10 simple lessons to take your photography to the next level (lessons 1-5)

1) FILL THE FRAME

Take a moment to think about what you are trying to say (photographing) and try to fill the frame with just that.

Be bold:

Then once you think you have got as close as you can…..get closer!

You’ll be amazed how many times there is another picture in your picture and often one with more impact.

I know this sounds simple and obvious, but go look at your gallery with fresh eyes… 

A word of caution:  Unless you have an optical zoom (sorry smartphone users) you need to avoid zooming if at all possible…I know you can zoom, but what you are actually doing if you zoom digitally is just throwing away pixels and therefore quality.

2) PERSPECTIVE [Change Yours!]

Look at this picture of some cubs on a tour at the BBC in London:

Sure, it captures the cubs and that’s great, but I want to tell you about the vastness of the studio one.  By changing my perspective and stepping back I see more opportunity and can use the cubs to provide scale, giving it more impact.

So, I know I said fill the frame, but stepping back from a scene helps you assess it and think about what you are trying to convey.

If you only take one thing away, let it be this: Nearly everyone takes pictures stood up from their eye level…take one shot like this and then buck the trend and get low (or high or wide and move around to try to see things differently)…..

Your photography will instantly improve!

3) COMPOSITION

There is another really simple and quick way to improve your pictures…it’s called the rule of thirds and I won’t bore you about why it works, but believe me it make a huge difference. Many phones, apps and cameras have an option to display a grid on the screen to show you the rule of thirds and help you compose better pictures.

Basically, when you look at a picture you brain focuses on details where these lines intersect and then on these lines. Here are examples in still life, portraiture and landscape photography.

Clearly rules are there to be broken, but if you turn on your grid and avoid those pictures with the subject in the dead centre you’ll instantly start taking more pleasing pictures.

4) SEE THE LIGHT:

Photography is painting with light and the light you use determines how your subjects appear. Light is a complicated subject….here is what you need to know:

Light has: Colour, Direction, Quantity & Quality

Colour
So, a very quick but simple technical bit: Light has colour. You know that lovely light just before sunset (called golden hour, here’s an app) it’s a very different ‘colour temperature’ to normal day light or flash. That’s all you really need to know…

It’s controlled by your camera or phones white balance (WB) and auto is usually a good place to be unless you like a warmer look and then you can try out ‘sunny’ to warm up skin tones.

Direction
The direction of light changes as the sun moves across the sky Quantity
The amount of daylight changes with the hour, weather, season and latitude Quality
The quality varies from flat light in cloudy conditions to hard light in bright sun especially from 11am to 2pm.

TIP: On sunny days, look around for pools of light in the shade and pop your friends in them for some stunning photos…

5) UNDERSTANDING THE LIGHT:

In this section we are looking at the position of the light in relation to your subject and the effect it has to the image quality, depth & mood

The examples below are shot in the garden with a smart phone on a sunny day and certainly won’t win any prizes, but do illustrate three different lighting styles anyone can achieve using the daylight, smart phone even in a small space.

In each top example, it’s just the sunlight and if you look at the brightest part on the old circular flash, you can see where the light is coming from…clever hey!

In the second example, of each lighting style, I’ve filled in the shadows with a homemade reflector [made from tin foil…how to make it video in the next section]

This in effect creates a second light you can direct and change the strength of by moving it from side to side. In the second of each example look at the old flash and you will see where the light from the reflector is coming from.

Anyway, they fit in your pocket, cost next to nothing and make a real difference…see what you think:

Front lighting
The traditional advice of keeping the sun behind the photographer creates front lighting. This produces flat images with no impression of depth and is best to be avoided.

To create an impression of form, depth and texture to the subject, you need the light to come from the side or at least at an angle.

Side Lighting
By changing the angle of the light falling on your subject by either turning your subject, changing the camera viewpoint, or waiting for the sun to move, the light falls more on one side, and more shadows are cast on the opposite side of the subject.

This light gives dimension and form to your pictures and see how the reflector gently fills the shadows in the black body of the right hand camera:

Back lighting
When the sun is behind your subject it is back lit.

This can make for very cool pictures, but there are a few rules you’ll need to know:

Unless you want silhouettes or generally weak pictures like the first example above, you need to balance the strong light from behind the subject by either:

1) Exposure compensation – A setting on your camera or app which tells the camera to brighten or darken the image…[more on that in the next section]

2) Reflecting light back at the subject – like example two above.

3) Using additional lighting to fill in the shadows – Turn on your flash or even better, in the next lesson we learn about additional lighting

Above you will see Lens flare [the bright line caused by the sun failing directly onto your lens] it’s a cool effect and well worth playing with. Try shading the lens with your hand or better still, place the light source behind your subject by moving your position.

Here’s another example of flare:

Ready for lessons 6-10? Click here!
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