Sunday, February 8, 2009

5 Secrets to Taking More Professional Photos

By: Phil Thornton

One of the most popular gifts this past holiday season was the digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera. With companies like Canon and Nikon in fierce competition for the consumer market, the prices for high quality consumer level digital SLR's dropped significantly in 2008. If you are a proud owner of one of these amazing cameras but a little confused on how to operate them to their full potential then this top ten list is for you. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you create better photographs and introduce you to the world of digital photography.

1. Automatic Modes are not your friend

When taking your first photo with your new SLR you most likely shot in one of the automatic modes. Although these modes are by far the easiest modes to shoot in, they very rarely produce high quality photographs. When you shoot in automatic modes you are basically letting the camera make all of the decisions for you. The camera selects the aperture automatically, the exposure automatically, and sets the ISO automatically. In most cases it is also focusing automatically. To achieve that professional look in your images you have to leave the comforts of automatic modes and explore the other shooting modes your camera has to offer.

2. Aperture Priority Mode

This is probably the single most powerful tip on this list. If you only learn how to shoot in one mode on your new camera, this mode will give you the most dramatic results. Your aperture is what determines the depth of field in an image. Shooting with a low number set for your aperture (4.0 and lower) will leave your subject in focus while giving the background a nice blurred and out of focus look. This helps distinguish your subject and draw in the viewer's eye. Consult your manual for more information on shooting in this mode.

3. Composition

This is probably the easiest tip to begin practicing. Instead of centering your subject in the middle of every photograph try mixing it up a little! Photography should be fun and exciting! Experiment with different compositions to your photographs. Try tilting the camera slightly to the left or right. Don't forget to shoot vertically as well as horizontally. Vertical images are sometimes called "portraits" because they generally make for a better format for images of people. Study the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is one of the most fundamental composition rules an artist uses. If you were to take your photo and divide it into thirds vertically and horizontally you would make a grid. The rule of thirds dictates that when interesting things are on the lines of this imaginary grid then it tends to look better. So put your nephew or niece a third of the way over to the right or left and add a little art to your images!

4. Start looking for light

The hardest skill to master in photography is understanding light, but taking a little bit of time to look for it and appreciate it can make a huge difference in your photos. Photography is simply the recording of light and the sooner you can wrap your head around that concept the sooner you will be able to improve your images. Don't just look at your subject; look at the light hitting your subject. When photographing people you want indirect lighting, lighting that is coming from an angle other than straight from the camera. Flashes, especially on-camera flashes, can ruin an image. That little pop-up flash that tries to jump up when you take your photos can easily ruin a beautiful image. Learn how to disable your flash and shoot with available light.

5. Shoot, shoot, shoot

If you are serious about becoming a better photographer the best thing you can do is practice. I know this might sound like common sense but people seem to quickly loose interest when they aren't creating amazing images immediately. Stick to it, photograph something everyday, make it part of your daily schedule. When you wake up in the morning grab the camera and find something to shoot, it could be your breakfast, your dog, your mailbox, anything. Being comfortable with your new camera is key and if you aren't shooting with it regularly you will never feel in control.

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About the Author
Phil Thornton is a Nashville Wedding Photographer and owner of Phindy Studios. Visit for more information and photography resources.
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