It’s Summertime! 25 Cool Tips For Great Photos

By Albert Chi—

© Arthur H. Bleich

1. Avoid wandering aimlessly around looking for good pictures to shoot. Always give yourself a mini-assignment to stay on track. Like, street vendors, kids at play, people at bus stops,  interesting doorways, afternoon shadows, and so on. That way, you have a direction in which to go and the challenge of trying to interpret things in your own unique way.

2. Most zoom lenses give you larger apertures at wide-angle settings than at full telephoto. Just how much is engraved on the lens. If it says 1:2.8–4.5 the camera’s maximum aperture of f-2.8 at full wide will shift to f–4.5 as you move to the extreme telephoto setting. So if you’re shooting under low light or need a faster shutter speed, go wide.

Image shot in a table tent. © Al Francekevich

3. To light small objects without producing harsh shadows or overly-bright highlights, build a small tabletop tent using part of an old bed sheet with an opening cut for the camera lens. (You can also use a gallon-size, plastic milk bottle.) Then place the object inside it and aim your light through the top or side of the tent.

4. Your camera has more options than you’ll ever use. You’d be surprised at how good your pictures will be if you just use the Program setting. You also won’t risk losing that once-in-a-lifetime shot, fiddling with settings. If you need more sophisticated settings, check the manual, as needed.

5. Here’s how to figure out what resolution to scan at. The dpi to set for scanning equals the final image width divided by the original image width multiplied by the final ppi desired. So if you want to print a quality 8×10 inch enlargement from a 4 x 5 inch photo at 300 ppi, divide 8 (the final image width) by 4 (the current image width) which gives you 2. Then multiply 300 by 2 which equals 600—the dpi setting to use for scanning. Simple.

6. You’d be surprised at how different your prints can look depending on the paper type you choose. One of the best investments you can make is to buy one or more inexpensive Red River Paper sampler kits and try different kinds. Then, buy the papers you like best.

7. Unless your camera or lens has image stabilization built in, here’s the rule for getting shake-free images when using zoom lenses at telephoto settings. Use the focal length of the lens as your shutter speed. So if you are shooting with the 35mm equivalent of a 400mm lens, set your shutter speed to 1/400th second or faster.

This image was shot with a hand-held with the 35mm equivalent of o 600mm lens  f-4 lens. The shutter speed should have been at least 1/600 sec. but due to low light, 1/90 sec. was the correct exposure and the camera strap tip (#8) saved the day. © Arthur H. Bleich

8. To drastically reduce camera shake, hang your camera in front of you. Then put your right arm through the neck strap and swing the strap over your right shoulder. The strap crosses your back and ends up under your right armpit. Then adjust the  camera and strap so  the camera’s viewfinder is at eye level. Then pull it forward and keeping the tension on it, being your eye to the viewfinder. Result? Rock-steady shots.

9. Memory cards do go south so trusting all your pictures to one humongous card is a bad idea. Use smaller capacity cards and swap them out frequently so all won’t be lost if the card takes a dive.

10. If a memory card does goes bad, and gives you a message of doom, don’t mess with it. There are many recovery programs that will save your images and the less you do the better your chances are that you can retrieve them unharmed.

Bracketing is quick and easy to use. It can save your bacon in very low or very bright conditions that often fool your auto exposure system. © Arthur H. Bleich

11. Bracketing is a great feature to use when you’re shooting under difficult conditions (extremely low or bright light). The camera will shoot one picture at what it thinks is the correct exposure and then two more, one overexposed and the other underexposed. Among the three, one should be right on the nose. You can also set it to shoot one normal and two under or one normal and two over. Check your manual.

12. When doing long exposures with a DSLR camera on a tripod, don’t forget to cover the eyepiece or light will get in through it and usually put a blurry round circle right in the middle of your image. Now you know what that little cap that came with your camera is for.

13. Don’t use lens tissue to remove smudges from your lens. It only redistributes the dirt and oil. A LensPen will get rid of everything without harming the optical glass or its coating.

14. Most DSLR optical viewfinders show you less of the field of view than will be recorded. If you need to frame your images with greater accuracy, run a few tests to see how much more will actually be included and then compensate for the difference, usually by moving in.

Beautiful, soft flesh tones result when shot by natural light. © Jerry Biollo

15. The worst pictures you can possibly make will be with the camera’s flash. Unless you’re shooting “record” shots (your possessions for insurance purposes, for example), stash the flash. Start shooting with available light and you’ll begin to feel the magic. Outdoor portraits are especially gorgeous when lit by open shade.

16.  Shooting in RAW mode, which bypasses in-camera processing of  images, allows you to adjust them yourself afterward in an imaging program. But shooting in RAW inflates file sizes, and always requires post-processing work which can be time-consuming. If your exposures and white balance are correct (and they usually are) stick with JPEG. The quality will be virtually the same without all the hassles and you’ll have more time to shoot pictures

17. To make sure the colors you see on your monitor print out correctly, you must calibrate it so it accurately displays the actual colors in your image files. The printer uses that file and not your monitor for its output. Calibration assures that the monitor is displaying exactly the same colors that are in the file and that any changes you make to the image on your monitor will be made to the file which, in turn, will be reflected in your print-out.

18. It’s been calculated that OEM inks cost next-to-nothng to produce but sell for thousands a gallon, making printer manufacturers a small fortune. If you print a lot, save a fortune of your own by trying some quality third party inks, like those made by Precision Colors.

This was just a rope holding two phone poles together. By moving in and tilting the camera, the resulting image takes on a whole new life. © Arthur H. Bleich

19. Move in. Most pictures have way too much extraneous junk in them. By taking a few giant steps forward, your pictures will become more dramatic and go from ho-hum to ooh-ah.

20. At one time, you had to be very careful to use pigment inks only on appropriate papers and the same for dye-based inks. Nowadays most papers will give great results with either. However, there are still a few exceptions, so check it out before you invest in a paper that may not be compatible with the type of ink you use.

21. Start off with a good imaging program. Adobe Photoshop Elements will do almost everything Photoshop can without having to subscribe for a monthly fee. You can buy it at Amazon for  $99. But there are also more sophisticated Photoshop-compatible programs that require no subscription, and  are equal to (or some say, better than) Photoshop. One is Affinity Photo (about $49.99). The other is  Gimp (free). Check them out.

22. Shoot, shoot, and shoot. Shoot a few pictures a month and it will take you forever to become a good photographer. But shoot several hundred shots a month and you’ll progress a lot faster. They say it takes 10,000 hours of work to become good at something.

It took about a dozen shots which involved changing camera angles to waiting for the right subject placement to finally nail this dramatic image. © DPW

23. As a rule of thumb, never shoot less than a dozen pictures of a subject. Explore it from different angles, go for different poses, stay with it, trying with each new shot to make a better picture than the one before.

24. You may be a techie and love all the geeky stuff, but photography is still about making pictures that say something. The finest equipment is worthless if you can’t use it to express yourself. Take a workshop, look at some tutorials and read a few books that emphasize the creative side. My current favorite is The Passionate Photographer by Steve Simon.($19.49). Others are anything by Bryan Peterson.

Super wide-angle lens from high up looking down at Dubai. © Novarc Images

25. Try new points of view. Get down and shoot up or up and shoot down. Tilt the camera to induce some dynamic tension. Come in ultra close or shoot from really far away. Use ultra-wide angle lenses and learn to love the distortion. Finally, guess what? If you turn your camera 90-degrees to the left or right you can shoot exciting vertical images. Imagine that! And every camera comes with that feature. Use it!

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