Beginner Tips for setting up a Photograph
Since I like to travel light, I rarely buy souvenirs so the most important things I bring home from a trip are my photos. I love taking and sharing photos, but I’m very much an amateur photographer.
I don’t know the lingo and I have a year-old Canon Rebel XS SLR (single lens reflex, whatever that means) digital camera that ups my street cred, but in all honesty, I’m still figuring out what most of the buttons and settings do.
It’s intimidating to wade through all of the information, equipment and technology available, but there are a number of things that everyone can do immediately to ensure that you come home from a trip with a great set of photos that are presentable and fun to look at regardless of the type of camera that you own.
These are some of the things that I quickly think through whenever I’m setting up shots:
1. Prioritize your subject: don’t try to highlight everything in one shot. If there is more than one potential subject in the frame, decide what takes precedence and then center it.
Do you care more about the person or the landscape? The two should not be competing. If it’s the landscape, make sure the person is not obscuring any important elements- consider even shifting them left or right of center. If it’s the person, bring them closer to the camera so that you can really see their face and have the landscape serve as a beautiful backdrop.
Before you click, scan what’s inside your frame to make sure you’re not cutting off any important elements (the top of a mountain? the top of a person?). Include some space around the subject to create a natural border. When in doubt, include more space than less. It’s easier to crop a photo later than to PhotoShop an arm back in.
2. Don’t shoot into a light source (including the sun or a reflective surface): your subject will be back lit or the light will wash out the entire photo. If you really want to take the photo, and the light source isn’t too strong, you can try shooting with a flash so that it lights up the subject in front of the light source. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. It can look kind of artificial.
On the other hand, light hitting a subject at an angle can create some beautiful effects and contrasts.
3. Make sure the subject you’re highlighting is actually in focus: maybe you’re looking at the person, but the camera has decided to blur them out and focus on the leaves in the background. Check before you click. Use a tripod or surface to stabilize your camera if necessary.
4. Experiment with different camera angles: While shooting at eye level will give you some concise, straight-forward photos, try occasionally shooting at different angles to add interest. Shoot subjects from above, below, and the side. This will make for more dramatic photos and create size variation and interesting perspectives. In some cases, it will also allow you to capture more details because you’re cutting across planes. Plus, kneeling down to take a shot makes you look really cool.
5. Include variations in color, texture and/or light: If what’s in your frame doesn’t include contrasts in at least one of these areas, your photo will probably be quite flat and blah to look at.
6. Find frames within the environment: try to find things that can be used as frames for subjects in your photo. A window or a doorway are more obvious options, but don’t limit yourself. Think outside of the box. Shooting through a bike wheel or a space between a collection of objects could create an unexpected and interesting shot.
I personally think the most important part of photography is learning to see things in different ways and being flexible with your vision. After you’ve become more adept at setting up these basic shots, a lot of “rules” can be disregarded to create more avant garde photos, but this is a good place to begin to ensure that you take sharp photos that “pop.”