"How To" essay: Taking Better Pictures
doesn't take a $500 camera to shoot good pictures. It takes practice -- developing an eye for composition, lighting, storytelling. (This post BEST viewed on a PC, ipad or smartphone TURNED-SIDEWAYS)
back in 1941, a crude box brownie camera took these incredible and historic pictures at
Pearl Harbor. Check how
well composed these are!
Amateur photographers can get great pictures, with a decent camera -- or even a SMART PHONE. Artistic
pictures. Keepers. Here's HOW:
- Know your equipment, read the manual, and practice.
- Assess the situation --especially for good lighting.
- Hold your camera steady. Wait for the shot!
- Don't tire out your
'victims' with too many photos.
- Use your Zoom so you don't have to get
in their faces.
- But DO get in their faces if its the only way to get
Limited powers! Smartphones don't have all the bells and whistles that cameras do.
Smartphones don't specialize in taking pictures. The lenses are cheaper and much smaller. No zoom. No
contrast adjustment. But they DO take high resolution photos if you
can frame them well, when you shoot them. Here's what you do next:
- Without ZOOM capability, shoot CLOSER to your subject to fill your viewfinder. Get as close as you can to reduce unwanted sky, empty rooms, tiny stickfigures.
- Make sure you use good natural light since you don't have a photo-flash. Sun or available light in people's faces to light them up. Never have the light BEHIND them.
- Email or download smartphone photos--SAVE to your PC to safeguard them, and fix them.
- Install and practice using PC photo-editing software. Learn how to crop out the photos' unwanted parts, rotate the sideways ones, and adjust the light/dark contrast until they look right to your eye--all because you don't have the controls built into the camera.
Shooting tips for ANY camera
There might be a time when you shoot so well, you'll want to buy a better camera. One with a better zoom-lens to let you get in closer. Some automatically focus or manually let you zoom in or out. Or adjust the shutter time to shoot better in the dark... or fast-action sports events.
Whether using a smartphone camera, or one you've bought, abide by the following tips:
- GET IN CLOSE. Too many people shoot 'snapshot' photos too far away.
Their subjects are just STICK FIGURES. Not enough faces but too much sky, too much dirt, grass, or empty room. Tiny people!
Use your ZOOM. Don't be bashful. GET CLOSER, even if you think
you're IN THE WAY!!
POSED Picture or CANDID/Action Shots? There's a time to line up a couple people smiling and facing the camera--not bad for shots with grandma and the grand kids. Those are only for showing what people looked like--except sometimes!.
Most people would rather see less posing and more candid...natural expressions of people doing things--playing sports, petting the dog, cooking, working on the car. Mom's holding the babies while they look at each other. People having fun. Those kind of candid shots are best done with a better camera that has a zoom lense... so you can shoot them at a bit of a distance when they're not aware of you and your camera. And you have to shoot lots of attempts because timing is everything.
- Best pictures are those with LIGHTED UP FACES.
Never shoot photos with the sun or a window BEHIND them, and their face
is dark. Turn em around. Move yourself to where the light on your
subjects is best! Yup, get on the other side. Look for best lighting
when you evaluate the room or the sun when outdoors, as you're about to
take pictures. Don't shoot subjects facing the brightest sun, or they'll squint their eyes--shoot in bright shade. Never with the sun or a open window behind them.
can also be very creative with lighting...look at these pictures and
see what photographers have done my manipulating lighting in their
photos to set a certain mood:
- What TELLS A STORY? Sometimes
we balance an interesting front porch with the details of a faces of women standing in front of it, or a vintage old car or tractor, or
church front. While this photo was centered on the women by the photographer of the day, we crop it differently to also show the ornate farmhouse because it adds character, while still showing enough detail of the women when they were young.
- KNOW SHOOTING FUNDAMENTALS and be PRACTICED at them with YOUR camera's features! If you're child is on stage dancing, get down near front and shoot lots of photos--not all the same. But with YOUR KID at the center of them. If you have a high quality camera, shoot them with an action or sports shutter-speed-'fast' so they don't blur during fast movements. If you don't have an expensive camera, get in closer, down front, and center your viewfinder with your kid--not wide with 40 other stick figures!
Automatic focus cameras.
Many of today's better cameras take a second or so to automatically focus on
the center subject to get a focus. If you click the button all the way
down like with older cameras before your digital adjusts itself, your
pictures will ALWAYS be out of focus. So push the shutter button just
halfway down, let the camera sharpen the image for just a half second...
and THEN press the button the rest of the way. You can often see the
change right before your eyes in the viewfinder. In portraits, you'll want to focus on their EYES!
- You'll learn
how if you READ THE INSTRUCTIONS to your camera and PRACTICE. Luckily
we don't have to pay for film processing anymore so you can experiment
and try lots of settings. Don't buy a camera the day of the wedding.
Buy it a month before and take lots of practice shots! You'll be
happier with the results!
Getting fancy. There's a lot more to focus than point, wait a second, and shoot. Some
people learn about their camera settings and adjust the depth of field
so that SOME parts of a picture are IN focus and other parts are out of
focus. You may notice this by being fairly close to a subject and the
subject's EYES will be sharp and focus but their nose will be slightly blurred.
Or an entire group of people or trees behind them will be unfocused.
Some people play with 'focus' and depth of field deliberately for
effect. Check this one... the distance is blurred but the pavement in
the foreground is in focus. That was on purpose.
SCANNING and Fixing PHOTOS
modern printers now are "All-in-One" devices so they scan and even fax.
They're usually cheap enough--the printer makers get ya on
those pricey color cartridges. It's still a better deal to scan your
old photos, copy your digital pictures to DVD's or portable thumb
Take them/ upload them to Snapfish, where per-picture
prices are cheaper than printing them with your own ink-cartridges. Pick them up at
Walmart or a drug store for 16 cents, or have them mailed to you
for as little as 9 cents a picture. http://www5.snapfish.com/snapfish/home/
fond of HP products. Their included software is good for scanning and while
they're mostly plastic now, they work well enough for my needs.
Photo File Sizes can get very big ...the price for high quality!
- Scan the VERY BEST version of a scene you can find...not
fuzzy, out of focus ones. Or ones with bad facial expressions. Choose the BEST ones to scan. One good photo one is better than ten average ones.
- Don't scan tiny photos when you know there exists a
larger copy. 8x10s and 5x7s scan so much better than 2x3 inch billfold sized photos
that were so common years ago, right? But look at those in grandma's snapshot box closely. They might be very rare!
- Cropping out the unwanted areas of your pictures. Best done during the scanning process-- or later in separate photo software, crop out unwanted parts of your pictures to center the subject people in
- AVOID the Grainy Enlargements. Remember that excessive cropping and
enlarging tends to cost you on PHOTO QUALITY so generally don't crop too
much--they get grainy and details get fuzzy. Most people want to see FACES, not
background grass or too much sky! Or too many people in a single picture. So choose the closeups to scan and
upload for best results--just don't ruin the rare finds! Sometimes if you make an editing mistake, you'll need to re-scan them and that's okay. Get it RIGHT!
example shows the use of free Picasa software by Google. Just
download it from Google. (It's like free iTunes, but for pictures.) This
shows the way Picasa 'crops' a digitized picture--effectively making this picture more of a closeup. Great for
getting rid of unwanted people, sky, cars-- whatever distracts from your
subject or the story.
You could just use Picasa for organizing and modifying
photos like cropping, colorizing, changing contrast, creating collages. Or even uploading all your good pictures to Snapfish for printing, or your free Google webspace for your friends--and safekeeping. Here it is: http://picasa.google.com/
FIX CONTRAST - darkening and lightening. We
have noticed that most old, faded photos need to have their CONTRAST
improved, to make light pictures darker--though not too dark so we lose
detail. Or very dark photos LIGHTENED UP, but not TOO light! You
can manipulate software settings usually with a "contrast" or
"brightness" or "midtone" slidebar to maximize detail. Often you can salvage a
photo that was shot with bad lighting, or shutter settings.
Pressing "Auto Brightness" will brighten up the dark photos or darken ones that are too light, often when there was too much sunlight.
But if that's not enough, manually bring
up the facial mid-tones but not so much as to white out details.
It's harder to fix when there's no light on the subjects' faces...or
their backs are to the sun and their faces are dark. Or shielded by a
big hat. Most quality software improves photos with just one click to
"Optimize." If the "Optimize" button improves the image, save it; if
it doesn't, "UNDO" the optimization back to the way it was. If the
one-touch fix isn't enough, bring it back to life manually. Or save
two versions. and get advice which looks better!
This contrast-adjustment example is a screen print of Microsoft Picture Manager. It comes
with Office 1997 through Office 2008 and is found inside Office's Tools
Dropdown. Discontinued after that, but you can get it free with
slight improvements now called Windows Live "Picture Gallery" by downloading it". You don't need ALL the live stuff,
just Gallery! Download it, and then create an icon on your desktop
for easy access. You can get a version for XP, Windows 7 or Windows 8.
- The best time to fix a photo is RIGHT WHEN YOU SCAN IT. Assuming your scanning software is good, crop out the Junk in "Preview" and rescan;
center the subject and if your scan software allows, DARKEN OR LIGHTEN
the image BEFORE you save it! Preserve facial detail and shadows.
Don't let your software white out or darken out detail. If it isn't
good scan software, just scan it large, and repair contrast or overall
size in a better photo fix program. Or let somebody else improve them.
sample above is a screen print of HP scan software that comes free with
an HP printer. Most all scanner-printers today have free software like
this to do these things. We have just scanned a picture and before
saving, we have cropped out the excessive wallspace, darkened up the faces by adding contrast, and even rotated the vertical "portrait"-direction picture to a horizontal "landscape" style.
Sharpening Out-of-Focus, Grainy, or Blurry shots. Whether a photographer error or action too fast to be sharp, it's usually not very successful to fix them later. Choose the sharpest pictures
available...and the largest ones. Big pictures that are reduced in size
look a lot better than Small pictures which are enlarged! They get
grainy! Generally don't bother scanning badly shot pictures unless
its the only shot that exists of an important person!
- BIG Photo file sizes. The larger the file size, the more dots-per-inch are put into the file meaning more detail, and better enlargements. We want to COMPRESS some of the big files that come out of the camera.
<--If we want to EMAIL them or UPLOAD them to Facebook, we want them even smaller...at "Web Size" or "Email Size." They'll load and email quickly.
<--Notice NOT COMPRESSED (circled in red), the camera creates files as big as 2 megabytes. That's huge, but they can print even POSTER size!
<--If we "Document COMPRESS" them to a reasonable size, they're still fairly big and display 1024x685 (full-screen size) but are only 250-400 kilobytes.
Save your high quality files (either large NOT-COMPRESSED or medium size/quality "DOCUMENT SIZE") in your archive folder for later printing or other uses. To save space, save only the best shots-- not the junky ones unworthy of printing because they're out of focus, or facial expressions are bad. Do you really need 5 poses that are almost the same? Not really. Just save the best ONES.
For Compressing EMAILing and Facebook Uploading. Make COPIES of the originals that you want to email out or upload to the web and then reduce the size of your COPIES. (Drag and drop and press CTRL-key as you do to 'copy', rather than 'move' your photos to a new directory to work with. Put those in a separate folder named "Pix to EMAIL." If you mess up your operation, you won't have harmed your originals so you can start over!
Compressing many files at once: In Microsoft's Picture manager, if you have it, change the view to show multiple photos, and hold down Shift while highlighting several you want to compress. Or press CTRL-A (to select "ALL" in the directory). Then choose the size you want them compressed to--with just one click and an OK button press.
Fixing Photos Online or at the Store
can bring in your camera's memory chip, CD/DVD or portable thumb-drive to Walmart, CVS
or Walgreens and use THEIR equipment to edit, crop, turn-sideways,
re-contrast or even take out redeye.
Don't have a scanner? You can get photos scanned (digitized) at your local office supply retailer or have a friend scan your most important ones. If that's not possible, here are some tips:
- To have someone else scan or re-shoot an important framed photo yourself, carefully TAKE IT OUT OF THE FRAME first. Then it won't lose quality or be out of focus, or suffer from glare/reflection caused by the frame's glass.
- If you intend to SHOOT A DIGITAL PHOTO of your sacred and rare family picture, don't use your flash; even cover it with your finger if you have to. Have the room bright enough so your camera captures all the detail. Shoot at the right distance to fill your camera's frame, and just a tiny bit more; you can crop out bad edges.
- Beware of glare! Assure there's no glare from room lighting on the picture--or a reflection of you shooting the picture! Shoot several shots, mostly close up, but in varied lighting angles...choose the one with the least glare to save. If it's a critical family picture, shoot it again if needed or best yet, take it to the store and have THEM scan it properly with good equipment. It really costs a small amount
- Just know that if you're going to this much trouble, do it RIGHT, rather than later having to do it OVER! Consider this project like putting on a fancy dinner and you want everything perfect. Same true saving your ancestors photos!
Upload your digital pictures to
SNAPFISH and fix them online in your browser. Then once fixed, print them
in any size, copy them back down to your PC. Pick up prints at the
store or have them shipped for even less cost. Like good cooking, it
just takes some practice. Set up a free account and play with it a
Here's an example of using SNAPFISH online to modify a favorite picture before printing.
Yup, just like fixing a great dinner or dessert recipe, it takes trial-and-error practice learning the camera and software to get best photo results. If you just can't do it-- or don't have a creative nephew
or niece, just scan or copy the largest, best
quality you can.
Even with photos that have already been
scanned or digital pictures shot with less-than-perfect lighting or
composition conditions, you can salvage lots of pictures and make them
look better. Takes just practice and at least some potential in the
original. Be sure to save the original before you try to rescue it with a
copy! Have fun!
STUDY lots of photos to learn what works and what doesn't.
Here's a link to my own Photo Galleries collected over a decade from all over the internet world. Bring a sack lunch-- there are 11,000 pictures in here.
Be warned, some folders contain political Facebook memes you may well disagree with-- but MOST FOLDERS each contain more than a hundred very creative pictures sorted by topic.
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