DigitalPhotography​.com


Everything you need to know about digital photography

Photographic Techniques

On this page you will find a few simple hints and tips that may help you to improve your photographic results.

Shooting hand-held

When shooting, it is important to hold your camera firmly, but not so firmly that it shakes! Generally this means using both hands, one with a finger resting on the shutter button, and the other providing support to stop the camera from rotating. For a compact camera, hold it with one hand on each side. For a DSLR or bridge camera it is probably better to have the left hand under the body of the camera and the index finger and thumb curled gently around the lens. Longer lenses should be supported with the left hand under the lens itself so that the camera is less likely to shake in any direction.

Once you have the camera held correctly, try to position your elbows so that they are against your sides rather than pointing outwards - keeping your elbows still means that your hands are less able to move about.

Place your feet slightly apart, with one somewhat ahead of the other, to give yourself a stable base. Turning your body slightly towards the front foot also helps.

Now you are ready to take your shot. Remember to gently press the shutter release button, and never to 'stab' at it. On most cameras, half-pressing the button tells the camera to focus and calculate any exposure settings it needs, and there will often be some kind of confirmation (such as a beep) when this has been done. Keeping the button half-pressed you can recompose your shot if you wish, retaining the same focus point, and then squeeze the button all the way down until the shutter fires. For best results you may like to time this so that it coincides with a still point in your breathing cycle. If you are shooting with a large amount of zoom then it can even be worthwhile trying to synchronise the shutter release with your heartbeat, if you are aware of it, since the slightest vibration will be magnified by the zoom factor.

Composition

The composition of a picture refers to the general layout of the various elements within the rectangular frame. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but there are some commonly accepted guidelines as to what makes a pleasing composition.

Perhaps the most frequently used guideline is the rule of thirds. If you imagine the photograph divided into nine equal sections like a noughts and crosses game, then the rule says that you should place your main subject on or near one of the lines or at a crossing point. The horizon or any strong horizontal division should fall on one of the two horizontal lines. Following this guideline tends to produce pictures with pleasing proportions, although (as with all photographic 'rules') it should not be followed rigidly if there are good artistic reasons to do something different.

Another important principle is that of flow - when looking at the photograph the eye should be drawn to the main subject(s) and encouraged to explore the rest of the picture without being led out of the frame. Various tricks can be exploited to achieve this, the classic example being a road, path or river that winds its way from the foreground towards an interesting subject at one of the 1/3 points, with perhaps a horizon line guiding the eye to a secondary subject on the other side of the photo. The direction of gaze of a human or animal subject also tends to make the viewer try to see what the subject is looking at, so it is generally advisable to have subjects facing towards the middle of the picture rather than looking outwards, which would tend to lead the viewer's eye to the edge of the frame. Flower portraits can also benefit from this effect, if the flower is positioned to face inwards. Moving objects should similarly be framed so that they are moving into the picture rather than out of it, unless the object's departure is a part of what defines the photo.

If you are shooting landscape photographs, try to ensure that the horizon is truly horizontal - particularly sea or lake images where a sloping horizon would be physically impossible. If your camera has horizontal or vertical markings in the viewfinder screen, use them to help you compose your photograph. Some tripods have a built-in spirit level which can also be useful.

When taking portraits, you would normally try to keep your subject's eyes in focus, and positioned around the top 1/3 line. To achieve this with an autofocus camera you should generally centre the nearest eye in your viewfinder, half-press the shutter to lock the focus, and then - keeping the button half-pressed - recompose the picture with the eye where you want it, before fully pressing the button.

Lighting

A bright sunny day often creates the 'feelgood' factor that encourages us to go outside and take photographs, but often these are not ideal conditions for photography, particularly portraits, and especially towards the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky. Direct sunlight can look quite harsh, and can create a large amount of contrast between lit and shaded regions of a photo which the camera's autoexposure system will struggle with. In addition it can make unflattering shadows, and can make your subject screw up their eyes when facing into the sun. Generally the sunlight in the morning or evening makes for a more pleasing photograph - the sun is lower in the sky and so less likely to create prominent shadows beneath the eyes and nose, and the light has a pleasantly warm colour to it.

Outdoor portraits usually work best if the subject is lit somewhat from one side, rather than facing straight into the light. This creates shading that provides depth to the portrait. If the shaded areas are too dark then you can experiment with using reflective materials to bounce some sunlight into those areas - anything white or whiteish can be used, such as a sheet of paper of card, white clothing, etc.

Alternatively you can use the camera's flash to 'fill in' the shaded areas with light - you can adjust the strength of this filling in by altering the power of the flash if your camera allows you to do so, or by moving nearer to or further from your subject, or by adjusting the aperture and shutter speed - a smaller aperture will allow less of the light from the flash through, so reducing the fill-in effect.

It is often necessary to use a flash when shooting indoors, but the result can be quite a harsh-looking photograph - particularly if the flash is built in to the camera body and so positioned quite close to the lens. A flash from this position casts few shadows, tending to produce a rather featureless exposure except perhaps for a thin strip of shadow on a wall behind your brightly lit subject. Any shadows that are produced are generally quite deep and have unpleasantly sharp edges. To improve matters, you can try to arrange for some of the light from your flash to arrive from different directions. If you have a separate flash gun then you can hold it to one side while you take the photograph. An alternative technique that works with a built in flash as well as a separate one, is to spread out or diffuse the flash by firing through a sheet of thin paper - this makes the light appear to come from a larger area than the single point of the flash tube, and so the shadows produced are much less intense and have softer edges. If the flash direction can be adjusted then it is often a good idea to aim it upwards at 45 or 90 degrees, so that a proprotion of the light reaching your subject is bounced off the ceiling. With a compact camera you may be able to achieve this effect with an angled piece of card or a pocket mirror held in front of the flash, although the light may not be powerful enough to fully illuminate your subject this way. It is worth experimenting to find out what your camera/flash combination is cabable of.