By Guest Writer
on 9.22.09

gear-patrol-upgrade-take-better-photos

When it comes to photography, the Gear Patrol crew can certainly agree on one thing: we like it. Whether it’s taking nearly all the original photos you see of the gear we test on this site or just as a personal hobby, we feel strongly that a man should be able to pick up a camera (of the SLR variety) and be able to snap a few good shots. It’s a lot easier than you think, and good shots don’t mean you need expensive equipment – just a few pointers. We’ve compiled 10 simple real-world basics that should hopefully make you the Facebook, Flickr, Shutterbug, Picasa, or Ofoto hero on your next outing.

Lest you forget, photography is an art form; there are no rules. Something accidental might turn out to be your best shot. The important thing is to shoot. A camera that sits around and collects dust serves no purpose. Here are some suggested tips to help your photos stand out a bit more…

Ten Tips To Take Better Photographs

1. Get on the ground (or on a ladder).

get-on-a-ladder

Try for a different perspective when framing a shot. Many of us are in the habit of standing in the same position to take most of our photos. For instance, when taking a shot of your dog (or your inebriated buddy lying in a pile of crushed PBR cans), get down on their level and take a few shots from a different viewpoint.

2. Take Shots During Evening And Morning Sun

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The last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise are referred to as the “golden hour”. With the sun low in the sky, its rays beam through the atmosphere creating warm, diffused light, which is ideal for landscapes and cityscapes.

3. Overcast Days Are Good

overcast-days-are-good

People often shy away from taking shots on overcast days, however, for portraits, this type of light can be perfect. Clouds act like giant diffusers, softening the light, and reducing harsh shadows. Shots can be framed so that there is no gray sky in the background. When taking portraits in midday sun, using your flash can neutralize shadows on the face.

4. Use Your Histogram

nikon-histogramAll DSLRs and many point-and-shoot cameras have a histogram menu – a graph showing the amount of tone in an individual photo. Better-exposed photos tend to have this information represented across the histogram (looks somewhat like a mountain range on the graph), with dark areas represented on the left, grays in the middle, and white on the right. If the “mountains” are pushed to the right, the photo will be too bright; pushed to the left, it may be too dark. So take a photo, check the histogram, and add or reduce light as needed (if possible).

5. Zoom In For Portraits

zoom-in-for-portraitUsing a wide-angle lens on a DSLR or a wide zoom setting on a point-and-shoot when taking a portrait of your girlfriend will make her face look like Andre the Giant’s in short order. So use a normal or telephoto lens or setting. Wide-angle lenses can add distortion to a subject, and the closer you get, the more this effect becomes apparent (although it is sometimes desirable and can have interesting results on certain subjects).

6. Frame Your Shots

rule-of-thirds

When looking through the viewfinder (or at the LCD screen), try to eliminate distractions – such as that telephone pole sprouting from mom’s head. Applying the “rule of thirds” to a photo can give pleasing results – divide the viewfinder into thirds and move the subject two-thirds of the way over or up. Our eye tends to be drawn to these zones when looking at a photo.

7. Depth of Field

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Refers to the portion of a photo that is in focus. Extended depth of field has objects in the foreground and back ground in focus, where shallow depth of field will have objects in foreground in focus, and those in the background out of focus (and vice versa, you could also have subject in the middle in focus with fore and aft out of focus). Manipulating DOF with a DSLR is relatively easy by “opening up” the lens (using a smaller f/stop number to blur the background) or “stopping down” the lens (larger f/stop number) to bring everything more into focus. This can also be achieved with point-and-shoots if they have aperture priority mode or manual mode (in manual mode, shutter speed will need to be adjusted in relation to aperture – check your meter!). More basic point and shoots without these features can still control DOF to some degree by using “landscape mode” for extended DOF, and “macro mode” or “portrait mode” for shallow DOF (can also increase/decrease the ISO setting to similar effect).

8. Know Your ISO

iso-chart-cameras

Most cameras have an ISO control, and it determines how sensitive the cameras image sensor will be relative to the amount of light present. However, the higher the ISO setting used, the more noise will be apparent in images. If there is plenty of light, use a lower ISO setting, say 100 or 200. In lower light situations, DSLRs are more adept at producing better photos at higher ISO, up to around 800 ISO, above which things start to fall apart (full frame DSLRs being the exception, such as the Canon 5D Mark II). Point-and-shoots have much smaller sensors, therefore generate more noise, and start to produce grainy images at 400 ISO, sometimes even at 200 ISO. This isn’t always a big deal for general snapshots unless you intend to enlarge them, yet using the lowest ISO possible is usually a good idea.

9. Be Quick

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Don’t let the shot get away – pressing your shutter button halfway to pre-focus the camera when anticipating a shot will eliminating much of the shutter-lag (especially in point-and-shoots). Try panning your camera along with a fast moving subject, fire the shutter, and follow through; this blurs the background giving a sense of motion. Try higher shutter speeds to freeze motion, and lower speeds to achieve motion-blur.

10. Use A Polarizer Filter

use-a-polarizer-filterIf you love deep blue skies, this is a great way to get them – no Photoshop necessary. They also reduce reflections on glass and other shiny objects, while simultaneously deepening color. Mounting the filter is no problem on DSLRs, and some point-and-shoots have an optional adapter for this purpose.

Let Us Know: We realize these tips aren’t comprehensive and that everyone’s got some tricks of their own. If you do, make sure and share them in the comments below.