Digital camera technology has revolutionised photography. DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera is the preferred format for professional and serious amateurs, and it is what we would recommend you use. They have never been better value or better specified and with a little practice can take great shots. While tablets and smart phones have crammed ever better cameras into their smart packages, they still will not compete with a DSLR for quality of image or the flexibility in helping you achieve a quality image. A photographer – professional or amateur – still needs a good eye for a newsworthy image. Appreciation of the value of light, composition and a steady hand are as important as ever. For the times you may not be able to use a professional, here are a few tips.
Ten Things You Should Do
- Know the camera. One of the great things about digital photography is that there is no film or associated film processing cost. Bad images can be deleted and more taken. So practice, practice and practice some more! Download and read the full manual, purchase a good book on the basics of digital photography, look at photo magazines and magazines in your industry to see the images others produce. Note the ones you like and see if you can replicate or even advance on them.
- Let there be light. Digital cameras are more light tolerant than their old film counterparts. Nevertheless, understanding light and how to control it is vital in creating the best pictures. Adjusting the camera controls for lighting (natural or artificial) is essential to achieve good colour rendition, contrast and the light and shade that creates depth and interest. Nearly all digital cameras include selectable scene modes that allow for backlight shots, cloudy conditions, dusk, sunlight and more. Experiment with these controls. For more creative control read up on the manual settings provided.
- Full frame image. Wherever possible it is still best to use a selection of lenses so that the subject – object, person, event or landscape element – fills most of the frame. Use the highest resolution that the camera offers. This will avoid or minimise the need for cropping in post editing and ensures the retention of digital information required to produce and improve the image. In general lens covering between 18mm to 300mm focal length will cover most common situations. Prime lens (fixed focal length say 50mm only) are best, however you will need more of them to cover the range we recommend. Zooms are a good cost effective alternative, for example in the Nikon range an 18 to 105mm and a 70 to 300mm zooms would do the job. Read up on the difference between Prime and Zoom lens to understand the pros and cons.
- Composition. The old rule of thirds still applies for most good images. Divide the image in the view finder into thirds horizontally and vertically using imaginary equally spaced lines (2 horizontal, 2 vertical, like a noughts and crosses game). Many camera models have an option for dividing the viewfinder area into thirds, see if yours does. Where the lines intersect is often the best place to locate the main subject and key points of interest in the photograph. Also look for converging lines and interesting angles to add a degree of artistry that distinguishes good photography from a mere snap. Try and keep compositions simple, find lines in the scene that will naturally draw the viewer into the picture and to where the subject is located.
- Steady the camera. Most cameras compensate for camera shake to some degree, but it is still better to have pin-sharp images from the outset by steadying the camera against a solid object or, better still, using a tripod. Tripods are cheap and really do improve image quality. In addition, they make you slow down and think about composition more as it takes more time to position a tripod than shooting pictures hand-held. Tripods are absolutely essential where there is poor lighting as the camera shutter speed will often slow to the point where a blurred image is almost guaranteed. It is sometimes difficult to be sure how sharp an image is just by viewing it on the camera’s own small screen – it may only become apparent when you transfer it to the full size high resolution screen of your computer.
- Move into the discomfort zone. If nearly all pictures are taken by hand-held cameras at head height it makes sense to try something different. Lie on the floor, stand on a chair or get down on your knees. Seeing things from on top, below or just an unconventional angle will add a new dimension of interest. Just think differently about the view – how would it look from a tiny ant’s perspective, for example?
- Use all cylinders. If you had a car with a V6 engine, would you run on 4 or 2 cylinders? So why do this with digital cameras? Give yourself a fighting chance; use the highest resolution possible. Use the cameras highest quality setting for storing images – this maybe RAW or TIFF formats (on higher end cameras) or super-fine jpeg on mid range models. Carry spare memory cards in case you need more storage and spare batteries if you need more time!
- Transfer and back-up your images. Get images off the camera and memory cards onto more permanent storage as soon as possible. And remember to back-up too! When editing digital images always use a copy of the image – never the original. You can re-edit images in many ways so don’t delete your originals.
- When editing and printing images, think about colour! You can adjust images on screen so they look good – but did you calibrate your monitor first? Most quality image software supplied with good digital cameras come complete with a method of calibrating your monitor so the images can be edited more accurately. The same is true of printer drivers. Look for these calibration tools and use them before editing images. There are professional calibration devices, but these can be expensive. A little bit of experimentation and a critical eye can achieve much.
- Test print. Before sending an image file to an editor, produce a test print on the best settings your printer can achieve using high quality photo paper. If you have calibrated, it should be a close (but probably not perfect) match to what is on your computer screen.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- Don’t expect an expensive camera to make you a pro. An inexpensive camera, in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing will often produce better results than the most expensive camera in the hands of someone without a clue. Digital pictures still need creative inspiration, carefully considered exposure, framing and composition.
- Yes, you can do marvellous things on the computer, but this is not a substitute for getting the best image you can in the first place. Post editing can also be costly and time consuming.
- Don’t use mobile phone cameras as a first choice. Maybe one day, phone cameras will match the low end of the digital camera market for image quality. However, they don’t right now so don’t expect editors to use images taken with phones – unless, of course, the image has national news significance and you are the only one that captured the moment!
- Don’t forget to back-up. Safeguarding your valuable images is vital. If someone runs off with your laptop or a flood trashes your hard disk you may have lost your images for ever. Images on disk should be backed-up off-site and on-site. Having key material as prints that are properly stored in a safe dry place can be the ultimate back-up if disaster strikes.
- Don’t panic. Remember your first driving lesson? Photography is like driving, the more you do it, the more you read the situation and cultivate good habits, the better you become and the more fun it will be.