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I think I’ve mentioned once or twice or twenty how much I’ve fallen in love with photography this year! While I am by no means a photography expert, I’ve learned quite a lot these last several months. Between enrolling in a couple of courses, getting tips from friends who are professional photographers, and just reading everything I can find on the subject, I’ve come a long way in just six months! I’ve gone from taking average photos to being able to get some really superb, frame-worthy photos of my family and our surroundings. I’ve had several friends ask me what I was doing differently, and if I’d teach them. I thought I’d share some of the best tips I’ve learned this year that have really helped my photo skills improve!

  1. Get out of auto mode: Aperture, Aperture, Aperture. Chances are good that you always shoot your photos in the Auto mode. This is fine for your standard photo–everything is in focus and the photo comes out clear. But for that extra depth, for the better light in the photo, for the interest that comes when one object in the photo seems to stand out from all of the others? That’s Aperture. Simply put, aperture allows the camera to let in more light, and changes how the lens focuses. (In technical terms it is called the F stop. The lower the F stop the more light being let in–and the blurrier the background will be. (This is a desired effect in many photos!)  If you’ve got a more advanced camera, look for the aperture setting and start using it. If not, get into the P (program) or M (manual) mode and check your settings for this. Some cameras have them, some do not.

  2. Aperture captures so much more of the action with fireworks!

  3. Use aperture mode on a low ISO setting to capture the fun with sparklers
Night time shot with friends, celebrating St Patrick’s Day. No flash needed when using Aperture setting!

    1. Go off center.Stand a little to the left. Or right. Don’t frame your subject dead center. Tilt your camera slightly. Get underneath your subject and look up. Get really, really close. And then just a bit closer. Lay down on the floor and look up. (A chandelier is infinitely more interesting from underneath!) Hold the camera above you. Don’t show the faces, just show the subjects from behind or in profile.  You’ll start to notice that when the subject is off center, not only does the eye draw to them more naturally, but they become more interesting as well. By going off center and showing things from a new angle, you tell more of the story behind the photo, instead of just the subject itself.  There’s a whole lot of technical jargon about the rule of thirds, and so on. Skip that, unless you really want to get more advanced. Just get off center, and look at things in a new way. You’ll find that your photos become a LOT more interesting!
    2. By getting down on LittleMissSunshine’s eye level, this photo becomes a lot more dynamic than the standard shot of a child. You can now see her curiosity, and her viewpoint.

    3. A standard streetlight in our neighborhood becomes a lot more interesting when you look at it from a different angle.

    4. First day of school bus stop boogie

    5. Don’t say cheese.Really. We’ve been so trained to do this, that everyone does it automatically when a camera appears. But it isn’t natural. It is fake, and often looks that way. Take that photo if you must, then once they relax, keep shooting. Take photos while they’re talking to you or to each other. Get them not to smile and to look up at the camera, directly at you. Catch them laughing. (Laughing is not only a better smile, but our posture improves too, making for a better photo all around.) You will capture your subjects personality much better if they don’t say cheese.
    6. This was taken at a Moving Away party. Notice how much more this photo conveys about their friendship than the standard hugging and smiling photo does?
    1. Have them look at you, but not smile every single time. It creates a very soulful photo. Notice how much his eyes stand out?

    2. Know your light settings.Don’t use flash. Ever. I have found even in the darkest rooms, if I know how to up my ISO and increase my light meter settings, that I don’t need a flash. I’ve found this to be true of my fancy Nikon and my cheap little Kodak camera, when I got off the auto mode. Using the aperture setting I find that about 75% of the time, I don’t need any light adjustments–the camera does it for you. But for those without Aperture, here’s a quick tutorial:
        • Turn your camera to P or M setting. Now, click the Menu button. Look for the ISO setting. If your room is light enough to read by, set it to 200 or 400. If you need a light to read by, try the 400 to 800 ISO. The higher the ISO, the more light it lets in. This also makes the photo a little grainier, but the natural light is worth it! I’ve found that in ISO 800 I’ve been able to capture faces clearly in just candlelight.
        • Once your ISO is set, look for Exposure. + Exposure lets in more light. – Exposure lets in less. If you’re somewhere with bright sunlight and experiencing a lot of glare, lower the exposure setting. If you’re out and the ISO is right but there’s still a lot of shadows, increase the exposure. Play with this for a bit until you get comfortable with it.
        • When you’re opening the shutter for longer periods, be careful to keep your camera steady and your subject still. Movement will cause blur.

 By setting my ISO to 160 and letting in more light through exposure, I looked up at the banners on the church ceiling and captured this sunburst through the skylight.

    1. Post-photo processing makes all the difference in the world. Just a little editing, a little adjusting, will take a good photo and make it a great photo. You do not need to be an expert at Photoshop to do this, either. A little editing or correction goes a long, long way! (I’m not a fan of superimposing images on each other, or overdoing it with saturation, or other editing tricks. Nothing wrong with it, just not my style.) I typically will adjust the brightness and contrast, and check the white balance. I use two programs to edit the majority of my photos: Snapseed on my iPad or PicMonkey.com on my laptop. Both are incredibly simple to use, have an intuitive interface, and don’t cost a lot of money. Snapseed is $4.99 in the app store. PicMonkey is free! PicMonkey includes some higher-end tools, like blemish correction, the ability to make your subjects lose a little weight, and more. For free, it’s a pretty cool tool!

        I edited this photo to adjust for the glare of the sun off the sand, and to crop it down to remove unnecessary scenery. JD and the colors in the photo now become the focus.

Using Snapseed I cropped this photo of a chandelier at Opryland Hotel to make it slightly off center, then overlaid a color grunge filter. What was a very standard (but pretty) chandelier is suddenly alive with interest and intrigue.

If you want to learn more, Digital Photography School has some great beginner’s tutorials that will help explain these concepts even farther. I also highly recommend the online classes from SuperHero photo, or Me Ra Koh’s Refuse to Say Cheese series of DVDs.  If you really want to improve your photos, I highly recommend carrying your camera with you wherever you go, and to start playing with it in different light settings and situations. The more you “play” with it, the more you will learn. Take photo walks through your neighborhood, looking for interesting objects to “shoot.” Before you know it, you’ll have friends and family asking you for photography tips!

One last tip: You will get one great shot for every fifty shots you take. Or more. I learned this from a few of my photographer friends, ones who do this for a living. They’ll take fifty shots in a day, sometimes a hundred, to get that one really spectacular shot. Now, they’ll have good photos in there, but for that one that makes people stop and say “Wow”? That’s a rare shot.  Be patient–it will come to you too!

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