More Then Megapixels, Part 3

In May and June we looked at how to use the automatic settings or adjust the manual settings on your camera to take better pictures.  This month we focus on some helpful tips that every photographer should know.

Buy a remote control and a tripod, they will be your two favorite accessories, even if you do not use them a lot.  Most cameras that offer a remote option do so at a relatively low cost, sometimes under $20.  If you have a remote when you use a tripod for fireworks, catching wildlife or taking family portraits, you will reduce the amount of times the camera shakes (and blurs the image) because you touched it.  Plus, you can look normal in family pictures instead of setting the timer and making a mad dash to dive in between Granny and Aunt Flossy.

Example 1: Fireworks can require some trial and error in terms of the settings, but always require a tripod and, if you have one, a remote, for the best results.  Typically, you want to use an ISO between 200-400, an aperture between f/8 and f/11 and a shutter speed of at least 3 seconds.  It also helps to manually focus and/or set the focus to infinity using the widest angle on the lens.  The image below is ISO 200, f/9, 5 second exposure.

Using the flash seems straightforward to most people, you just use it in low light.  Well, that is a little incorrect.  True, if you are in a low-light situation and you are allowed to use flash (note that many museums and sporting events prohibit use of flash), you want to use it if the subject is close enough to be within the flash’s range (about 10 feet for most cameras).  You certainly want to avoid it if you are taking a picture of something more than ten feet away since all the flash does in that situation is drain your battery and can be a nuisance to other people attending an event.  But, did you know there are reasons to use the flash on a bright, sunny day?  This is especially useful for portraits or to highlight details in shade.  If you have people posing for pictures, you should have them positioned so they are not facing the sun directly (they will squint and also look really pale) or have the sun right at their backs (they will be silhouetted).  This leaves you with the sun somewhere to the side, so using the flash will allow you to light the darker areas on their face, eliminating shadows from nearby objects or hats.  Do not worry that you will be overexposing the picture, since the sun is much brighter than any flash.  The flash can also be used to reduce shadows on objects that are tucked into a darker shaded area, such as under a tree at a picnic or in a rocky area on a hike.

Example 2: Use the flash even during the day to capture finer detail on a close-up or to counter-act shadows, both of which were the case for this picture.  The low light from the hazy sun post rain shower and the shadows cast by the other petals made it difficult to get a good capture showing the true color of the flower and the reflections in the raindrops, but the flash illuminated both.

Shutter speed tricks can make a plain photo more fun.  For example, if you can take a tripod with you when taking a picture of a waterfall, leaving the shutter open longer will produce that smooth look you see in some water photos.  The longer you keep the shutter open, you catch more water flowing during the shot, adding volume to the amount of water you capture and giving it a smooth texture.  It does not need to be a long exposure, 1/3rd of a second is pretty good for most scenes.  Likewise, leaving the shutter open for 5 to 10 seconds during a firework show will capture multiple bursts or leaving the shutter open a little longer during a fast action event such as sports or when taking a picture of passing cars, will lend motion blur to the image.  Just be careful to not leave the shutter open too long and to use a tripod or you will just get a blurry image.

Do not be afraid to shoot.  Keep in mind the greatest asset of taking pictures with a digital camera is you do not have to waste money developing garbage shots.  Paired with the enormous amount of space on most memory cards, keep shooting and changing settings as you go.  You can always discard the duds later plus, more pictures with different settings gives you a chance to get one that looks great.  Most people would be surprised to find out professional photographers will take hundreds or thousands of shots to get a few good ones at an event.

- Laura N.


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