Edited by Jason Parnell-Brookes
December 8, 2020
Digital Photography Tips
F-stops, TTL, bracketing, modulation transfer functions, sync speed, there are plenty of photographic jargon terms that can trip up even the best professional photographer, so it’s no wonder that beginner photographers struggle to make sense of it all. Digital photography techniques offer a wonderful benefit that shooters in the past could never get, and that’s how quickly we can now learn from our mistakes. It takes a split second from taking a shot to viewing it on the rear LCD screen to realise something went well or badly wrong. This is a massively underrated advantage that all photographers just starting out should feel relieved about.
Forget about complicated terminology and all those numbers that leave you in disarray, and instead focus on the most important aspects of photography. Light is the biggest obstacle to hurdle, if you can learn some light theory you’re 90% of the way to taking better shots. From there it’s a case of learning about the art of composition, and working with your subject before finally manipulating the camera settings to make the most of the technological limitations that you’re left with. A good photographer works with their eye, not their f-stops or pixel shifts, so take a look at some easy-to-follow digital photography tips below that will help you improve your photography in a multitude of spaces and genres.
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Digital Photography Techniques
Look for the Light
There’s hard light and there’s soft light. Hard light is where defined, sharp shadows are cast from a subject because a light source is either: too small, too far away or not diffused enough. Think of direct sunlight in the middle of the day. For the most part beginner photographers will find it more difficult to deal with hard light because it causes harsher texture on subjects, darker shadows and brighter highlights. Seek soft light which is defined by a light source either being: big, close or well diffused. Think of clouds on an overcast day spreading the light across the landscape. It’s much easier to expose correctly because shadows and highlights aren’t that far apart from one another and it produces more midtones. It’s also more flattering on portraits because it hides blemishes. Seek soft light for better-looking photos.
Survey Your Scene
The most important phrase you’ll do well to remember is ‘anything that isn’t in the frame, doesn’t exist’. The viewer of your photograph isn’t going to know what else was there when you took the photo, unless they’re very familiar with the location and/or subject, so look for elements in your viewfinder that you can blot out. Perhaps there’s a signpost sticking out of someone’s head in a portrait, or maybe a spot of rubbish has washed up on the shore during a seascape shoot. Take the time to reposition yourself and the camera to either remove it, or simply walk over and tidy the scene a little.
Learn the Exposure Triangle
Don’t panic yourself into doing the maths in your head every time you get your camera out, but make yourself familiar with the exposure triangle as you progress in your photographic journey. When you change any settings in your camera it’s always a compromise between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Aperture deals with how much is in focus, shutter speed handles the blurring or sharpness of motion and ISO helps compensate for a lack of light but also introduces more digital grain called ‘noise’. See below on how best to utilise these three key skills of the exposure triangle.
Depth of Field
When adjusting the aperture (the size of the opening in the lens) wide apertures such as f/1.4 or f/2.8 will produce a shallow depth of field - that is to say that a small slice of your scene will end up being in focus, with the rest falling out of focus. The opposite is true of narrow apertures such as f/8 or f/11 where there’s a greater depth of field, and therefore more in focus. Use wide apertures to isolate people from busy backgrounds, or narrow ones to get more of a landscape sharp.
The longer your shutter speed the more blurred anything in motion will become, that includes your camera. For shutter speeds slower than around 1/50 sec you’ll need to set up your camera on the floor, a wall or a tripod to keep it still enough to get a sharp shot. This can work well if the scene contains still and moving subjects, such as a waterfall running over rocks, as the slow shutter speed will convey the sense of movement in the running water. If you want to freeze fast-moving action you’ll have to use a fast shutter speed e.g. 1/4000 sec.
Keep Noise to a Minimum
Opposed to other photography tips and techniques there is a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to ISO. Lower ISO values such as 64, 100 and 200 produce much less noise (digital grain) than higher values such as 1000 or 2000. That’s because the electrical charge running across your image sensor is turned up, and this generates more interference on the sensor. You want to keep the ISO as low as possible, so only turn it up when you really need to. For example, if you’re at a dark rock concert and can’t open the aperture wider nor go slower with the shutter speed. Some types of photography actually look better with a bit of noise in, and most modern cameras handle high ISO noise well, so don’t be afraid to crank it up!
Use a Semi-Auto Mode
If you’re not too hot on your exposure triangle it’s worth starting out on a semi-automatic mode such as aperture or shutter priority. They’re easier to use than manual mode because they let you choose one value and adjust the other to provide a good exposure. When it’s important to work out your depth of field set it to Aperture priority mode and the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed for you. These modes are better than the other automatic modes such as ‘portrait’ or ‘auto’ because it allows you to have a little creative input, but still rely on the technology to provide a well exposed image.
Invest in Glass
Don’t sink all your hard-earned cash into the latest camera body. Most modern DSLRs, Mirrorless or Bridge cameras are more than capable of producing great results. If you have some money burning a hole in your wallet, invest in good lenses. Prime lenses with wide apertures are expensive but provide exceptionally sharp shots with minimal optical distortion. Good telephoto zooms such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 are also viable ways to invest in kit and lenses (a.k.a ‘glass’) doesn’t lose its value the same as a camera body which is normally outdated within a year or two.
Jason Parnell-Brookes is an internationally award-winning photographer. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. He is also a Masters graduate, qualified teacher and writer.
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