1. Start with the right equipment.
At NYU, when Hubby and I were accepted into a study broad program in Australia we knew we had to upgrade our point and shoot in order to capture great pictures of the outback. We knew we wanted a DSLR camera because of the advanced flexibility that comes with a single lens camera. From shooting in manual and controlling to focal point, to changing the shutter speed and changeable lenses, SLR cameras are pretty much awesome. After much research, Hubby settled on a Nikon D40. We bought it at Best Buy during Black Friday 2008. He purchased two lenses, the standard wide angle 18-55mm and a 55-200mm telephoto lens. You can zoom in really nicely with the 200m, and the 18 to 55 is great for capturing wider fields of view. This past Christmas, Hubby added a fixed length 50mm f1.4 portrait lens to the ensemble, and it’s my favorite one. It’s a light-gathering lens and does extremely well with dimly lit natural settings. It has a great depth of field and can take pictures with the really cool bokeh effect without effort. Next on my wish list is a 10-24mm or 10.5mm fisheye lens to photograph scenery and interior rooms.
2. Use Natural Light
The most beautiful lighting comes straight from the sun. If you can, take pictures outside or use natural light. It makes the world of difference. I try to avoid flash like the plague. This means I have to photograph during the day, but not when the sun is so high it cast shadows. This may require some advance planning, but the result is always worth it.
3. White Balance
Ever notice that sometimes your pictures look blue-ish, or yellow-ish or just off? If your camera has a white balance setting, set it to the appropriate type of lighting, whether sunny, cloudy, fluorescent or incandescent lighting.
4. Know the rules of composition.
I have so many hints on composition I could write an entire post dedicated to composition alone but I’ll just recap the my favorite four composition rules: Rule of Thirds, Depth of Field, Using Geometry and Framing.
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your photo at the points where the lines shown below intersect. Doing so will add balance and interest to your photo.
Depth of Field
Because photography is two-dimensional, depth of field allows you to convey the sense of depth that was present in the actual scene. You can create depth in a photo by including objects in the foreground and background. Depth of field can isolate a subject from its background and foreground (like the blades of grass shown below) or it can put the same subject in context by revealing it’s surrounding with a larger depth of field.
We are surrounded by symmetry and patterns, both natural and man-made. Natural lines present in your shot composition, can enhance the sense of depth and perspective tin your picture. By paying attention to these lines, you can use them to your advantage to draw attention to the focal point of the shot. Emphasizing and highlighting these patterns, lines and symmetry has the power to draw the eye to key focal points in a shot and to impact the feelings the picture can invoke.
Framing is when you use an object to create a border around your subject. The world is full of natural frames, such as trees and archways. By placing these around the edge of the subject, you can isolate it from the rest of the shot. The result is a more focused image which draws your eye naturally to the main point of interest. It could be anything such as bushes, trees, a window, or even a doorway like in the photo of me nine months pregnant below.
5. Use a digital darkroom.
Photoshop is your friend. I use it to retouch, lighten, set contrast, tone down… You get the picture. I took a Photoshop class at a community college in 2005 when I first started dabbling in design and it has paid off wonders. If you are familiar with layers, and vector masks, magic wands, lassos, cloning and level adjustments, those are the basics for photo editing. I’ve learned how to do cool things like whiten teeth and remove showing bra straps. Layersmagazine.com has all types of useful tutorials.