A good photograph requires many different elements to come together. Aspects such as the subject, composition, lighting and even more technical elements like focusing can make or break a photo. Often a photo that fails in one of these elements will just look ordinary. Here are 6 easy to correct mistakes that could be ruining your photos.
Pause And Look
Every photographer at some point has turned up at a destination and immediately snapped away without so much as breaking stride to stop but unless you are trying to capture a fleeting moment that would otherwise be lost, you will usually have time to just slow down and pause for few minutes and look.
Try to have a good look around and think about your composition. What are you trying to capture? Which way is the light coming from? What settings are you going to need? By pausing for a few minutes you are able to really evaluate the scene and even look at potential new angles or locations that might offer a better composition.
The key is to not rush things by planning ahead and allowing enough time at each spot. If you try to pack in too much into your shot list you will inevitably rush things and your photos will reflect this. Don’t worry, that 200 year old historic sight isn’t going to suddenly change if you take 5 minutes to look at it instead of photographing it.
I have to confess that this is the one thing that I notice most when I get sent images or portfolios to look at from newbie photographers. The reason is that it is the most basic post production element and should be the first thing that is fixed.
Unless your image is deliberately composed to be tilted (and it clearly looks like it is), you should ensure your image is dead straight. For landscape shots that means your horizon line needs to be level. If you are photographing buildings be aware of converging lines and make sure you straighten your image. Every photo editing software at the very least offers this capability so ensure you use it.
There is nothing more frustrating for a photographer than thinking you have captured a great shot only to realise that you haven’t focused properly making the image blurred. A slight blur and you might be able to salvage the photo, but too much and unfortunately this isn’t something that you can fix. To really be able to capture sharp images you need to practice and understand your camera’s capabilities and also your ability to hold the camera steady. But you also need to have a basic understanding of depth of field and shutter speeds.
For example if you want to capture sharp images of something moving like someone walking, you’ll need to be starting at around 1/250 sec. If they are walking fast or running you will probably have to go even faster. In combination with that you also need to ensure you have selected your depth of field correctly. For example if you are photographing a landscape you’ll want all of the image sharp and so you’ll be looking at f-8 and higher, whereas if you are taking someone’s portrait you’ll probably want to blur the background and so you’ll be looking at f-4. But making sure your images are focused correctly is essential to great photos.
Frame your shot
Have you ever looked at one of your photos and thought “there’s just something that is off, and I can’t put my finger on it”. It could just be the way that you have framed or cropped your photo so sometimes just a small adjustment in cropping or framing your shot makes a significant different in the look of it. The secret to framing your photo properly is to lead the viewers eyes to where you want them to go in the photo. Do you want the focus to be on the person in the middle of your shot? If so crop in a way as to remove any unnecessary distractions around other parts of the image.
The great thing about digital photography is that you can crop as much as you like and then return the image to its original state. So play around with the crop of your image and you may find that some images that you might have discounted now work.
The most common feedback I give newbie photographers when looking at their images is that they have simply taken that shot at the wrong time of the day or just on the wrong day. Outdoor photography is as much about the right lighting conditions as it is about the subject matter itself. One of the first things I learned as a travel photographer was that there is a right time to photograph everything.
There are different ways that you can look to light a subject. The most common is to have the light either coming from the side or from behind you and thus lighting the subject in front of you. On a good clear day with some white clouds this usually gives you the sort of images that you will see in newspapers and magazines. If the sun is in front of you, then the photo becomes more challenging as you will no doubt find that your highlights are blown out (i.e. the white areas are completely washed out with no detail in them). If you expose to ensure that the highlights are correct then your shadows will be too dark. So you will have to either use graduated density filters to even out the highlighted areas and the shadows or use a technique such as HDR. But as a starting point try photographing early morning or late afternoon with the sun either to the side of the subject or behind you. You’ll be surprised how much better your photos look.
Every photo will benefit from some post production, even if it’s very little so try to spend as much time as necessary on this element of the process as well. Start by adjusting the colour temperature so that your image looks natural and doesn’t suffer from any colour casts. Then make sure that the brightness and contrast are right. If you find that your images still look flat, try boosting the saturation and vibrancy but make sure you don’t overdo it as too much post production and your image will look fake. But don’t skip the post production element, it will help your photos greatly.
The more you practice the better you’ll become and these elements will become more and more natural to you. But follow these 6 easy to correct mistakes that could be ruining your photos and your photos will see the difference.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.