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10 Tips for Taking Better Photos for Your Website

Eugene is a keen amateur photographer, primarily interested in nature. He has a portfolio of images on YouPic.

10-tips-to-improve-photos-on-your-webpage-or-hub

Good quality photos enhance any web page. Composition, exposure, focusing, and depth of field are just some of the factors that should be considered when adding images to complement written text on a site. In this guide we'll go through 10 tips that you can employ to get better results from your camera. These tips apply when using any camera, such as a smartphones, compact cameras, or more expensive SLRs. We'll also take a quick look at what image editing applications are available for post-processing images before you commit them to a web page.

How Do I Take Better Photos?

  1. Pick a good background
  2. Focus properly on your subject
  3. Get your depth of field right
  4. Get exposure right
  5. Set the color balance on your camera so colors look natural
  6. Use natural daylight for photographing subjects
  7. Crop your image
  8. Be aware of the effects of using a wide angle lens
  9. Use a tripod
  10. Use flash, digital zoom and interior lighting effectively

Tip 1: Pick a Suitable Background

Try to find an uncluttered plain background if you're photographing objects. You could use grass, sheets of paper, plain colored cloth, the sky, etc.

Good and Bad Backgrounds

Grass as a background and cluttered background on the right

Grass as a background and cluttered background on the right

The sky can be used as a background

The sky can be used as a background

Tip 2: Focus Properly on Your Subject

Focusing means adjusting the lens on the camera so that the image is sharp and clear. Low end and older camera phones have a fixed lens which can't be focused. Lenses are focused at infinity and if you get too close to your subject, the resultant image will be blurred. The lens on most compact digital cameras and smartphones will auto-focus , and on SLR cameras you may be able to turn the focusing ring on the lens of the camera to manually focus the image (in addition to auto-focusing)

Isolating Elements of a Photo

Focusing and depth of field (see below) go hand in hand. You need to decide whether you want everything in the image to be in sharp focus, or whether you want to isolate specific elements in the image and maybe throw the background out of focus.

The autofocus on my camera failed to focus on the subject resulting in a blurred image

The autofocus on my camera failed to focus on the subject resulting in a blurred image

Tip 3: Get Your Depth of Field Right

When you focus on a point in an image, points closer to the camera or further away from this point will be less in focus to a greater or lesser extent. The depth of field is the region of an image which is in sharp focus. Sometimes you may want a large depth of field to show everything in sharp focus and add perspective to a shot, at other times it may be better to throw part of the image out of focus, e.g., the background. Large f stops (small apertures) give greater depth of field and small f stops (large apertures) reduce depth of field allowing you to isolate your subject. Also as you move your camera close to the subject, depth of field decreases even if the f stop isn't changed. A third cause of reduction in depth of field is an increase in the focal length of the lens as you zoom in on your subject.

So to summarize, depth of field increases when you:

  • Select a shorter focal length, i.e., zoom out
  • Pick a smaller aperture (large f/stop)
  • Move further away from subject

You need to play around with the f stops on the camera to produce the results you want. In aperture priority (A) mode, in lowish light conditions and using a large f stop (small aperture) to produce a large depth of field, shutter speed may become too low to freeze movement. This can be the case even when a tripod is being used e.g. when photographing flowers close up, which are moving in the wind. In this scenario, it's better to select the shutter priority (S) setting on the camera and experiment with various shutter speeds. Reduce the shutter speed just sufficiently to freeze movement. The camera will then decrease the aperture size (remember, a bigger f stop), which will maximise depth of field. You can also increase the ISO setting, which will make higher shutter speeds and/or bigger f stops possible. You can of course use one of the pre-set modes (e.g., sport, macro, etc.) on the camera which optimise all of the settings to give the best results.

Depth of Field

The right hand image has a larger depth of field because the f stop is greater on the camera (the aperture is smaller)

The right hand image has a larger depth of field because the f stop is greater on the camera (the aperture is smaller)

Depth of Field Indications on an SLR Camera Lens

The curved lines indicate the DOF on the focusing ring

The curved lines indicate the DOF on the focusing ring

Tip 4: Photos Should Be Properly Exposed

A camera will attempt to expose the image correctly by varying the shutter speed depending on what f-stop you select, or by varying the f-stop if you chose the shutter speed.

Sometimes it's difficult to get the exposure right. For instance, if you are photographing a subject which is lit from behind, this will produce a silhouette effect (which may or may not be desired). Also if there is high contrast between objects in a frame, e.g., black and white, exposure can be difficult. Your camera may have an option which allows bracketing of shots, which means taking photos with slightly higher or lower exposure levels than the normal auto exposure would produce. Also you may be able to set the weighting for exposure. Normally the camera will adjust exposure by looking at the average amount of light in the frame. Exposure can also be center weighted so that what is in the center of the frame, on the "cross hairs" is properly exposed.

You can read more about adjusting camera settings for correct exposure in my article:

Understanding the Settings on Cameras: Shutter Speed, F Numbers and Exposure

Picking a Shutter Speed to Stop Motion

Typical shutter speeds for shooting various subjects at 30 feet from camera

 Movement Left to Right in Front of Camera

Slight or stationary movement

1/30

Traffic and Pedestrians

1/125

Athletics

1/500

Fast Vehicles

1/1000

Tip 5: Color Balance

Usually this is automatic on a camera, but sometimes auto color balance produces colors which are not quite natural. Color balance weights, or filters an image to make it look more natural under various lighting sources. Better results can be obtained by choosing the manual settings on your camera, depending on the ambient lighting conditions, rather than the auto setting. Choices include tungsten (for "normal" bulb and halogen lighting), daylight, fluorescent, cloudy and flash.

Tip 6: Use Natural Lighting - Take Photos on a Bright, But Cloudy Day

If you don't have the luxury of an indoor studio with lighting, an alternative is to take photos outdoors. Natural daylight produces great results but bright sunshine can produce ugly shadows in an image, and excessive contrast. Try to take photos on a day which is very bright but semi-cloudy or when the sun goes behind the clouds. Clouds act as a diffuser and scatter light so that it comes from every direction, producing softer shadows. You can also use a white bed sheet or large sheet of white card to reflect and diffuse light into the shadows cast by the subject. Professional photographers use this technique for "filling" in shadows and lighting backlight subjects (which would otherwise be silhouetted against a bright background).

Tip 7: Crop Your Image

Cropping means cutting out sections of your image to remove uninteresting and irrelevant content. Remember also that if the subject only takes up a small amount of area in the frame, cropping discards pixels and this may result in a low-resolution image if the original image was low resolution. So try to fill the frame with the object or region of interest when taking the original photograph. Also take photographs at the highest possible resolution so that a user can zoom in on the photo if this facility is allowed on a webpage. You can always reduce resolution later in your favorite image processing application.

Crop images to remove irrelevant stuff

Crop images to remove irrelevant stuff

Tip 8: Watch out for the Effects Caused by Using a Wide Angle Lens

Focal Length

  • A camera lens focuses an image onto an optical sensor or film. The focal length of a lens is the distance from the lens to the image, when the image is in focus.

Lenses for cameras can be telephoto, standard, wide angle or zoom. Telephoto lenses have long focal lengths, and wide angle lenses have shorter focal lengths. A telephoto lens makes the subject look closer, so it's useful for wildlife and sport photography etc. A standard lens makes the subject appear to be at the same distance as the human eye would see it, and a wide-angle lens lets you fit more of a scene into the resulting image. This is useful if you want to take shots of room interiors or can't get far enough back from a subject to fit it into the frame. Often, though, cameras are fitted with zoom lenses which have variable focal length and allow you to zoom up close or far away from your subject. If you extend a zoom lens out to the wide-angle end of its range, it can stretch perspective when used close to a subject. The same can happen if you're using a fixed focal length, wide-angle lens. So parallel lines seem to converge and square things look trapezoidal (i.e. narrower at the back than at the front). The lens on a smartphone is designed to be wide angle so that you can do selfies and fit everything into the frame, so it can produce the same effects. Sometimes perspective might be the desired effect, however, if you want to avoid this phenomenon, move further away from your subject, and zoom in closer.

The right image was taken with a wide angle lens up close, the left image was taken from further away and the lens zoomed in closer

The right image was taken with a wide angle lens up close, the left image was taken from further away and the lens zoomed in closer

A wide angle lens can distort the shape of your subject. In this case, the rim of the box looks trapezoidal

A wide angle lens can distort the shape of your subject. In this case, the rim of the box looks trapezoidal

I was sitting about 2 feet out on a spur of rock over the Atlantic while taking this photo. However the wide angle lens stretches perspective and makes it look scarier!

I was sitting about 2 feet out on a spur of rock over the Atlantic while taking this photo. However the wide angle lens stretches perspective and makes it look scarier!

Tip 9: Use a Tripod

Camera shake can result in blurred images and a tripod helps to keep a camera steady.

A tripod is useful under several conditions:

  • At low shutter speeds (below 1/100 second), camera shake can result in blurring of images. If light levels are low, even with the largest aperture setting (lowest f -stop), the camera may select a low shutter speed to get in enough light for correct exposure.
  • When doing close up work or macro photography, small movements of the camera can cause image blur.
  • When using a longer focal length on the lens. In other words when zooming in optically.
Camera tripod

Camera tripod

Tip 10: Miscellaneous Stuff - Flashes, Digital Zoom and Interior lighting

  • Don't use the digital zoom on your digital camera or phone. Digital zoom doesn't add any more detail to an image, it just "joins the dots" or interpolates between the actual pixels in an image.
  • If you use a flash, try to avoid reflections from reflective surfaces by angling the camera so that the light from the flash bounces off the subject. Photographing too close to a light surface can produce harsh shadows.
  • You can use low cost, 500 watt, halogen work lights for illumination indoors. They are costly to run and get very hot, but for low-resolution photos for web pages, they are quite useful. The color balance on your camera needs to be set to tungsten when using this type of lighting.
  • Every time you save a JPG file, it is compressed and loses some of its quality. Don't continually save and reload a JPG file after every operation in an image processing program. Save the file only when you are happy with the final result.

Resolution, Pixels and Image Quality

Here are some aspects of images you should know about.

Image Resolution

Images are stored in a digital camera with varying resolution which you have control over. The resolution is specified in pixels e.g 640 x 480. You can visualize an image as being like a chessboard, and each pixel is like a square on the chessboard. The greater the resolution, the more detail of the original scene is preserved. Higher resolution images take up more space on flash cards in a camera, require more storage space on a hard drive and take longer to download and process in your image processing package. However since computers have become more powerful, have more RAM and larger capacity disk drives, and USB communication speed has increased over the past few years, this is less of an issue. Adding effects to images or carrying out certain image manipulations can take some time however with high-resolution images. If you want to print enlargements of your photos and not just standard 5 x7 s, or crop them (select a section and discard the rest), then the higher the resolution, the better. If you just want to take snapshots, you can opt for a lower res setting on your camera.

Image Quality

When you take your photos, they are normally stored in JPG format in your camera. This is an image storage format which compresses images so that they take up less space on the flash card. The result is that some quality is lost. Usually, your camera will have an option in the setup to store the image with different qualities (low, medium, high or similar) for a given resolution. In the days when flash memory was low capacity, this was an issue and if you wanted to fit lots of photos on a card, you had to go for lower resolution and lower JPG quality. Now, however, this is less of a problem, but users still take photos on their cameras without realizing that they may not have setup the camera to get the highest resolution and best quality image.

An exaggerated idea of how low resolution images capture less detail of a subject

An exaggerated idea of how low resolution images capture less detail of a subject

Flash can cause harsh shadows and reflections

Flash can cause harsh shadows and reflections

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