Through my years in photography, I've gained experience on how to shoot photos in many different scenarios. In this post, I'm sharing a bit of my process in hopes of helping you capture better photos and ultimately add to your toolbox for when you are behind the camera.
SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE
I'll admit - when I started dabbling in photography, I only used the Auto mode. I was scared to shoot in Manual because it meant I had to have more control of the settings. Frankly, I didn't know what I was doing. It was daunting to think of all of the things I needed to fix, manage, and manipulate in order to capture a decent photo.
But Manual mode allows you to have complete control over your image. You choose the settings.
A large part of my process in getting more comfortable shooting in Manual mode was just that - understanding that it was a process to build the confidence I needed. What I did to help me in this was to play around with 3 things: the Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.
These 3 things affect what's called the Exposure - how light or dark the image will appear. The combination of those is largely what will make your images appear the way you imagine them. The tricky part is that each of those will affect the others. So part of getting comfortable is learning to balance and which trade-offs to make.
This mode is not to be confused with the Manual Focus mode on a lens itself. Which brings me to my next tip.
SHOOT IN AUTO-FOCUS
For a while, I thought that in order to be a professional photographer, you had to shoot in Manual Focus. I want to dispel that myth. Shooting in auto focus doesn't make you unprofessional. If you know you don't shoot well in manual focus, shooting in auto focus makes you a smart photographer.
The objective in photography is to get your shot and I've found that I do that best when Auto Focus is on. I always shoot in Auto Focus because it's way faster than I would be at manually focusing the lens. Some photographers only shoot in Manual Focus - I've found that Auto Focus works well for me.
The auto focus function on lenses and cameras now are super fast and this helps me not have to look at every shot to determine whether it was in focus.
Remember that there's often a switch on the lens that allows you to toggle the auto/manual focus, and there are additional focus settings within the camera itself.
FOCUS ON THE SUBJECT, THEN FRAME
This is undoubtedly the trick I use the most. Whether it’s an engagement, a portrait, a skyline – for really anything I photograph, I focus on the subject first, then frame/compose my shot.
99% of the time, I have the focus point locked on the center of my View Finder. That means whenever I’m about to take a picture, my camera's default is to focus on whatever is right in the center of the frame. But some of my photos have the subjects off to one side. How do I do it?
The trick is focusing on the subject first, then composing my shot.
Most modern cameras with Auto Focus have 2 stages on the shutter button – half press and full press. When you half-press the shutter button, by default, it will focus. After focusing, pressing the button the rest of the way down (full press) will capture your shot. So after I’ve half-pressed the shutter and focused on my subject, I physically move the camera to frame and re-compose my shot. Once I like where the subject is placed in my frame, I complete the press and capture my image. That’s how I get my subjects to not be in dead-center, but off to one side in the final image.
You can also achieve this effect by cropping the image in post, but you may lose some of the surrounding detail of your shot due to the cropping.
USE THE LIVE VIEW MODE
After focusing on the subject and then framing my shot, perhaps my second most used trick is using the Live View mode to view my adjustments. Live View is where you see your image in the monitor on the back of your camera, prior to shooting. In this mode, I get to see the image I'll be capturing before I take the shot. I use this primarily to determine the exposure and colors I’ll capture before I take the shot because my camera gives me a real-time view of any adjustments I make. With Live View on, I adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and I get to see the changes in real-time so I know what I'll be capturing.
Now, I don’t take the shot on the Live View mode, but I simply check the display on the back of the camera for my image, and turn it off before I press the shutter. I take all of my shots by putting my eye up to the View Finder at the top of the camera. If I wanted to take the photo through the Live View mode, I could, but the shutter speed is often slower than taking the shot through the View Finder.
Note: Not all DSLR cameras have this function. Some entry level cameras may not have this function available, but at the least, you will be able to use the Live View mode to frame your shot.
USE YOUTUBE AS AN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE
Lastly, If you don’t know what a particular setting will do, how to get the colors right, what your camera’s capable of, and you want to learn your camera’s potential, research it on YouTube.
I’ve learned that aside from putting my hands on the camera, toying around with the settings and seeing the results, YouTube has been a great educational resource on photography for me. They have tutorials on how to use specific cameras, what certain settings do - even basics like how to switch a lens properly and what the shutter button does, I learned through YouTube. And more than that, there's plenty of videos on more than just the technical side of knowing your gear. There are videos on growing your confidence in photography, photo ideas, and tons of inspiration for shoots.
I've learned that I don't enjoy reading as much as others, so rather than drudging through the camera's manual, why not watch a video on YouTube?