7 Non-Technical Tips for Improving Your Photography Right Now

By Jim Hamel

Seems like every time someone gives tips about improving photography, they start with something technical. That is understandable; there is a lot of technical stuff to learn in photography. At the same time, it seems like there should be some non-technical things that could be done today — right now — to improve.

Turns out, there are. Here are seven non-technical tips you can use right now to make your photographs better. Try them out next time you are photographing. I guarantee instant improvement in your outdoor photography.

1. Fill the frame

This cannot be overstated enough. We all tend to put some background elements in our picture so that our viewers will recognize the location or context of the picture. The trouble is, beginners always put way too much context in the picture and it dilutes the subject. In any event, we humans are amazingly perceptive and can place context of the photo with only the tiniest of clues.

Next time, try to include just the subject.

Dark, dramatic black-and-white photo of an old barn by James Hamel.

Keeping the exposure dark adds drama to this photo of an old barn. Photo by James Hamel

2. Make it darker

Different levels of exposure create different moods. This is especially true of underexposure. It creates a sense of drama and sometimes mystery. Another benefit of slightly underexposing your images is that it makes your colors appear more saturated. Don’t overdo it, but next time try to knock the exposure level down a touch.

3. Get close

A close cousin to the “fill the frame” tip (it bears repeating) is to get close to your subject. Now get closer. Now get closer still. You actually still might not be close enough. Keep at it.

Bird flying above Rock of Cashel. Photo by James Hamel

A nice photo of the Rock of Cashel made more interesting by a bird flying across the frame. Photo by James Hamel

4. Wait for action

So, you’ve got a great scene lined up. Maybe it is a landscape, maybe an urban scene. Go ahead and take the shot, but then recognize that you probably just got the same shot as
everyone else.

The scene isn’t going anywhere. Wait for an interesting development. That might be a person walking through the scene. It might be a flock of birds. It can be anything, so keep your eyes open. That extra something can be the thing that sets your picture apart from countless pictures of the same thing.

You don’t need to wait around all day, but another minute or two might make all the
difference.

Tree branches frame a windmill at sunset. Color photo by James Hamel.

Using tree branches to frame in two sides of a photo of a windmill at sunset. Photo by James Hamel

5. Frame the subject

Oftentimes you will find yourself before an interesting subject, but with no interesting
background. A great solution to this problem is to use a frame within your frame. It can be a complete frame, or a partial. The most obvious examples are doorways, windows, and tree branches, but almost anything can be used.

6. Fortify yourself

Right before you go out to take pictures, look at the best photography you can find. If you don’t already have your favorite place(s), start with the Popular page at 500px. Doing this right before you head out seems to always lead to better pictures being taken.

I know you don’t believe me, but it makes a BIG difference. Try it and your will be a believer.

7. Take multiple exposures

Don’t just take one picture and walk off, assuming you’ve nailed it. Take pictures from
different angles. Get low, then get higher. Get behind your subject and then in front of it.
Pros call this “working the scene” and it is not uncommon for them to take dozens of pictures of the same thing from slightly different perspectives.

Remember that with digital photography it costs nothing to take pictures — so take advantage of this and take a lot of them.

Do it today

These are all tips you can put into action today. You don’t need any special equipment.
The total cost of all extra gear needed to put these tips into action is $0. So give them a try and you should see immediate improvement.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article (with three more tips) and even more images.

Photography on the Go

Ballard Locks photo by Mangesh Sangapu

Ballard Locks – before

By Mangesh Sangapu

On a recent trip, I challenged myself to take, edit, and post my photography while still on the trip!

Normally, my editing process does not begin until I reach home. However, our toddlers require naps, and this turned out to be great for my photography workflow. During the downtime, I went through my camera to screen, transfer, edit, and share the photos.

Ballard Locks photo by Mangesh Sangapu

I tweaked this image using several features: brush, white balance, color adjustment, highlights, and shadows.

After we returned home, I went through my normal workflow and found only two additional photos needing edits. While my process is not unique, I wanted to share in case it may be of help to someone else.

Getting connected

Transferring the photos from a camera to a mobile device can be done in numerous ways. Some options are: OTG card reader, Wi-Fi, and USB direct connection.

OTG card reader

OTG card reader

The OTG card reader and USB direct connection require an additional hardware component in order to use.

For simplicity, I am a proponent of Wi-Fi. It’s one less item to carry and maintain. However, these are all good ways to transfer, and your workflow should include whichever one works well with you.

Editing Apps

Snapseed Tools Menu

Snapseed Tools Menu

Editing the photos can be done via mobile apps such as Photoshop, Snapseed, and others. For my workflow, I mainly use Snapseed, which is available for both iOS and Android.

Snapseed users can edit photos using swiping gestures. Users can edit history and revert to any prior actions. It has multiple filters and special effects like drama, grunge, vintage, center-focus, frames, tilt-shift (which resizes photos), lens blur, glamour glow, HDR scape, and noir. The interface is simple and easy to use.

Sharing the photos

If you can transfer and edit the photos on your mobile device, then sharing the photos should be a cinch!

highrise building photo by Mangesh SangapuThere are many popular sites today for sharing your photography! I say do it with a group of people who are as passionate about photography as you are.

Snapseed users can directly share the images on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. Text/email attachments and uploading to the cloud are also great options.

highrise building photo by Mangesh Sangapu

For this transformation, I used rotation, highlights, shadows, and an image filter.

Final thoughts

Next time you are on a trip, see if you are up for the challenge. Transfer, edit, and share your photography on the go! See how it compares to your current workflow. It might be something you find yourself incorporating more often than you think.

Thirsty Hummingbird photo by Mangesh Sangapu

Thirsty Hummingbird

hummingbird photo by Mangesh Sangapu

To get this image from the one above, I used a phone app to crop tighter and adjust the white balance, highlights, and shadows.

Happy photographing!

Mangesh Sangapu is the creator of OpenFilmmaker.com, where he blogs about photography and film.

Are you fluent in photography?

By Darren Wiedman

photo of dragon fly

1st Grade – Shot from eye level with a busy background, but at least the bug is in focus. Composition needs some work.

“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.”
~ Emily Dickenson

We are all too old to remember if it was difficult to learn our mother tongue. But we can all probably agree that mastering a second language is much harder, especially if your mind is no longer as spongy as a two year old’s.

In many ways, learning a new language is a lot like learning a new skill, such as photography. It’s very exciting at first as you master a few essentials, like how to turn the camera on [Hola] and how to press the shutter-release button [Muy bien]. Before long, you can actually take a picture, download it to your computer, crop it, and post it online. [La fotografía es muy fácil.]

Since I just had to look up that sentence on Google Translate, this is where the Spanish ends. But the metaphor still works in English. Spend just a few weeks with a camera, and you’ve got the basics down. Congratulations! You have the vocabulary of a 1st grader. [See Spot run.] But as you learn more, the quality of what you can create grows exponentially.

Photo of a dragon fly

3rd Grade – Perhaps a fresher look at the standard dragonfly shot but maybe too far away. Nice light on the subject.

So, as a photographer, what grade are you in? Do you have a basic understanding of composition, the exposure triangle, histograms, focal length, white balance, and flash? Do you have to consciously think about the rule of thirds, or does the most interesting part of your subject automatically land in the right spot while you shoot? Is your camera always horizontal and at eye-level, or are you letting the subject itself influence the way you capture the image?

A beginner may walk through a field, see a daisy, point the camera, shoot in Auto mode, and move on. [Title: “Flower”]

A more advanced photographer may see the same daisy, hover around it to find a simple background, wait for a butterfly to land, and shoot repeatedly until the wings catch the sunlight just right. [Title: “Monarch dancing on a daisy”].

Photo of dragonfly on grass.

5th Grade – Typical point of view but the clean background helps draw the eye to the subject. More post-processing now being used (to clean up the branches).

The veteran photographer is only in the field because she knows daisies are blooming this time of year and the best light begins at 7:30 p.m. She brought her tripod and a macro lens because she wants to fill the frame with the center of the daisy and the body of a bee. She’s using a small aperture to be sure the flower and bee stay in focus. She knows she has to shoot at 1/500 of a second because she wants the bee sharp but the wings blurred. And she plans on capturing several  hundred shots like this in case she decides to do a composite image of a bouquet of different flowers and insects. And most of this is done intuitively. [Title? See Emily Dickenson poem above.]

orange dragonfly

“Hangin’ Around” by Jeanne Crockett

So how do we become fluent? We go to school (or at least online). We continue to learn. We listen to people who are better than us. We practice. We shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and our photographs gradually evolve from stilted sentences to pleasant poetry that others want to admire again and again.

See ya in class on June 24!

Transform Your Landscape Photos

2019-may-jim-hamel-landscape-2

One Compositional Technique to Transform Your Landscape Photos

By Jim Hamel

Turning the corner from taking snapshots to actually composing photographs is a hard thing to do.

Landscape image of mushrooms and red barn by Jim Hamel

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

It doesn’t come naturally, and it takes experience. There is no one hard and fast rule. You can get caught up in looking for various shapes, patterns, leading lines, and other compositional elements until your head is spinning.

To avoid all of this, I want to share one concrete technique to use when you are out shooting landscape photos. It is one way to go about setting up your shot that will give you a path to successful composition. Of course, it isn’t the only way to set up your shot, and you won’t use this all the time, but it is great for helping when you are stuck.

And the tip is …

… the next time you are out shooting in a scenic location, just put on your widest angle lens and get right behind something on the ground to take the shot. I mean right behind it. That something on the ground can be anything from a flower, to a rock, to a pattern in the sand. It does not matter. What matters is that you are down on your knees with your wide-angle lens right behind it.

Why it works

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

The wide-angle lens will give the foreground object an exaggerated sense of proportion, but it will also pick up the background. By getting right behind something, you are adding a subject to your picture. You are creating a center of interest. You are going beyond just showing the general scenery. The background will still be in your picture as well; you just do not need to focus on that.

Another benefit is that it gives the viewer a sense that they can walk into the picture. It is providing a real foreground, that adds depth and interest to your photo.

What typifies a snapshot is standing at eye level, trying to capture the entire scene before you. For many of us when we are just starting with photography, that just intuitively seems like the way to take pictures. We want to capture the whole scene and not have it blocked by something on the ground immediately in front of us. The problem is that there is no foreground, subject, or center of interest to speak of. In addition, you are presenting the world in the exact same way as the viewer is used to seeing it, which is bound to be rather boring to them.

Putting the tip into action

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

How you determine what items on the ground will work as your foreground elements? That is the hard part. There is no right answer. You will just have to look. In fact, it will not be obvious even when you are out in the field looking around. There are times when you might have to walk around while looking at the LCD in live-view mode or with the viewfinder to your face to find something on the ground to use as a foreground.

Here are some examples of things you can use as foregrounds in different contexts:

  • When photographing water, use a reflection in the water.
  • When at the beach or desert, find a pattern in the sand.
  • When photographing creeks or coasts, use rocks.
  • At midday, use shadows.
  • In the fall, use leaves.

There are obviously a variety of subjects you can use. Go out and try it next time you are shooting.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article and even more images at Digital Photography School.

April Showers Bring May … Awards?

Fair-weather photographers may only get fair, average images. But rainy days offer
opportunities just dripping with potential. Technically, May is the wettest month in
Texas, but April will give you plenty of practice. Here are a few things to consider:

Pack your tripod

Cheetah in the rain

Photo by Frida Bredesen from Unsplash.com

As Captain Obvious will tell you, rain comes from clouds, which also tend to block light. And increasing your depth of field will help capture raindrops but will require a slower shutter speed (or higher ISO). You’ll want a tripod. It can hold your camera while you hold an umbrella.

Cover yourself

Shooting in the rain is a lot more fun if you stay warm and dry. Make use of natural weather barriers like awnings, walls, and cars. Umbrellas are tricky to handle, but they can double as a prop to help tell the story of your image. Try to keep the wind at your back (unless you want a wet lens).

Cover your camera

Rain covers cost as little as $7, a small price to pay to keep moisture out of your camera. And make sure the inside of your bag is dry before you put the camera away.

Light it up

Often rain will not show up in your image unless there is a strong light source in front or back of it, so position yourself accordingly.

Freeze the rain

Crank up your shutter speed to at least 1/250. Try popping a weak flash into the rain, like -2 or -3 stops, to light it up a bit.

Create a curtain

Slow your shutter speed down to about 1/15 or 1/30 and you’ll paint more of a downpour feeling.

After the storm

photo of backlit person standing in the rain

Photo by Steve Halama from Unsplash.com

You don’t have to go out in the rain to get a great shot. Wait till it passes, then go see if you can catch a rainbow. Post-storm puddles create little mirrors that reflect light,  architecture, and people.

Happy shooting! And remember, our July competition theme is “All Wet.”

Shooting in the Breeze

They say March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb, which must create a considerable vacuum considering how windy it gets. But it makes for great (and challenging) photo ops.

Everything that blows and flows gets more blowy and flowy: elegant dresses, long hair, flowers, flags, waves, and clouds to name but a few. Here are some things to keep in mind to make the most of it.

Protect your property (and yourself)

If you’re going to be somewhere sandy or watery, be sure to keep your camera in the bag until you’re ready to shoot. Consider using a rain cover. And watch out for flying debris and narrow ledges. We’re all just one gust away from the emergency room.

Adjust your settings

woman with wind blown hair

Photo by Dev Asangbam from Unsplash.com

If you want to freeze the action, increase your shutter speed. Of course, you’ll need to up your ISO or open the aperture a bit to compensate. Or to help communicate the windiness, slow your shutter speed down a bit. Just be sure the things in the shot that are supposed to be stable stay sharp: mountains, buildings, etc.

Stabilize your gear

If your camera has image stabilization, turn it on, even on a tripod. Typically that’s a bad idea, but it can make a positive difference on a windy day. If it’s really windy and your tripod may tip over, steady the legs with something heavy or hang something from the bottom. That’s what the hook is for. But don’t use something that could double as a sail. It may contribute to the problem. And keep your center column unextended. Even lowering the overall height of the tripod can help.

Work the wind

smooth like glass water

Photo by Oldskool Photography from Unsplash.com

Add a neutral density filter to your lens to limit the amount of light entering your camera. This allows for longer shutter speeds in daylight to make water appear smooth and clouds seem extra wispy.

Add a dash of flash

If you want to create a frozen moment but still communicate motion, try using your flash. Just a quick pop of extra light will freeze part of the action, but keep the shutter open long enough.

New(er) Year’s Resolutions

Many people have already given up on some of their new year’s resolutions. If that’s you, here are some new ideas to pursue instead. After all, why lose weight or quit smoking when you could be taking better pictures?

Photo by Daniel Cheung from Unsplash.com

Set a goal this year to win an award for your photography or to make money.

Start a photo blog. Look ahead to this year’s TAPC contest topics and start shooting (rather than pulling an old photo out of storage).

Take a road trip. There are many great photography destinations just a few hours away.

Stretch yourself. Try a new shooting technique or learn (and apply) something new in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Volunteer. Find a worthy cause looking for a free photographer.

Teach someone something about photography — often a great way to learn.
Start a personal project. Why not create something that has your signature all over it? Find something you have a passion for and give it your own personal spin.

Slow down. Take time to shoot the roses. What interesting subjects can you discover
on the way to your planned shoot?

Print more photos.

Photo by Daniel Cheung from Unsplash.com

Become a better critic. Now that we get to judge each other’s work every month for our People’s Choice awards, perhaps it’s time to get better at evaluating images. Review basic rules of composition and other aspects that are found in great photography. It will help yours.

Buy a new piece of gear. Or force yourself to use something you normally don’t.

Make time for photography. As the old saying goes: If it’s not scheduled, it’s not happening.
Whatever it is you want to do, put it on your calendar in advance. Then do it.

Take a field trip. Go online and soak up all the free articles and videos. If this newsletter is the only thing you read about photography, you are seriously missing out.

Photos by Daniel Cheung from Unsplash.com

Reflection: What Did You Do Right (and Wrong)?

Reflection

Baby, it’s cold outside, which makes it the perfect time to assess your photographs, figure out what you did right (and wrong), and set goals for 2019.

Review the “Rules”

Before you start evaluating the images you captured in 2018, think about what makes a great photo to begin with: the rule of thirds, symmetry, contrast, framing, etc. This exercise alone will help your future photographs.

Photo by Danica Liu from Unsplash.comReview your shots

Start with your favorites, i.e. the shots you did some post-processing on. If you made that effort, you must’ve thought the photo had some merit. But also take a look at your entire body of work. Analyze the duds to see what they lack. How’s the composition? Is it telling a story? Is there some contrast in color, or light, or subject matter? Are you shooting from an interesting angle or always at eye level?

Find your strengths

This can be difficult because we always tend to be our own worst critics. But you must be doing something right. Look for the things you always tend to nail. Then congratulate yourself for doing so well. You’ll need the ego boost for the next step.

Identify your weaknesses

Be ruthless or at least honest. It might help to take one aspect at a time. Review all the images just assessing the rule of thirds. Then go over them again to check focus. Then
contrast. Then look for distracting elements. Are interesting details too close to the edge? Where are the lines in the image leading your eye? Is your subject the brightest or sharpest part of the image? Remember, anything that doesn’t add to your composition is probably subtracting from it.

Ask another photographer

When reviewing a photograph, it’s easy to remember the original scene. You saw it in 3D, so your subconscious mind might be adding details that aren’t really there in the image.
Time alone has a way of helping with this, but getting a fresh pair of eyes to view your work will help you see the things that are missing.

Stay positive

If you’re new to this, you may find many issues to address. Don’t get discouraged. Everyone’s been there. Good photographers are just bad photographers who kept striving to improve.

Set some goals

They say the best goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. So keep that in mind when creating yours. They also say that if you do anything 30 days in a row, it becomes a habit. That means 2019 gives you 12 chances to create 12 new habits. So, in January, take a new photo every day that contains something you normally overlook, say, leading lines. When the month is over, you should be seeing leading lines everywhere, even when you don’t have a camera. In February move on to the next thing. By December, you’ll be a master photographer, or at least a lot better than you are now.

Hunting Season: 6 Ideas for Your Next Photo Shoot

This time of year, some people are grabbing their guns and heading out to shoot. For photographers, this is a great time to put the camera down and hunt for things to shoot next.

Go online
Okay, this is probably everyone’s first instinct. You could start with a search for “great places to photograph in Fort Worth.” Or, if you have something in mind, you could get more specific: “Flower gardens in Bedford” or “junkyards in DFW Metroplex.” Adding quote marks around your search phrase will often give you more-focused results.

Photograph of the street view of the Alamo from Google Maps.Use this little yellow guy
Google Maps has what may be the most well-traveled location scout on the planet. And his services are free. Next time you’re on Google Maps, pull that little yellow dude icon onto whatever street you may be looking at. It’s the fastest way to see if a location is worth a personal visit. See the Alamo image above.

Peruse helpful sites
A few sites exist for the sole purpose of helping photographers find stuff to shoot in their area. ShotHotSpot.com allows you to search an area and see the types of images others have captured at various locations. This is a little hit or miss, but it can give you leads and ideas. Searching locations via FlickrInstagram, and Google Earth can also be enlightening.

Get the apps
Many apps can help you learn more about an area you plan to visit. For example, The Photographer’s Ephemeris comes highly rated. At $8.99, it’s also highly priced, but it shows topography, angles of the sun and moon, weather, and more. Mapillary is another
option for finding street-level imagery around the world.

Photo of buck by Casey Horner from Unsplash.com

Photo by Casey Horner from Unsplash.com

Take the road less traveled
Next time you’re headed home, take the long way. Who knows what exciting things you’ll find to shoot? And if you get lost, you can always use your phone to find your way back.

Ask around
TAPC is filled with local photographers who have years of experience. Someone is bound to have been where you haven’t. “Where do you like to shoot?” is also a great icebreaker question for someone you haven’t met yet.

Shots in the Dark: 7 Tips for Night Photography

Photo of city at night with car lights

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash

There is still some time to capture a great image for our upcoming “In the Still of the Night” competition. Seven tips to keep in mind when photographing at night.

1. Find a dark place

If you’re shooting the Milky Way or star trails, pick a date near or on the new moon, and find a dark area using sites like darksitefinder.com.

2. Keep a low ISO

Yes, that’s right. Unless your camera is really good, you’re going to pick up more and more noise the higher your ISO. Keep it low and increase your exposure time to compensate.

3. Don’t lose focus

Your camera will have a hard time seeing at night, so the auto focus feature may not work very well. When using manual focus, it may help to use live view and zoom in on your subject to set your focus. Or use the numbers printed on your lens to determine if your subject is in the ideal range.

4. Stabilize

Obviously, you’re going to need a tripod and a remote shutter release. You can also use
the timer on your camera. Set it for a two-second delay to give your camera time to settle before the shutter opens.

5. Destabilize

For long exposures, remember to turn off image stabilization on your camera, if it has it.
Cameras that don’t may have some type of vibration reduction on the lens. Turn it off.

6. Decent exposure

Use the histogram on the back of your camera to be sure your image is in an acceptable range. It’s better to have spikes on the left side (shadows) rather than the right (highlights). Shadow detail can be salvaged if you’re shooting in RAW (which you should). If highlights are blown out, there is no way to recover that detail in post. If you’re shooting a high-contrast scene, try bracketing to ensure you have everything properly exposed.

7. Things to bring

Remember to pack a flashlight. You may need it to see the camera settings, and you can use it to light paint your subject. Wear bug spray. And if you’re shooting solo, make sure somebody knows where you’re planning to go and when you’ll be back.

Silhouette of man looking at stars

Photo by Klemen Vrankar on Unsplash