Want to take your photos from pretty-darn-good to mind-blowingly fantastic? It's not impossible, and the best part is, you don't need to spend thousands of dollars on equipment and training. Here are a few tips that can get you on your way, and the best part is, they're all free!
1 The Golden Hour(s)
New clients are always shocked when I tell them we'll be shooting at sundown. Won't the photos be better, they ask, in bright sunlight? Nope. Bright mid-day sun causes harsh shadows and lots of squinting. Golden hour (the hour at dawn and sundown) is incredibly gorgeous and flattering, so if at all possible, shoot then!
2 Rule of Thirds
When you're composing your shots, make sure you're keeping the subject of your photo in one-third of the frame. For instance, rather than placing the subject smack in the middle of the shot, frame the shot with the person to the left or right of center. Once you've mastered this rule, feel free to break it, though.
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3 When Shooting Large Groups...
Ever notice how, when you're shooting large groups (or even just three people), someone always blinks? Here's a fun way to keep that from happening. Once you've got everyone in position, tell them all to close their eyes, and when you count to three, to open them and smile. Then snap the shot! Hooray... no one's blinking!
4 Pick Your Point
Most cameras default to automatic focal points, but sometimes, it's better to choose where you want the camera to focus: the eyes, or on whatever detail you're trying to highlight. Read the camera manual and find out how to choose the focal point, rather than letting your camera decide for you.
5 Make the Move to Manual
Once you've taken control of the focal points, why not make the move from full auto to manual mode, where you can choose your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, too? It's a little intimidating at first, but again, it's so worth it to be able to choose everything for yourself!
6 One F-stop for Each Person
Now that you're shooting in manual, it might be hard to remember (at least at first) the rules for the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO). A good rule of thumb is to have one f-stop for each person in the photo. So if you're shooting a group of 3, bring that f-stop up to at least three.
7 Never Go below 1/160
Especially when you're shooting children, try not to set your shutter speed any slower than 1/160... unless you're using a tripod. Anything slower, and you risk losing the pin-sharp images you want.
8 Get down!
When you're shooting kids, it's always a good idea to get down on their level... shoot kids from your level, and you'll end up with shots of the tops of their heads. But get down to their perspective, and it's a whole new world of bright eyes and rosy cheeks!
9 Watch the Light
If at all possible, turn your subject's face (or at least their eyes) towards your light source... it makes eyes sparkle, and it's very flattering. If you want to backlight, of course, that's fine, but expect more of a silhouette than a traditional shot.
10 Use Pinterest for Inspiration, but...
... don't "steal" ideas. Remember, a lot of those shots are heavily PhotoShopped, or are composites (two or more images combined into one). And besides, you're creative... use your own unique poses and props!
11 NEVER Ever Ever Shoot on Train Tracks
There's a reason it's illegal to shoot on or near train tracks - it's so dangerous! Every couple of weeks, someone loses their life during a train-tracks photo shoot. It may be tempting, but don't do it! To learn more about why it's illegal, visit the Operation Lifesaver website at oli.org.
12 Find Your Niche
My specialty is portraits - families, kids, newborns, and seniors. But I don't do weddings, other special events, landscapes, or architecture. Not only do I have zero interest in shooting weddings and such, I don't want to have to invest in the equipment it would take to do both portraiture and weddings. Find out what inspires you, and make that your specialty... find your niche!
13 Don't Go Overboard
Whether it's spending more than you need to on every lens and photography gadget out there, or retouching a photo til it looks nothing like the SOOC (straight out of camera) image you took, avoid going overboard. For instance, you *could* spend a thousand dollars on a new lens, but why, when the lens I use every shoot, the one that never leaves my camera, costs only $125? And while it's perfectly fine to use PhotoShop to whiten teeth and get rid of blemishes, don't go too far and make your subjects unrecognizable.
Which of these tips will you use first? If you're a tog, too, what other tips can you share?
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