IntroductionWhether you are using a DSLR, a point-and-shoot camera or a smart phone, the fundamentals of good photography remain the same. Sure, a high-end camera makes it a lot easier, but always have these basics in mind whenever youre on a shoot and youll have a greater chance at photographic success.
The Rule of Thirds
Natural inclination for the beginning photographer is to put the subject smack in the center of the frame but resist that urge. Instead, imagine a 33 grid laid over your image (or if you have certain cameras, you can actually turn on the grid in the viewfinder and turn off your imagination). Place your subjects head at one of the thirds points the parts of the 33 grid where the lines intersect. Youll have a much more dynamic image than if the subject was sitting in the center of the frame.
Of course, in the heat of the moment, you may not always be able to get that perfect rule-of-thirds composition going. Thats where the crop tool in Photoshop comes in handy (it looks like the graphic below). You can crop the image to meet the rule of thirds, and with the high resolution images produced by todays cameras, you wont take a huge hit in quality.
Watch Out for Hotspots
Bright lights or lightsources in a photo can distract the viewer. Whats the first thing your eyes are drawn to in the above images? Those bright lights, right?This isnt only the case for bright lights, but brightly-colored objects in your photos as well (how many times have you taken what you thought was the perfect photo of you and your friend, only to see the tourist with the hot pink shirt in the background?).
It means that when youre shooting, you have to be keenly aware of your surroundings. In the previous cases, its very easy to crop the lights out of the picture and still have a usable photo.But there are times where thats simply not enough. In many cases, you have to maneuver yourself out of the way of these light sources to make a picture. On the next slide is an example where your only real option is to move
Another common error that can happen in the field is backlighting. Ideally you want your light source, weather its the sun or a lamp, at your back so that it doesnt A) create a hotspot in your picture or B) trick your cameras meter into underexposing the picture (making it too dark). See what I mean on the next slide
So what do you do? Move around. Move your subject around. Find a spot where you can work with the light, rather than having the light work against you. The sun can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy.
The Dreaded Polehead: Control your background
Watch for things growing out of people's heads when you shoot.Always make sure you have all the relevant body parts in the frame, watch for polehead, and never trust your friends and family on Facebook when it comes to critiquing your photos.Watch out for poleheads evil cousins: lamphead, microphonehead and windmillhead (pictured above). Radiohead is OK though.
So what do you do when youre shooting and you encounter a foreign object growing out of someones head? Simple change the angle you are shooting at. Even a slight step left or right in any of these situations with an appropriate re-framing of the picture would have countered this problem.
On the note of controlling your background, another great analogy for composing your shots is to think of your photos as if you were a painter. You wouldnt paint a stray poll in the corner of a shot, or growing out of someones head so why would you make a picture that way?
Shoot way more than you need to and shoot a variety of shots
The photographer of the previous photo took 110 shots before he got that one, which he published.
When you shoot, dont just give yourself a few shots and move on. Work every angle. Shoot the same subject in every way possible. Zoom in, zoom out. Shoot a tight shot of their face. Then shoot one where you can see their entire body. And oh yeah, dont forget you can turn the camera on its side for vertical shots. Those work too.
While youre at it dont forget the basics make sure you get a wide shot of the scene, in addition to medium and tight shots. Always make sure you have a few different wide-medium-tight choices, as the viewer needs context for what their looking at. See the next slide example for a shoot on the unusually warm weather Syracuse was having in November
Wide-Medium-Tight shots for one story.
Framing and unusual perspectives
Theres always the obvious and the not-so-obvious shot. You should get both in every situation. Look around at the environment. Keep an eye out for interesting architecture or objects that you can use to frame your shot. Look for things you can shoot through such as fences, curtains, flowers, etc. All of these will help for more interesting composition
Two examples of using the environment around you to get a shot.
Speaking of interesting composition, dont forget everyone sees the world at eye-level. When youre shooting, look to give us something that you dont see every day. Get down low, stand on a chair anything to help us see the world differently. Try to get access to places that others cant. People are used to seeing things at 4-6 feet in front of them get outside that range.
Get down on your subject's level for a more dynamic shot.
Take that extra step and get that shot you dont see everyday.
Waiting for the decisive moment
Its all about anticipation.Anticipate whats going to happen and get set up in the right location for that moment to hopefully happen.Sometimes, you find the perfect frame up for a picture. Dont waste that frame sit there and wait for the right moment. Patience will go a long way to this end. Its probably going to take you longer than five minutes to make that perfect image.
captionA word on photo captions
One of the most common mistakes I see beginning photojournalists make is that they forget the journalist part of the equation. Just because you can safely hide behind a camera to get your images doesnt mean you dont have to walk up and talk to people. You do. Thats what journalism is all about.
If theres a prominent subject in your photo, get their name. If there are a few prominent subjects, get their names. If theres an entire stadium of subjects, than you can probably get away without a name. But where you can, err on the side of getting names and identifying information.
Captions should do more than merely inform us of whats going on in the photo. John Smith shakes hands with President Barack Obama on Sunday, March 3, 2013 wont tell us much. Why not tell us why John Smith is shaking hands with the President? Give us context to the photo in your caption. Flesh it out. Use a quote in there if it helps. Just dont state the obvious and leave it at that.
Rules are meant to be broken
At the end of the day, what Ive given you here is a set of basic guidelines to follow to get generally good photos. But that doesnt mean you should experiment on your own and sometimes that experimentation means bending or breaking some of the rules Ive set forth here. Go for it. Sometimes you will want that silhouette that you get from shooting into a light source. Sometimes a centered composition works. Dont feel limited by what you read here. Feel empowered to know what works most of the time, but that some of the time it doesnt.
Final AdviceAbove all dont forget that youre supposed to be having fun. The day photography ceases to be fun for you is the day you should probably go try something else.