Take Better Photos

Take Better Photos in Teddington - workshopper practicing what she'd learnedTeddington-based Handmade Workshops have asked me to run photography workshops for them. ‘Take Better Photos’ is a three hour workshop beginning with two hours in a room above a pub eating cake, drinking coffee, discussing leading lines and negative space. Then there’s an hour in Bushy Park putting some of the learning into practise.

It’s so rewarding to spend time with people who are keen to learn photography, and a lot of fun! This page shows the ground we cover in the workshop, so if you already know it, you don’t need to do the workshop! Otherwise click here to find out when the next one is.


The best camera is the one you have with you.Take Better Photos in Teddington - old bellows camera

Always carry a camera, most of us have one in our mobile phone – and they’re quite good. Never hesitate to take a picture because you don’t think the camera’s good enough. You could spend a fortune on a new camera, or find your nearest secondhand camera shop where they can give you informed advice. 

If your camera is in a case, take it out and turn it on

Having to take the camera out of its case is very a small barrier to taking a picture, but if you’re as lazy as me it’ll stop you bothering. 

Keep your mobile handy

If it’s the only camera you have with you, keep it in your hand. Put a shortcut to the camera app on the home screen.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - crowd taking photos with mobile phones

If you think you see a picture, stop and take it.

I’ll use any excuse not to take a picture – if I’m on the way somewhere, then I’ll tell myself I can’t afford the time, or, it’s a terrible shot that’s not worth the time. But take the shot! At the very least it’ll be good practise and help you learn the camera. And sometimes you might surprise yourself by taking an award-winning photograph!

Know your camera – what modes are available?

Find out what all the buttons are for and what all the positions on the dials mean. You might need to look at the instruction book, or at an online tutorial about your camera. Make sure that at least you know how to change the ‘modes’.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - tourists asking a policeman to take their pictureGood times to learn about you camera

On a rainy Sunday afternoon
In front of TV when you partner’s watching that you don’t like
On a long haul flight

Bad times to learn about you camera

At your daughter’s wedding

Keep the lens clean

Clean the lens of your phone every time you use it. Use a proper lens cloth or you might end up making it dirtier or scratching the lens. Mobile phone camera lenses are inevitably coated in handbag or pocket fluff and smeary finger prints.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - taking pictures at Tate ModernNever use digital zoom, move closer to the subject

Mobile phones will probably have digital zoom, but they don’t zoom they just crop the picture down. Cropping reduces the definition which makes the photo appear grainy, blurry, or pixelated.

Consider camera support

There are times when you want to use slower shutter speeds. It might allow you to use a smaller aperture to get more depth of field, or allow motion-blur within the picture. To keep the camera steady during a long exposure use a tripod or monopod. Or balance it on the head of a small child.


Take Better Photos – Light – It Makes the Picture!

Pay attention to lighting

The nature of the light illuminating your subject is one of the key factors in making a picture. If there’s time, look at the scene and try to understand where the lights coming from. If it’s artificial light, work out where the light sources are, and what sort of light is it? How hard, (sharp) are the shadows? Try moving the subject around the space, all the time watching how the light changes on the subject. Or move the camera around the subject, always watching how the light changes. When working outdoors consider the time of day, the direction of the sun and the weather!

Lovely, soft and flattering. Light from a window, without direct sunlight

Use window light

Natural light, but not direct sunlight coming through a window can be a wonderful light source creating beautiful soft lighting. It’s especially good for portraits and can also work well for food and products.

Avoid using flash indoors

Usually flash photographs look horrible. But flash doesn’t always result in harsh shadows and that obvious flash look. When shooting with flash in manual mode, you can match the flash to the ambient light in the scene to make subjects pop. Outdoors, in bright light, using a flash can fill in the dark shadows making a better picture.

Set the camera’s exposure manually

Both shutter speed and aperture are creative choices having great effect on how a picture turns out. If you can, set them yourself. Some mobile apps allow manual control. Letting the camera choose the ISO setting can let you, the photographer make the choice of shutter speed and aperture to create the effect you want. Be careful to make sure that the camera hasn’t ‘run out’ of adjustment leaving the picture under or over exposed.

The boy is the subject, bit I’ve allowed the camera to set the exposure, and it chosen the sky

Use spot metering

Spot metering is taking readings from a specific place in the frame. If you can, set the camera so you choose the point in the frame where your camera takes readings. Otherwise you can end up with silhouettes or burned-out faces.

Consider setting a specific white balance

The camera’s confused by the bright daylight coming through the window making the subjects orangey and under exposed. I should have told it to adjust for artificial light and expose for the graduands

Different light sources can have different colours. Sunshine, overcast, shadow, LED or fluorescent bulbs are all different. Getting good colour is about adjusting the camera so that white things are white in the picture. The camera will do a good job of it for you, but good colour is about more than just achieving good white balance.

Digital cameras will actually let you set a colour profile, which adjusts the tones in an image to your personal taste. Most cameras will have a number of pre-sets too, such as standard and vivid, as well as several customisation options.


Take Better Photos – Motion Blur and Focus

A little blur can make a picture

Camera shake causes blurry pictures and is usually a bad thing. When the subject itself is moving an amount of blur can make a picture more dynamic, more alive. Such as the tennis players serving arm and racket, the water in a fountain, leaves in the wind or stars in the firmament. Or you might follow the subject with the camera and blur the background – a galloping horse, hunting cheetah or racing car.

Use flash to freeze

When you want to freeze motion, try using the flash. It will have to be brighter than the ambient light to effectively freeze the motion.

Stop-action pictures can reveal things we don’t normally see, because they’re moving too fast.


Take Better Photos – Composition – Or How to Make a Picture

Use grid-lines to balance your shot

One of the easiest ways to improve your mobile photos is to turn on the camera’s grid-lines in the viewfinder. That superimposes a series of lines on the screen of your camera that are based on the “rule of thirds”. Then you can ask, ‘What are the points of interest in this shot? Where should I place them?’

Try using the rule of thirds

This is an artistic composition principle used the great masters of painting. It says an image should be broken down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you have nine parts in total.

According to this theory, if you place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines, your photo will be more balanced, level, and allow viewers to interact with it more naturally. Try it, and see what you think. 

Moving the subject off to one side in the frame leaves a lot of the fame ’empty’. This might seem like a waste, but no, it’s ‘negative space’.

Use negative space

“Negative space” refers to the areas around and between the subjects of an image. It can have a big effect on how the picture looks, and it’s useful if you want to put text on the image. It’s often a large expanse of open sky, water, an empty field, or a large wall. Including a lot of empty space in a photo can make the subject stand out more.

Is it the rule of thirds or the negative that makes the picture look better? They can be two sides of the same coin. 

Use leading lines

In some photos, there’s a line that draws the viewer’s eye toward a certain part of the frame. Those are called leading lines. They can be straight or circular/curved such as staircases, building facades, train tracks, roads, or even a path through the woods. Leading lines are great for creating a sense of depth in an image, and can make your photo look purposefully designed

Use focus to emphasise the subject of the picture.

A narrow the depth of field will through the other things out of focus, making your subject stand out.

Play with reflections.

Reflections usually make pictures better, they can offer a sort of semi-symmetry and hint at a repeating pattern. Both symmetry and patterns can enhance pictures. Windows and water can become mirrors, but so can almost any smooth surface if you get the camera up close.

Look for symmetry.

Pictures that contain symmetry can be very pleasing to the eye — it’s also one of the simplest and most compelling ways to compose a photo. Remember there are different forms of symmetry, such as horizontal, vertical and rotational.

St.Martins in the Puddle
St.Martins in the the Fields. London becomes an abstract

Create abstracts.

Abstract compositions can be found all around us. Shapes, patterns, textures and forms bounded by the frame of a photograph might be intriguing, compulsive or even revelatory.

Keep an eye out for repetitive patterns.

Repetitive patterns appear whenever strong, graphic elements are repeated over and over again, like lines, geometric shapes, forms, and colours. Patterns can make a strong visual impact. Once you start looking for patterns, you see them everywhere!

A nail sunk in an old, park bench.

Capture small details.

We don’t usually get to see the form of a small thing, or  the patterns or textures on a surface. But you can photograph them, revealing something hidden by scale. Many camera’s have a ‘macro’ or close-up mode, it’s well worth giving it a try. If you camera doesn’t have a macro setting consider buying a supplementary lens.

Be unconventional.

Don’t risk missing a picture by trying to find an unconventional angle, but once you’ve snapped one or two, get down low, get high up, put something in the frame, or in front of the lens. ry to find something that isn’t obvious.

Consider the whole frame

Just before you press the shutter release button to take the picture, look all around the frame for anything that shouldn’t be there or could be in a better place. Perhaps taking a step one way or another or pausing for a moment might correct the fault.

So you take better photos, what are you go to do with them now? Seven steps to getting more from your photos

Your most convenient subjects are your family, but they don’t always see it that way. How to get your family to love photography

The autumn colour colours make it a great time for photography. Love the autumn – do photography

There’s no need to stop taking pictures in the winter. What to do with a camera in winter

How to take a good portrait photograph

Get better family photos when you’re on holiday

Portraits can be great with a serious expression on the subject’s face. For a happy-snappy, a smile is best!

You don’t need a perfect family for a perfect family portrait.

 


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