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Take Better Photos

This blog post I’ll go over some general things I pay attention to when taking photos. Taking better photos is something you’ll just get better at as time goes by. The more you use your camera the more you’ll learn how it functions under different circumstances. You’ll start to be able to get a good idea in your head how pictures will come out before you even take one. I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t. What I know today is a result of trial and error. I’ve never took a photography class so I might not know all the different photography terminologies. What I write here is what works for me and allows me to take photos the way I do. I’ll be updating this post as time goes by with more information and example photos to better illustrate my points.

Lighting / Exposure

I personally think lighting and exposure are the 2 most important things when taking a photo. When I say lighting I mean how dark or bright is your scene. They create shadows and affect how strong colors are in the scene. Controls the mood of your photo. They can make your photo more dramatic or give it a happy vibe. Can add a nice color tone to your picture or a bad one. When I’m taking a photo the biggest thing I pay attention to is how lit the scene is. I cant necessarily put into words my thought process when it comes to this. Its something I just feel inside. The whole day I think to myself random things like the sun is shining perfectly on this cup. It has a nice soft shadow isn’t over exposed and highlights aren’t to strong. Color is just right I bet it would come out great in a photo. I wont even take a picture if I dont like the lighting because I already know it’ll come out bad in the photo. The camera can do amazing things but if your scene isn’t setup good for a photo the camera cant suddenly make everything perfect. You could of course do touch ups in Photoshop. However I try my best to take the best photo I can without Photoshop. Just because it means less work in Photoshop and in the end you have the best natural results. Photoshop is an amazing tool but if your original photo isn’t good you cant expect the program to turn your bad photo into a work of art.

The sky is a beautiful thing and a lot of people like to take pictures of clouds. However clouds can be a tricky thing to photograph. A lot of the photos I see are usually over exposed or under exposed. If they’re over exposed clouds loose detail and you’re left with strong white highlights. If they’re underexposed the image is flat and dark colors aren’t bright. You also run into the problem of the sky is perfect but ground is to dark or opposite.


Skies Exposure

This is a photo I took while on vacation in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Its my home country and this particular shot was taken in a town called Kljuc where I stayed.

A. Well its kinda obvious its under exposed. Its dark you can play around with it and boost exposure. However I’ve found that if your original is dark to begin with you’re missing a lot of little detail in the photo. When you start playing around with exposure the colors can start coming out bad. Areas that were dark just get a little brighter but still have a dark look to them. What I’m trying to say is you cant magically brighten something expecting to show in detail what was there if in the original you can barely see whats there because its dark.

B. It works for me its not to bright and not to dark. There is good detail in the clouds. You can see all the little curves in the clouds and their fluffy features. The sky has a nice blue to it from the top of the shot to the back. It fades nicely and there’s good amount of detail viable in the scene. Its not 100% perfect but its a photo that can be easily touched up for the better. I would add more contrast to the photo making the dark spots a tad darker. Id brighten up the over all shot a tad more and increase saturation. The mountains have beautiful trees but the image just doesn’t have that pop effect I like.

C. Is over exposed and this is what I usually see people posting. Don’t get me wrong its a nice photo but you loose so much detail in the clouds. All that white in the sky is to strong. Unless you’re a master at Photoshop and can draw trying to get all that detail back in the clouds is a pain. I dont see the point of putting in all that extra work when you can try and take a photo like B and do your touch ups to it.

If you have an iPhone when taking your photo tap on your screen. This will adjust the exposure and help you get better photos. If you’re not sure what I mean. Take your phone look up at the sky in camera mode and tap the screen. Notice what happens when you do and than turn your phone pointing at something else tap the screen again. It takes less then one second to tap the screen and in the end you can have better pictures. If you have a digital camera it requires a little more work on your part. Can bump the ISO up or down. High ISO more light but more noise low ISO low light clean images but darker. Faster shutter or slower shutter depending on your scene. I’ll go more into detail what all that means in another post.

Birds Blog

I like to take a lot of bird photos and the 2 pictures above were taken in Upstate New York. You can spot the difference’s right away. The left one is better. It was cloudy that day the sun wasn’t shining as bright thus creating soft shadows. The colors are lighter and there’s more detail in the rocks. The right one however was on a hot sunny summer day. You can see what the sun did to the scene. We lost detail in the rocks. The bird is way to bright along with the whole scene. Its as if the flash went off or I was shining a light. It just rubs me the wrong way. Sure its nice and crisp but its way to bright. I could play around with it in Photoshop try to get it to like the one in the left but in the end it still wont look to me as good as the other one. There’s almost no shadows on the rocks and they all seem to be blending in. The other one you can see the edges there’s detail. Theses were taken around the same time in different days.

I usually try to snap photos around 6AM – 11AM and 6PM-8PM depending on seasons. The reason being is the sun isn’t directly over us. I usually try avoiding taking photos around 12PM-5PM when the sun is strongest. Reason being is around that time the sun is directly over me and creates bad shadows or no shadows at all. Scenes are usually flooded with to much light. Colors become flat and you end up with images like the bird on the right. During the early morning hours and evenings the sun is at a lower angle. It creates nicer softer evenly spread out shadows and your image isn’t flooded with to much light. Cloudy days are usually good because you can get nice soft shadows like the bird on the left.

Cat Blog

I mentioned above how light can affect an images color tone. The 2 pictures above were both taken in the same room. Its my brothers pet cat Kiki. I dont think I have to point out the differences in the two. The reason this happened was because the day the left one was taken the light blubs in the ceiling gave off a yellow tint. They weren’t natural sunlight blubs once the bulbs were replaced we got a much better image. Its still not 100% but its a big improvement over the left one. The colors are much more accurate. I say its not 100% just because its not as crisp as I would like. The whites aren’t as white as I would like and other colors seem flat to me.

Try to get into the habit of paying attention to your light sources. Observe what kind of color is the light giving off and is it a soft light or strong. Its intensity will affect your shadows. Usually if you’re in a room and your light source is a ceiling light. You wont get nice photos. It creates a dark shadow from top. I say usually because it also depends on the design of your light. If it has a blub cover the light is usually distributed evenly around the room creating softer shadows better images. If your ceiling light is a couple of exposed blubs no cover they usually create harsh strong visible shadows. Less appealing images I feel. Harsh strong shadows are not a bad thing. However usually for my scenes I prefer soft ones.

Shadow Blog

Another example of what I mean by lighting. The right one was taken in a park on a sunny day. You can see its over exposed. The poor squirrels fur is way to bright. So is the over all image the highlights are to strong. You can tell the sun was strong pointing directly at the squirrel from how sharp the leaf shadow of the plant is on it. The left one was taken in Upstate New York and are my friends 2 cats. It was a cold cloudy winter day. I love the soft feel the photo has. Shadows are soft and image has a nice glow to it. I like how the curtain to the left has a nice slight glow from the outside light. The left cats white fur is a little over exposed as a result we lost some detail in its fur. If the sun was out that day and strong like in the right photo we would have a totally different image. It wouldn’t be as easy on the eyes as this one is.

If you’re really serious about photography I feel you have to start learning how lighting and shadows work. Cameras these days do a pretty good job on automatic settings taking decent shots. However if you want to take your best photos switch to manual mode and start playing around. You’ll start doing a better job than the automatic settings and taking better photos. You control exposure and in return control how shadows appear in your photos and colors and so much more.

Framing

Another thing I think is important in photography is framing. Some people take beautiful photos but they do it randomly. Meaning they just pick up the camera and since its a amazing camera they get beautiful quality photos. However their framing of the shot is bad. They either try to capture to much or to little. The image is crooked or cropped. The camera doesn’t see what your eyes see. You usually see a lot more than the camera. You see a beautiful amazing sunset. However when you take a photo we the viewer only see a part of that beautiful amazing sunset. Its up to you to capture the beauty of that whole sunset into the area that the camera sees.

Framing Blog

The above photos were taken the same morning while I was waiting for my train. I loved how the sun was shining through the trees and the over all black silhouette of the trees. The whole sunrise looked beautiful to me however I cant fit everything I see into the frame and plus some objects weren’t appealing. So I took some photos trying to capture just the parts I liked and wanted people to see.

A. Is the tree I wanted to focus my shot on. Its not a bad shot its cool however there’s to much empty space for my liking in the top. The area to the left and right of the sun seems repetitive. Its cool but just doesn’t seem as exciting as good be.

B. I wanted a closer view of the sun while still having some of the empty sky in the frame. I also wanted to have the black bottom which are roofs. I didn’t want to center the sun thought would look better to the left and the tops of the trees kind of flow downward.

C. I just took for fun and wanted to get as close to the suns glow as my 300mm lens would have allowed.

You can see the differences in the 3. They’re all of the same thing but you get different results. Sometimes its better like photo C to pick one thing you see with your eyes and focus just on that. Don’t try to capture everything like A. Flash memory comes in huge sizes these days so take a lot of photos but when you’re taking them actually look at how your shot is framed. You’re the painter and the camera is the brush capturing what you tell it to. Next time you’re taking a picture of that amazing sunset. Don’t rush and just snap randomly. Look at the sunset and figure out what part of the sunset is the most beautiful to you and focus your camera on that area. Show people why you found that sunset beautiful. Don’t just snap a random photo of a sunset that sure does look beautiful but there’s so much going on you leave it to people to see it the way you did. What usually happens is people dont appreciate your photo as much as you do because we weren’t there didn’t see the whole thing and have to guess what the rest looked like. If you frame it and focus on just one part you’re telling us look this is why it was beautiful. Look at how the sun glows creating a beautiful vivid yellow color and a black silhouette of the trees.

This post is a work in progress. I will be updating it over time with more information and example photos. Please check back regularly for updates.

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