How many times have you taken a bad photo, when in your mind’s eye what you imagined was wonderful?
I’ve been there. I knew what I wanted creatively but I wasn’t able to make my vision a reality. Or I was close to the vision but the photo was blurry, underexposed or blown out. From the practical to the philosophical, here are eight possible reasons why you’re taking bad photos plus my advice on how to make them better.
Sounds good, right?
You’re Shooting on Automatic
Of course, you can take good photos shooting on automatic but your flexibility to get really creative is limited. If you’re aspiring to capture a more innovative image, you’ll need the kind of control shooting on Manual gives you. That means understanding shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, and how they affect each other.
It takes time and practice but it’s worth the effort. To get a sense of the basics,
You Don’t Know Your Camera
I won’t lie and tell you that I’ve read my camera manual backward and forward. I tend to spot check if I have a question. That said, I know my camera well enough that I can change my settings quickly if needed. If you’re working with a new camera play with it before you start to shoot. Get all the fumbles, manual checks and “where’s the X?” out of the way so you don’t flub a great photo because you can’t figure out how to take the picture.
(Tip: Always have your camera’s manual with you when you travel. FYI: most manufacturers provide pdf versions you can download, just Google the make and manufacturer.)
Sure, sometimes you have little or no time to prepare but, usually, you have more time than you think. Make a conscious effort to slow down. Take a few seconds to think about the story you want to tell. Make adjustments to your composition, settings or angle so your final shot is closer to what you envisioned. This is doubly true for street portraits. It’s normal to feel nervous when working with a stranger and therefore speed up, especially if you’re worried about taking too much of
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You’re Shooting Into the Light
Light can make or break an image. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen is placing the subject in front of a light source. Why is this bad you ask? Because your subject will be in shadow. Unlike your eyes, your camera cannot expose for the light and the subject at the same time. You have to choose what you want the camera to prioritize.
For example, let’s take a gorgeous sunset—a classic scene that people habitually place their friends and family in front of. The sun looks great. The subjects……not so much. If you expose for the sunset your subject goes dark. If you expose for your subjects the sunset is overexposed. To make the most of the situation you have a few options.
- Let it go: Take a picture of the sunset in all its glory and resist putting anything in the frame.
- Use a flash: The downside of a flash is that it can be harsh and unflattering and will detract from the beautiful sunset that inspired you in the first place. If your camera has a built-in flash and you’re able, dial down the strength of the strobe so it adds only a hint of flash to offset the light behind your subject. It takes a little experimentation but worth it if you get it right.
- Work the light you have: Since your subject will inevitably go dark, why not own it and make the photo more interesting by shooting a silhouette?
You’re Not Holding Your Camera Steady
If you find that your images are consistently soft (a little blurry) and you believe your settings are correct (or you’re shooting on automatic), there’s a good chance you’re not holding the camera steady.
If it’s bright, your shutter speed may compensate for tiny movements but an unsteady hand in low light (or when it’s windy), that’s another story. Whether you’re using a point and shoot or a fancy DSLR, make sure to keep your arms close to your body and elbows pointing down.
Don’t grip your camera on either side like a steering wheel or put your fingertips on your left hand at on top (thumb below) of the lens. Use your left hand as a brace, palm up and under the camera body, thumb pointing up, to steady it.
(Tip: If it’s really dark and I’m concerned about my breathing affecting the shot, I inhale then exhale half way, hold my breath, then click the shutter.)