Updated: April 2021
Digital camera technology has made photography accessible to more people. From high-end mobile phones to DSLRs and now mirror-less cameras, there is no reason not to get that shot! Of course, the camera is only one facet of making images. A photographer – professional or keen amateur – still needs a good eye for a newsworthy image. Appreciation of the quality of light, colour, composition, and a steady hand are as important as ever.
Don’t take risks! For best results always use a professional photographer and especially for that one-time, must not fail, image opportunity a pro is the way to go.
For times when you may not be able to use a professional, here are a few tips. Some links at the end will also help you.
Ten Things You Should Do
- Know the camera. One of the great things about digital photography is that there is no film or associated film processing cost. Bad images can be deleted and more taken. Practice, practice and practice some more! Download and read the manual. Purchase a good book on the basics of photography, look at photo magazines and magazines in your industry to see the images others produce. Note the ones you like and see if you can replicate or even advance on them.
- Let there be light. Digital cameras are more light-tolerant than their old film counterparts. They continue to improve their ‘dynamic range’ (how they handle the transition from bright to low light). Nevertheless, understanding light and how to control it is vital in creating the best pictures. Adjusting the camera controls for lighting (natural or artificial) is essential to achieve good colour rendition and the contrast between light and shadow that creates depth and interest. Nearly all digital cameras include selectable scene modes that allow for backlight shots, cloudy conditions, dusk, sunlight and more. Experiment with these controls. For more creative control read up on the manual settings provided.
- Full frame image. Wherever possible it is still best to use a selection of lenses so that the subject – object, person, event or landscape element – fills most of the frame. Use the highest resolution that the camera offers. This will give more flexibility in editing images on the computer if required. Prime lens (fixed focal length typically 35, 50, 85, 105 mm etc) give sharper images and have better low-light capabilities than zoom lens, however you will need more of them to cover the common focal lengths. Zooms are a good cost-effective alternative. A single 24-70mm zoom could do the job of several primes. Read up on the difference between prime and zoom lens to understand what makes them different. The opposite of filling the frame is using 'negative space' to highlight a subject, but that is an artistic technique for another time.
- Composition. The old rule of thirds still applies well for most good images. Photography borrows the same compositional techniques that have been used by artists for hundreds of years. The rule of thirds is the simplest to apply and many cameras can overlay the view finder with a grid to make it even easier. If yours doesn’t, mentally divide the image in the view finder into thirds horizontally and vertically using imaginary equally spaced lines (2 horizontal, 2 vertical, like a noughts and crosses game). Where the lines intersect is often the best place to locate the main subject and key points of interest in the photograph. Also look for converging lines in the scene and interesting angles – don’t just point and shoot. Do try and keep compositions simple, position yourself and subject away from clutter, find lines in the scene that will naturally draw the viewer into the picture and to where the subject is located.
- Steady the camera. Most digital cameras compensate for camera shake to some degree, but it is still better to have pin-sharp images from the outset by steadying the camera against a solid object or, better still, using a tripod. Tripods are cheap and really do improve image quality. In addition, they make you slow down and think about composition more as it takes more time to position a tripod than shooting pictures hand-held. Tripods are essential where there is poor lighting as the camera shutter speed will often slow to the point where a blurred image is almost guaranteed. It is sometimes difficult to be sure how sharp an image is just by viewing it on the small camera or phone screen – it may only become apparent when you transfer it to your computer and view it on a large high-resolution screen.
- Move into the discomfort zone. If nearly all pictures are taken by hand-held cameras at head height it makes sense to try something different. Lie on the floor, stand on a chair or get down on your knees. Seeing things from on top, below or just an unconventional angle will add a new dimension of interest. Just think differently about the view – how would it look from a tiny ant’s perspective, for example?
- Use all cylinders. If you had a car with a V6 engine, would you run on 4 or 2 cylinders? So why do this with your camera? Give yourself a fighting chance; use the cameras highest resolution and best file quality setting for storing images – this maybe RAW uncompressed or super-fine jpeg. Carry spare memory cards in case you need more storage and spare batteries if you need more time!
- Transfer and back-up your images. Get images off the camera memory cards and onto more permanent storage as soon as possible. Remember to back-up to an external storage medium – be it a hard disk or cloud storage! When editing digital images always use a copy of the image – never the original. You can re-edit images in many ways so don’t delete or alter your original files.
- When editing and printing images, think about colour. You can adjust images on the screen so they look good – but did you calibrate your monitor first? Most low-end computer monitors are not calibrated and this why when you send an image that you think looks okay to someone else, they say it looks too red or too green or has some other colour cast. Whose monitor is not showing the colour correctly? Yours? Theirs? Both? The only way to be sure is to calibrate your monitor and the best way to do this is to invest in a calibration device and software. You need to recalibrate frequently as even the best monitors can suffer colour drift over time.
- Test print. Before sending an image file to an editor, produce a test print on the best settings your printer can achieve using high quality photo paper. If you have calibrated, it should be a close (but probably not perfect) match to what is on your computer screen. Like computer screens, printers also need colour calibration, but this is more difficult as different papers cause different colour results. If you intend sending your image to a professional printer, ask them for a colour profile file for their specific equipment you can then use this in your editing software to see how your image would look printed by that specific device on a specific paper type.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- Don’t expect an expensive camera to make you a pro. An inexpensive camera, in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing will often produce better results than the most expensive camera in the hands of someone without a clue. Digital pictures still need creative inspiration, carefully considered exposure, framing and composition. And professional brings vast experience.
- Yes, you can do marvellous things with imaging editing software, but this is not a substitute for getting the best image you can in the first place. Editing many images is time consuming.
- Don’t use mobile phone cameras as a first choice. Yes, they have high resolution sensors now, but the optics do not match the quality of lens of proper cameras. They are great for briefing shots, pictures that are going to be used internally and so on. If you want an image for public viewing, you will want it to look the best it can and for it to distinguish you from your competitors!
- Don’t forget to back-up. Safeguarding your valuable images is vital. If someone runs off with your laptop or your hard disk dies, then you may have lost your images for ever. Images on disk should be backed-up off-site and on-site.
- Don’t panic. Remember your first driving lesson? Photography is like driving, the more you do it, the more you read the situation and cultivate good habits, the better you become and the more fun it will be. There are lots of professional photographers sharing their knowledge on YouTube, check them out.
To buy photography equipment, see if there is a local specialist near you and support them. Online try Wex Photo Video for new and used photography and video gear.
Learn from a pro: Karl Taylor Education. Fantasticly well explained advice. You and I can only dream of reaching his ability, but we can learn much to improve ourselves.
Low cost image editing software: Affinity Photo. A fully featured alternative to Adobe Photoshop but without the need for on ongoing subscription cost. Learn how to use Affinity from: Olivio Sarikas or Affinity Revolution.
Open-source image editing software: Gimp. Don't be deceived by its free of charge no-price tag. This is a fully featured image editing application that works cross-platform - Windows and Linux.
Need to use a professional? We recommend award winning industrial specialist Adrian Waine