The Fire of Images – Some Practical Tips

White Blooms

This is the 4th post of 5 in a series on photography.

  1. Why I Started To Take Photos
  2. Why I Continue To Take Photos
  3. Why I Think You Should Take Photos
  4. Some Practical Tips
  5. Photography Announcement

The intention of this post is not to give you expert advice, but to share a few practical photography tips that I’ve picked up, and what works well for me. This is by no means a definitive list – after all there are whole blogs dedicated to this subject! However, it is my hope that by following a few of these suggestions, you’ll gain enough confidence in your photos to start actively sharing them through sites such as Flickr. So, without further ado:

  • Cultivating a Photographer’s Eye: So, you’ve started carrying your camera with you, but what to photograph? Well, there are a few things that I look for specifically when out taking photos: colour, perspective, pattern, texture, balance, light, and detail.

Colour: One of the reasons why I don’t take many black and white shots is that I just love colour. My eye is attracted to it, and when I find a profusion of pink or an abundance of aqua, I just can’t help but take a photo. But it’s not just focusing in on one colour; it’s also having the courage to include colour where it adds interest. Bright splashes can really elevate an image!

Perspective: When you compose a photo with an emphasis on perspective, it can really add depth to your image. Taking photographs of roads, paths, lines of trees, waterways etc. can lead the eye through the picture, giving the feeling that you, the viewer, are participating within the image itself.

Pattern: Look out for repetitions as these naturally intrigue. When we regard an image which contains the same objects repeated over and over, we stop looking at the objects and we begin to appreciate their shape, their form. Also, when photographing patterns, remember the golden rule of 3 – groupings of 3, for some reason, always appear pleasing to the eye.

Texture: Photographs which capture texture make me want to put my hand through the surface and touch the rough rock, the satiny petals, the tickley grass, the smooth pebbles. Sometimes, just by paying attention to the variations in the surface of objects you can get wonderful effects. One of my favourite shots does this by including 4 different layers, pebbles, sand, sea and sky, thus combining texture with perspective.

Balance: I suppose out of all these points, this one, along with perspective, most directly tackles issues of composition. When I take a shot, particularly of the landscape, I like to achieve some sense of balance. Often this is achieved through some form of repetition, although not as emphasised as you would find in a pattern. One of the most obvious ways to find balance in a shot is to take a picture of a reflection, but other ways include ensuring equal measures of land/water and sky, foreground and background, or of two contrasting colours. I realise this one sounds more complicated than it is, but it really rewards with great pictures!

Light: This can make or break a good shot. Sometimes, when you are out and about, you’ll find that the quality of light is just magical. It’s at times like this that you need to suppress the flash on your camera, or you may miss out on what made the image special in the first place. Another point that I want to make about light is related to shadows – they can make extremely interesting subjects for photos, but, when you’re focusing on something other than a shadow, make sure that you are not standing/squatting in your own light, and therefore casting your own shadow over your subject. This may sound silly, but I don’t know how many good shots I’ve lost out on because I made this exact mistake!

Detail: They do say that the devil is in the detail, but I only ever find delight! Read on for more on how to get the best out of getting up close…

  • Getting Up Close: The fibres in fabric, the stamens of flowers, the barbs of a feather all provide fascinating subjects for a photograph, but in order to do them any justice at all, you are going to have to get acquainted with the macro setting on your camera. Normally this will be indicated on your camera with a flower icon, although I would like to encourage you to use the macro setting for so much more than just flowers. To make the most of macro, you need to hold your camera close to your subject, and keep your fingers well away from the zoom-in function! On my camera, if I half press the button to take my shot, the camera shows me if I have my subject in focus, before I commit to the shot. I find this absolutely vital for taking good macro shots.
  • Know Your Camera: While the macro setting may be my favourite, I try not to neglect these other settings on my camera: action, landscape, text, portrait, sunset and night to name but a few. Using the optimum setting for any given shot will really improve your result. If I’m in doubt about which setting to choose, I tend to take one with the auto setting and then another one or two using the different settings on my camera. Afterwards, I load them all onto the computer and make an aesthetic judgment on which looks best, and then I use that as a learning experience when I am faced with a similar choice. This takes me to my main point in getting to know your camera – it is through experimentation that we learn. Allow yourself the freedom to play with your camera, its different settings, its options pertaining to the flash etc, and see what works and what doesn’t. In the age of digital photography, we no longer have to worry about the financial implications of experimenting and failing as we once did with photographic film. So do yourself a favour, take lots of photos and make the most of the options your camera presents you with. Bonus tip: I’ve found the action or sports setting works great with moving water shots!
  • Your Editing Suite, Your Play Room: Editing has fundamentally changed my photography. As I mentioned in part 2 of this series, I do process my pictures in order to achieve, not an accurate representation, but an insight into my perspective. The editing suite that I use is iPhoto, which comes with Apple Mac’s iLife. If, however, you use a pc, you may want to try an online editing suite such as Adobe Photoshop Express, which has now linked up with Flickr, making it easier to export your photos to your Flickr account. As I advised with your camera settings, give yourself the freedom and the time to experiment and play with your images. If you’re worried about spoiling them, make duplicate copies and play about to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that the original is safe and untampered with. My regular routine when it comes to editing is to rotate my shot (so I can see what I’m looking at!), and then crop it, keeping in mind the points I made about perspective and balance to attain an image that I’m happy with. Then I begin to experiment with brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness and exposure. Normally I find that I make my images darker, with greater contrast, saturation and sharpness, and I ever so slightly lower my exposure. I am not for one minute recommending that you apply this process to all photos though! Experiment, investigate and play until you get the image you are happy with.

Now, I think I’ve gone on for quite enough here, but I hope that some of these tips will help towards increasing your confidence when having a go at taking your own photos, and for sharing them. In tomorrow’s post, which will be the last of the series, I will look a little more at sharing photos before making my announcement, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out!

I’d like to now turn the floor over to you: Have you found these tips to be valuable? What tips would you like to pass on to others? Do you know of any good blogs to find more photo tips?

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May 22, 2008. Photography.

21 Comments

  1. lybl replied:

    Another great post, Amy.

    About a year ago I bought a Digital Camera and started taking it with me on my walks and things like that.

    I’ve always wanted to learn how to take better photos. Looks like I found out who I can turn too. 🙂

    Tim

  2. Allison replied:

    Wonderful tips! I can’t wait to take my camera outside and try them out! 🙂

  3. Lodewijk replied:

    Great tips Amy!

    There really is beauty to find everywhere. I like to find beauty in decay. Rust, fallen trees, flaking paint and so on.

    One of the things I try to capture in my photographs is an unfinished story, an unanswered question. Photos of paths through a forest, rivers disappearing around a bend and such have those elements.

    And also with people. Having them stare out of the photograph adds a sense of mystery (What are they looking at? What’s on their mind?). It can even have that when they are looking inside the picture, but what they are looking at is hidden. My experience is that with these photographs, black and white adds to the mystery.

    And I like to take unusual perspectives for the usual photographs. You can find me lying on the ground pointing cameras upwards to photograph people. Or climbing on tables to get a bird’s eye view. Anything I can find to change the perspective to something very unusual.

    I may need to get a second camera. We only have one, and I leave it at home for my wife so she can use it when she’s at home with our son. But that leaves me without one… Something I’m really missing, especially now you’re invoking all these photo-creative aspirations in me again.

  4. Joanna Young replied:

    Wow Amy, any one of these tips would make a post of its own. This is definitely one I’m going to have to cut out and keep. Thank you so much!

    I think what I’m going to do is pick one of these at a time and go out with that in mind – say texture or pattern, because I know I’m not noticing them at the moment. Do you think that would work as a strategy?

    Joanna

  5. Nadine T. replied:

    Yes, yes and yes.

    Not only your photos are perfect Amy, but your style when writing about photography is very compelling!

  6. Teacher Girl replied:

    Amy,

    Thanks for this well written, comprehensive guide for beginning (but wildly enthusiastic) photographers and bloggers.

    Like you, I really started to pay close attention to my photographs when I began blogging a couple of years ago. My most important lessons have been:
    – take loads of photos
    – get close. Closer!
    – slow down and compose the photo with love (use the rule of thirds; pay attention to details like whether the person’s feet are in the photo)
    – light, light, light!

    Texture is something I have not paid much attention to… I love a new challenge. Thanks!

  7. amypalko replied:

    Thanks Tim! Maybe you should try taking your camera with you whenever you leave the house, and not just when you’re heading out on a walk. It really does change the way you view your everyday environment.

    Do let me know how you get on, Allison!

    I love that concept of thinking of your photographs as unfinished stories, Lodewijk. I can’t wait till you start uploading more pics on Flickr. They sound just wonderful!

    I think that’s an excellent strategy, Joanna! I cant wait to see how you get on 🙂

    Oh, thank you Nadine! And thanks too for the submission to StumbleUpon 🙂

    I completely agree with all of those lessons, Teacher Girl. I especially like ‘compose with love’ – that one really appeals to my sensibilities!

  8. Brad Shorr replied:

    Amy, I didn’t know there was so much to know about photography. Do you offer a collection of your photos/tips in an e-book?

  9. Roland Hesz replied:

    It is a really good post, especially with the links to the photos.
    If I were not an avid photographer, I would go to try it.

    I would put one more entry to “what to photo”: scene

    The first one I think is really evident, you see a scene, like, an airplane at the terminal with waiting to be refilled, people walking around, etc. It’s not about light, colour, texture, it is just something that’s happening.

    For the camera settings, I have to admit that I don’t know most of them. I should really try them, however I always shot manual.
    Especially with the Nikon, it’s manual light sensitivity, manual focus, manual zoom, manual exposure, colour settings.
    It’s much more fun.
    And with the digital camera I have the luxury of making 10-20 shots of the same thing with different settings, and I do it, then pick the ones I want to keep later.

    Actually, I would recommend this practice, you never know if your “wrong” settings would produce the best shot for some reason.
    Or you will end up with a “bad” shot that turns out interesting and not so bad after all, for some quirky lighting effect.

    Based on Lodewijk’s comment: a short story post based on select pictures? Say 5? That would fit well both with Lives Less Ordinary and Confident Writing and this whole Jubilant Learning thing 🙂

  10. Roland Hesz replied:

    One more, sorry, forgot.
    Editing photos.
    I lack there. I actually never edit my photos.
    Sometimes I think I should, but then, I decide I would just ruin them.

  11. amypalko replied:

    What a great idea, Brad! I’ll definitely give it some thought. Glad you liked the post 🙂

    Those are all really great additions, Roland. Thank you! As for the editing though, do give it a go. Like I said in the post, you can always duplicate the image and keep the original while you have a play with the other one. The worst that can happen is that you don’t like the image you end up with after editing, you delete it, and then upload the original to Flickr. Let me know how you get on!

  12. Ellen Wilson replied:

    This is great advice, Amy. Photography is a hard skill to master. I think once you understand the concept of light, and how it tranfers to an image, it is fairly simple. But everything you have listed is what a professional photographer needs to know. I switched to a SLR Canon 40D several months ago and I am still getting used to it. I’m sure it will take A LONG time.

    I do like the monochrome (black and white) feature on my camera. I have always shot in black and white occasionally to give a certain ambiance or feeling to a scene.

  13. Celticangel replied:

    Okay. I’ll dig out my manual. I tend to stick with the one setting, as it is very forgiving of the shaky problem. I had no idea that my hands weren’t rock steady until I got my camera. Le sigh. In any case, I see your point. Taking several pictures of the same subject with different settings is a great idea.

  14. rlovison replied:

    Amy,

    Another wonderful article… a great introduction in how to refine one’s “eye”.

    Have you moved up to or are you considering a DSLR? It would open up even more creative options for you with interchangeable lenses, manual shutter and aperture controls and more sophisticated metering.

    I’m glad I stumbled upon your site. You are indeed a source of inspiration.

    Richard

  15. travelerstales replied:

    Okay, you have me waiting for the last installment, I’ve enjoyed them all.

  16. tim replied:

    Good advice. Reading this article makes me want to grab my camera and get out there to shoot more pictures.

  17. Teacher Girl replied:

    Amy,
    I am enchanted by this idea (Thanks Roland) of using five photographs to inspire a short story. Perhaps you could put out a call for participants. Lovely idea!

  18. Rosa Say replied:

    My goodness, what a goldmine of provocation and energy this posting and this comment conversation is! Amy, you are quite the temptress and fire starter.

    The learner in me is totally out of control: I have been playing with my new camera (I am smitten) my new account on Flickr, and your inspired suggestions (and those of this exceptionally generous community) this entire week through, and my work is not getting done at its usual clip… now that lagging is of my own doing, and not yours, but I must cheer for you AMy, for the exciting momentum of this series this week. It is so very clear how much you put into this, and into this posting in particular.

    Lodewijk, I do hope you get another camera, and Tim, grab yours too 🙂

  19. toni replied:

    All these tips are so inspirational! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

  20. amypalko replied:

    I too occasionally use black and white, Ellen, but I think my eye is so drawn to colour that the majority of my images tend to emphasise that aspect. I’m glad you agreed with the advice!

    I don’t think I’ve ever read the manual for my camera, Celtic Angel. All my learning has come from trial and error! Seriously though, it’s through experimentation and play that we often learn best.

    I’m glad you stumbled by too, Richard! In answer to your question, I don’t own a DSLR. I would absolutely love one, but I’m afraid that they are well out of my price range for the foreseeable future. Maybe one day I’ll try and pick one up 2nd hand, but until then, I’ll continue to make the most of my point and shoot 🙂

    Thank you Travelerstales! It’s been interesting putting the series together, as it’s the first one I’ve attempted on the blog. I think it’s worked well though!

    Well, good, Tim! That’s exactly what it was designed to do 🙂

    I think that could be a future project for the new Flickr group, Teacher Girl. Roland is just full of good ideas!

    Thank you so much for this lovely comment, Rosa! I am so glad that the series has inspired you because the photographs you are taking of your beautiful home with your new camera are just an absolute delight 🙂

    You are most welcome, Toni. I hope they help!

  21. 10 Writing Reasons To Take More Photographs | Confident Writing replied:

    […] If you’d like to stretch and develop your own photography please do check out Amy’s series, including today’s post of practical tips. […]

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