Contrary to popular belief, taking great photos really isn’t about having a nice camera. A nice camera may help make the process a bit easier, however, I’m a firm believer that good photography is about 10% camera and 90% creativity of the person behind the camera. You have to be able to think creatively and maximize the potential of your environment. Here are a few of the things I do each and every time I pick up a camera to give myself the best chance at getting the best shots I possibly can, regardless of whether I’m using a DSLR or my cell phone. (I didn’t come up with these ideas. They are ideas that I’ve gathered over time and work best for me)
1. Make sure your camera and lenses are clean and your battery is charged. Yes, this first step is super obvious, but super easy to forget. With my camera, I have attached the grip with extra battery in it so I’ve never run into a lack of juice. I try to keep my phone charger with me because it’s sucks when you want to take a photo but can’t because that red battery icon is flashing on your phone. Phones can get really dirty from fingerprints and lint gathered from storage time in our pockets. DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras can gather lint from being stored in camera bags as well so try to form a habit where every time you go to pick up your camera (no matter what kind), you clean off your lens first. You can wipe your lens with microfiber lens cloth or a super soft fabric like an old T-shirt. But be careful; using a fabric that’s too rough will cause disastrous scratches.
2. Light is key. Seriously, if you only remember one thing from this list, make it this!! Lighting is about as valuable a tool as your camera itself. Usually, natural light from the sun is the best light. If you’re indoors, open the curtains to let in as much light as possible and, if possible, move your subject near the window. If you’re limited to artificial lighting (anything that uses electricity), you’ll want to make sure you place the lamps in a way that they’re evenly lighting your subject without being overly harsh. Take note of the direction your lights are pointing and determine if you need to employ a reflector or second light source to light your subject from the opposite direction.
3. Think before you shoot. If you can remember TWO things from this list, remember that LIGHT IS KEY and to SLOW DOWN AND THINK!! An awesome photographer once said “great photography is all about light, composition, and two dimensional thinking”. Think about that for a second. We see in three dimensions but when we look at an image, that image is a two dimensional image so you have to think in terms of two dimensions. Consider your background for a second and simplify it as much as possible to minimize anything that may distract the eye from your subject. Decide on what compositional technique you’re trying to achieve and frame everything accordingly.
4. Use your feet. One mistake that many new photographers make is that they tend to limit their reach to the range of the lens. There ends up being too much dead space around the subject. Try using your feet to get close and fill the frame with your subject. Maybe the shot would work better if you back out to include a beautiful background. Try playing with different points of view. If you’re photographing a person, you might want to try to get above them and shoot downwards. That is a more flattering angle when photographing people. If you want to emphasize your subject’s size try shooting from below a bit to make them seem larger. If you’re photographing an object, decide if the object can be shown from an unusual perspective.
5. Shoot often. You’re not going to get better from the couch. Get out there and shoot!! There are photography groups you can join where the members attend and photograph various events. You can walk a nature trail and photograph things that interest you. Try posting your images online to get constructive criticism. That’s a good way to improve your photography because it helps you understand what makes an image work or not work. The feedback may not always be what you want to hear, but that’s ok. At the end of the day, photography is about your expressing your interpretation so get out there and learn how to better express yourself!