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Be a Better Photographer With My 10 Tips and Techniques

Updated on September 24, 2017
Marco Arista profile image

Researcher by trade, curious by nature. Writer, photographer, tech lover, crazy about cooking and eating (or maybe I'm just Italian).

Do You Want to Take Beautiful, Original Photos?

You came to the right place. Whether you are a professional, an enthusiast, or a compulsive social-networker, I've got you covered.

Follow these 10 tips and techniques and you are guaranteed to take better, more original pictures in literally no time!

Let's get started.

Taking good pictures is easy, if you know how to do it!This one is called "Stop the world" and is one of my favourites.
Taking good pictures is easy, if you know how to do it!This one is called "Stop the world" and is one of my favourites.

1 - Get Your White Balancing Right

I get it, we all love the Simpsons. But that is not a good reason to turn all of our pics pumpkin yellow is it?

The first thing everybody should look after when taking pictures is the so-called "white balancing".

Here's what that means:

Our brains are smart enough to tell white from blue, red, and violet at a glance. Camera sensors are not as smart.

In fact, a camera can easily fail to understand what's "white", and think of it as "orange", or "blue". When that happens, the whole picture is tinted with that bias, leaving your subject looking like our beloved Homer, or a white walker from Game of Thrones.

Set white balance settings according to the type of light you are shooting into (daylight, fluorescent lamp, incandescence lamp etc...). Every camera has a dedicated menu for white balancing, find it and use it.

If you happen to make a mistake while shooting, don't worry. You can fix it in post-production.


White point is measured in Kelvin degrees (it's formally a temperature) hence the commonly used terms "cold" and "hot" when talking about white balancing
White point is measured in Kelvin degrees (it's formally a temperature) hence the commonly used terms "cold" and "hot" when talking about white balancing

2 - Fishing

"Fishing" is what photographers call the process of finding a nice place to take a picture, and then waiting for the subject to enter the scene before shooting.

I know this might sound silly but trust me, patience goes a long way when trying to take a great pic for your portfolio.

Don't just go to your subject and shoot wherever he/she is. Rather casually tell him/her to walk towards that unique spot you found, and then take a surprise picture.

This also works for animals: you can see it demonstrated in the picture below.

Just don't convince anybody to walk into a volcano. Please.

In this picture I waited for the bee to get to the flower before taking the picture, it makes everything more interesting!
In this picture I waited for the bee to get to the flower before taking the picture, it makes everything more interesting!

3 - Tilt-shift

The name of this technique probably derives from a series of lenses that are used by architecture photographers to avoid perspective distortions when shooting at very tall buildings.

Nowadays, however, the term “Tilt-shift” broadened, and it represents the creative effect you would get with one of those lenses, whether you actually use them to achieve it or not.

Allow me to clarify:

you achieve a tilt-shift effect by leaving a sharp rectangle in the middle of the picture in focus, while blurring everything else.

This result can be achieved in a number of ways, including post production.

When you use this effect, your scene looks like a miniature version of itself (check out the picture below), making people walking into town look like action figures, and skyscrapers like cereal boxes.

This effect looks professional and stunning, and not many people use it, so mastering this technique will allow you to stand out as a photographer.

Check out this online tool to try it out (https://tiltshiftmaker.com/photo-editing.php).

This picture I took in Manhattan, New York City, has been edited using the tilt-shift technique
This picture I took in Manhattan, New York City, has been edited using the tilt-shift technique

4 - Fisheye

Back to fishmonger slang here, but for an entirely different technique.

Fisheye is what you normally call a lens that has a peculiar reality-warping effect, managing to include up to 180° of field-of-view in a single rectangular picture.

This means that if you shoot with the camera pointing at the horizon, you will see you feet in the picture. How cool is that?

Not many people fancy these lenses, that nowadays are available also for most phones (that's how I took the picture below).

They simply should.

Try shooting a portait with a fisheye, you will be surprised by the alienating, surreal results you will get.

Guaranteed to impress.

I took this picture with my phone (OnePlus 3) and a clamp-on fisheye lens, not bad considering the lens was crazy cheap
I took this picture with my phone (OnePlus 3) and a clamp-on fisheye lens, not bad considering the lens was crazy cheap

5 - Film Cameras

This item is more of an object than a technique. I hope you'll forgive me.

People love their Insta-filters and think they took a great picture just because of the "cool dress" they put on it.

Maybe they don't realise that photography is something else entirely.

You have to learn the basic techniques and principles: exposure (which derives from aperture, shutter speed and film/sensor sensitivity), focus and composition are terms you should be familiar with if you want to take good pictures.

Do you know the best way of learning all of that?

Get rid of the "D" in "DSLR"!

Grab a film camera, put an old film in it (Get expired ones, your local store will probably give you some for free and they work) and then start from there.

With an old SLR you have no automatic exposure, no auto-focus, no image stabilisation, no grid overlay to help your composition...and definitely no "Clarendon" filter.

Also, you pay for each and every picture you take, and you have no idea of the result before you take it to your local photo lab.

In brief, you learn photography "the hard way".

Needless to say, it's also the best way.

When (or should I say "if"?) you decide to switch back to digital, you will be a much better photographer than you were before. Guaranteed.

I took this picture on my Nikon FM2 film camera, with a 200 ASA expired film and my 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted on a macro ring
I took this picture on my Nikon FM2 film camera, with a 200 ASA expired film and my 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted on a macro ring

6 - Tree Hugging

When we shoot a photo, we really are just painting using light flowing towards the camera as our color palette.

What if the light is not flowing fast enough (e.g. at night)?

You just let it flow longer.

Your camera will normally do that for you, but here's the catch: you and your subject must be absolutely still.

That is extremely hard to accomplish if you have nothing to hold on to.

So find yourself a nice tree (or anything else that is stable) and just throw your hands around it while holding the camera, then take the picture holding your breath.

This will improve your stability and reduce hand-shaking, guaranteeing you to have a sharper picture with little to no motion blur.

Just do not take a selfie. That would be awkward.

7 - Light Painting

Have you ever seen one of those pictures with a car passing by and leaving a trail of light behind it? Technically, that is light painting.

There is another form of light painting nobody uses (but I love it!) and it works like this:

  • in complete darkness, shine a light (e.g. a candle) at a distance of 3-4 meters from you.
  • While shooting, move the camera so that the light changes position in your picture during the shot (remember to use a long exposure time, 2-3 seconds at least).

The result will be a picture with a black background and a light streak that you drew by moving your camera (see the pictures below).

Starting from there, you can get creative and experiment:

  • Change source of light, or use more than one
  • Move the light instead of the camera
  • Block the light flow towards your camera with your hand intermittently, to have a dashed-line effect
  • Whatever you can come up with!

Get crazy, and harness your ability to create actual paintings…with light!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow.I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow.I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow. The red is from a car that was passing by and so is the whiteI took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow. The red is from a car that was passing by and so is the whiteThis is a more "commonly used" light painting, just put the camera on a tripod and shoot for 2 or 3 seconds while a car is passing by
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow.
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow.
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow.
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow.
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow. The red is from a car that was passing by and so is the white
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow. The red is from a car that was passing by and so is the white
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow. The red is from a car that was passing by and so is the white
I took this in my car. The blue is from the stereo, then I raised the camera towards a street lamp to get the yellow. The red is from a car that was passing by and so is the white
This is a more "commonly used" light painting, just put the camera on a tripod and shoot for 2 or 3 seconds while a car is passing by
This is a more "commonly used" light painting, just put the camera on a tripod and shoot for 2 or 3 seconds while a car is passing by

8 - Overshooting

Ok here is one thing that literally everybody, including myself has done at least once:

1)shot a picture

2)thought it looked ok on the camera display

3)came home to find it was actually blurry or out of focus.

Believe it or not, there is an extremely easy solution to this problem, and I like calling it "overshooting".

Instead of taking just one picture, take five of the same, move a little bit and take 5 more!

Not to worry, you can delete the useless ones tomorrow, and you have a much better chance to get the picture the way you really want it.

Think about it, are you more likely to hit the bullseye throwing 10 darts, or just 1?

9 - Icarus (i.e. shooting towards the sun)

Rule number one of photography: never shoot something facing the sun; you will end up with a miserably black picture with a huge white spot where the sun is. Also, shooting towards the sun will create light reflections into your lens, and you will see light smears or weird flashy hexagons (these effects are known as "lens flare" or just "flare") in your picture.

But really, what is wrong with that?

I am not encouraging you to take a picture of a group of friends with the sun behind their backs, but with some trial and error, you will be able to take terrific, highly creative pictures shooting towards the sun.

For example, you can make people look like black cardboard shapes over a sunset (silhouette effect), or you can play the lens flare to your advantage.

Another interesting way of shooting against the sun is using your flash to illuminate your subject while doing that: this way your subject will not be dark, and you won't lose any details in it. Try it!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Here's an example where shooting directly at the sun can make for a nice pictureWell the sunset is easier to shoot in general, but Venice (Italy) is the perfect framing for this picture.Playing with the clouds and the sun can make for some great shoots!
Here's an example where shooting directly at the sun can make for a nice picture
Here's an example where shooting directly at the sun can make for a nice picture
Well the sunset is easier to shoot in general, but Venice (Italy) is the perfect framing for this picture.
Well the sunset is easier to shoot in general, but Venice (Italy) is the perfect framing for this picture.
Playing with the clouds and the sun can make for some great shoots!
Playing with the clouds and the sun can make for some great shoots!

10 - Infrared (IR) Photography

Infrared (IR) is the part of the wavelength spectrum that is invisible to our eyes because it’s below the frequency of the color red, the lowest we can see.

At variance with us, cameras are able to "see" this wavelength.

However, allowing your camera to picture IR on top of visible light would cause a degradation in picture quality, therefore, all cameras have a IR filter on their sensors, preventing this radiation from reaching it.

Enter Robert Wood (b.1868 d.1955), who like a photography “Copernicus”, thought to himself: “why don’t we do the opposite: rather than shielding our camera from IR, let’s shield it from everything else!”.

The pictures you can obtain with this method are simply incredible. Surreal and breathtaking beyond words.

I am not going to lie, it can get quite expensive to modify your camera to portray IR radiation, but here is a fantastic tutorial series to get it done less expensively.

There are also online services that do this for you in any camera you like, if you don’t feel confident in doing it yourself: find a reputable one and ship them your camera to have it properly modified.

Be mindful that this will void your warranty, so don't use you $5000 camera, rather use your old DSLR for this purpose.

Big fan of IR photography, and I would love to see much more of it around.

Look at this beautiful tree shot using an IR camera...love it
Look at this beautiful tree shot using an IR camera...love it | Source

Photography is one of the most beautiful visual arts, but it's not a simple one.

We live in an exciting time, where even low-end phones can provide good control over shutter time, aperture (more rarely) and ISO, and this gives more and more people the chance to take great pictures on a very low budged.

So you have no excuse, go and apply my 10 tips and techniques, and be a better photographer, today!

Marco

P.S. I'll be writing specific articles on the tips and techniques I discussed in this one. Watch this space!

Check out my full article on white balancing

Check out my full article on tree hugging (and taking sharp pictures in general)

And if you're just not feeling inspired...here's 50 ideas just for you!


Would you like me to write specific tutorials on these 10 techniques? Which ones?

See results

© 2017 Marco Arista

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