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Photo tips for beginners

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Most amateur photographers have taken more than a handful of really good pictures in their lives. If they’re “lucky,” they will have taken a few that achieve greatness. So what is it about those images that sets them apart?

With a few helpful hints that you can learn in an afternoon, you can improve your pictures tremendously. The simplest suggestions always make the biggest difference; and we covered some of them in our be a better photographer – fill the frame with your subject, choose the most interesting point of view, eliminate distracting clutter, to name a few.

Understanding the following five basic tips will also have a profound impact on your photographs – an impact that will last a lifetime.

Most amateur photographers have taken more than a handful of really good pictures in their lives. If they’re “lucky,” they will have taken a few that achieve greatness. So what is it about those images that sets them apart?

With a few helpful hints that you can learn in an afternoon, you can improve your pictures tremendously. The simplest suggestions always make the biggest difference; and we covered some of them in our be a better photographer – fill the frame with your subject, choose the most interesting point of view, eliminate distracting clutter, to name a few.

Understanding the following five basic tips will also have a profound impact on your photographs – an impact that will last a lifetime.

1. Hold your camera steady

Holding your camera still while taking a picture is extremely important. Camera movement is the most common cause of blurry pictures. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Steady your upper body by tucking your elbows in close to your sides. And hold your camera firmly against your face.

Now you’re ready for the big moment. Take a deep breath and gently squeeze down the shutter release in one motion. Gently now… if you press down too hard on the button, you could cause the camera to jerk downward. Even breathing too hard could cause too much movement.

If you’ve got the shakes, you may want to use a tripod. Or try stabilizing yourself by leaning against a wall or a tree.

2. When to flash

Most digital cameras have an auto flash that fires whenever the exposure system decides there’s too little light. Since many cameras use this as the default setting, you’re probably using the flash without knowing it.

Photos lit by auto flash have a flat quality that minimizes shadows. The light from the flash is so fast that you never have to worry about your subject moving during the exposure and blurring the picture – even when you’re holding the camera with your hands. This is great for some types of photos – like portraits.

But you may not want the flash to bounce right off your subject. Instead, try bouncing the light onto the subject off a wall or ceiling. Just make sure your subject isn’t too close to the wall, or the result will be a distracting shadow.

Auto flash photos are often afflicted with “red-eye.” Eliminating red-eye is as simple as choosing a red-eye-reduction setting on your camera (look in the manual for instructions). You can also remove red-eye after the fact, with the software that came with your camera; but it’s easier to avoid it in the first place.

Find out more about taking great portraits with your digital camera.

3. Using natural light

There are times when you should forget about using your automatic flash, and instead use available or “natural” light, even in low-light situations.

Sunbeams drifting through a window provide a terrific photo opportunity – a subtle interplay of light and gorgeous colors. But this kind of light will wash out the foreground subject and you’ll lose intriguing surface textures. In this instance you need to turn the flash off and physically support the camera for a long exposure (or your photo will blur from camera movement).

It’s easy to turn auto flash off. Check your user’s manual for instructions.

4. Don’t say cheese

Sometimes you want a perfectly posed picture (perhaps the kids with their grandparents); but you don’t need to pose subjects for every photo you take. Part of the beauty of digital photography is that it is much easier to capture life’s moments as they are being lived. So forget the cheese and say something to make ’em laugh! The pose will be relaxed and natural, allowing more personality(ies) to shine through.

5. Avoid the bull’s-eye effect

There is nothing wrong with placing your subject in the exact center of the frame, but there is nothing especially interesting about it either. It is actually more compositionally pleasing to place the focal point away from the edges – in the top-right, top-left, bottom-right or bottom-left area of the frame, for example.

We’re referring to the Rule of Thirds, a tried-and-true compositional technique. Here’s how it works. In your mind’s eye, divide up the picture area into vertical and horizontal thirds (like a tic-tac-toe grid).

Rather than placing your subject smack dab in the center of the grid, try placing it on one of the four lines to create a more interesting picture. You might line up a human subject on line A or B, for example. Or in a landscape photo, you could experiment by aligning the mountains or horizon on line 1 or 2. You can use the Rule of Thirds to create a picture with a more dramatic sense of scale or proportion.

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