Getting it right in camera is obviously the ideal. Who could possibly disagree? You take a shot with perfect focus, composition, lighting, and balance, and you don’t need to do any editing at all. There are even people who argue that it’s the only way to work, that editing the photo somehow despoils it, and that their photography is somehow intrinsically better because it’s “straight out of the camera”. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, that’s absolute rubbish – even the best photographers rarely (if ever, if they’re honest) take a photo that can’t be improved on in some way, no matter how small
That said, it’s still worth doing everything you can to reduce the amount of editing needed. When it comes down to it, there are three basic things that make up a photo: composition, focus, and lighting (in all its forms). Anything you can do to get those right, or nearly right when you actually take your shot is going to reduce your editing time significantly.
This is a big subject, and subjective, but the best advice I ever got was to look at the entire image in your viewfinder or LCD screen before pressing the shutter, and if it’s not right, change it. It’s easy to point your camera at what you’re interested in photographing without thinking about what the rest of the image is made up of.
The most important thing to remember is that you can move the camera!
As an example, take a look at the image above (it’s some flowers in my back garden). Now, they’re very nice flowers, but it’s been taken with no regard for what else is in the frame -some of the flowers have been cut by the edges, you can see some of the deck, you can see some leaves at bottom right, and there are leaves from another plant at the top, all of which distract from the photo. Now look at this image:
They’re the same flowers, and I stood in the same place with the same camera, but I moved the camera and recomposed the shot so that the distracting elements don’t appear. Both photos are right out of the camera with no editing applied.
The rule of thirds
You’ve probably heard of this. The idea is that you draw imaginary lines dividing the image into 9 equal parts when you compose your photo (a note here – some cameras, like my Canon G12, can actually display the lines on the viewfinder), and you place things accordingly. Important parts of the photo should be placed where the lines intersect, or as close as is possible, like the photo below (you try and get those dogs to move to the exact spot – they’re one step away from being wild):
You can also arrange the photo so things are in bands. Good is one third up, one third down, one third from the left, etc. Boring is dead center, far left, far right, and so on. I’m sure you get the idea, but here are a couple of images that show what I mean:
The left-hand image is dull and doesn’t draw you into the scene, whereas the right-hand image has much more interest.
Focus is making or break for a photo. You can often rescue a poorly composed image, and you can sometimes compensate for the bad lighting, but no amount of editing will ever save a badly focused image. I’m not going to go into how to focus on specific cameras – it’s too big a subject – but you do need to know what to focus on.
Again, this a big subject, and can get far too involved for a beginners guide, but there are some things that you need to take account of:
- Low light means a slower shutter speed. All things being equal, if there’s less light, the shutter has to stay open longer. That means images are more likely to be out of focus (I’ve deliberately ignored ISO and aperture settings here). If the shutter speed is above about 1/30 of a second on a compact camera, think about using something to support the camera, or at least be very careful if hand holding. Lean against something, lock your arms against your body, that sort of thing. If the shutter speed is above about 1/5 of a second, unless you’re very good or very lucky, you’ll need to use a tripod
- ISO can make a difference, but it can also have an effect. ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light. Set your ISO low, like 100 or 200 and your camera will need a longer shutter speed. Conversely, higher ISO = faster shutter speed. That may sound like a good thing, but the pay off is increased noise (speckly bits on your photo). Like lots of things in life, it’s a balance.
- Aperture is important. Along with the shutter speed, the aperture (how big the hole in the lens is when you press the shutter) determines how much light gets to the sensor. Confusingly, because it’s actually a ratio (the size of the hole to the size of the shutter) a large aperture like f1.8 has a small number, and a small aperture like f22 has a large number. Whatever, the upshot is that you need a faster shutter speed with a small aperture and vice versa. The problem is that increasing the aperture lowers the depth of field (the parts of the photo that are in focus, like from 2 feet to 6 feet). When you get down to f1.4 and at close range, the depth of field can be millimeters. Once more, it’s a balance.
- Flash is useless at long distances. I was watching the Olympics and noticed the thousands of flashes going off in the crowd as they took night time photos, and I thought about how many thousand disappointing photos there would be. If you’re taking a photo of something more than a few feet away in low light, switch your flash off and use a tripod or balance your camera on something. Otherwise, your photo will just not work.
Tips: Hey you! , if you really like to read this article, maybe you can check about my basic tips for becoming a professional photographer.