Six basic suggestions for better pictures

Making Pictures With Professional Photographer John Enman

Last week a photographer proudly showed me some enlargements and asked how I liked them. They were enjoyable images, well composed, and reasonably printed, but, as I looked at them I realized they weren’t all that sharp, and lacked depth of field.

If I had been in a classroom environment it would have been a perfect time to break into a discussion on camera handling and basic photography techniques.

Creating a good photograph should include more than just moving a camera body around in front of one’s face and pushing the shutter.  It should involve an understanding how to use and control a camera in the most effective way.

Carpenters, cabinetmakers, mechanics, quilters, and cake decorators, to name a few professions, would nod their heads knowingly if I mentioned how important it is to learn how to control and use their tools of the trade correctly.  However, regarding the tools of a photographer’s trade, I am of the opinion that many photographers believe that owning a feature-loaded camera is more than adequate, and if the photos from that camera aren’t great, their best answer is to buy another camera.

With that in mind I have outlined six very basic suggestions that would have helped that photographer to produce better pictures than those he showed me.

Vibration reduction features only helps with shaking hands, not subject movement.  Practice following subject movement and try to keep the camera as close as possible to reduce body shake.

When handholding the camera, faster shutter speeds will provide more keepers than slower shutter speeds.  For example, shutter speeds like 1/125h of a second or higher are probably the safest to control both camera shake and subject movement. A great suggestion with telephoto lenses is to match the shutterspeed with the focal length.

The current infatuation with wide aperture lenses is great, but the larger the aperture opening the less the depth of field will be. That’s alright for one subject. However, for more than one person it means ruined shots because areas in front of and behind the selected subject will be out of focus.

Many cameras arrive with the manufacturer default set to “closest subject” focus. That is fine if the subject is always closer than everything else in the picture.

I find it more appropriate to change the setting to a more usable selection in the menu.  Setting up the camera’s menu to make the camera function the way one want it is good practice. I find “centre”, or at least selecting “close-to-centre” focus area is safest. Don’t know how to do this? Read the camera’s manual.

Using “program” or “auto mode” leaves exposure decisions to those tiny in-camera computers and removes creative and intellectual control from the photographer. All DSLR cameras have manual exposure modes. Experiment and practice to find out when manual mode is most effective.

And for those scenic photographers. Get a good sturdy tripod with a ball head. Using a tripod slows the creative process down. And, of course, reduces camera shake when long exposures are required, and when I hear someone saying they don’t like using a tripod I know they have never used a good one.

Spring is almost here, and for those that have been house bound its time to get out and take lots of pictures. Ignore the lighting conditions just get out and practice finding what works and what doesn’t. Eventually, that photographer who showed me his photographs (like the rest of us) will learn from his mistakes and how to use his gear effectively.

These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at emcam@telus.net. Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. I sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. Call me at 250-371-3069.