Summer is officially here, and whether you are counting the days to a much needed vacation or getting ready to attend a family reunion or friend’s wedding, one thing is clear. Your camera is going to be working overtime this season!
The good news is that when the temperatures start to turn colder this fall, you can relive your summertime fun…if you’ve taken great pictures. Here are 12 great tips that will help you eliminate the disappointment of a photo gone wrong.
1. Look ‘em in the eye. Herman Melville once said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. So one of the best ways to capture the true spirit and emotion of summer fun is to zero in on the eyes of family and friends. That means holding the camera at eye level and focusing in tightly on the twinkle in their eyes and smiles on their faces. And, when taking pictures of children or even the family pet, don’t forget to lower yourself to their level.
2. Get the red out. The built-in flash on your camera has a habit of creating eerie red-eyes on your friends and families. Some cameras come with red-eye reduction features and you can also minimize the effect when you print your pictures. But the best way to eliminate the problem is to stop it before it starts. To do that, have your subject look toward the camera, but not directly at the lens or the flash. So, before you tell them to say cheese, take a moment to say “look here” and point out a spot just below your camera for them to focus on.
3. Brighten up…even when you’re outside. One of the most important aspects to consider in any picture is the lighting. Harsh overhead lights can cast odd shadows on a person’s face. And bright lights can make a person’s wrinkles or subtle flaws stand out more in the picture than they do in real life. To help reduce these negative illusions, try using as much natural light as possible. If you’re indoors, ask your friends to move closer to the natural light coming in through a window and turn off your flash to capture the vibrant colors better.
If you’re outside, remember that the soft, warm light that occurs during the early morning, late afternoon, and on cloudy days is more ideal than the overpowering mid-day sun. If you must shoot during mid-day, use your flash. That’s right, professional photographers recommend using the flash even outside to help brighten faces and eliminate those unpleasant shadows from the sun.
4. Keep your distance. When you do need a flash, make sure that you know the optimal distance that your camera’s flash can travel. Too often, people make the mistake of standing out of range, which can be the same as using no flash at all. For most cameras, the maximum distance between you and your subject should be approximately 15 feet (or five big steps away). But, just to be safe, you should check your camera’s manual or try to stay within 10 feet to make sure your photographs don’t turn out dark and dreary.
5. Get a little closer. Before you snap the picture, take a look at how much of the frame your subject fills. Most photos end up looking farther away once they’re printed. Of course, you can crop the photo later to get rid of that extra space, but that doesn’t bring the subject any closer or focus in on the details very well. Instead, remind yourself to take an extra step or even two steps closer to make sure you’re filling the frame with your subject.
There is one caveat, however. If you find yourself standing within three to four feet from your subject, back up a bit and use the zoom instead. That’s because if you’re too close, your camera’s autofocus feature won’t be able to work and the image will turn out completely blurry.
6. Don’t center every image. Sometimes you want a close up on a family member’s face or great vacation spot. For those photos, centering the subject is ideal. But if you’re not focusing in for a close up, centering the subject can result in a boring or lackluster photo. Instead, try to shift your subject slightly to the left or the right. The empty space that is left in the frame will help draw the eye to the subject and add a quality of balance and interest that a centered photo can’t duplicate.
7. Get vertical. Many settings lend themselves to a horizontal photograph. But don’t rely on that option every time. Take a moment to flip your camera on its side and ask yourself if the photo you’re taking will work better by filling the frame vertically. In some cases, you’ll find that the vertical shot actually works better and lets you get more of the atmosphere or background in the photo. Other times, a vertical perspective will just add interest by breaking up the repetition of all the horizontal pictures you’ve taken.
8. Hold it steady. Most cameras today are compact and come with built-in autofocus features. The problem is, autofocus can’t always overcome a shaky camera. So, even though your camera may be small, use both hands to help stabilize the pictures you take and eliminate the blurriness that comes from even a slight movement.
9. Don’t just take photographs…direct them. Even if you’re just taking a photo of a few people, take a moment to move them around to create interest and fill the frame. For example, instead of having three people stand side-by-side, try having two people stand next to each other, while the third person pops her head over the shoulders of the other two. Also, don’t hesitate to move distracting objects out of the background or to move the subjects to another part of the room altogether.
10. Don’t use digital zoom. Focusing in for a close-up is a great way to add interest to your photos. But resist the temptation to use a digital zoom feature. Why? The fact is, digital zooms don’t really zoom at all. Instead, they actually enlarge the image and reduce the quality of the photo. So stick with the regular optical zoom. If that’s not enough, see if you can simply step closer to the subject.
11. Choose the highest resolution. Speaking of reducing the quality of your photo…don’t do it. That means, if you have the choice between file sizes on your digital camera, choose the highest resolution available to make sure you get the best results. Lower resolutions seem like a good idea because they use less space on your memory card…but they also offer less flexibility later and often don’t look very good when printed. With the larger file size, however, you can choose to print a crystal-clear photo later or reduce the resolution slightly if you want.
12. Snap the picture early to capture the action. Most cameras today include a variety of automated features. So, when you actually push the button to snap a picture, your camera takes an extra second to process the photo and adjust its settings accordingly. While those adjustments help you take better pictures, they may force you to miss the action that you were trying to capture. So, if you’re taking a picture in the middle of an event, try to snap the shot a half-a-second early. Once you try this a few times, you’ll become more comfortable with your camera’s unique timing, and you’ll be able to better anticipate and photograph the exact moments you want to remember.
With these 12 tips and a little practice, your photographs will capture the vivid colors, emotions, and fun of the summer months…in a way that brings those memories to life every time you look at them.