Top Ten Tips for Better Photos

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Contents
 
Getting ready...
 
1     Moving in
 
2     Come on down
 
3     Left a bit...right a bit...
 
4     Moving and shaking
 
5     Light fantastic
 
6     Flash control
 
7     Christmas at both ends
 
8     Capture the magic
 
9     Action!
 
10   Pleasing the eye
 
Moving on...

 
Getting ready...
 
Whether you’re using a compact point and shoot digital camera or a digital single lens reflex, a camera phone or even a film camera, many of these tips are guaranteed to improve your photographs immensely. They will make them more impressive, memorable and pleasing, and they really work!
 
The tips are not particularly technical, and while many are generally concerned with the typical compact digital camera, there’s hardly any fiddling about with your camera settings, no major adjustments to make, and no hunting for your camera’s instruction manual.
         
But before you rush out with your camera, there’s always one thing I do before going out to take pictures. No matter what the equipment is, from the smallest compact up to the biggest pro camera, picture quality depends on the same thing it always has done – the lens!
 
A dusty or dirty lens can affect the image quality in many ways. It can reduce contrast, colour brightness and sharpness. Cameras that aren’t put back in their cases or left lying around without a lens cover will collect dust just like your furniture.
 
Many digital cameras have an automatic lens cover which slides over the lens when you switch off, but some don’t. Even though I keep my cameras in their cases, I always dust the lenses with a proper lens cloth or lens tissue before I start taking photographs.
 
 The tips and techniques in these pages are ones that you can use right away, so have a quick read, get your camera out, dust the lens, then go and take the best photos you’ve ever done!
 
(Oh, and take a spare battery).

1     Moving in
 
When we hold our camera up to our eye to take a picture, we either become rooted to the spot or immediately take a step backward.
 
The only time when a backward step might be necessary is when our subject is not completely in frame, but usually the step is taken before we even frame the subject on our screen or in our viewfinder.
 
The far better thing to do is take a step forward! This simple movement can dramatically increase the visual quality of your pictures. The reason is that most cameras are set to their wide angle setting when you switch them on, so there’s lots of space around your subject making them look small and uninteresting in the frame. Also, there might be other objects, people, clutter and other distractions that you really don’t want in your picture.
 
By taking a step forward (or two) the subject begins to fill the frame and your photo will look so much more interesting and powerful. It also saves having to fiddle with the zoom control on your camera, and speed is always important when trying to get the best shot.
 
And if you do use the digital zoom function on your camera it will reduce the image quality because it is selecting a smaller area of the already tiny image sensor of your camera. Also, if you have your photos printed and select an area or ‘crop’ them in some way, or you use photo editing software on a computer to crop your pictures, these can also reduce image quality because again it is selecting a smaller area of the image sensor which has to be enlarged to get a reasonable sized print. So if you have the option always use optical zoom instead of digital. But the best way is to move in closer to your subject at the start so that zooming or later cropping of the image is not necessary.
 
Another way to fill the frame and remove any unwanted surrounding distractions is simply to turn your camera so it is shooting in portrait format instead of landscape. Many portraits and pictures of one or two people together look best in the portrait format, and it saves having to crop later and lose quality.
 
As the pros always say – compose your picture in the viewfinder, and fill the frame!
 
2     Come on down
 
This is another simple body movement which can improve your photos amazingly, and can cause people to ask “How on earth did you get such a good photograph?”
 
I’m sure that you’ll be surprised how this will transform your pictures from the ordinary to the exceptional. Instead of standing up as you would normally do with your camera, try crouching or squatting, or even kneeling before you take the picture. The different angles can be quite dramatic and unusual and give a much more interesting viewpoint.
 
The reason is that we all view everything from around five feet or more above ground level, so we look up at things taller than we are, and look down on things that are smaller than we are. But when taking pictures of people or animals that are smaller than we are, they have to look up at the camera, and this doesn’t always make a good photo because perspective can change the subject’s shape which can sometimes look odd.
 
When photographing children, animals, or anything that is lower than you are, get down to their level. The eyes of your subject are then looking at you at their level, and they become far more natural in their behaviour and their appearance, and so you get a much better picture.
 
This method also works very well in nature photography. Taking a picture of a flower when looking down on it is usually less interesting than getting down to a low level, which makes the flower stand out against its background, and produces a much more interesting and pleasing photo.
 
When photographing tall trees or buildings, get down low and point your camera upwards. This creates a great sense of height and perspective and a more dramatic picture.
 
3     Left a bit...right a bit...
 
Using this little tip will get you lots of great shots with your camera. When we aim with our camera, the subject is usually bang in the centre of the frame. This is all well and good, and might be just the picture you want.
 
But you can make it a lot more interesting and impressive by pointing your camera slightly to the right or to the left so that your subject is placed on one side of the frame.
 
For example, if you are taking a picture of a person, this technique can reveal parts of their environment and details of where they were at the time, which can add more meaning and interest to the picture. Your photo of that person then becomes more of a portrait than a snapshot.
 
One problem with doing this is your camera’s autofocus system. Focusing sensors are often in the centre of frame, so when you slightly turn the camera the sensors might be pointing at some distant background and focus on that instead of on your main subject.
 
Many digital cameras allow you to press the shutter button half way so that the autofocus and exposure can be calculated. Holding the button half way down keeps the focus and exposure locked on those settings and won’t alter if you change the camera’s position. So do this while your subject is in the centre of frame, then keep the shutter button pressed half way down while you adjust your composition left or right. When you’re happy with your new framing, press the shutter button fully to take the picture.
 
This technique also has another advantage. When you normally take a picture there is often a slight delay between pressing the button and the shutter firing. This is because the camera has to focus, and also make various settings such as the correct exposure and some other technical adjustments. It’s only a brief delay, but it’s enough to cause you to miss a good expression on a child’s face, or any quick moving subject such as an animal or bird.  
 
Pressing the shutter button half way and holding it will lock all those settings so they are done and ready, and then you can wait for the ideal moment before you press the button fully. This will only work well if your subject hasn’t moved too much!
 
4     Moving and shaking
 
There are a few reasons why your pictures might be fuzzy, blurry, soft, hazy, or any of the other descriptions that often mean they are simply not sharp. This is usually caused by two basic reasons. Just at the moment you pressed the shutter button either your camera moved, or your subject moved. 
 
Basic fixed focus cameras usually have everything in focus from a few feet in front of the lens to infinity or as far as the eye can see. Autofocus cameras have sensors that select an area of the image to focus on, which are usually concentrated in the centre of the frame. Some cameras have ‘face detection’ and will focus on a face if it finds one, as well as making sure it is correctly exposed.
 
Better cameras allow you to select which area in the viewfinder you want to be in focus, and the focus points will flash in the viewfinder to tell you which points have been used to focus. Even more expensive cameras and lenses have features built in such as VR (Vibration Reduction) or IS (Image Stabilization).
 
The most frequent reason for fuzzy or blurry pictures is camera shake, but there are lots of ways to avoid it, or get rid of it altogether. Automatic cameras will select the right shutter speed and aperture for the best exposure, and in less than bright conditions it might select a slower shutter speed that is more prone to camera shake.
 
If you can’t select a faster shutter speed on your camera, before you take a picture look around you for some support close by such as a wall, a fence post, or any other structure that you can rest your camera on. Someone’s shoulder will also work well!
 
If none of those is handy, then all you can do is to make sure you are holding the camera as steadily as possible. Stand with your feet apart for stability, keep your elbows close in to your sides, and if your camera has a viewfinder, hold the camera against your face for extra steadiness, and of course press the shutter button as lightly as possible.
 
But if you can adjust the shutter speed on your camera, manually set it to a faster one. A good rule of thumb with hand held cameras is a shutter speed of at least 1/100th of a second (although some will swear they use 1/50th of a second or even less with no problems, while others say nothing less than 250th of a second will do).
 
One method to find the best shutter speed when the camera is hand held is to multiply the focal length of the lens by five. So when using a 50mm lens the best shutter speed for maximum sharpness would be 250th of a second. To compensate for the faster speed, the camera would have to set a wider aperture so focussing is even more critical because of the shorter depth of field (area of good focus).
 
The setting of your zoom control (the focal length of your lens) is important in camera shake. The more you zoom in (or the longer the focal length of the lens) the more prone the image will be to shake and instability, so in low light situations keep to a wide angle setting if you can.
 
The ultimate solution to camera shake is a tripod, but these can be bulky to carry around, particularly when your compact digital camera is easily carried in a pocket or handbag. An intermediate answer is a monopod or single leg, which can be quite small but extend to three or four feet. As most camera shake is due to an up-and-down movement instead of a sideways movement, a monopod can provide good support to correct it. There is also an extendable walking stick with a screw on top to mount a camera. You can also buy a tiny 4 or 5 inch long tripod very cheaply, which can be carried in a pocket or handbag, and which can be set up quickly on a table indoors or a wall outdoors. Most cameras have a tripod socket.
 
Another reason for fuzzy pictures is that the subject moves just as you are taking the shot. Of course some movement can be quite an interesting effect because it gives the impression of speed and action (see section Action!) but if you want sharpness when photographing children, animals or any other active subject, the simple answer is to take three or four shots in quick succession so you are more likely to get a good one both in terms of sharpness and with the added bonus of a range of different facial expressions from which to select the best one.
 
Multiple shots are also particularly important when photographing groups, because there are usually a few individuals who blink or look the other way. Remember those old school photographs with 100 10-year-olds lined up in five or six tiers? Must have been a nightmare for the photographer!
 
Another way to avoid camera shake, even the slight movement of the camera when you press the shutter button, is to use the camera’s self-timer which most cameras have. For example, when taking a picture of an interior of a church or an outdoor night scene, prop the camera up on a support such as a table or wall, and use the self-timer. You usually get a delay of about 10 seconds before the shutter fires and the camera will be perfectly still.
 
 
5     Light fantastic
 
Modern digital cameras allow you to take photographs in almost any light from morning to evening, and will use flash automatically when they need to. But sometimes you can use available (ambient) light to control your photos and to make them more interesting and impressive (see section ‘Flash control’).
 
The old rule about keeping the sun behind you still holds true, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Landscapes, buildings, outdoor activities and many other situations will have to be photographed from where you happen to be standing at the time, without thinking about where the sun is.
 
But where you do have a choice, you can find a position where the sun creates different effects. For example, having the sun in front of you can backlight your subject and produce a glowing edge to a person’s face when taking a portrait. Also, side lighting can create dramatic shadows and textures on people and objects.
 
Natural light when photographing subjects inside buildings can produce soft and subtle results. Light from windows can cast beams across a room, and light reflected from white walls or mirrors can bounce across the room and add to the effect.
 
And of course, sunrises and sunsets hold endless fascination for photographers, particularly when they reveal dramatic skies, or reflect across wide expanses of water. When the sky looks particularly interesting keep the horizon low in the frame, and if you see some good reflections across water keep the horizon higher in the frame. If you’re lucky you might get both. And don’t worry about pointing your camera into the sun. Just shoot it and see what happens! You might not get the picture you were hoping for, but you just might get something unusual and interesting.
 
And if you can shade the sun from the lens of the camera it will avoid lens reflections (flare) which can spoil the picture. Try and hold one hand up above the camera to shade the lens. If you are able to press the shutter button half way and hold it so that the camera locks focus and exposure, point the camera away from the sun when you do that, then turn back to the sun and press the button fully. In this way the sun will not cause the camera to over-compensate for the bright light.
 
6     Flash control
 
These days almost every camera has a built-in flash, and when the camera calculates that the light level is too low to get a well-exposed photograph, the flash will fire automatically. This usually produces very good results, even though the flash in compact digital cameras is not very powerful.
 
But there are some simple techniques to use the flash in other ways which will improve your photos. Many cameras have controls to either force the flash to fire (even if the light level is good without it) or to switch it off (so that it won’t fire automatically) or to set it to auto flash so that it fires when the camera decides it is necessary.
 
Setting the camera to always use the flash even in daylight can help certain images. For example, when you are taking a picture of someone with the sun in front of you, you might get that interesting effect of the sun outlining their shape giving them an attractive glowing edge (a technique called ‘contre-jour’). But the camera will calculate that the light is bright and make a short exposure, with the result that faces can appear dark almost like silhouettes.
 
So forcing the camera to use flash in these situations will lighten those dark areas and give much more detail, so you are getting the best of both worlds. This technique is known as fill-in flash, and many professionals use it all the time. Even when the sun is behind you, a strong sun can cause deep shadows on people’s faces, and the flash helps to lighten these.
 
Switching the flash off is sometimes necessary (if you can do that on your camera). You may see a sign which warns “No flash photography” which you might see in a museum or stately home. Also, switch the flash off when photographing at a concert or football match because the flash cannot possibly reach those long distances, and leaving it on is really just a waste of battery power.
 
Sometimes switching the flash off even when the camera thinks it is necessary to fire it can actually result in a better picture. For example, if you are taking a picture of the inside of a church or an indoor exhibition or display, your camera might calculate that the light level is too low, and would fire the flash to compensate.
 
The problem is that the power of the flash in compact cameras is fairly low, and anything more than a few feet away can result in a dark picture due to underexposure. So if you switch the flash off, the camera is forced to use the best exposure it can with the light that is available, and sometimes it is quite adequate and looks far more natural.
 
The camera has a few ways of compensating the exposure without flash. It can use a slower shutter speed and a wider aperture, as well as increasing its sensitivity to light. Its sensitivity to light is measured in ISO (International Standards Organisation) ranges just like the traditional film speeds of ASA and DIN. But the higher the ISO number the more likely it will produce a ‘grainy’ result just like fast film used to do (often called ‘noise’ in digital images).
 
ISO is usually set on Auto, but sometimes you can choose a low fixed setting such as 100 or 200. Setting it on a lower number will retain best quality in your photos by preventing the camera increasing its sensitivity which might cause the graininess of the image. However, when the camera uses a slower shutter speed and wider aperture to compensate, they both have their problems such as the risk of camera shake and lack of focusing depth.  
 
So in low light situations you will either need to increase the ISO setting manually (or the camera will do for you if set to Auto) or otherwise hold the camera very steadily and perhaps use one of the methods described in the section ‘Moving and shaking’. If you stay on a fixed low ISO setting for best quality, the camera may warn you that the available light is too low, but if your camera allows you to ignore that, take the picture regardless and you may get some interesting results!
 
7     Christmas at both ends
 
In the days before digital photography we loaded our cameras with rolls of film. Some rolls could take 8, 10 or12 exposures, and the popular 35mm film could take 12, 24 or 36 exposures on one roll.
 
Because film was comparatively expensive, cameras were brought out only for special family occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, summer holidays or a trip to the zoo. It was not unusual to find that when the roll was processed and printed (usually at the chemist) family Christmas photos were at the start of a roll followed by a few spring and summer photos, and then the next year’s Christmas pictures at the end of the roll.
 
Now with digital cameras expense is no object. You can take as many pictures as you like (up to the capacity of your camera’s memory) then simply erase the ones you don’t want. This really is one of the greatest aids to getting a good photograph, particularly when shooting subjects such as groups of people, children, animals, sporting events, holidays and family occasions.
 
In any of these situations things can move quickly – someone in the group turns their head away, children’s expressions and movements change rapidly, animals can leap sideways just as you are taking the picture, or runners and riders can fly out of your frame before you’ve focused on them. So the likelihood of getting a good photo is vastly increased if you just keep on hitting the button!
 
Taking lots of pictures (some people have a rule to take one a day) will make you a better photographer because you get to know what your camera is capable of and you get to master all of its controls, and you experience the good and the poor qualities of various lighting conditions and different photographic effects.
 
8     Capture the magic
 
There’s nothing so magical as a vista of great mountains and valleys, dramatic seascapes, rolling countryside scenery and fabulous skies, and they have been attracting photographers ever since the camera was invented. I’ll bet you have looked at a magnificent panorama in front of you and just couldn’t help taking a photograph of it, hoping to capture such a beautiful and magical scene.
 
But when you look at the photo at home expecting to re-live that pleasure and excitement, you wonder where all the magic went. It looks nothing like you remember it, and appears flat and dull, not panoramic at all, and in fact quite disappointing. 
 
The problem is that the camera doesn’t see what we see, because it hasn’t got the wide view that our eyes have, and also we see things with our two eyes in three-dimensions which creates depth and perspective, so we can never re-create that experience in a flat two-dimensional photograph and there’s nothing we can do about that (apart from extreme wide angle lenses or photo-stitching a few photos together to make a panorama).
 
But what we can do is give the impression of depth and space by the way we select the viewpoint and by carefully composing the shot. And there are various features in a landscape that can help us to achieve that sense of depth and go some way to capture the magic.
 
Here are some ways:
 
Avoid distant scenery with a plain sky and plain ground.
Try to include a feature in the foreground such as a tree, part of a wall, or maybe a person viewing the scene, which gives a sense of scale.
Compose the shot so that the foreground feature is to one side of your frame (see section ‘Left a bit...right a bit...’).
Find something that will lead the eye into the photo such as a stream or river, or a road or train track snaking into the distance.
Keep the horizon as level as you can.
Morning and evening sun is better than midday sun which can flatten the landscape.
Use the ‘landscape’ setting on your camera if have one.
If you can adjust the exposure on your camera, choose the smallest aperture you can so that everything is in focus. This may cause a slow shutter speed so try and rest the camera on a wall or branch or someone’s shoulder. (See section ‘Moving and shaking’).
Frame the picture with the tips included in the section ‘Pleasing the eye’.
 
9     Action!
 
One of the delights of photography is capturing an unforgettable moment in time – a freeze-frame of an amusing expression, a baby’s first walk, a child’s first bike ride or a pet animal’s best trick.
 
And that instant of a second will hopefully be well-exposed, in focus, and with no blurred movements. But while they can be charming pictures they can sometimes look quite static, particularly with pictures of moving things such as cars, boats, trains, bikes or just people running, which can look as though they are not moving at all.
 
With a few simple adjustments and camera movements you can create the impression of speed and action in those types of photos. For example, it looks very impressive when your subject is sharp against a background that seems as though it is rushing by. And after all the advice about keeping your camera steady, this is one time when you move it!
 
The way to get the effect is to follow the subject (car, bike, person etc.) in your viewfinder or screen as it approaches you. Keep the camera panning (sweeping) from left to right (or right to left) at the same speed as the subject is moving, then press the shutter button when it is front of you (without stopping your camera sweep). With luck the result should be a sharp subject against a speeding background.
 
As previously mentioned, there is always a slight delay after pressing the shutter button while the camera sets exposure and focus, which could cause you to miss an action shot. So before your moving subject arrives, point the camera at the spot where they will arrive and half press the shutter button (if your camera has that feature). Holding it half way down will lock the exposure and focus, so then while you are panning and your subject arrives at that spot there will be no delay when you press the button fully to take the picture.
 
Sometimes the opposite can work well by having a blurred subject against a sharp background. An example of this is when photographing a waterfall, the sea or a fast-flowing river, where you want to show the movement of the water while the surroundings are in sharp focus. For this you would need to mount the camera on a tripod or by using the self-timer tip in the section ‘Moving and shaking’.
 
To get the effect you would need to set a slower shutter speed than the camera’s automatic setting. If you can’t adjust your shutter speed, you could try setting the ISO speed (see section ‘Flash control’) to its lowest setting (usually 50 or 100) so that the camera is forced to use a slower shutter speed to compensate. Also, switch off your flash if you can to prevent the camera freezing the action with a fast shutter speed.
 
Sometimes it looks good in an action shot when almost everything is blurred, such as sports action of people running, jumping or playing ball games, and it gives a real impression of movement and speed. If you have none of the shutter speed adjustments or ISO settings you could simply try moving your camera slightly while pressing the shutter button. But you will need to experiment with this because the results are quite unpredictable.
 
10   Pleasing the eye
 
This is something that simply causes people to say “I like that”. It's a part of design, art, painting, sculpture and even architecture, and it’s not difficult to achieve in your own photos, and it can transform an ordinary picture into one that viewers will find pleasing and attractive.
 
When we say something is “pleasing to the eye” we are saying that we instinctively feel that what we are looking at is right, that it is comfortable to view, that it feels balanced and natural.
 
And we also instinctively know if something looks wrong. For instance, if a photograph of a person or an object casts double or multiple shadows (due to flash or studio lighting for instance) or when a landscape picture has a sloping horizon, it causes a feeling of confusion and discomfort. And to express those feelings we can only say that we don’t particularly like it but can’t quite put our finger on the reason.
 
One of the main techniques that causes the eye to be pleased, and which has been used by painters and photographers for centuries, is simply composition, or in other words a balanced arrangement.
 
There are various formulas for the ideal composition which please the eye, some of which have been around since the ancient Greeks, and have influenced famous paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. And you can easily use the same principle to make your photos much more balanced and pleasing.
 
The simplest one is called the Rule of Thirds. Imagine your camera’s viewfinder or screen divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Now when you view an image in your camera, try to place various parts of the image on those imaginary lines or intersections. Place horizons on one of the horizontal lines, or people and objects on one of the vertical lines, or features of your image such as heads, faces and eyes on one of the intersections of the lines. You will find that your photo not only becomes far more interesting and impressive, but also has a natural balance.
 
While this arrangement works with many types of pictures, sometimes putting the subject right in the centre of the frame is just as impressive. For example, when photographing the interior of a church or any other huge structure, stand at one end and look centrally down to the other end. This type of picture captures the beauty of symmetry as a classic expression of balance, and the viewer of your photograph will also find it very pleasing to the eye.
 
Moving on...
 
To take great photos you don’t need anything more than a fairly simple camera and a keen eye. The electronic wizardry these days will produce extremely good results in all sorts of light conditions, and by leaving the camera set to Auto it will cope with focus, exposure, light quality and colour balance with very little trouble.
 
But even relatively inexpensive digital cameras can include quite a few powerful features and settings which are really worthwhile trying out if you have them, because they can make your photos more creative and extra special. They don’t require much technical knowledge – mostly you just turn the dial to select another setting and continue shooting just as you would on the Auto setting.
 
If your camera has more settings than just Auto, you may have some of these:
 
Sport: Uses the camera’s fastest shutter speed to capture fast-moving subjects
Portrait: Makes the subject stand out against a soft background
Landscape: Sets focus at infinity and may apply extra sharpness and colour saturation
Night mode: Usually sets a lower shutter speed and larger aperture or increases the camera’s sensitivity to light
Backlight: Usually sets a larger aperture to lighten backlit subjects
 
Most cameras have a close-up or ‘macro’ setting so that you can take close pictures of flowers and other small objects from just a few inches away. You can probably also set the sharpness or ‘resolution’ of the captured images such as Fine, Standard or Economy.  I always leave mine on Fine for best quality, but I get fewer images on the camera’s memory because the file sizes are larger.
 
Sometimes the camera may warn you that it cannot achieve the best exposure in some extreme lighting conditions, or where there are big differences in bright and shadow areas (contrast). In these situations you can adjust the exposure manually by using the EV (exposure value) control if your camera has one.
 
For example, in very bright conditions such as a snow scene, white sandy beach or a very bright sky, you might need to reduce the exposure by selecting a minus exposure value such as -1.0EV or -2.0EV. In situations where there is a very dark sky or at dusk, you can increase the exposure by selecting a positive value such as +1.0EV or +2EV. These adjustments are usually in one of the menu settings of your camera.
 
I’ve mentioned previously that the camera cannot see what we see, and this is very true about colour. If our eyes were cameras, the early morning and evening sun would cast a warm red colour, while the noon-day sun would reflect a blue cast from the sky. Indoor lighting would also look red, and fluorescent tube lighting would look green.
 
We are not usually aware of these changes because our vision constantly compensates for different lighting conditions, and digital cameras also make similar adjustments when they are set to Auto White Balance. Photographers who view their images on a computer can change the colour balance and remove unwanted colour casts with photo editing software, but otherwise it’s important to get the colour balance as correct as possible at the time of shooting, particularly in unusual lighting situations.  
 
There are usually four different white balance settings for different lighting conditions: sunny, cloudy, tungsten (indoor bulbs) and fluorescent. On more expensive camera there may be a greater choice.
 
Other colour adjustments you may have on your camera are standard colours, vivid colours, sepia and black & white (monochrome), and the depth of colour or saturation might be set to high, normal or low. On some cameras you can also set the level of sharpness such as hard, normal or soft. Hard sharpness can sometimes adversely affect image quality, but the soft setting is often very effective for portraits.
 
Another useful feature if your camera has it is spot metering. Normally the camera uses an average reading of the scene to calculate exposure, but sometimes using a small area to calculate exposure will produce better results. For example, if your subject is a person standing against a very bright sky, the camera’s average reading would calculate the exposure mostly to favour detail in the brightness, causing the person to be under-exposed and darker than ideal.
 
If you can switch to spot metering you can place the spot (sometimes marked in the viewfinder or otherwise the same area as the autofocus centre marking) on the face of the person so that the camera calculates the exposure to reproduce facial detail. However, at the same time it will also over-expose the brightness and lose detail in the background but sometimes that can actually be an interesting visual effect.
 
More expensive cameras may also have these controls:
 
Aperture Priority: This allows you to set the aperture to suit your shot. A wider aperture (smaller f-number) makes for a shorter depth of field which will make the object you have focused on stand out against a softer background. A smaller aperture (larger f-number) gives a greater depth of field so that more of your shot is in focus. The camera will adjust the shutter speed to compensate to get the best exposure (or warn you if it can’t).
 
Shutter Priority: Similar to above but allows you to set the shutter speed to a fast one to capture fast-action shots, or a slower one for night skies or to capture movement such as fireworks. The camera will adjust the aperture to compensate to get the best exposure (or warn you if it can’t).
 
Have a try with any of these settings if you have them on your camera. The results can often be very impressive, and also show that the Auto setting sometimes can’t quite do everything you want.
 
Finally, just a few words about pixels. A question often asked is “how many pixels does your camera have?” as if that’s the only important feature of the camera, and manufacturers keep producing models with higher and higher numbers of millions of pixels (megapixels) implying that previous models with lower numbers of pixels are obsolete, which is not the case. 
 
The image sensor in a digital camera is made up of millions of tiny light sensitive blocks or pixels, so it’s true that the more pixels you have, the sharper your image will be when enlarged. But the amount of pixels you actually need depends on what you normally do with your photos. For example, for viewing on a computer or sending photos electronically you actually only need 1 to 3 megapixels.
 
If you always print your photos on 6x4 inch paper just 2 or 3 megapixels is sufficient. To enlarge to 10x8 inch prints you would need 5 to 6 megapixels, and for bigger prints such as 12x10 inches and above you would need 7 or more megapixels for good quality. Of course if you try to enlarge beyond those limits, it would result in fuzzy or ‘blocky’ images. So the number of megapixels your camera has is not that important as long as you have enough to do what you want with your photos.
 
But those figures assume that you are neither using digital zoom when you are shooting, nor cropping and enlarging your photos during printing. If you use either of those to select a smaller section of the image (therefore using less of the available pixels) then quality will suffer.
 
For example, if you select 50% of the full size image either by zooming in using your camera’s digital zoom when you take the picture, or when you crop and enlarge it at the printing stage, you would need double the amount of pixels to retain the same quality as the full frame image. On the other hand, optical zoom does not lose quality because it is selecting an image area in the viewfinder and not a smaller area of the sensor.
 
Perhaps the only time you might wish you had more pixels is when you take such a terrific shot that you want to have it enlarged big enough to hang on the wall. But if you haven’t got enough pixels in the original shot, you won’t have the required image quality to do that.
 
As I said at the beginning of this section, to get some great photos you don’t need anything more than a camera and a keen eye. Whatever the amount of pixels and electronic gadgetry, an ordinary camera provides the means to be creative and the freedom to express yourself in your own unique way. And that’s what makes it endlessly fascinating, enjoyable and satisfying.
 
Happy shooting!

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