Tips to Start Taking Better Photos

I purchased my first SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera  at Sydney Airport in November 2004 when my wife and I were flying to Christchurch New Zealand for a work assignment and also for a weeks' vacation to travel around New Zealand.  I had only occasionally used an SLR camera before since my previous employer (CSIRO) had professional photographers on their staff who would loan us cameras already set up when we needed to take photos of our work.

When I arrived in Christchurch and had time to think about what we would do on our week's vacation I researched the internet on the best way to use my camera.  This was the start of my journey with SLR cameras and photography, mainly landscape and macro photography.  I would like to share with you some of the tips I have learned, you may well have other tips you could share also.

 Firstly, I learned about using Aperture Priority so that my landscape photos of gardens and scenery were in focus from fairly close  to far away.  I also learned that it is better to change the camera's focusing from automatic selection of focus point to manual selection of focus point so that you choose what you want in focus.

Later, after more trips, I purchased more cameras and lenses and a tripod to give me more flexibility.

Here are some of the other techniques I learned to improve my photography.  All these tips are available on the net in various websites, I have referenced some of them here and hope these may help you to improve your own photography. 

Set up your camera:

  • Use Aperture Priority
  • Manually select your ISO setting according to your lighting conditions.
  • Consider manually setting white balance under some lighting conditions, such as cloudy days.
  • Enhance your flexibility by shooting in RAW.  Later you can choose to modify some settings such as white balance when you process the photos.  I often choose RAW + JPEG for maximum flexibility.
  • Use back-button focusing to get sharp images "without losing focus on the subject before shutter release".
  • Set your camera's Picture Style on the menu  for your targeted photo, e.g., landscapes, people
  • Experiment with the options available on your camera for focussing.  Try using single point autofocus which is the "most precise method of macro photography".  For example here is how to set up your Canon 7D camera for various focus methods.  (I own two Canon 7D cameras and love them.)
  • Consult websites that go through the most important setup features for your particular camera, for example here is a site I consulted soon after purchasing my Canon 7D.  Here is another site telling you how to set up and use your Canon 7D mark ii camera.
  • When taking movies with your camera, always mount the camera on a tripod to keep it steady.  If you don't have a tripod with you hold the camera on something steady.  Once in a cave in WA I was not allowed to take my tripod, so I rested the camera on the floor and got some great shots.
  • For processing your photos, you may use the software that comes with your camera, or more professional software like Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Lite.  I like using DXO Optics for processing my photos as it allows me to batch process files and correct for lens distortion automatically.

Buy a good quality tripod (e.g., Manfrotto, carbon fibre is lighter) with the flexibility to take photos low to the ground for photographing orchids. For example, I use a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod which can get down really low to photograph wildflowers but is considered a bit on the heavy side. I also use a Manfrotto 498RC2 Midi Ball Head with RC2 Quick Release kit.  Another head I use is a Vanguard PH-22 Tripod Pan Head and  Vanguard  QS-50 Tripod Quick Release Shoe. Later, I  purchased other tripods which had different fittings, so I bought some ArcaSWISS Tripod clamps and release plates (QR-50),  one set for each tripod. By mounting the Arca SWISS quick release  mounting plates on each camera I was then able to use my cameras interchangeably on any tripod with a quick release fitting.

Advanced photo shooting techniques to improve image quality, such as focus and lighting.

  • Experiment with focus stacking to take a series of photos through the depth of field of your image (such as wildflowers) and process these images with software such as Helicon Focus.  If you are familiar with Adobe PhotoShop you can also use that.  You can purchase a short pdf course on focus stacking in my store.
  • If you are taking photos of subjects with high contrast use HDR (High Dynamic Range) to take a series of photos with a series of exposures and give you a perfectly exposed photograph.  The series of photos can then be processed using software such as PhotoMatix.  You can use the exposure compensation setting on your camera to get a range of exposures such as -3EV, -2EV, -1EV, 0, +1EV, +2EV, for example see my slide show below.
  • When photographing a seascape or a waterfall you can enhance the photograph by blurring the water using an ND (neutral density) filter to slow down your cameras shutter speed.  You will definitely need a tripod for this one.
  • Experiment using manual exposure with an external flash mounted on your camera to photograph flowers, particularly if there is wind about.  Set your aperture to say F1 to F22 and your exposure to 1/200th or 1/250th (the flash synch speed) and the camera will adjust the exposure with the flash.  You may need to mount a diffuser on your flash to diffuse the light, and sometimes you need to manually adjust the flash exposure on your camera if the subject is under or over exposed.

The images below illustrate using the technique of HDR or High Dynamic Range to take several photos in which the exposure is gradually changed from under exposed to over exposed to produce a final composite image which has good exposure on all parts of the image.

First image - 3EV - very under exposed
Second HDR image - 2EV - under exposed
Third image -1EV
Fourth image - normal exposure 0EV
Fifth image - getting over exposed +1EV
Sixth image +2EV and very over exposed.
This is the final composite image
Here we have the completed composite image by combining the previous 6 images. Both the building and the blue sky have a pleasant exposure.
First image - 3EV - very under exposed
Second HDR image - 2EV - under exposed
Third image -1EV
Fourth image - normal exposure 0EV
Fifth image - getting over exposed +1EV
Sixth image +2EV and very over exposed.
This is the final composite image
Here we have the completed composite image by combining the previous 6 images. Both the building and the blue sky have a pleasant exposure.
First image - 3EV - very under exposed
Second HDR image - 2EV - under exposed
Third image -1EV
Fourth image - normal exposure 0EV
Fifth image - getting over exposed +1EV
Sixth image +2EV and very over exposed.
This is the final composite image
Here we have the completed composite image by combining the previous 6 images. Both the building and the blue sky have a pleasant exposure.

The images below illustrate Focus Stacking with the camera controlled by Helicon Focus on a laptop.  Here we have a set of 7 photos in which the focus is slowly moved from the nearest petal to the furthest leaf.  The last photo is the composite image produced by combining all 7 images and choosing the parts of each that are best in focus.

First image - the rose is in focus
These 7 images were taken using Helicon Focus on my laptop which controlled the focus and shooting of the images.
Notice how the focus changes as you move through the images
The rose will gradually go out of focus but the leaves will slowly come into focus, first the left leaf, then the right leaf.
This is the third image and nothing is in focus
Notice that both the rose and leaves are going out of focus as we shift focus away from the rose toward the leaves.
This is the fourth image and the rose is out of focus
The focus is shifting towards the leaves, you may observe
Fifth image and the left leaf is now in focus
but the right leaf is not quite focused and the rose is definitely blurred.
Sixth Image, rose is blurred, leaves are coming into focus
Seventh image - right leaf in focus but rose is blurred
This is the final merged image produced by Helicon Focus
Notice that both the flower and the petals behind the flower are in sharp focus.
First image - the rose is in focus
These 7 images were taken using Helicon Focus on my laptop which controlled the focus and shooting of the images.
Notice how the focus changes as you move through the images
The rose will gradually go out of focus but the leaves will slowly come into focus, first the left leaf, then the right leaf.
This is the third image and nothing is in focus
Notice that both the rose and leaves are going out of focus as we shift focus away from the rose toward the leaves.
This is the fourth image and the rose is out of focus
The focus is shifting towards the leaves, you may observe
Fifth image and the left leaf is now in focus
but the right leaf is not quite focused and the rose is definitely blurred.
Sixth Image, rose is blurred, leaves are coming into focus
Seventh image - right leaf in focus but rose is blurred
This is the final merged image produced by Helicon Focus
Notice that both the flower and the petals behind the flower are in sharp focus.
First image - the rose is in focus
These 7 images were taken using Helicon Focus on my laptop which controlled the focus and shooting of the images.
Notice how the focus changes as you move through the images
The rose will gradually go out of focus but the leaves will slowly come into focus, first the left leaf, then the right leaf.
This is the third image and nothing is in focus
Notice that both the rose and leaves are going out of focus as we shift focus away from the rose toward the leaves.
This is the fourth image and the rose is out of focus
The focus is shifting towards the leaves, you may observe
Fifth image and the left leaf is now in focus
but the right leaf is not quite focused and the rose is definitely blurred.
Sixth Image, rose is blurred, leaves are coming into focus
Seventh image - right leaf in focus but rose is blurred
This is the final merged image produced by Helicon Focus
Notice that both the flower and the petals behind the flower are in sharp focus.

Using a Tripod for Macro photo of reef flowers in WA 

Waterfall (Somersby's Falls) with Slow exposure and HDR

Using flash at the synch speed 1/250th and exposure on F8

Using flash at synch speed blackens the background


Photos for sale or download

If you wish to purchase any photos you are welcome to email me, there are too many to put on the store which has only a sample.  Some of my photos are available for free on Pixabay.com.

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