If you have years of schooling and experience in photography, thousand-dollar lenses, and a half-million dollar studio, that’s great. But most of us have to make do with what we have. Many people make up for this by digitally altering the photographs they’ve taken — not as enhancement, but as repair. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a photograph that doesn’t need anything but a frame?
Here are six tips (and one piece of unsolicited advice) you can put into practice right now no matter what kind of camera you have. You’ll instantly improve your photographs and you might not have to spend as much time in your photo program fixing pictures. Most of these tips can be applied to landscapes and wildlife, but the primary focus (no pun intended) of this article is how to take better pictures of friends and family.
As proof that the photographer matters more than the camera, and in hopes of encouraging those who are short on money and long on desire, all the photos I’ve used as examples were taken with available light (no flash), expired film (because it was cheap when I had little money), and a low-end point-and-shoot camera.
Flash is the Devil
The flash that's built into disposable cameras and less expensive digital cameras is intense and not adjustable. Red-eye is the result of direct flash. If you simply must use flash, take the picture when your subject is looking away from the camera.
In addition to the red-eye plague, flash often washes out most skin tones, and can distort makeup just enough to make a person look clown-like. It makes darker people look even darker (hiding facial features and emotion) and makes lighter people look sick.
Use the light you have for indoor shots. This includes daylight — direct or by window — candlelight, and lamps. Overhead lighting is not recommended because the shadow it casts on faces is unbecoming.
Unless you’re going for a silhouette effect, make sure the light source is behind you, not your subject. At the same time, don’t expect a person or animal to look directly into the sun. Sometimes a photo comes out fine with nothing more than a car’s dome light (see darker photo above).
Most people don’t think to do a quick scan of the area before taking a picture, because they are focused on their subject rather than the area around their subject. This is why a picture of a cute baby on a park swing also showcases a man scratching his crotch not 30 feet on the other side of the swingset.