5 Essential Tips Every Beginner Photographer Should Know
Multimedia is an integral part of any content — especially online.
Think about it: If an article has an eye-catching header image or a neat infographic, you’re more likely to read through it and engage with it, right?
But there’s more to photography than just pointing and shooting. A fresh and clean result enhances your storytelling.
Here are the five things I always consider to ensure that I get the best photo possible. These apply whether you’re using a DSLR, mobile, or digital camera.
1. Shooting in RAW
RAW files used to be relevant only to DSLR cameras. Now, with technology and constant innovation in the mobile device sector, iPhones and Galaxies also now have the capability to save photos as RAW files.
RAW files are huge files because of the information they contain. But it’s essential to shoot in RAW format if you plan to use post-production software, like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.
Why does this matter? A RAW photo is the image exactly as the camera captures it; think of it like unprocessed film. Because you’re working with the original image (the RAW file), changing the exposure or making any other adjustments will be easier to process, leaving you with a much cleaner photo.
If you are using an Android, switching into pro mode from the camera app will allow you the option to save photos as RAW files. On an iPhone, iOS 10 users now have the ability to save RAW files, using third-party apps like Obscura Camera, Manual, Camera+ & others. On a DSLR camera, this can be done in camera settings > quality > RAW.
Here’s an example of some editing that can be done in Photoshop using a RAW file:
2. Shadow Alert
Whenever we look at something, like a person’s face, our brain filters out the shadows so that all we see is the object. However, it’s really easy to forget this when looking through the viewfinder of your camera.
So when it comes time to look at the photo on a screen, big or small, any shadows will be darker and more exaggerated than if we just saw the same scene with the naked eye.
Shadows suck the detail out of a photo. If there are shadows in your photo, that means the camera is not getting any detail from that region. The result typically is a black and funky-shaped blurb on your subject.
The composition in the above photo is not terrible, but the shadows created by the stoplights fall across the police officer’s face. They’re distracting; his face is not even visible.
The problem could be solved by moving the officer a few feet to his left and into the sunlight.
Sometimes, however, shadows are unavoidable — especially if you have to shoot in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest point.
The best times of day to shoot are early morning and evening just before sunset, when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. Low light means the light is more equally dispersed, eliminating the harsh black shadows found during midday and afternoon.
If you happen to need a photo right away and it’s high noon, the best way to combat shadows is to compose the photo in a way that the shadows are not as noticeable or distracting. You also could bring the subject and the camera into the shade created by a tree or a building, so that both are in the same level of lighting.
3. White = Fright
In contrast to avoiding shadows, another thing to watch for are extreme highlights and anything in the photo that is white.
As a general rule, if I am shooting on an overcast day or if there are a lot of white objects in my frame, I will underexpose my photos slightly to avoid having the sky go completely white and appearing (in technical photography terms) “blown out.”
If you live in an area where overcast days are common, this is not easily avoidable. Underexposing can aid in reducing highlights, making it easier to correct in post-production editing.
Once anything in a photo goes to pure white, however, it’s difficult to bring it back down — no matter the editing software. Sometimes, this is OK, if it is a small piece of the photo. But, try to avoid a completely white sky that takes up half the picture.
The above GIF is a good example of why shooting in RAW is important. It shows how to work with a blown out sky in post-production.
4. Composition is Key
One of the most important elements in taking a well-composed photo is to make sure it’s framed in a way that highlights your subject(s).
Having too many focal points in the scope of your lens can make for a chaotic and unorganized photo, making it confusing to the viewer’s eye.
Pick one or two focal points and position yourself so the background complements the subject(s) of your photo. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it.
Think of different perspectives — like a bird’s eye view or getting low to the ground. This will give your audience a different viewpoint of an everyday object.
In the above photo, I used the cherry blossoms to create a frame around the Jefferson Memorial. This kind of technique creates depth and emphasizes the focal point of the image.
5. Juxtaposition is Your Friend
When you are framing your photo in the viewfinder of your camera, look for leading lines in the geography of the scene, or create your own by utilizing juxtaposition.
Leading lines can be found everywhere: in architecture and in nature. For example, if the subject of your photo is a tree, don’t just default to centering your frame around the tree. Look for a fence, bench, or sidewalk that you could use to balance the photo, like a diagonal line pointing straight to the tree.
Or, if the subject of your photo is in the foreground, balance it with an object in the background, creating leading lines. Lead the eye of your audience to what you want them to see.
In this case, the railroad tracks, the lines on the sidewalks, and the lines created by the street lamps all are leading toward the man on the platform.
Bottom line: The best thing you can do for your photos is to shoot in early morning or early evening, as the lighting will have the biggest impact on the final product. However, don’t stress about creating the perfect photo. If you like the picture, your audience is likely to enjoy it, too.
- I really like these 10 tips from Artifact Uprising about shooting landscape scenes, which also can apply to anything you photograph. It goes into a bit more detail about lighting and camera settings to help you get the best shot.
- Outdoor Photographer has guides for different types of photography, like sports or travel, and provides photo editing tips to go along with them. It also talks more about RAW photos and how to work with them in Photoshop.
- Photography Concentrate is an excellent resource and a one-stop-shop for all things photography. It has a plethora of posts about lighting, composition, editing, retouching, and shooting in black and white. I reference it frequently when I am in need of some photography assistance or if I am having a problem I cannot tackle on my own.
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Megan Boley is a Customer Content Specialist at PR Newswire. She is an avid reader and aspiring photographer. Follow her on @prnleisure.