerous Hidden City. Now based in Argentina, he continues to turn his lens on social justice issues around the globe. Connect with Jerry on MosaicHub, Facebook or LinkedIn today. Have a story that needs to reach national media? Email him today.
In addition to being photo editor for the Internet’s largest collection of Travel Articles, Outbounding, he is also the lead photographer for BuenosTours, the specialists in private walking tours of Buenos Aires
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