5 tips to help amateur photographers capture the perfect shot

19 Sep 2016

Point and click. If only photography was that easy. With smartphone camera capabilities continuing to soar and DSLR prices coming down, more and more amateur photographers are emerging, but do we have a clue what we’re doing?

From dreadful uses of flash to zooming in way too much, most of us make truly rookie photography mistakes. Luckily, professional photographer Conor McCabe is on hand to help us out.

How to be a photographer

Know your limits

Future Human

“First of all, understand the limits of your camera,” said McCabe, pointing to this as lesson number one, and one which amateurs should always refer back to. “Not every scenario is possible,” he said. “That’s true of a smartphone or a DSLR.”

Noting things like continually moving subjects and changing light, McCabe said what deep down we all know: you’re only ever as good as your tools allow you to be.

Know your settings

“The second biggest tip is get to know the settings,” said McCabe. “DSLRs are becoming more and more user-friendly, but it still pays to know what everything does.”

McCabe uses a Lumix point-and-shoot when he’s on holidays and wants to relax, claiming that the automatic functions on modern cameras are such that, in general, you won’t go too far wrong by trusting the ‘A’ on your dial.

“When I’m away, I don’t want to feel like I’m working, so the auto function largely does the job.”

But there is much beyond auto for you to investigate. For example, night mode is excellent in the dark, with the camera doing all of the work, though its actual settings can be learned.

“The fundamentals behind general night mode settings are an increase in the ISO and a lowering of the shutter speed to allow more light in. It is that simple,” said McCabe.

Knowing these technicalities can never hurt.

How to be a photographer: Flash

Photographer with flash. Image: Shutterstock

Embrace the flash

Using a flash can help fill in shadows that can otherwise negatively effect the finished photo, according to McCabe. “Yes, it’s very important to be aware of what the flash can do,” he said.

Saying that it’s great for both indoor and outdoor photography, McCabe notes direct sunlight as one such example of good use of flash.

“For example when you’re shooting a subject with the sun behind them, shooting directly into the sun with the flash on can really fill in the shadows.”

If you’re wondering where the sunlight is coming from, McCabe’s tip is to raise your hand in the air and follow the shadow. A type of human sun dial, so to speak.

Sporting prowess

If you’re at a sporting event, one of the most natural things in the world seems to be photographing everything you see. Most people just point and click their smartphones in the general direction of the action. McCabe offers some DSLR tips that are very basic, but which reap significant rewards.

“You need a high shutter speed for football,” he said. You can control this quite easily on the settings of your DSLR. It will be called TV on a Canon camera, S on a Nikon.

“Good framing, too, is key,” said McCabe. “You can get creative. If you get down low to a player’s level and shoot upwards, it can be more effective then pointing down from the stands.”

Beware of the background, though, with floodlights, or even rogue advertisement hoardings away in the distance, a potential problem. If they’re in shot, they’re in the photograph. Every visible element should be taken into consideration.

“Also, it’s very important to track the object. If it’s a player, your auto-focus function should be turned on,” he said. Again, the camera doing all of the work.

Hygiene is key

For those adamant that smartphones are the future (McCabe is a fan, but can’t see them ever catching up with DSLRs), there is one surprisingly basic error many people make – dirty lenses.

“The camera lens is exposed, and it’s in your pocket or on your desk. You pick up your phone so often that it can get very greasy. If the image keeps coming out blurry, just give that a wipe,” he said.

Combining all of the above should set you well on your way to improving your snapping skills.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Camera lens. Image: Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic