Monday, September 07, 2009

Taking Great Photos. Part 2: Three important tips and one killer secret

Last week, I talked about the first step in taking great pictures is to figure out what you want them to do. That approach may seem rather philosophical for some of you - "C'mon - I just want take great pictures without thinking about how they are going to be used in the future," you may say.

Well, my friend - without a goal - how will you know you when you have arrived?

So - let's assume you have established what you want your pictures to do.

Next - let's run over some common features that regardless of whether you want your pictures to:

  • record
  • sell
  • teach

they should have these points in common.

In focus. The pictures should be IN FOCUS. If the picture isn't in focus - take another. And another, and another. Unless you are taking some artsy shot that is supposed to be blurry - but that's a different photography tutorial. ;-)

The pictures should be about what they are about. In other words - lose the distractions. Get rid of the background if it isn't to the the point. I don't care how awesome the pattern is on those new curtains. The cat-hair loaded carpet? Not so much.

Very few people can pick out beautifully coordinated backgrounds that totally enhance their photographs of small objects, and it is seldom a good place to start. If you are reading this blog for photography hints - I'm going to make the crazy assumption that you are taking pictures of beads or jewelry, and they are too easily overwhelmed to futz up the background, and too easy to move to have an excuse.

Correct colour. Ok, this one may seem technical and we'll get into the how of it - but really - if you are taking a picture of something as a reference shot for later - say, in three years - what was I making back then? Do you really want to think that everything you made was sort of yellowish? If you are selling it, do you really want to have to explain that it really looks much nicer in person? We've all seen that description - now it's just tired.

Oh, and here's a killer secret - this is one that all the professional photographers know and use.

Take LOTS of pictures. LOTS. I mean - way more than you think you need. No one (almost) is shooting film anymore - it's digital - and digital frees you from that mentality of thinking you can take only one or two pictures. And, quite frankly - that approach didn't work with film either.

For instance - when I shoot a project for an InspirationFX, I will take 30 - 50 pictures. For the product shots for the website - I will take 5-6 pictures of each bead that goes on the site. Sometimes more if it doesn't look right. I easily take 600-700 pictures per week. In fact - if you check out the sidebar on the right side of this post - where it say "beadFX Wallpaper for you" - you can find some of the uncropped, full size rejects. Of course - some of those do get into the artsy-fartsy category - but they have a difference purpose - not to sell or record or teach - but to divert, entertain and distract - and that's a different story. ;-)

You can archive all those photos, or not, as you wish - but you don't really know what you have, if you've missed something, overlooked something, until you see it up large on the computer screen. And it is way easier to take lots of pictures and throw out the bad ones than to go back and set up the items again to shoot.

Think of it this way - it is way cheaper to take lots of pictures on your vacation, buy extra memory to store them and take them back home, than it is to get back on the plane and go back and take them again.

OK - so, there's some more to think about. Focus. Colour. Clutter. And Lots of pictures.

Now - your homework for this week is to go find the manual for your camera. If you haven't a hope in heck of finding it - Google it. Most of them are online. There are two things you want to figure out how to set. Just two. Ignore all the rest.

One is "White Balance."

And the other is "Shutter Speed."

You might not be able to control these. Of the two - we want the first one more than the second. And even my cell phone camera lets me set that one. In fact - I'm pretty blown away by how good cell phone cameras are these days.

Wait a minute. I lied. You also should see what the manual has to say about how close you can get to focus on something. See if there is anything labeled "macro" setting. This is the setting you need to get in tight and close and still be in focus.

See you next week!

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