9 Lessons to Sharpen Your Photography Skills

Back to School!

Chalkboard with cursive text, "Back to School" and piece of chalk. Photo by Deleece Cook from unsplash.com

Photo by Deleece Cook from unsplash.com

’Tis the season to start learning a few new things or to remember something you’ve forgotten. Here are nine basic lessons that may help sharpen your skills.

1. Get It Right In-Camera

Sure, you can fix a lot of mistakes in Photoshop, but getting the best shot possible will save you a lot of time and ultimately make you a better shooter.

Learn how to use your histogram, so you’re not blowing out highlights. Move your camera (and your body) to eliminate distracting objects or bright spots.

2. Have a Point

What moved you to take the photo? The light? An interesting face? A majestic landscape?  Be sure that translates to the final image.

Try to remove all elements that take away from the story you’re telling. Be sure the main subject is the sharpest part of the image. Use basic rules of composition to draw the viewer’s eye to it.

3. Fight the Fuzzy

Photos that lack sharpness can be caused by a variety of issues, including:

  • slow shutter speed
  • camera shake
  • low light
  • camera focus setting

That’s too much to cover here, but a quick web search will point you to articles on how to fix this.

A good rule of thumb is to set your shutter speed to 1/ focal length. For example, if you’re shooting with a 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/200 or faster. But some recommend doubling that to 1/400.

4. Go Easy on the Processing

Unless you’re going for a dramatic, over-processed look, ease up on the post production. Yes, adjusting the contrast, color, and sharpness can improve your images, but it’s easy to overdo this and make your shots seem a little off.

5. Don’t Be a Chimp

Back in the day, you had to wait for your film to develop before you knew if your settings were correct. Digital photography offers instant results. So, yes, check the back of your camera (including the histogram) to be sure you’re getting what you want. However, it’s really easy to use this as a crutch and check every shot. That’s a great way to miss some beautiful moments.

This so common, there’s even a name for it (chimping). Check periodically, especially if the light is changing, but keep your eyes up most of the time.

6. Have an Angle

Looking up at the Statue of Liberty from the bottom of the building pedestal. Photo by Juan Manuel Aguilar from unsplash.com

Photo by Juan Manuel Aguilar from unsplash.com

Smartphones have made it really easy to take a picture. Most are taken at eye level because that’s how most people see the world. When you find something to photograph, spend a little time looking for an intriguing perspective.

  • Get low.
  • Shoot up.
  • Shoot down on it.
  • Find a way to frame the subject.
  • Do something to make your image unique.
Climber sitting on high ledge. Photo by Steve Halama from unsplash.com

Photo by Steve Halama from unsplash.com

 

7. Think in 2D

In our three-dimensional world, that lamp post may be 35 yards behind your subject. In a 2D photo, the post will look like it’s growing out of his head.

Remember to search for distracting elements in the foreground and background while you’re setting up the shot and change something to eliminate them.

8. Start at Square One

It’s a good idea to check your camera before you start shooting to make sure your settings are appropriate.

Perhaps you’re going to the zoo and the last time you used the camera, you were shooting star trails. That first shot of the leaping lion gets completely blown out because you’re in Manual and the ISO is still set on a million.

For this same reason, it’s also a great habit to reset your camera at the end of every shoot.

9. Experiment

Most of these points were elementary, but this one applies to everyone. The comfort zone is overcrowded. Get out of it periodically. Learn a new technique. Shoot a new subject. Do something that makes you nervous. Your future self will thank you!

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