Snap better shots

Tips to improve your digital photos.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
 

01 .Introduction

Women on grass

Mastering good photographic technique can seem a little daunting. Perhaps you’ve seen the comprehensive photography tomes in bookstores and been baffled by the mysteries of ISO settings and f-stops.

Maybe you’ve just upgraded to a new whiz-bang camera, but you’re not getting the great results the salesperson promised.

Don’t worry; there’s really no secret to taking good photos and the techniques are pretty simple.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market. 


Do the research

The manual is a great place to start to familiarise yourself with the way your camera works. Even cameras from the same manufacturer can have vastly different feature-sets, so a bit of research now can save you much stress later on.

  • Read up on what each of your camera’s presets can do and take a few test-shots on each one.
  • Experiment with the flash settings of the camera, too, so you know what to expect from each setting.
  • Take some test shots indoors and out to find out how well your camera deals with bright or artificial light.

The best thing about a digital camera is that you don’t have to worry about the cost of developing the film to see the results and if you don’t like what you’ve taken you can delete the shots. Take several pictures of your subject, keep the one you like best and delete the rest.

Flash

  • If you’re taking a photo in the shade of a tree or a building outside, a flash can help brighten the subject of your photo.
  • Similarly, not all indoor photography will benefit from being lit up by a flash; if you want to capture the mood of a scene, avoid the flash as it will saturate the subject with harsh light and etch bold shadows over the scene’s background.
  • Digital cameras handle low light situations far better than film cameras.

Rule of thirds

People sitting on car

  • A little bit of experimentation with your camera can come in handy. How you compose each photo is just as important as how it’s lit — the human eye finds certain physical ratios more pleasing than others.
  • If you imagine for a moment some of your favourite photos, you’ll notice that they rarely feature the subject dead in the centre of the shot. Instead, they’re usually arranged by what’s called the rule of thirds.
  • When you look at a scene through your viewfinder or LCD display, imagine it’s criss-crossed with a grid like a game of tic-tac-toe; some cameras will even have an overlay like this as an optional display feature. If you can line up the linear portions of the scene along these lines — such as a person standing upright, or the horizon — you’ll find that the final photograph simply looks much better, and more natural, than if you’d centered the shot.

Tripod

  • Finally, you may want to take your photos using a tripod or similar device. Not everybody has steady hands and some smaller cameras can be particularly difficult to properly brace.
  • A tripod solves these problems and can ensure all your shots are level, although it may be bit of an encumbrance if you’re taking happy snaps at a party.
 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 

It’s also worthwhile thinking about how you plan to use your photo.

  • Is it only ever going to be browsed online in a web gallery? If so, you probably don’t need to take the shot using higher resolution settings — even a 640x480 pixel image looks fine online. What’s more, you’ll be able to take a lot more photos, which is always handy.
  • Are you likely to want to print your photos, view them at high resolution or have them enlarged to poster size? If so, it’s usually best to take them at the highest quality using every megapixel your camera has, though you may find you run out of room unless you have a large media card.

Storage

It’s worth investing in extra storage so that if you fill up one memory card or similar device, you can easily plug in another. The last thing anyone wants is to run out of storage space on their camera halfway through their child’s big birthday party.

Having a lot of storage space also means you don’t have to sort through the photos you’ve taken immediately, deleting ‘bad ones’ to free up more space. Just because the photos don’t look great on the day doesn’t mean you can’t fix them up using a photo-editing program later.

White balance

Have you ever taken what you thought was a great shot, but which ended up looking like it was taken with a blue or orange coloured light shining onto the subject?

Orange tinge photo

We think of light as generally being uniform in colour, but different light sources produce different kinds of ‘white’ light. It’s commonly measured in kelvin, a unit of temperature; candlelight, for instance, has a colour temperature of about 1900 kelvin and is more orange, while many flashes and fluorescent tubes have a colour temperature of 5500 kelvin and produce a more blue-ish tinge. It may not be noticeable to the naked eye, but it can ruin the mood of an otherwise great photo.

Lamp & book on table

This is where the white balance settings on your camera come in. Many of the preset modes on your camera adjust the light intensity that's picked up by your camera’s sensor (known as the charged coupled device or CCD) so that it records a typical scene more accurately. Presets are good, but sometimes you’re better off adjusting the white balance manually, especially in circumstances where there may be multiple light sources of different colour temperatures such as a person standing in shade on a bright sunny day.

Red eye has to be one of the most annoying problems for home photographers, turning a great shot of friends and family into something more like a scene from a zombie film!

Couple with red eyeBut while once we had to put up with the glowing red eyes on printed photos, we can now eradicate them for good.

Well, almost. Many modern cameras have a special flash setting that’s designed to eliminate red eye by stuttering the flash and forcing the subject’s pupil’s to contract. In reality, this doesn’t always work but, thankfully, even basic photographic image editors have functions for removing the red glow.

It’s yet another advantage of digital imaging. Some cameras now have red-eye removal functions built into the camera software.

Using JASC Paint Shop Pro as an example (which should serve as a rough guide for most image editors), use the red eye adjustment tool:

  • Adjust
  • Photo Fix
  • Red Eye Removal

You should see two versions of your photo; the original and a preview image so you can see the results of your changes. Alternatively, you can use layers. Open the troublesome picture. Then open a duplicate:

  • Window
  • New Window

Zoom in on the eyes, and arrange both windows so you can easily see them both. Then create a layer on which you can make changes:

  • Layers
  • New Raster Layer. Set the blend mode to overlay
  • OK. Then select the Eyedropper tool.

The Eyedropper tool lets you sample existing colour from a photo or picture. In the zoomed view you’ll notice that some of the natural eye colour is still visible, so click on it to sample the colour. Select the Paintbrush tool, and choose a small, soft brush option (how small, and how soft will depend on how steady your mouse hand is). Carefully paint over the red area.
Couple
If your hand’s steady, you’ll probably achieve a pretty good result straight away, but you can also remove any odd strokes if you go outside of the area.

  • Choose Image
  • Blur
  • Gaussian Blur and set a radius of one or two pixels.

Once you’re happy, you need to bring the two layers together into the one image:

  • Layers
  • Merge Layers

Your touch ups will become part of the main image. If you’re unhappy with the result, you can simply delete the layer and start again.

Sometimes simply doing away with the camera’s built in flash can eliminate the red eye problem. If you can make use of natural lighting or nearby light sources like lamps or candles (though be aware of what this will do to your white balance), you won’t have to worry about those glowing demonic eyes.