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Simple tips to take better photographs

If you want to take better pictures, follow these tips, which will provide immediate dividends:

Photo by Bill Vossler

1. Plan Ahead. When your granddaughter is baptized, where will you stand? Or where will you pose your brothers and sisters during the family reunion? Always plan ahead for at least two locations when you’re involved with other people because what others will do is unpredictable.

2. Get Close. Fill as much of the frame of the picture as possible with grandsons, dogs, a spouse, or family members lolling with arms around each other. In fact, fill the entire frame with the baby’s face–but no flashes at that range.

Most photographers are afraid of invading the subject’s body space. So get set up, sight through the camera at a “normal” distance, and say, “I need to get closer. A little closer. A little closer,” as you move in. Most people won’t object at all.

Close-up photos are always better photos. Often much better. As the late, great photojournalist Robert Capa once said, “If your photographs are no good, you’re not close enough.”

Photo by Bill Vossler

3. Prevent Background Problems. Study the background to identify items on the wall behind so pictures or light switches or signs won’t appear to be sticking out the side of your daughter-in-law’s head. Notice bright lights that might ruin the photo.

4. Shoot at Different Angles. Step left a few feet and/or right, and check through the viewfinder until your photo has an uncluttered background. Kneel or climb onto a chair, shooting upward or downward to eliminate background distractions. Or move your subjects to an uncluttered area. The point is to get a good picture, not to make your mother-in-law look goofy.

5. Adopt the Rule of Thirds. Professional photographers rarely take photos with their subject in the middle of the frame. They use the rule of thirds, which makes well-balanced and interesting shots.

Peer through the view finder to see what your photo would look like, and mentally divide it into thirds top to bottom and across. The greatest points of interest to the human eye and human mind are where the lines cross. (See accompanying photos.) So place your subject or a part with the greatest interest at one of these crossing points.

Photo by Bill Vossler

Large objects, like statues of dinosaurs, require shooting from a distance. Or else focus the most interesting part of the subject at the crossing points, say T. rex’s teeth or the triceratops’ head.

Test this method yourself: Shoot a pileated woodpecker or baby or flower first in the center, and then in a rule-of-thirds area. You’ll see the difference.

6. Take Multiple Shots. How many times have you or family members or friends bewailed the poor results of photos of christenings or first steps or never-to-be-seen again landscapes? Perhaps poorly lit, out of focus, eyes closed, or a wise guy sticking the V sign above the baby’s head? Especially nowadays, photos are free. Shoot five or 10 of the same baptism, or areas overseas. You can’t fly back to New Zealand to get more pictures of the Maori haka dancers, or to the British Virgin Islands to take pictures of the Baths area. So shoot shoot shoot to make sure you get the memories recorded that you want recorded cleanly and clearly.

Photo by Bill Vossler

7. Pay Attention to Light. Nothing ruins good photos quicker than poor lighting. Photos with big lighting from behind will be dark, so use a flash. Limit outdoor high noon photos, if possible.

Caps with brims darken the face. Ask the subject to remove the cap, or get closer and shoot a fill-in flash, otherwise the face will be dim and in shadow, at best, unable to be seen at worst.

When shooting flash pictures of objects behind glass, shoot at an angle to disperse the flash so the center of the photo will not be compromised.

8. Shoot Verticals. Turn your camera on its side and take sideways pictures. That changes the entire concept of how a photo looks.

9. Pay Attention in Landscapes. Find a foreground–a cactus plant nearby; a mid-ground–a river flowing; and a background– a butte or mesa beyond the river. Otherwise you’ll return from a trip to the Badlands of North Dakota or the Grand Tetons with thoughts of beautiful landscape photos dancing in your head, only to find they don’t dance in the actual photo.

Photo by Bill Vossler

This way your photos are richer, capturing more of what your eyes actually saw, while adding depth as well.

The same method works with shots of buildings–a tree branch close, flowers or sidewalk midground, and the building in the background. The possibilities are endless.

10. Study Photos You Like. Figure out how other photographers make their photos look great, and imitate. Great photographers are the best teachers you can have–and their classes are free.

11. Shoot in High Resolution. That allows you to play around with photos–or have the grandchildren do it–to perfect the hue or lighting or other factors in a computer program.

Tips on Tips

Once you’ve practiced these tips, they become second nature. After you’re regularly shooting better photos, you’ll look at some of them and say, “Wow, this one is worth at least 5,000 words.”

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