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10 Tips for Taking Better Photos


Julie Govan

Julie Govan is the Brand Manager at Crutchfield, and has been writing about consumer electronics since 1999. Her areas of expertise include home theater, surround sound, digital cameras, and HDTV. In her spare time, she also writes book reviews and fiction. She earned a B.A. in English from Davidson College, and went on to receive a master's degree in English literature from the University of Virginia.

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Want to learn how to take better pictures? We've put together these tips to help you. With these tactics, you can start taking photos that are more compelling and lifelike, without needing to add expensive accessories. Plus, we've included a few suggestions on how and when to use some of your camera's common built-in features.

Our shooting tips fall into two categories: 1) honing your technique in each shooting situation; and 2) using your camera's features. Ready to set your sights on better-looking photos?

Let's start with how you compose a shot:

  1. Get close to your subject. If you're taking a photo of your family in front of the Pyramids, you probably don't mind if the people are almost too small to see — after all, the point is the location. But when you're photographing people and you don't need to capture a famous landmark behind them, use your camera's zoom to get close. A photo filled up by your chosen subject is much more compelling than a photo of someone standing fifteen feet from the camera, with a living room or parking lot surrounding them.
  2. kid and a puppy For a memorable photo of a kid and a puppy, get close.
  3. Take candids. Capturing candid photos, instead of posed shots, may result in some of your best photos. Yes, we've all taken pictures of people standing stiffly, aiming their best smiles at the camera. But a photo of the same group cracking up afterward will likely prove a much more memorable shot. (Additional hint: If you're photographing a child who is all too aware of the camera, and you don't want that same camera-only grin every time, take advantage of zoom, to shoot discreetly from afar.)
  4. Get down on their level. When you're shooting kids, animals, or even people sitting on a low sofa, get down on their level and shoot from there. The result is a much more personal, natural view.
  5. get down on their level Animals (and garden gnomes) aren't very clearly viewed when photographed from above — you can get a much more representative shot when you get down on their level.
  6. Let people group naturally. If you really need to take a posed group shot, one thing you can do is let them sit or stand naturally. A row of people standing in a straight line with their arms at their sides isn't all that engaging, but a cluster of people standing around in a more relaxed way, some with their hands in their pockets, can be very pleasant.
  7. Don't photograph people with harsh sun on their face. Sunshine might seem like an important requirement for great outdoor photography, but direct sun can actually result in stark photos of people squinting. Instead, take advantage of cloudy days for good people photos — or, when the sun's out, position your subjects in the shade and turn the flash on. Then you get the benefit of the sunny scene around them, but they look more natural and comfortable.
Use the flash Using the flash can ease the effect of harsh shadows cast in bright sunlight.

Now, let's look at what you can do with your camera's features to expand your options.

  1. Speed things up. Most people have experienced some lag between when they push the shutter button of their digital camera, and when it takes the picture. That tiny hesitation inevitably happens when you're about to capture the perfect shot — the baby's first step or the moment the groom kisses the bride. Using your camera's "burst" mode is one way around this problem — it'll let the camera shoot several photos, very rapidly, and then you can choose which one best captured the moment. The only downside is that there is a much longer lag between bursts, so use this feature wisely. Another approach is to focus ahead of time. If you want a picture of your son completing his home run, aim at home plate and press the shutter button halfway so the camera sets its focus — then wait for him to come into frame, and push the button down the rest of the way.
  2. Use macro mode. If you want to take extreme close-ups of small objects, like flowers or insects, you'll need to use your camera's macro mode (usually represented by an image of a flower). This mode changes the focus settings, and lets you get really close (sometimes within an inch) of an object. If your previous attempts at close-ups of Dad's prize roses were blurry, now you know what to do.
  3. macro mode Most cameras' automatic modes only let you get crisp photos within a few feet; macro mode lets you get more detailed shots.
  4. Set the resolution. Your digital camera undoubtedly has several resolution settings (represented with numbers like 3264 x 2448). The highest resolution photos take up the most amount of memory card space, meaning you'll fill your memory card faster — but with fewer photos. However, the payoff is significantly better quality photos, and an opportunity to crop and enlarge without losing detail. You won't get that if you use the lower resolution settings. So, unless you're snapping photos that you don't care about keeping long-term, or you're about to run out of storage space partway through a big event, use a high-resolution setting.
  5. Get longer battery life. If you notice that your battery level is dwindling when you're far from finished taking pictures, and you aren't going to have a chance to put in fresh batteries or recharge, there are a few tricks you can use to get the most out of your remaining power. First, if your camera has a viewfinder and an LCD, you can turn off the LCD and just shoot using the viewfinder. Second, if the lighting is right, turn off your flash — it can be a big power drain. Finally, turn off any type of continuous autofocus mode. Most cameras focus when you've pushed the button halfway down, but some cameras have a mode that lets your camera stay perpetually in focus, by adjusting ceaselessly based on whatever the sensor sees. Turning this off should save energy.
  6. Back up your photos. This doesn't have a lot to do with photo quality or camera use, but it does have a lot to do with your long-term happiness. Once upon a time, people wept over the destruction of their treasured photos in a flooded basement. These days, a hard-drive crash on a home computer is all that's needed to erase years of memories. Please back up your digital photos — that is, copy them to another location in case of a hard-drive failure. You can either use an external hard drive, or copy your photos to discs.