How To Take Better Photos With A DSLR Camera
To take better photos with any camera it simply comes down to understanding your equipment, technique and practice with a major emphasis on taking lots of photos.
I was asked a question by Connor on the podcast who recently got a new digital camera for the family. He and his wife have made it a point to learn how to take better photos of their kids. He wanted to know some tips for taking better photos in general.
Here is what I personally did to get better at taking photos using any camera, from mobile phone to digital SLR.
13 ways to take better photos with any camera
- Learn your camera equipment – Read the Manual!
- shutter speed, aperture and ISO
- Take photos everyday
- Take lots of photos
- Framing and composing
- Slow down and previsualize the photo
- Learn to read the light
- Simple post processing
- Using lightroom presets
- Keep your equipment simple
- Hold your camera properly
- Clean your equipment
- Printing your photos
1. Learn your camera equipment – Read the Manual
Let’s start off with learning your camera equipment since this is the simplest and most basic thing you could do with a new camera to start taking better photos.
You need to learn where all the dials are , you’ve got to learn what all the buttons and menus do. Even if you don’t use them, you will one day down the track.
To do that, other than playing with the camera is to actually read the manual.
I know, it’s boring, but you’ve got to do it.
The manual will tell you how the manufacturer expects you to use their camera.
Same thing applies for anything, right? We’ve all got to read the manual if we want the optimum results.
The manual also has other topics such as troubleshooting tips, which are usually at the back of the book. It also talks about accessories. It even tells how to hold the camera.
It’s one of those things where as much as we loathe reading manuals, you’ve just got to do it.
What I find works for me is looking at the index and finding different topics that I want to learn about. It cuts out the boredom.
Because if you start at the beginning after the first couple of chapters, you may think,
“When am I going to get to the good stuff?”
Unless you are a complete novice as It’s usually the most basic information at the beginning. You may want to skip to different chapters if you’re finding it a little bit boring. That way, hopefully, you will get something out of the manual, Instead of not reading it all.
2. Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO
Auto mode will take you only to a certain point once the conditions become a little bit trickier or you want to get more creative, that’s when you need to know about the manual modes or creative modes on your camera so knowing your shutter speed, aperture and ISO is very important to progress.
The ISO is how sensitive the camera sensor is to light. The lower ISO ( low number ), which you would generally use when it’s very bright conditions, and the higher ISO ( high number ) is when it’s dark like indoors, useful if you don’t want to use a flash.
The aperture dictates how much of the photo is in focus. A low number e.g f2.8 will only have a small section of the photo in focus leaving the background blurry. A high number e.g f16 will have more of the photo in focus perfect for landscapes.
The shutter speed, you use to freeze your objects such as somebody running and if you have a high shutter speed, you will freeze the action. If you have a slow shutter speed, you’ll make the object blurry, or show moment.
All three settings allow light into the camera.
Changing one affects the others. What I do recommend is if you are going to change anything, you simply change one at a time.
Don’t change them all at once. Start with your ISO, then aperture and shutter speed last to fine tune the exposure.
What I do recommend though is once you are comfortable and you want to get out of auto mode, go to YouTube, type in “Shutter speed, aperture and ISO,” and there are going to be stacks of videos that you can visually see how to set them.
3. Take photos everyday
It doesn’t matter if it’s your digital SLR or your mobile phone, you’ve got to take photos everyday. This will help your mind get used to taking photos and reading the different light situations.
You don’t want boring photos of the kids looking straight at the camera going, “Cheese.”, You do them at birthday parties, right?
To take better photos of the family would be to take natural candid photos. If your kids see you take photos everyday, they won’t even think about it. It would become an everyday thing. Therefore, you’ll get more natural photos. You’ll blend into the background. When they hear a shutter go, they won’t even turn around. In the beginning, they will. They go, “Oh, you’re taking my photo.”
Then they’ll put the hands up or they’ll act silly. maybe they’re the photos you want!
Taking photos everyday is important, it’s a good way to document the family and to get the repetition of taking so when you’re in a different situation or environment you will know the best way to take the photo with your camera.
It’s something that I try to do myself, since I take photos for a living I like to mix it up with different challenges to get things fresh.
4. Take lots of photos
Now, next will be to take lots of photos. Now, taking photos everyday is one thing but taking lots of photos when you are taking photos is very important. Think of it this way, you know when we take a photo of a group of people?
You go, “All right. Everybody, look towards the camera.” You take the photo. There is for some silly reason, someone is looking away. Eyes are closed, their mouths have got some weird teeth hanging out. Then everyone moves on.
What I recommend is taking two or three photos of the same object. This works quite well if you’ve got a group of people.
What happens if you’re talking about a scene?
For instance, you’re taking a photo of a landscape with a landmark. Say the scene has this ugly pole in the way.
Well, if you just put your camera up and you take it, then you review on the back of your LCD and you go, “You know what? There is a lamp post here.
Let’s just move to the side.” You move to the side. Then when move to the side, and you go, “Hang on. The photo looks slightly different. It’s looking a little bit more pleasing, a little bit better to the eye.” Well then maybe changing your angle. Maybe getting lower or getting higher.
Still taking photos of the same thing but you’re doing it slightly different every single time. So basically I’m saying to not take the same photo five times exactly the same way.
Change it slightly and see how your photos will come out. I bet you that you’ll get a lot more keepers.
5. Framing and composing
The next would be framing and composing your photos. As I’ve just briefly mentioned about objects that we don’t want in our photo, that’s the decision that you’re making before you actually press the shutter button.
It’s going to make or break your photo. If you are taking a photo of a person, put them to the side, just off the centre will make the photo a little bit more pleasing to your eye.
That’s where the rule of thirds comes into play. Just like a tic-tac-toe board where the lines intersect. If you can imagine that on a rectangle, and placing your objects at the intersection of those lines where they intersect will get you a bit more pleasing photos. Now, it’s not to say that everything has to be done like that. But you need to try that first and then compose your photo and see what works best.
Once again, as you can see, all these elements I’ve mentioned, they are all interlink with each other.
I’ve taken more photos of the same object. Well, maybe recompose. Try something different or if there is something distracting, well then change the camera angle. You’ve just got to keep on taking more and more photos to get better at taking photos
6. Slow down and previsualize the photo
The next is slowing down and pre-visualizing the photo. This is quite important because if you’re lifting your camera up, take the photo and then you move on. You’re just taking a snapshot, literally. You’re not really giving any thoughts, anybody can do that.
If you give it a little bit more thought and compose a little bit better, maybe take two or three photos of the same scene that you’re thinking, “Okay. Well, if I take it from this angle or if I go a little bit higher or a little bit lower, well then, you can also use pre-visualizing as well, I’m taking this photo and I’m picturing as black and white.” Well, black and white works best on contrasting tones e.g light and dark.
If your photo is full of lots of dark, well then it’s not really going to be a nice photo or if it’s very white, it may not turn out that well for a b&w photo.
Pre-visualization of how you want the photo to look like will help you slow down and prevent you just shooting and praying, or spray and pray it’s called when take lots of photos and with little thought behind it. Shooting lots of photos and hopefully you get one.
We don’t want that. Even though we’re taking lots of photos, we want to try and make them all count if we can.
That’s what you should be thinking about every time you take a photo.
7. Learn to read the light
Photography is all about light. The word photography in Greek means writing with light.
If you have good light, good quality light and the colour of light all make or break your photo.
They all are as important as each other.
Say for instance I’m in a darkly lit room with one light that’s a tungsten light.
Well, everything is going to be blue. It’s just going to look wrong, right? It’s not a good quality light. Yes, it’s a different coloured light but it’s not really desirable if you want to take pictures of, say, your kids. Now, if you want to get a certain feel and you want to use the blue to your advantage, yeah, that’s fine. You can do that.
Say for instance, middle of the day, very harsh, intense bright light. You can still take photos in bright sunlight. You’re using shaded areas or using reflectors to get rid of some of the lights is one way.
Beginning of the day, in the afternoon, is a nice golden warm light. The light is not harsh but it’s also soft. The warmth of the orange and the yellows puts a nice glow on our skin.
Even if we’ve got pasty skin, it’s like you’re been kissed by the sunlight. It’s really nice. Bring the kids out to the park.
Maybe get them to play and chase around each other, seeing what happens when you have the light in front, when the sun is to your back or the sun is towards their back. See the different types of results that you get from there.
The thing about reading light. You’ve just got to keep on taking photos. When you look at your photos after, you can go, “Okay. Well, now I know that if I put my kids in shaded areas, this is the result. If I put them right next to a large window.
To practice at home try this next time. Stand with your back to the largest window in your house. Get the kids to stand facing you
Because of the large light source the lighting will be really nice and pleasing. It’s soft and makes any crappy photos look good.
It’s the first thing I try when I take photos indoors. Just make sure the sunlight is not harsh and you won’t be disappointed.
8. Using lightroom presets
The next would be simple post-processing. Look, I know there are all these Lightroom presets out there.
They say “One click preset” which means when using them you basically click one button and it does it all for you.
Well, that does work to a certain point. When presets are designed, they are designed in such a way where they’re using a sample photo. That sample photo has a certain exposure, as well as other elements. Using that reference photo, if your photo is not close to that, then your results from that preset are going to be different.
Full disclaimer, I actually sell presets myself. I sell a system of presets where there are one click presets so to speak. I always say to people, “They’re a good starting point.” You apply the preset and then you make adjustments. That’s why it’s very important to know about exposure, knowing how to make your photo light and dark, adding a little bit of contrast, adding a bit of sharpening, knowing about highlights.
When you’re outside and there is parts of if it’s a white shirt or parts of people in the face and it’s quite bright, well, that’s a highlight. Knowing what to do with a slider to make that come back to normal is very very important.
9. Simple post processing
Keep your post-processing simple to get better photos. If you can take a well-exposed photo in nice pleasing light, your post-processing is going to be cut to almost nothing.
What I generally do is just a simple lightening or darkening of the photo, maybe crop a little bit because of the lens that I had that didn’t quite allow me to get closer or I was just too far away physically.
Then adding a little bit of sharpening, a bit of contrast. I think really that’s it. I don’t do too much of my photos. The photos come quite natural.
That’s the look that I go for. If you want to apply presets, that’s cool.
It’s a great way to learn. But you should learn what changes the presets are making so you can mimic those yourself. Therefore, understand what the software is doing to your photos.
Basically start with a well exposed photo and it will minimise your post processing.
10. Keep your equipment simple
The next would be keeping your equipment simple. I know that you’ve only just started. You may only have one lens or two lenses.
If I’m photographing my family, I usually use one lens. I don’t sit there and change lenses because I’m going to miss the moment.
Previsualization of the photo will help you select the camera and lens choice.
Certainly try different lenses, but keep swapping to a minimum as kids can lose.
It’s quite liberating because you don’t have all this extra equipment to think about. You can concentrate on the actual subject.
After a while you will instantly know which equipment you need to bring for the situation.
24mm – 70mm is good for landscape or group photos
70mm – 200mm is good for portraits or taking slices of landscapes
200mm – 400mm excellent for sport and objects far away.
Of Course there are focal ranges in between the ones i mentioned that will a similar job.
11. Hold your camera properly
This is actually very important. We all should learn how to hold our cameras properly because it stops camera shake.
The quality of your photos will increase and you will be rewarded with nice sharp photos.
- Standing up, put your body 90 degrees to the subject.
- Place your feet at 90 degrees to each other.
- Rest your elbows / arms up against your body/ torso.
- Use one hand to hold the camera body.
- With the other hand cup the bottom of the lens.
By holding your camera this way you’re stabilising the lens and you can zoom the lens in and out. By putting your elbows on your torso, you’re anchoring yourself, by putting your feet at 90-degree angles, at shoulder width apart. You are anchoring your feet.
Also, before you’re about to take the photo, hold your breath for a split second as you’re pressing the button. if you’re breathing while you’re pressing the shutter, the camera will go up and down because your lungs will be moving your arms because they’re anchored towards your torso.
12. Clean your equipment
Just like anything, if you want it to function properly, keeping the lens clean, the front and the back elements should be free of dust.
Don’t change your lenses in a windy, sandy area to minimise the dust on your sensor.
Most cameras come with a sensor cleaning mode. Which can be used every time you turn the camera on.
Over time you may find dust that won’t move with the in built cleaning. You have the option to send your camera in for a professional clean or you can buy a sensor cleaning kit if you are confident to do it yourself.
The same thing applies to your mobile phone. Check the lens and give it a good whip before every photo. The last thing you want is a dirty lens.
13. Printing your photos
Another way to get better at taking photos is to print your photos. When you print or enlarge a photo you will see the imperfections. Do be afraid of your mistakes, we have all gone through the same thing.
Create an album, print off a canvas it’s the final step in getting better at using your camera. Viewing your photos on a small screen will hide technical faults such as sharpness.
Printing photo albums are an excellent way to preserve lots of photos and it is inexpensive. You may need to try a few printing places until you find the one that you like.
Just remember to edit and crop your photos before sending them to the printers.
Keep to the basics and expand when you feel confident. Photography is not hard, it just takes practice.
Pre Visualise the photo, frame the photo, hold the camera steady and take lots of photos everyday.