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18th July 2007, 06:49 PM
Top Tips for Digital Camera Enthusiasts


Here are some tips for taking better shots. They helped me—they'll help you, too.

By Lance Ulanoff
Apartments in the Borough of Queens, NY—at least those built during the Depression—have notoriously deep closets. My family lived there during the 1970s, and my father would always turn one of these aforementioned closets into a darkroom. It was perfect, really. There were no windows, the door was jammed to seal against the light, and the walls were close enough that all of the photography equipment could be placed on Peg-Boards within arm's reach. There was even a full-size enlarger, which fit like a charm.

There was no ventilation, so the smell of hypo and fixer built up to near noxious levels. Our only relief came when we opened the door. And that couldn't happen until the film was safely developed or photos had appeared on the paper while lying in the developing solution. I can still smell those chemicals now....ahhh.

My father's love of photography rubbed off on me. When I was a teenager, I converted my bedroom into a darkroom. I even took photography courses in college. I learned how to compose a photo shot and use a camera's manual settings to my advantage. All that I learned from my father and in school has served me well, even when I officially left film photography behind for digital. Lately, I've come to realize that some of the analog enthusiast's photography principles I learned can make a world of difference in digital photo quality. And although I don't claim to be an expert, I'm passing along some of my favorite tips.

The really good news is that these lessons will not leave you with the indelible scent of hypo in your nostrils.—next: The Lessons>

Get a Good Camera Lens
Virtually every one of our camera reviews mentions the millimeter range of the lens. If you're not familiar with photography, this makes no sense. Why measure a lens's abilities in such tiny degrees when everything it will photograph is feet, if not hundreds of yards, away from it? This is done because a lens's ability to capture clear images of the largest possible viewing area is directly related to focal length, which is, at least in part, a measure of its size. A bigger, more versatile lens, and one of higher quality, can almost instantly elevate the quality of your photos. For me, it has the same impact on lower-megapixel cameras that more RAM has on slower CPUs. These systems perform faster with more memory, just as cameras take better pictures with a bigger lens.

I actually have sort of a lens fetish, and it's the first thing I look at when handling a new camera. Remember, folks, it's no accident that the pros shoot with big lenses. My second digital camera, an Epson 850z, was only 2.1 megapixels, but it had a surprisingly large lens. It took great photos that I was actually able to blow up to 8.5 by 11 inches (a couple of them are still hanging in my office).

Go Manual
Most enthusiast and some point-and-shoot digital cameras have manual modes. Since you no longer have to deal with film or developing costs (if you don't want to), you can take as many pictures as you want. This means you can spend countless hours finding out how every shutter speed and aperture setting impacts photos indoors, outdoors, and in low light or bright situations, as well as for action shots and portraits. Keep in mind that the auto presets on your camera, such as portrait and action, are simply changing the aperture and shutter-speed settings for you. Take control; you might like the results.

Compose Your Shots
Look at any painting in your house or at a local museum. Take note of the main subject and all of the surrounding objects in the image. This all adds up to the composition. It's not accidental. Yet if you look at most people's photos, everything is by accident. Obviously, some pictures are all about the random moment, or what's caught on "film." Yet for many family photos, particularly those we take of children, a little attention paid to composition can transform the image. When it comes to kids, for instance, I can't tell you how many people I watch shooting down at their children. I know we're taller than they are, but why must the photos accentuate the top of their heads, their foreheads and the bridge of their tiny little noses? Kneel down, folks; make your head level with theirs. Once you have your subject in frame, look at the LCD or through the viewfinder to take note of the surroundings. Have you positioned your subject so that a post in the background is "growing" through the top of his or her head? Can you see the sky? Is there anything in the photo to give it context?

Turn Off the LCD
I worry that people forgo image composition when they use the LCD, because the stuff in their peripheral vision distracts them. Try using the viewfinder instead. (Added benefit: You'll save loads of battery life.) If your camera lacks a viewfinder (a more common occurrence with newer point-and-shoots), try using the "grid function" on your camera's LCD (read your manual to find this option). This places a little tic-tac-toe grid over the image. Position your subject in one of the intersections for better composition.

Can the Flash
I have an 8- by 10-inch print of Vincent Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles. It's one of my favorite paintings, and I saw it in person at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. During that trip, I took hundreds of photos, many of them in the d'Orsay as well as the Louvre. Of course, museum rules forbid flash photography, so I had to work on framing the photos and standing perfectly still to try to get decent shots. I didn't have to adjust my shutter speed because once I turned off the flash, it automatically slowed down to capture the necessary light. I'm especially proud of my Van Gogh print because of the level of detail I was able to capture. Oh, and I learned to...

...Stand Still
On a bright, sunny day, you can hastily push your shutter and you're likely to grab a pretty decent, clear shot. However, the weather isn't always that cooperative (and you're often indoors). This means that your camera's auto exposure will open up the aperture and slow down the shutter speed. So if you move, your photo will be blurry. You need to stand still. Here's how. Practice holding the camera in front of your face with both your triceps and elbows pressed against your chest. Hold your breath or exhale. Do not breathe rapidly or rock on your feet. Press the shutter slowly but surely. Do not remove your finger until the shutter has gone off. This not only ensures a clear picture, it gives the camera time to autofocus, possibly fill or remove red-eye flash, and then shoot the final shot. One other option here is to use a tripod and your camera's self-timer feature (which also means that you can then get in the shot, too).

Learn How to Move
You don't have to set your shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second to capture action shots. Try this panning shot: Have someone stand to your left about 5 feet away. Hold the camera up to your eye and point it at your subject. Press down lightly on the shutter until your subject is in focus, then tell him to start running past you. Press the shutter and hold it, but keep pivoting to follow his path. The image you get should show the subject in motion yet still in focus, with the background a blurred streak. If you camera has manual settings, experiment with different shutter speeds.

Help Your Flash
The flashes on most point-and-shoot and even some enthusiast cameras fail miserably at lighting a dim room. If you try to get close to your subject, the flash blows out the details. Stand too far away and your shot is too dark. There are ways to light your subject and room properly. One option is to raise the ISO settings on your camera. This ostensibly changes the speed of your CCD (charge-coupled device, which acts as the film medium). It's like changing film speed from 100 to 400. You'll capture light faster at 400, but the shots will be grainier. Raising the ISO level in digital photography simply makes the pixels more obvious in your image. Another option is to try the "night" photography preset on your camera (typically, it's the little icon of a person with a star). This setting uses the flash, but it holds the shutter open for a fraction of a second longer than the typical 1/60th of a second.—next: Bonus Tips >

Bonus Tip #1: Find the Magic Hour
I have taken some of my best photos at sunset. No, I wasn't taking pictures of the setting sun. Instead, I used the warm orange glow that precedes dusk to light my subjects. Everyone looks good in this warm light.

Bonus Tip #2: Get Closer
Position your camera no further than the distance of your subject's total height and you'll get a better, more intense shot.

18th July 2007, 06:56 PM
great guide, thanks for sharing.

18th July 2007, 06:58 PM
thank hanty good tips