Tired of all your photos looking like Myspace pics? Try these ideas and you'll be snapping like a pro in no time.
Writing and Photos by Jeffrey Buras
Take More Pictures
This is simple statistics. You're more likely to find a few good photos if you have a larger selection to choose from. The goal here is to help you develop a skill for choosing which photos you like. In order to choose, you must have options. Give yourself more options.
Granted, this won't actually help you take better pictures. But if you just so happen to take one great photo out of every fifty, why not take as many pictures as possible? Memory cards for digital cameras are cheap, and there's all kinds of software to help you sort through all of your shots (iPhoto, Picasa, F-Spot, to name a few).
As a side effect, once you start shooting all the time people will forget that you are there, start to relax around the camera, and give you more natural poses. Pictures are more interesting if people aren't posing, but being themselves.
Learn How To Use Your Camera
Like any good tool, cameras can work for you more easily if you learn how to use them properly. You might miss that decisive, photographic moment if you're too busy fiddling with settings to figure out how to turn off the flash. If you know your camera well, you can concentrate more on the image and worry less about using the camera. You'll know which settings you need in any situation, and you'll be faster at setting them.
You know that picture where two people lean unnaturally close to each other with totally fake smiles in a dark space with the flash right in their face? Yeah, it's every picture you've ever seen. Do something different. Please.
With photography, it's better to be interesting than to be right. Show things in a way that you don't see in everyday life. Tilt the camera to give the shot a dutch angle. Stand on something to get a high-angle shot. Get down to shoot from a low angle. Frame things off-center. Shoot from the side, not the front. Cut out a person's face. Turn off the flash. Whatever you do, don't be afraid of taking a bad shot; you can always shoot more.
Change the Scene
Like everything in life, you have to take some initiative to get quality results. If you think a shot would look better if the scene were different, make it happen. Take control; don't settle with a scene as-it-is. Instruct people to move around or pose in a certain way. Change around some lights, turn some lights off or on. Place objects in the foreground to make it more interesting. A simple adjustment can make all the difference, but you have to take control.
Edit Your Photos
Image adjustment can give your photos that little extra *pop*. Sometimes, it can totally salvage a bad shot. Most photos just need a little adjustment in contrast and exposure, sometimes color balance.
You don't have to be a Photoshop wizard to do this; Most photo management software also have tools for adjusting photos. Some of these tools have a automatic mode, but this is hit-or-miss. Use your best judgment.
Know the tools, but also play with them a little. Sometimes a little creative editing can make a photo interesting. For a cool, free online version of Photoshop check out Splashup.com.
Know A Few Tricks
There's no “best” way to snap a photo, but there are techniques that you can use to get better images. This article isn't intended to be a “how-to” since there are a million different ways to do things, but here are a few ideas:
Shoot in the shade
This is a quick way to give you soft, diffused lighting. Shoot your subjects in the shade of a building or a tree, or you can wait until an overcast day. This works best if the background of your shot is also in the shade. This light is less directional and gets rids of shadows, which is more flattering than direct sunlight.
Shoot next to windows
This is another way to soften the light. On a sunny day, turn off the indoor lights and place your subjects next to a large window. Note that I said to shoot “next to windows” and not “at windows,” since pointing the camera at a window will give you an underexposed subject and an overexposed window. Don't get the window in the shot and don't let the sunlight come straight through the window onto your subject, but use the outside glow as your main light source.
Bounce the flash
This technique keeps the flash from washing out the scene and gives more depth to the shot. Hold a piece of paper or some other reflective material at an angle in front of the flash (but not in front of the lens). This redirects the light from the flash, bounces it off something nearby, and makes it fall on your subject at a different angle. This works best if you are close to a white wall or mirrors.