These days, the tools available to the amateur photographer can make photography an addiction. Modern SLRs have eliminated all the guesswork of choosing f-stops and apertures, which leaves us free to focus on the content of the picture, but certain features allow us to play if we want to.
Whether you’re vacationing, documenting a fiftieth anniversary party, or simply out enjoying nature, how do you take photographs that capture the telling moment? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are a few tips which will improve your images:
Side light is your friend: That photo of your Dad on his fishing trip, holding his prized trout with the sun shining on the lake behind him: It would have been the perfect shot if you hadn’t taken it with his back to the sun. Always take shots of your subject with the light falling across the viewscreen, so that the shadows it creates will highlight—rather than obscure—the image.
Remember the Golden Hour: Light and shadow together create everything we see, but the harsh, strong light of day creates harsh shadows which produce high contrast, harsh photographs. Unless you like high contrast, the softest, most glowing pictures are produced in the fresh, rosy hour just after dawn and the golden evening light just before the sun sets.
Composition is important: Your subject looks more interesting if it is not smack dab in the centre of your photograph, and you must always balance the subject with its environment.
When taking shots of people, move closer: Candid photographs or portraits of our friends and family can be magical when their character shines through. A common mistake is to not be physically close enough to the subject. The resulting photo will not have any impact, because the centre of interest is too small. Don’t be shy! Practice making people feel comfortable with your presence, and step forward.
Learn how to shoot raw: Raw is a setting on most SLRs that allows you to manipulate the exposure of the image—fix the white balance (colour correction) or the light, for example, unlike a jpeg which cannot be manipulated without losing quality. Shooting raw means the photo is uncompressed (as opposed to a jpeg) and allows you to refine the image after it’s loaded into a photo editor.
Experiment with different lenses: The standard kit lens is generally 18mm-55mm, which offers the broadest range of uses with a very deep depth of field—but it’s not very good in low light conditions and it’s hard to experiment with techniques. Currently the cinematic look of Bokeh-style photography is popular (in which the subject is crystal-clear while the background is blurry) and is achieved by using lenses with a higher range number. Exploring other lenses might prove to be an expensive hobby, but for the serious amateur, the effects are worth it.