ARCHIVE 101 – 5 SIMPLE WAYS TO TAKE BETTER PICTURES

 

 

 

Here are what I hope will be some useful tips, especially for those relatively new to photography.  There’s nothing complicated here – these are just things I do, and I’m sharing them for anyone interested. 

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If anyone has additional ideas – let’s hear them!

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KEEP YOUR GEAR SIMPLE – LESS IS MORE!

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If you’re a professional photographer you may have no choice but to lug vast amounts of gear around because you’re photographing for someone else and you NEED to get those shots.  But if you take the more relaxed and sensible option of being amateur, you’re the boss – you can choose just how much gear to carry >>> and I urge you to travel light!

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Don’t carry lenses that will cover every photo opportunity The Universe can ever throw at you.  If you do, your load will be a real physical burden and, when something with visual potential appears, you’ll have more decisions to make about which lens to use – rather than just going at whatever it is with whatever lens is on your camera at the time.

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Just carry one or maybe two lenses, and get into the mindset that tells you that this lens or two lenses are what you’re going to use.  Make it clear to yourself – and keep it clear – that if you miss a shot due to not having the right gear with you, well that’s just how it is.  More photographic opportunities will always appear, and being restricted in our optical options in this way really sharpens our photographic skills.

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And of course you can cheat a little by taking a zoom.  I use a 70-300 a lot, but if I’m not sure about the sorts of shots I’m looking for, then I’ll add a 16-35 or 12-24 – but I’m still only carrying two lenses – and I’ve found that I usually end up using only one of them.  This is a hardware version of the famous KISS principle for photographic composition – “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”  It applies to gear too!

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But, talking about zooms, remember that zooming in and out on a subject is no substitute for moving around and look at it from all possible angles – another basic tip for good photos is to keep moving around, continually altering our viewpoint so as to be continually receiving new visual stimuli and ideas.

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EXCLUDE ANYTHING EXTRANEOUS FROM THE FRAME

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My blogging colleague Andy Beel  and I are simply amazed at the numbers of images that fail on this basic point.  These are pictures that contain things unrelated to – and often markedly detracting from – the images’ subjects.  I recently posted a colour photo of an elderly woman standing in a doorway.   But before posting it I made sure of excluding two things, which are shown below.

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newq_0158EXAMPLE

First, the left hand frame of the original image is a vertical mass of reds, dark blues, pinks and other colours markedly different from the rest of the picture’s quite limited palette – this was simple to crop out.  Had I left it in, it would have proved an irresistible attraction to every pair is eyes viewing the image >>> it would immediately have drawn everyone’s attention away from the woman and so have ruined the shot.

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And, second, there is a small yellow reflection across the woman’s back, which with the limited colour palette would again have been a significant distraction: I reduced the brightness of this yellow by desaturating it.  Here is the final image:

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newq_0158X

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Extraneous items are best excluded from images at the point of capture.  Move around to alter your viewpoint and use your viewfinder/screen to exclude them.  As a general point here, its best to get as many aspects of an image right at capture if at all possible, as this can often save huge headaches later on.

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It may be possible to crop things out of an image post-capture of course, but keep in mind the way that any cropping alters the picture’s compositional balance.  And things can of course be removed digitally by cloning and so on – but getting it as near right as possible at capture is the thing.  Try to get OUT of the mindset that assumes that any shortcomings in an image at point of capture can be made good digitally later – this ain’t the way to go, AT ALL!!!

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ALWAYS CHECK BACKGROUNDS

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Some pictures require front to back sharpness.  But others have a subject in the foreground that needs to be isolated, if only a little, from the backdrop.  If attempting this second sort of image, always pay great attention to the background, and especially so if it if non-uniform and/or has much light falling on it.  Shoot at larger apertures to reduce depth of field, and always use the camera’s depth of field preview button to get an estimate of how intrusive the background is going to be.  And ALWAYS REMEMBER that the effect that you see when using the depth of field button is probably going to be less than the effect that you will see on the finished picture!

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Simple fact: an intrusive background can totally wreck a picture.

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ALWAYS CHECK THE PERIPHERY OF THE IMAGE

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Immediately prior to taking a photo, get into the CONSTANT habit of quickly running your eye around the edges of the frame, to ensure that there is nothing unwanted there.  We’ve all seen the portraits with telegraph poles sprouting out of the subjects’ heads, and the idyllic landscapes with a pile of litter on one corner.

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Assuming you are not taking a frantic grab shot, get into the habit of performing this simple check with EACH AND EVERY photo you that take.

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DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE HIGH ISO SENSITIVITIES

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I find it frustrating that so many photographers are wary of seeing what their cameras can do at higher ISOs – just look at photo mags, and the great majority of images were shot at 800 ISO or below – in many cases 400 ISO or below – when we’re now using cameras that can handle 12,000 or 25,000 ISO – even 400,000 ISO in some cases!

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Everyone is after that great Holy Grail, image quality, but, to my mind, what matters is first an image’s content, then its composition, with factors like sharpness, noise, colour balance and so on coming some way third.  So, use lower ISOs by all means, but when the light fails or you need greater depth of field, ratchet up those high ISOs and go for it!

 

I hope these points are useful.

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Adrian

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About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

14 Responses to ARCHIVE 101 – 5 SIMPLE WAYS TO TAKE BETTER PICTURES

  1. Sonali Dalal says:

    Very very useful points. And now I understand why you objected to that Red thing in one of my photos. Though frankly I thought that it adds to the photo by giving it a dash of colour! I recently shot many photos at 2500/3000 ISo as light was very low due to very cloudy atmosphere and I was really worried about the image quality. Well! I am personally not at all disappointed but I am sure I am going to hear about graininess of the image. But who cares? I like them and that is enough. Like you, i also believe that first thing is subject matter then comes composition and then everything else.

    On my recent travels, due to my health issues, I decided to travel with only two lenses. 10-18 and 55-250. And it worked!! I was worried about doing that.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Glad this is useful, my friend. Yes, using high ISOs is the thing, if need be. But note that their effects will be greatly magnified if you are thinking about large prints for your exhibition – and your more conservative viewers might take issue with that.

      The fewer lenses you take out with you, the less you have to carry, the quicker you can be ready to take photos, the less dust you get on your sensor (due to fewer lens changes) ->>> and the more creative you become. I’ve often gone out with just the 70-300, but at the moment I’m carrying the 12-24 too. A 🙂

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  2. Thanks Adrian. I am no expert, but have also found I learn a lot from looking at others’ photos!

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Definitely, I think the same is true of us all – I recall reading something about “adding to the visual libraries in our heads” every time we see others’ images. Thanks, D&Z! Adrian

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  3. andybeel says:

    Hi Adrian thanks for the mention! Excellent post and advice – composition in photography is you say – the art of deciding what to leave out! Andy

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Thank you, Andy! Yes the art leaving things out, of not having too many things in at once. And I read recently something similar about good photographers being those who are selective in what they show their audience, i.e. rather than putting all of their photos on display – once again, deciding what to leave out. Adrian

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  4. paula graham says:

    Very well spoken words..I frequently fail the check surrounding area test!!

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  5. Sallyann says:

    Thanks, I guess I don’t count as a beginner any more, but I’m a very very slow learner so any tips are always welcome. 🙂

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Sallyann, I’m glad you find this useful. Because unwanted things can be cropped out digitally with reasonable ease in many instances, I guess for you the point about recognising and avoiding uncluttered / over obtrusive backgrounds is the thing to have engraved on your soul, because bad backgrounds can be far more difficult to deal with post-capture. Adrian

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  6. LensScaper says:

    Well written, Adrian, and all very helpful points. I now often carry just the one lens – it’s a Sigma 18:250mm zoom. That covers just about everything. I used to carry two in London, but I got so fed up with stopping, juggling two lenses. Changing lenses is not easy at the best of times and not always safe. Dust seems to spot an open camera a mile off and rush for it. If you want a dirty sensor – carry a second lens!!. The only other comment I would make is that I have ruined more images than I care to remember by cropping too tightly at capture – losing the corners of objects important to the picture, or finding I couldn’t correct a vertical without losing something. There are now times when I think about carrying a tripod. It’s not easy checking everything in the viewfinder, in all the ways you rightly describe, hand holding the shot and keeping it just right when you press the shutter button.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Andy, thanks for your thoughts. And this is a very good point re intentionally cropping too wide at the point of capture, I know exactly what you mean, and its something I must always keep in mind – yes, I know, losing corners and losing image area via vertical realignment – thank you! I’d never consider a tripod in built up areas, far too cumbersome, but I always toss one in the boot when driving out into the country >>> and then never use it!!! >>> something else I need to think about! Adrian

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  7. Nelson says:

    As for the lens choice I will use a 18-200 mm when I do street photo, since a lot can happen in just a few minutes I need something with which I can zoom at top the of buildings and take wider street shot. I use to take my 18-50 mm ans a 70-300 mm for street photo and lens changes became a pain in the neck very soon.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Yes, I agree, Nelson, lens changes are laborious, and the more so with digital cameras, where we’re always conscious of getting dirt on the sensor. When I used film cameras, especially the wonderfully diminutive Olympus OM System models, I used to change lenses frequently – but then most of the lenses were not zooms, all were smaller than my current Nikon lenses, and there wasn’t the dirt on the sensor issue. But now yes, like you, its a zoom or two – and the zoom that starts off on the camera is usually the one that stays on the camera! Thanks for your input! Adrian

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