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10 Great articles for getting the best out of your camera by Neil Alexander

Zejtun, Malta

 This week I thought I'd share some articles from around the internet all of which provide a whole host of insightful tips and lessons to help you get the best out of your camera.

    1. 6 Tips every new music photographer should know by Todd Owyoung Fancy getting into music photography? Then learn from the best. Todd is your man. If he hasn't shot them, then they ain't worth shooting, or they died a long time ago....
    2. 7 Photographic lessons learned traveling through Europe by Christina N Dickson Some basic non-technical tips for getting the best out of your travel photography.
    3. 7 Signs you've outgrown Flickr by Todd Owyoung At what point do you abandon your trusty Flickr account and set up your own website? Flickr certainly has its uses, but it also has more than its fair share of shortcomings.
    4. 7 Things I wish I'd have known when I first became a photographer by Scott Bourne Scott finishes this article with "If I could have had this conversation with myself 30 years ago, I'd have become a good photographer MUCH sooner." - I think that says it all. Well worth reading, digesting and bookmarking.
    5. 8 Things every camera owner should know about their camera by Lynford Morton Some essential points about your camera that you should know intimately such as "What's the fastest way to change your settings?", "How do you adjust your flash?" Get that manual out, and read, and re-read it. They didn't print it because they had reams of paper lying around.
    6. 10 of the things beginners should know about photography by Scott Bourne A concise list to get you started. Everyone's got to start somewhere. By no means comprehensive, but a great starter for 10
    7. 10 Lessons for portrait photographers: The art of story by Christina N Dickson Some more simple, non-technical tips for portrait photography from the plethora of information available over at the Digital Photography School
    8. 10 Principles of Beautiful photography by Trey Ratcliff In my opinion, Trey is the man. His work is simply breathtaking, so who better to serve up an article on beautiful photography.
    9. 12 Tips for DSLR Beginners by Mandy Jones You're not going to be Ansel Adams overnight, but this list will at least give you a good grounding.
    10. 13 Resources for DSLR Beginners by Mandy Jones Crikey, you're still here? And want to know more? I like it. Use Mandy's link above for even more information.

Snappy Tips for Better Photos - part 5 - Composition by Neil Alexander

For this fifth and final post (for the time being in my Snappy Tips series), I'm going to focus on composition and some simple do's and dont's. Learn the rules and then learn why and how to break them.

rule of thirds grid
  1. Rule of Thirds Imagine splitting your frame into 3 equal horizontal strips, and then 3 equal vertical stripes. This will give you the basic layout for the  "rule of thirds" which basically states that in order to make your frame more appealing to the eye, you should place the focal point, or primary element of your photograph on any of the 4 inner connecting joins.

Salford Quays at sunset

  1. For one reason or another (too complicated to go into here), this generally makes your image more aesthetically pleasing. However, this is not always true but you need to learn why it works, and when to break the rule. For the image below of the bridge in Salford Quays at sunset, I have purposefully placed the bridge in the lower third of the frame which also gives me more room to show the magical colours in the sky.

  2. Balance- this is simply the arrangement of shapes, colours, or areas of light and dark that complement one another and make sure that the photograph does not have an uneven feel to it. For this image below of "Dawn in the Peak District", I have used the rising sun in the top left to balance the munching sheep in the bottom right. Without the sun in the frame, the image appears lopsided, and bottom heavy.

    [caption id="attachment_759" align="aligncenter" width="590" caption="Dawn in the Peak District"]

  3. Simplicity- Make sure that your frame is free from clutter, and always make sure to check the edges for intruding elements. If you could lose that telephone pole by taking two steps forward, then do it. Telephone poles, random tree branches, power lines are all examples of elements that if included in an image, often provide distraction inevitably detracting from the final quality of the image. These are also all things that can often easily be removed by moving your feet a few paces forwards or backwards. In this image of Sarah below I have gone in close to remove some distracting grafitti on the wall just to the camera left. This image also incorporates elements of point 4 below using the lines of the brickwork to lead the viewer's eye up to the subject.

Sarah

  1. Using lines - Lines can often be used to draw the viewer's eye into and around the image. These don't just have to be clear lines like roads or paths, but they can be more abstract such as the line of a subject's gaze, or the pattern created in a cloudy sky. The more of a path you can create for the eye to follow in an image, the longer you will keep the viewer engaged, and the stronger the image will be. In the image below I have used the windy line of the road to lead the viewer's eye from bottom right round and up to the tree.

View up The Struggle in the Lake District on an Autumn morning (Click to view larger)

  1. Using lines - Lines can often be used to draw the viewer's eye into and around the image. These don't just have to be clear lines like roads or paths, but they can be more abstract such as the line of a subject's gaze, or the pattern created in a cloudy sky. The more of a path you can create for the eye to follow in an image, the longer you will keep the viewer engaged, and the stronger the image will be. In the image below I have used the windy line of the road to lead the viewer's eye from bottom right round and up to the tree.

View up The Struggle in the Lake District on an Autumn morning (Click to view larger)

wpid758-Best-of-2009-Lge-1-590x401.jpg
  1. Simplicity- Make sure that your frame is free from clutter, and always make sure to check the edges for intruding elements. If you could lose that telephone pole by taking two steps forward, then do it. Telephone poles, random tree branches, power lines are all examples of elements that if included in an image, often provide distraction inevitably detracting from the final quality of the image. These are also all things that can often easily be removed by moving your feet a few paces forwards or backwards. In this image of Sarah below I have gone in close to remove some distracting grafitti on the wall just to the camera left. This image also incorporates elements of point 4 below using the lines of the brickwork to lead the viewer's eye up to the subject.

Sarah-41-590x404.jpg
  1. Using lines - Lines can often be used to draw the viewer's eye into and around the image. These don't just have to be clear lines like roads or paths, but they can be more abstract such as the line of a subject's gaze, or the pattern created in a cloudy sky. The more of a path you can create for the eye to follow in an image, the longer you will keep the viewer engaged, and the stronger the image will be. In the image below I have used the windy line of the road to lead the viewer's eye from bottom right round and up to the tree.
View up The Struggle in the Lake District on an Autumn morning (Click to view larger)
  1. Using lines - Lines can often be used to draw the viewer's eye into and around the image. These don't just have to be clear lines like roads or paths, but they can be more abstract such as the line of a subject's gaze, or the pattern created in a cloudy sky. The more of a path you can create for the eye to follow in an image, the longer you will keep the viewer engaged, and the stronger the image will be. In the image below I have used the windy line of the road to lead the viewer's eye from bottom right round and up to the tree.

View up The Struggle in the Lake District on an Autumn morning (Click to view larger)

Windsor Castle by Neil Alexander (Click to view larger)Here I have used the path of the staircase bottom left to lead the viewer's eye into the frame

Snappy Tips for Better Photos - Part 4 - Landscapes by Neil Alexander

For part 4 of this series, I thought that after the basics of camera control, The Holy Trinity and portrait tips the next logical step would be to focus on landscape photography but there are so many possible tips I could mention that I could well get 2 or 3 posts out of this topic. But today I'll try and stick to the (relative) basics.

Tree in the Derwent Valley, High Peaks. Shot as usual on a tripod with a cable release

  1. The first and most important tip for any semi-competent landscape photographer is to stabilise your camera. More often than not, I shoot landscapes at shutter speeds that are far below the recommended minimum for hand-holding a camera1, so the best way to try and get a sharp image is to use a good solid tripod. This means that (unless I'm shooting on an exposed mountain top in a howling gale) my camera will be anchored down, and with the use of a cable release I won't even have to touch my camera to make a frame. The reason for this lack of contact, is that every time I come into physical contact with my camera whilst making a photograph, no matter how hard I try, I will effect motion. Even the action of pushing the shutter button can cause the photograph to blur ever so slightly.Ashley sunset, Cheshire
    Ashley sunset, Cheshire - This image wouldn't be the same without the setting sun between the trees
    View up The Struggle towards the Kirkstone Pass Inn, Lake District

    View up The Struggle towards the Kirkstone Pass Inn, Lake District - I spent a great deal of time researching this area before travelling up to the Lakes.

  2. Research locations & Leg work - This is probably one of the least / most fun parts of landscape photography depending on your point of view. Personally I love pouring over maps, using apps to work out sunrise and sunset times, their expected azimuths and so on. However I expect if you're not quite as nerdy, then this would be a rather dull and uninspiring task. It's not quite so necessary to do this obviously if you're familiar with the area you plan to shoot, but if you have to travel some distance as I often end up doing up to the Peak District or the Lakes or abroad, then a little planning is essential to avoid completely wasting one's time.

  3. This next tip is one I learnt from amazing landscape photographer, Adam Barker from Utah when we were out in IndoChina last year and it's saved my bacon on more than one occasion. When I'm setting up a shot of some great vista, or even something as simple as a tree, in order to guarantee I'm going to get the shot in focus, I'll temporarily put my camera into live view (which means a real time image of my scene shows up on the camera's LCD), put my cursor where I want to zoom, and then zoom in on the LCD screen as far as I can go. I'll then put my camera into manual focus and tweak it until I can visually see on the screen that I've got it perfect. I then go back to mirror lock-up or whatever mode suits, leaving the camera in manual focus and shoot away. Guaranteed 100% sharp images every time. The other option if your camera doesn't have live view is to zoom in on the images as far as you can after you've taken it and verify that you have a crisp sharp photograph.
  4. Finally for today, I want to talk about filters. On this point alone I could prattle on for hours, but to save your sanity I shan't. There are two types of filter (IMHO) that are essential to landscape photography, and these are the circular polariser and the graduated neutral density filter. A polarised filter works exactly the same as a pair of polarised sunglasses. Used correctly, it can reduce reflections from water and windows, enhance the blue in the sky or bring out the green in the foliage amongst other uses. Very handy. Good ones aren't cheap.... Graduated neutral density filters or Grad NDs come in an assortment of different shapes and sizes. Generally these are used when you have too great a contrast range between your sky and your foreground or background. They can tone down the sky to varying degrees, even enhancing the cloud structure adding a little more drama to your image. They often allow you to avoid blowing out your highlights and shadows in what would appear to be a very high contrast scene. I personally only use Lee filters and currently have 4 or 5 ranging from 0.3 stops to 0.9, hard and soft (meaning that the join between the normally and the filtered part is either a sharp hard line or a softer graduated transition. Another tip I learnt from Adam, is that it's actually far less faff to physically hold these in two hands by the corners with a cable release in your hand than you'd expect and negates the need for fancy filter holders (which just adds yet more cost).

    Phnom Bakheng in the background, Siem Reap[

    Phnom Bakheng in the background, Siem Reap. Made using an ND Grad filter


  1. Next on the list, and probably actually more important than a stable camera is the light, and specifically the time of day. 99% of all the best landscape photographs were shot at either sunrise or sunset. This is because the light at this time is soft and golden, giving these times of day the affectionate term of "golden hour". Harsh summer midday light is an absolute no no for any landscape photographer. To verify this for yourself, just head outdoors just after dawn on a clear day and look around, then compare this to the same scene around midday - the sun will have risen much higher in the sky, and will therefore be much warmer and produce much harder shadows due to its elevation and brightness. Short winter days are a bit of an exception as the sun is in the sky for a much shorter time, and therefore doesn't climb to quite the same elevation. So it is possible to make acceptable landscape photographs pretty much all day in deepest winter, but even still those made in the middle of the day are unlikely to be award winners.