Five basic steps to better photographs

Cassie Workman, Co-President

In today’s world of ubiquitous technology, it seems everyone has a camera, and everyone thinks they are a photographer. The reality is having a camera does not a photographer make. But even the most amateur of photographers can use five simple tricks to take better photographs.

Photo Credit: Casandra Workman
Photo Credit: Casandra Workman

1. Avoid Posed Pictures
50 years from now, scientists will look back at today’s society as evidence of when ducks evolved into humans. Seriously, too many people believe that taking a self-portrait constitutes photography. But as members of professional staffs, we know that we donÕt want a book of Jersey-not-licious duck-faced people. We want quality, which means skipping the posed picture in lieu of playing 007 to catch the elusive, but much more beneficial, spontaneous shot. The number one rule to getting spontaneous, unplanned shots is to take a camera everywhere, and take multiple takes of the same shot/ scene. By having a camera ready 24/7, photographers have the opportunity to capture unplanned shots, and stories.

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Photo Credit: Casandra Workman

2. Rule of Thirds
There is a reason this has been a classic rule repeated frequently in photography books, on websites, and featured in apps (even the iPhone camera has a grid option). And this isn’t just a good rule for photographers; videography and media also apply the rule of thirds to filming. Imagine every shot is a three-column, three-row grid; photographers should aim to fill the grid outside the center square. This gives unique angles and perspectives to shots.

3. Learn Your Camera’s Settings
This seems like a simple suggestion, but many people buy a camera and never take the time to learn what options are available on it. The most logical way to learn about a camera would be to read the owner’s manual, but as they are written in an elusive, hard to decipher jargon, this is neither time consuming or stress-relieving. A much faster and more efficient method would be to put the camera to use. To learn a camera, photographers should focus on one subject or scene, and photograph it repeatedly, taking time to change settings for each shot. After taking each shot, keep a shooting journal of what settings were used per shot. Once the pictures have been uploaded to the computer, compare settings and shots to learn how the setting changes affected each shot.

4. Color Balance
This coincides with Step Three. Camera settings often allow users to change the white balance to meet the lighting in many conditions: shade, florescent, outdoors, bright sunlight, auto, etc. However, if photographers can’t adequately adjust the color tone in a photo through camera settings, using Adobe Photoshop, photo editing software online, or Adobe Lightroom can correct obvious color tones. For example, Western High School and Arbor View High School both have predominantly red school colors, and thus, photos taken in their gyms often come out in heavy tints of red. See the article on Three Free Photo Editing Sites, and the article about Basic Photoshop Tools.

5. Go for Different: Angles, Framing and Lighting Effects
While out on photo assignments, photographers should look at a scene to see what it offers by way of unique angles, framing opportunities, and creative lighting effects (e.g. silhouettes). Oftentimes, a lackluster photo can be turned into a spectacular one if caught from a different perspective. Instead of a straight on quad-shot, take a shot from above, looking down and out over the scene. Instead of taking a side shot of a pre-game huddle, get underneath the huddle and take the shot upward. Use a pair of eyeglasses to frame the focus of a picture, like a passage in a book in an English class, or science equipment framing a student performing a lab. Finally, use lighting to get great contrast in backgrounds (e.g. The overcast sky on a cloudy day, a bright sign in a low contrast shot, etc.), or look for silhouettes shots of a subject.

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About Matthew LaPorte

Matthew LaPorte is the current adviser of the Southwest Shadow online news site and The Howl yearbook at Southwest Career and Technical Academy. He is also the co-President of SNSJ. One of his goals as a founding member of SNSJ is to help create a network of students and advisers who can share their expertise and share the benefits of participating in scholastic journalism in Southern Nevada. When he is not working, Matt enjoys heading off to The Pearl or to The Joint to relive his teenage years rocking out.