Whether you shoot with a film slr camera, a smartphone, or digital, it’s good to develop foundation skills. Otherwise you’ll always produce meh photographs that people pretend to like.
- Get it as perfect as you can in-camera. Don’t rely on photoshopping / post-processing to save your picture. For one, it’ll make the editing step faster and be less of a headache to fix. If your image is overexposed or underexposed, figure out how to remedy that while you’re shooting, rather than later.For the record, fixing overexposed images with a photo editor is a huge, huge pain in the ass.
- Lens choice. Now, this doesn’t apply to smartphones (though there are lens attachment doodads, but I’m not sold on them), but knowing what lens you need for any given situation is a good skill to have. You, for example, shouldn’t use your kit lens 18-55mm to take a close-up portrait. A long telephoto lens is going to have a hard time capturing a sweeping plains view.
- Pay attention to the background. The fewer distractions you have, like trees protruding from your subject’s head, the more pleasing your image will be. The fix for a problem background object often is as simple as just moving a few feet over.To be fair, sometimes when you’re dealing with small kids or pets, that can be challenging to do. Case in point:
Look at his antennae! They match his fur, even! I otherwise love his expression, his pose, etc. I doubt I could have duplicated this if I had asked him to move to a different spot. So, for me, this was a keeper. 20-30 minutes with cloning nixed those errant grass behind his head.
20-30 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’ve dozens or hundreds of pictures you want to share…the custom editing time adds up fast! Much easier and faster to get it right in-camera, while you’re actually shooting.
When you can…move!
- Pay attention to the foreground. A lot of people overlook this, myself included. Often there will be objects in between the subject and your camera that aren’t ideal. Remedies are as simple as picking up the trash, or moving your feet to a new location.As an example, the above Mt. Rainier picture would look better if I had walked a few hundred yards to past that power line tower.
- Rule of Thirds. There are several composition guidelines like the golden ratio, leading lines, mirror image/symmetry, diagonal, and a few other lesser known ones. In general, the Rule of Thirds should be your go-to for compositions. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and you can’t go wrong with it.
- Eye contact. There are times when it’s okay to have your subject break eye contact with the camera. But as a rule, it’s generally better. The viewer will be more drawn into the image, and it’s like a subliminal form of engagement. “I see you, you see me.”
- RTFM! Your camera manual has oodles of useful information, and these days camera companies go above and beyond to help you use your camera. My camera manual for the Pentax k5 is nearly an inch thick, and it has useful info ranging from how to turn your camera on to selecting your shutter speed and diagrams of different effects you can get in camera. In contrast, the camera manual for my dad’s Canon AE-1 is only 20 pages and is the size of a 3×5 notecard.If you lost your camera’s manual, or didn’t get one for whatever reason, most camera companies have PDF copies of the manuals on their websites.