1. Get in close – If you feel like your images aren’t ‘popping’, take a step or two closer to your subject. Fill the frame with your subject and see how much better your photo will look without so much wasted space. The closer you are to the subject, the better you can see their facial expressions too.
2. Shoot every day – The best way to hone your skills is to practise. A lot. Shoot as much as you can – it doesn’t really matter what. Spend hours and hours behind your camera. As your technical skills improve over time, your ability to harness them to tell stories and should too. Don’t worry too much about shooting a certain way to begin with. Experiment. Your style will emerge in time.
3. See the light – Before you raise your camera, see where the light is coming from, and use it to your advantage. Whether it is natural light coming from the sun, or an artificial source like a lamp; how can you use it to make your photos better? How is the light interacting with the scene and the subject? Is it highlighting an area or casting interesting shadows? These are all things you can utilise to make an ordinary photo extraordinary.
4. Ask permission – When photographing people, especially while in countries with different cultures and languages, it can be hard to communicate. In certain countries if you photograph someone you are not ‘supposed’ to photograph, it can get ugly and rough very quickly if you are not careful. So out of respect you should always ask permission.
5. Use flash during the day – You might think that you should only use flash at night time or indoors, but that’s not the case at all. If it is an extremely bright day outside and the sun is creating harsh shadows on your subject, switch on your flash. By forcing extra light onto your subject, you will be able to fill in those ugly shadows and create an even exposure.
6. ISO – There are questions to ask yourself when deciding what ISO to use: What time of day are you shooting? If you are shooting outside during the middle of the day you will need to use a lower ISO such as 100 or 200. If you are shooting at night time without a tripod you will have to increase the ISO to a higher number to be able to record the light on the camera’s sensor. Will the subject be well lit? If your subject or scene is too dark you will need to use a higher ISO such as 800 or 1600. Do you want a sharp image or an image with more movement in it? Using a high shutter speed to capture fast movement might mean that you need to use a high ISO to compensate. Likewise, if you’re using a slow shutter speed to capture blur you will need a low ISO to compensate.
Don’t forget, increasing your ISO increases the grain or pixel size in your photo. So don’t use an ISO of 3200 or 6400 if you don’t want a photo with a lot of ‘digital noise’.
7. f 4 – f 4 is a go aperture. If you use a wide aperture with a long lens (200mm-400mm) you’re able to separate the subject from the background. This helps them stand out. Works every time.
8. You’ve got to be joking – A well timed joke will always yield a more natural smile, than simply saying “smile”
9. Buy books, not gear – Having expensive camera equipment doesn’t always mean that you’ll take good photos. By looking at the work of the masters, not only do you get inspired, you come away with ideas to improve your own photos.
10. Read your camera’s manual – The best way to know what to do with your camera is to actually read the manual. So many people miss this really important step on their photographic journey. Every camera is different, so by reading the manual you’ll get to know all the funky things it’s capable of.
11. Slow down – Take time to think about what is going on in the viewfinder before pressing the shutter. How are you going to compose the shot? How are you going to light it? Don’t jump straight in without giving it some thought first.
12. Stop chimping (checking the photo on the back screen) - It’s a bad habit digital photographers can develop. Some photographers take a photograph and then look at the back of the screen straight away. By doing that you could miss all the special moments. You can look at your photos later. You can miss ‘the shot’ and it affects the flow of your work, so just keep shooting!
13. Framing – This is a technique to use when you want to draw attention to something in your photograph. By framing a scene or a subject, say with a window or an archway, you lead the viewer’s eye to the primary focal point.
14. Shape with light – Never shoot with the sun directly behind you. It creates boring, flat light on the subject. If you shoot with the light source to the side or behind the subject, you are able to shape with the light, creating a more interesting photo.
15. Watermarks – This tip isn’t in direct relation to TAKING photos, but it does affect the look of photos. When it comes to watermarks, the smaller the better. And if you can avoid using them, do. Chances are, unless you are a paid professional, there’s not much of a chance of your photos getting nicked. But in reality, they won’t prevent your images from getting stolen. They only distract from the fabulous image that you’ve created, because once you’ve slapped a watermark all over it, that’s all the viewer will be looking at. The only way you can prevent your images from being stolen is to not publish them on the internet.
16. Be present – This means make eye-contact, engage and listen to your subject. With the eyes lower that camera and be human. Bring the camera up for a decisive shot. But remember to lower it, like you’re coming up for air, to check in with your subject. Don’t treat them like a science experiment under a microscope. Being there with your subject shows them respect, levels the playing field in terms of power dynamics, and calms them down. You’ll get much more natural images this way.
17. Shutter speed – Being aware of your shutter speed means the difference between taking a blurry photo and a sharp photo. It all depends on what you are after. If you are shooting a sporting event or children running around in the backyard, you probably want your subjects to be in focus. To capture fast action you will have to use a shutter speed over 1/500th of a second, if not 1/1000th to 1/2000th. On the opposite end of the scale, you might want to capture the long streaks of a car’s tail lights running through your shot. Therefore you would change your camera’s shutter speed to a long exposure. This could be one second, ten seconds, or even longer.
18. Charge your batteries – This seems like a simple one, but pretty much every photographer on the face of the planet has been caught out before. The trick is to put the battery onto the charger as soon as you get home from your photo shoot. The only thing then is to make sure you remember to put it back into the camera after it has been recharged.
19. Be part of a photographic community – Not only will you be able to publish your photos for the rest of the country to see, you’ll be part of an active group that offers feedback on how great you are going. You can learn new things to help you improve your technique, and you might even make some new photography buddies.
20. Keep it simple – Don’t try to pack too many elements into your image; it will just end up looking messy. If you just include one or two points of interest, your audience won’t be confused at where they should be looking or what they should be looking at.