The Beginner’s Guide to DLSR Photography: Photography Tips
Okay, you’ve chosen your camera and you know how to shoot in manual mode…now what? First, give yourself a big pat on the back because taking pictures in manual mode is no easy task. Your pictures are already looking better because you have more control over the photos. But do you want to amp it up even more? Of course you do. In this post I’m going to give you the best photography tips and tricks that I’ve used to improve my pictures and make the most out of my DSLR camera.
A slight disclaimer: Many of these photography tips will be specific to shooting objects rather than portraits or landscapes.
Tip #1: Use natural light whenever possible.
I’ve found for me that lighting is one of the most difficult aspects of photography. Natural light helps to alleviate some of that difficulty because it looks…..you guessed it: natural. Artificial light will give your photos a yellowish hue (unless you want to invest in softboxes or a ring light). If you are inside, take your photos next to a window in a well-lit area. If you are outside, photograph on a cloudy day or in the shade.
(Note: It’s best to have the light in front of your subject, rather than behind, but Oliver really wanted to help illustrate natural light.)
Tip #2: Find the best time to photograph. (It’s okay to be picky.)
I’ve found the best time to take pictures inside where we live is around 9:00 AM, but your ideal time may not be the same as mine. Our apartment faces east, so mornings get the best light. I’ve also found that Minnesota winters are difficult for picture-taking because there is less light. Figure out what works best for you and take pictures around that time. If the light isn’t right and you can afford to wait a day, do it. It’ll make your pictures lighter and brighter and you won’t have to spend so much time editing.
Tip #3: Use props when applicable.
If you’re taking a picture for a blog photo or for Instagram, props can go a long way to getting an interesting and well-composed shot. Taking a picture of your favorite craft supply? Show the projects you could make with it. Showing off your beautiful hand-lettering? Add the brush pens you used and some funky office supplies. Snapping a shot of your new favorite recipe? Include some silverware or some ingredients that you used to make the dish.
Tip #4: Use foam core to even out the lighting.
This is one of my favorite photography tips. When you’re photographing next to a window, part of your photo will be closer to the light than others. This can cause one side of your picture to be darker than the other. (Confession: I scoffed a little bit at this when I first read it. How could 12 inches of space make a difference in the light? Believe me, it happens.) To remedy this, prop a white piece of foam core on the side furthest from the light source (probably the window). Hint: If you’re photographing without an assistant, use a tri-fold board that can be found at most Dollar Stores.
Set up your foam core or tri-fold as close to your set-up as you can without it being in the picture. The light will bounce off the white board onto the less lit side of your picture, making the lighting more even and the shadows less harsh.
Tip #5: Use interesting backgrounds.
A great backdrop can give emphasis to the thing you are photographing and add some interest and texture to your pictures. Here are a few of my favorite (inexpensive) backdrop ideas:
- White foam core or posterboard: Use that piece of foam core that you used to bounce light as a background. I love taking pictures with a white backdrop to showcase a craft or project. To get the great infinity background (where it looks like a seamless, endless background), tape a piece of posterboard to a chair or tall item and let it drape down onto a table or the floor.
- Scrapbook paper or cardstock: Add some color and design to your photography with scrapbook paper or colorful cardstock. My favorite scrapbook paper is this set designed to look like wood.
- Textured items: Use blankets, burlap, or some fabric to give some texture to your photos.
- Vinyl backgrounds: I found this great marble vinyl on Amazon that’s normally used for counter-tops. When I want to take a picture with it, I roll it out, place my props, and snap away. (You can also adhere it to a foam board to give it some more structure.
Tip #6: Find some image editing programs and learn the ins and outs.
My Canon Rebel takes great pictures shooting on manual and using the tips above, but they are even more enhanced by using editing programs. I’m as frugal as frugal can be, so I chose not to invest in Photoshop and instead use some of the free editing programs that are available. (Not knocking Photoshop if you already have it; it’s a great program.) Here’s a few of my favorite free editing programs:
- Afterlight ($0.99)
*Denotes the ones I use the most.
You’ll get a feel for what edits are most needed for your photography, but generally I end up increasing the exposure, saturation, whites (or highlights), and sometimes blacks. Then, I increase the clarity and sharpness until I’m happy with how the picture looks.
Tip #7: Tinker
Out of all the photography tips, this is one that I love the most. Trial and error is a beautiful thing, people. Get to know your camera, your style, and your preferences. Read the manual and then read it again. Not everyone will take the same kinds of photos and that’s the beauty of it. Tinker, try, experiment, research…whatever you need to get the photos you like the best.
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