Chances are, you’ve got a camera. Maybe it’s a fancy D-SLR or maybe it’s built into your phone, but I’d bet you use it – and maybe you share your pictures online too. In the age of Instagram and Facebook, many of us choose to document our lives in pictures but very few of us take the time to learn to use our camera to it’s full potential. Cameras are pretty darn smart these days, but even the most high-tech gadgets can’t frame or style a photo for you. Here are my top 5 tips for taking better photos, no camera skills necessary!

  1. What are you capturing?

We’re lucky to live in an age where the phrase “I wish I had a camera with me” is all but obsolete, but the modern version of that moment finds us guilty of reaching for our phone or camera and snapping a shot without thinking much about the end result at all. Usually this means we end up with a boring and storyless photo that we never want to look at again.

The solution? Look at the scene before you press the shutter. Usually you’ll want to get closer, but sometimes you might need to move back to fit in more of the scene. Think about what it is you want to remember, about why you want to capture this shot, then remove or frame out any distracting elements from your shot before you click.

This photo of fashion blogger The Blonde Silhouette was commissioned by clothing brand Flocksy to help promote their range of scarves with artwork designed by Sharon Hendy-Moman. I chose to compose the image to show off Ashleigh’s accessories – of course the scarf, but also a statement ring and bold lip.

Flocksy-Look-3-hi-res-19

 

  1. Think before you flash.

If it’s dark, you need flash – Right? WRONG. If you’re within a metre or two of your subject and it’s very dark, then yes, maybe a flash will help illuminate things. But if you’re at a concert or a sports game or taking a photo of a beautiful sunset, turn off your flash.

Flash can only illuminate whatever’s right in front of you, so if your subject is further away a flash will just leave everything else dark and muddy. If you switch it off your camera will know to be ready for a low-light situation and leave the shutter open longer to let in extra light. You might need steady hands though, or to place your camera on a stable surface (or use a tripod) to avoid a blurry photo.

This photo of the Milky Way over my partner’s parents’ home in Uki, northern NSW would have been ruined if shot with a flash – it’s actually a 30 second exposure, which means the shutter was open for 30 whole seconds to let in the distant light of the stars. I also had my camera on a tripod to stop things from getting blurry.

Uki Star Trails-2

 

  1. Context is key.

Dedicated Instagrammers might already be aware of this one – it’s all about storytelling. Say you made a fantastic curry and you want to grab a photo to commemorate your culinary skills. Great! But a boring shot of a plate on a nondescript table doesn’t say much about your accomplishment. Add a few of the ingredients on the sides, place some cutlery or photograph the dish still in the pan on the stove, and suddenly you have context – what it took to make this dish, where it happened, and who it was shared with are all just as interesting as the food itself. This goes for everything – you wouldn’t take a photo of your daughter on her first day of school in her pyjamas right? It doesn’t tell you where she was going or why. You’d take a picture of her in her school uniform, maybe wearing her backpack or walking out the front door.

The following photo shows my good friend Rachel at her birthday party, getting set to blow out the candles on her cake. Without the cake and the lit candles it would just be a lovely portrait of Rach (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but those extra details give us the context we need to understand more about the image. Even the rubber duck in the background is helping tell the story – her celebration took place at a bar and restaurant called Lucky Duck in Highgate Hill.

rach cake

  1. Focus, focus, focus… Recompose.

Let’s face it, placing your subject in the middle of a photo just doesn’t look that exciting (most of the time). Have you ever tried to mix things up, placed your subject off the side and clicked – only to find the background is in focus instead of your subject?

Don’t worry – the fix is actually very simple. Most cameras automatically focus on whatever is closest to the camera or in the middle of the frame, so place your subject in the middle for now and focus by half-pressing the shutter button. As long as you keep your finger halfway down on that button, you can now recompose your shot with confidence and place your subject wherever you’d like – they’ll still be in focus when you press the shutter the rest of the way down. Bam! If you’re using your phone it’s even easier – just touch the area of the screen you want to be in focus before you take the photo.

If you’re getting a little more technical with a D-SLR and you’re shooting at a shallow depth of field, you might want to change your focus point instead to make sure everything stays nice and sharp – check your manual if you aren’t sure how to do this.

This photo of my friend Marco has him placed to the right side of the frame – the same photo with him placed smack in the middle would still have “worked”, but given the way his body is angled and his gaze is directed, it makes sense to allow some space on the left – plus it better shows off the amazing wall of vintage speakers he is posed against! Remember the last point about context? Marco is a guitarist, so a wall of speakers makes perfect sense as a location for him – it says something about who he is.

Marco-38

 

  1. Try and try again

Great photos take practice! Review your shot right away and see if you like it. If you don’t, try again. If you do, try again anyway – but make it a little bit different. There’s no point taking the same photo three or four times – it just takes up space on your memory card, phone or computer. If you choose to share your photos then you can pick your favourite from the bunch, or you might find a series emerges. Keep shooting, keep thinking and you’ll find that eventually you won’t have to think – you’ll be able to see in your head the right angle, composition or framing for your shot instantly.

If these tips help you to take better photos, I’d love to see them! Tag me in your favourites on Instagram or Facebook (the links to my accounts are at the top of this page under the menu bar), or send them to me directly at erin@erinsmith.net.au – happy snapping!