First, I think the word “hack” is silly – even a bit disgusting — but I’ll get over it. I’m not quite sure how it came to apply to so many things, but it is popular so I simply use it, here, to attract your attention. 🙂 This a list of tips to help newer photographers get better results.
A little knowledge can go a long way in the world of photography. You may not want to study the subject or understand the technical aspects of how a camera works, but a few simple “hacks” can make a big difference to your results. Whether you’re shooting snapshots on a smartphone or learning to use your first digital SLR or mirrorless camera, the following tips will bring great improvements to your results.
1) Move closer to your subject.
Filling the frame with your subject is the number one way to improve your pictures. Most modern cameras have zoom lenses, but moving closer to your subject generally produces better results than zooming in. This tip applies to all subjects, but it’s particularly important for pictures of people. Filling the frame with a smiling face makes a highly effective portrait picture.
2) Check the frame before you shoot.
Distractions appearing in the frame is one of the most common ways photographs are ruined. Check behind your subject for signposts, trees and building before your press the shutter button. If there’s something you don’t want in the frame, move around your subject or crop the picture more tightly.
In the above image, I might improve it by cropping to eliminate the empty space, behind her head. Maybe I should have changed the angle of the camera, relative to her face. Should I have included her phone?
3) Read the instructions.
Do you know if you’re using all of the functions and tools your camera has available? Even point and shoot digital cameras offer a range of shooting modes. Take the time to read the instruction manual so you’re really making the most of what your camera can do. OK, I’ll admit, I only do this after frustrating myself, looking for a featured, buried in a menu. I’m getting better at it. Someday, I might even ask for directions when I’m lost!
4) Take control of focusing.
Focusing systems inside modern digital cameras are highly sophisticated, but they still need a little help in some situations. Out of focus pictures can be a massive disappointment, so make sure you know how to focus manually when the need arises, in addition to knowings how you camera selects focus points. Few things are more disappointing than a beautifully composed picture where the main subject is out of focus, because the autofocus selected something in the background.
5) Hold and shoot correctly.
One of the most common mistakes photographers make is allowing camera shake to spoil what would have been a great picture. Shooting at slow shutter speeds can be the cause of this, but it’s often the result of not holding the camera correctly. Elbows should be tucked in close to your body, and the camera should be pressed gently against your face to keep it steady. Gently squeeze the shutter to take a picture rather than jabbing it suddenly. Even with multiple-axis in-body stabilization, nothing contributes to blur as much as camera shake, caused by an improperly held camera. I imagine that I am in the minority on this, but success of smartphone cameras, and LCDs has contributed to the problem. If your camera has a viewfinder, use it as much as possible. When you have a choice, use the viewfinder instead of the LCD.
6) Keep your camera clean.
The sensors inside digital cameras attract dust, and this can lead to the appearance of dark patches on your pictures. Most modern cameras offer an automatic sensor cleaning feature. Larger particles of dust can be removed with a blower brush. Keeping your lens clean also helps to ensure that image quality isn’t affected by dust. If you have to change lenses, hold the camera downward facing, turn your body away from the wind and use it to shield the camera. Keep rear lens caps on your lenses, when they are not in use.
7) Always carry spare memory cards.
You may need to take dozens of shots of a subject to get one you’re really happy with. Carrying spare memory cards means you don’t have to limit the number of pictures you take. Don’t compromise the quality of your pictures by shooting in lower quality modes. Memory cards are cheap to buy and easy to carry. Finally, at the end of every session, or day out, transfer your card contents for your hard drive, make a backup copy, and then reformat your card before your next shoot. Start each shoot with an empty card. I learned that lesson the hard way. You don’t want to approach a critical moment, only to unexpectedly run out of storage space.
8) Don’t edit as you shoot.
Deleting pictures as you shoot can lead to mistakes. If a picture is out of focus or technically poor it makes sense to delete it to save memory space, but don’t delete one just because you don’t like it. You may change your mind later or be able to crop or edit it into a better image in the digital darkroom. Judging an image, from the back of your camera, is not nearly as accurate as displaying it on a monitor. With the growth of wifi and image editing apps for smartphones, we see more photographers using their phones to edit, with excellent results, and upload to social media. I would still encourage you to not try to edit while you are shooting.
9) Switch off the camera’s flash.
Built-in flash often produces harsh shadows and high contrast. If shooting indoors, select a higher ISO setting and switch the flash off. Move your subject into an area where the light’s better, if possible, rather than relying on the camera’s pop up flash. Also, the main cause of redeye is the pop up flash. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use flash. I am suggesting that a speedlight is a better choice than the camera’s built-in flash. While you are at it, learn to get the flash off the camera. You will have much more creative control is the flash and the lens are limited to the same location.
10) Learn by your mistakes.
Even the most experienced photographers make mistakes. Technical errors are often the cause of disappointing pictures, but it can also be due to poor framing or composition. Take the time to study your pictures and learn from your mistakes. Shooting a 1,000 pictures, in the name of practice, in not nearly as effective and shooting 100 pictures, and studying them. Did they come out, as expected? Did the results match your vision? What could you have done, differently? What worked very well? Can you duplicate it, regularly?
Additional tips are in this article: 7 Great Photography Tips for Beginners