Tuesday, December 14, 2010

5 Quick Tips for Better Photographs

I have learned to keep a few pieces of advice in the back of my head when I'm taking photos on the trail. The next time you hit the trail, try to keep just one of these in mind and commit to adding it to your tool box. Only through repetition and practice does our photography tool box expand.

1. Shoot in the sweet spot – Lenses are typically just a little less sharp when you use the lowest f-stop, and the highest f-stop. Click about 2-3 stops away from your highest and lowest to find the sweet spot and enjoy maximum sharpness.

f/16 and sharp from foreground to background.

2. Use the camera’s histogram for a perfectly balanced exposure - Digital Darkroom techniques will only get you so far. Great photography begins with a great exposure. Getting a great exposure will also let you play more post-production and leaves more creative options open. Keep an eye on the following:

  • Stacking to the Left – If the whole thing looks stacked to the left edge the results will be an underexposed image with bulletproof black and a loss of detail in the shadows.
  • Stacking to the Right – The opposite of stacking to the left
  • Bunching at the top – If it looks like your graph is going “off the chart” its trying to tell you you’re going to get bands of colors instead of fine gradients of details.

Don't forget: Rules are made to be broken, this photograph is "badly" overexposed but it works to create a mood in the photograph.

3. Include a foreground object in your composition – Including a close object like a rock, a flower, or even a lake gives a broad landscape a sense of scale and impresses upon the viewer how daunting the landscape really is.

4. Move in closer – Train your eye to look at the details, the moss on trees, the texture of their bark, the patterns made by the wind in the grass. Nature photography isn’t all about big things, often a frosty tip of leaf is just as stunning as a mountain landscape. It’s easier to control the craft of photography up close, getting the perfect background, the perfect angle, the perfect light.

Don't be afraid to get in the dirt. I was soaked from moisture clinging to the grass, but I have a great shot to show for it.

Assignment: Next time you’re on a boring stretch of trail and you feel no creative energy, get down into the dirt and shoot some close ups of leaves, or moss, or rocks. Look for texture and interesting light.

5. Crop your photos – Here’s one to try right now. If you browse through flickr some time you’ll find nearly all images are being displayed in the 3:2 camera sensor format. While some compositions work in this format there is typically a lot of blank space the photographer is leaving. If you look at the work of great photographers most are not shot in the camera negative format.Try some other conventional crop ratio’s for an image that does not “look cropped”.

  • 4:5 – Classic Format (enlarges to 8 x 10)
  • 4:3 – Medium Format
  • 2:1 – Panorama


  1. Hello Chris,
    Very interesting.Make me want to buy a nice camera. Jennifer would be interested in getting advice on how to use her camera.
    "Jennifer Sweeney" ,

  2. Great reminders, Chris! I'll repost this on my public fb page. Thanks :)

  3. Brie - Mine as well

    Julie - Thanks for spreading the word!

    Ed - I'm a big advocate of "shut up and shoot" - the mantra of many photographers. Basically I feel like people focus on gear too much and having an awesome camera and awesome lenses. The way you get good shots though isn't by having great gear, it's going out and taking pictures.