My six favourite photo tips

::: Hello again world, and thanks for visiting page #1 of my new blog. :::

A while ago I had a website at this address that got read—I can say with no undue modesty—a little. It had some articles and some photos. Now, ta-da, it’s made again and it has some articles and some photos. It’s been hand-assembled by me and has this WordPress blog embedded (I’m chuffed with that bit, to be honest).

Those who know me well know that I have quite a few areas of interest. Today’s subject is photography. I hope you find something to enjoy on the site and visit again as it grows. Thanks for stopping by.

My six favourite photo tips

An odd collection but it’s my attempt to offer as much photographic usefulness across as many cameras in as short a post as possible. I hope you find something here helpful.


#1: Include what you need and exclude what you don’t

The picture above is a strange collection of shapes that’s somehow pleasing and it doesn’t work as well if anything’s cropped out. Also, critically, there’s a whole warehouse floor of objects excluded from it.

What if when you pick up a camera you’re not thinking about containing a subject as much as excluding everything else in the whole world? Start with everything and work backwards. Only things that reinforce the subject or theme are allowed in. This shift of emphasis will change your awareness and your results very quickly.


#2: Learn to ride your shutter button

You can take a photo quickly—even using a normally slow camera—if you practice using the two stages of the shutter button. If you have a fast camera this will train you to be very precise with your observation and timing. Almost every camera shutter button presses in two stages—halfway and full. Full takes the picture but half-pressure is a really important and useful place. It’s worth getting used to exactly how it works and feels.

When you squeeze the button halfway down (never jab, oh no no) the camera makes it’s major decisions—where to focus, the exposure, charging the flash and any other auto stuff it’s taking care of. Do turn off the red-eye reduction, as it isn’t very effective and it really slows things down. Once you’ve pressed halfway and the button is held here the camera has done the slow bit and now the slightest extra pressure will take a picture with no delay whatsoever, even if your camera takes a second or so usually.

Now just watch the subject with the shutter half-pressed. The only other thought you need is has the focus distance changed?. If it has—unless your camera is using contiuous focus—you will gently lift off the shutter and press halfway again. You will quickly find yourself doing this instinctively without it distracting you from the subject.

This means that you can take the shot as fast as you can respond to what you see and will become more able to do so the more you practice. This is a way more effective technique than just rattling off shots and results in a level of real skill in observing and capturing well-timed images.

chickens strutting their detailed highlights

#3: never blow the highlights, especially if shooting JPEGs (or at least, know when you’re doing it)

Important: if you are using negative film the opposite is true, it’s your underexposed shadows that get lost. This is not to be construed psychologically. If you are shooting digital RAW files you potentially have some latitude in the highlights.

The chickens above have bright white feathers but all the detail is in them. If the brightest part you need detail in is not overexposed then—exposure-wise—your image is usable. Photoshop and other programs allow a lot of adjustments to an image but less can be done about overexposed highlights, that is, areas that have bleached to white. You can bring a lot of detail back into shadow areas in many cases, however.

Because highlights can be so important, many cameras have a histogram option and/or a highlight warning on playback, It’s worth switching it on and always glancing to see if there is a peak at the far right, top end of the histogram graph or if the highlight warning is flashing on part of the image. It is important to check faces, especially on sunny days as they easily overexpose if they are a small part of the frame. These playback tools are extremely valuable and once they are second nature you’ll always get detail where it’s needed.


#4: use composition guidelines like the rule of thirds

This little red guy is tiny and the frame is big. Among other things, a good composition can provide a setting for a subject that’s otherwise too small to be photographed well. The rule of thirds just works, it’s pleasing. Also leading the eye with lines to the subject works, and contrast and repetition. Practice seeing these things and even your sloppy photos will have flare.


#5: don’t always use composition guidelines

Hard to be more specific here. The ducks above maybe work as an image because visually a big area of Monet algae balances out two ducks really near the top. Okay, not much of a rule of thumb. Would it work if they were Coke bottles? I don’t know. I hope you get the idea and I don’t have to explain further because I can’t. I think it’s got something to do with balance.


#6: use the force

The picture above isn’t retouched. Bristol Bridge here has no cars, one pedestrian with headphones on and emerging from his forehead a huge balloon advertising the local radio station. I probably should have offered it to the radio station but GWR is long gone now. The really odd thing is that I was walking away from this when I got an urge to turn around. I did and one shot later I had this.

So, what’s this tip about? Well, it’s definitely about getting very familiar with your camera and always having it with you.

It’s about being open to the possibility that the visual world can do such a good imitation of setting something up—just for you—sometimes, that it feeds a new awareness and maybe some interesting questions.

It’s about the triangular dance between that awareness, the subject and your finger on the button. Everything happens there, where timing skills sharpen.

It’s about when, precisely, would I shoot if this was 12 frames of slide film and there was no second go?

It’s about being an archer (not thinking you have to save for a machine gun.)

It’s about the observer and observed being one.

C.G.Jung remarked that synchronicities increased in frequency when he enjoyed their appearance.

It’s about that, too.

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