I should preface this post by stating that I’m not a photographer and would never claim to be. I take photos out of necessity. But, I have taken some steps that have improved my photos immensely in the last year so I’m sharing them today with novices in mind. These are basic, you won’t become the next Annie Leibovitz by implementing them, but if you’re just looking to take your photos a step up from auto, this might help. I should also mention that none of these steps involve that fancy of equipment (I have a basic DSLR) or editing.
Step One: Get a Better Camera
The first thing I did was upgraded my point and shoot to a DSLR. I take all my photos with the Canon EOS Rebel T2i (there’s newer models now) which I bought at Costco. It’s pretty much the most basic DSLR you can get which is perfect for beginners. Last year I bought this 50 mm lens and now almost use it exclusively. I would argue that it’s the best $100 I’ve ever spent. It’s especially good for tabletop/still life photos.
Step Two: Learn About Aperture, Shutter Speed, Depth of Field and ISO
When I first bought my camera, I forced myself to read through the manual. I was determined if I was going to spend that much on an item that would learn how to use it well. I didn’t take into account that reading dry, instructional material is not how I absorb information best. Then I took an Alt Channel online course entitled DSLR 101 taught by the fabulous Justin Hackworth. He explained the basics of aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, and ISO. Having even a shallow understanding of these topics (whether by reading or learning from a pro) will help you in taking better photos, period. When I learned about the AV setting and started using it, it became my new automatic mode. I was amazed that it would automatically blur the background for me. Ha! Here’s a blog post written by Justin for a good starting point if you want to know more about aperture.
Step Three: Use Natural Light & A Make-Shift Studio
I can’t remember the last time I used the flash on my camera. After taking step two, you’ll understand the settings well enough to adjust according to the lighting situation you are in but in general, shoot while the sun is up and your house is light filled.
For project photos I take for the blog, I drag my table next to my sliding glass doors and lay down a piece of white poster board. Then I use a folding white display board (the kind you would display a science project on) and stand it up facing the window as a light reflector, a tip I first learned from Ez. It creates a well lit setting for your subject without heavy shadows.
For photos of Beck I open up the curtains and if they’re posed, I face him towards the light.
Step Four: Go Manual
I’m sure a lot of you breezed through the first three steps since you’ve probably heard it all before, but this last step is what probably affected my photography the most. One day when Jennifer Little was taking photos for me I was complaining about how when I was taking photos using the AV setting, if the light wasn’t good enough the result would be grainy. She switched my camera over to manual mode and adjusted the shutter speed to 1/100 and the aperture to F3.5 so that the light meter was at 0 (these settings were according to the light that was in the room at the time). Ever since I’ve kept the shutter speed at 1/100 and then adjust the aperture and iso according to the light (sometimes I fiddle around for a while) so that the meter stays near 0 (or above if I want it to be over exposed like when I’m taking a photo towards the window and want the light to be blurred). Wow, what a difference! Not only has the lighting in the photos improved, they’re much more crisp. And I stopped being lazy and manually focus my photos now too.
If that whole paragraph was utterly confusing to you, this post about how to shoot in manual mode explains it more in depth.
I have a lot more to learn but those are the (very doable) steps I’ve taken to improve my photography in less than a year. Also, taking a lot of shots and editing them down afterwards doesn’t hurt either. Thank goodness for digital photography.