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Quick Tips for getting better Christmas Photos

Posted on: 18-Dec-2007

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It’s not the Camera, it’s the Photographer!


No matter how much money you spend on a camera, you won’t get better pictures unless you learn to take better pictures. Worse, you can’t fix a bad picture in Photoshop. So for this Christmas I thought I’d impart a few tips about getting better pictures that are easy to learn and won’t cost you anything. I see a lot of shots that violate these simple rules and if you check out my photography ( You’ll see I practice what I preach. So here goes:


1) Focus then compose! Digital cameras most accurate autofocus area is invariably the center point. This is also the most boring place to compose your photo. So, find your focus point, push the shutter down part-way, so it focuses and then compose the image in your viewfinder before you take the shot.  


2) Use the rule of thirds to compose. It’s simple, divide a picture in thirds with lines one third of the way in from the sides, top, and bottom. Where these lines intersect are power points. If you check the pros, you’ll see they almost always put the main subject of the photo at one of these points. If it’s a horizon, they’ll put it on the top line or the bottom, but rarely on the bottom. So after you focus on the subject you want to shoot, recompose by moving the subject you focused on 45% and not quite halfway to upper or lower right or left corner.


3) Brace it! Read the magazines and they’ll tell you to always use a tripod. It sells a lot of tripods that few people ever have the discipline to lug around. There is a simpler way that’s almost as good as a tripod: find something fixed like a bench, chair, table, pole, etc. to rest your hands against. Cup the camera with both hands to make it as stable as possible and then take the shot. I just came back from the Christmas fairs in Dresden, where they are the oldest in the world. Flash gave an artificial look and tripod was impossible. It used this and got great, stable shots that look like they were taken a hundred or more years ago because the people were all blurred. Many were taken with an inexpensive point-and-shoot. Want to take lots of burry photos? Just hold that digital camera out in front of you with two outstretched arms like you see the typical tourist doing.


4) Drop your flash down by one to two stops to avoid blown out, unnatural faces. It will also extend battery life. Also, don’t bother with bouncing the flash when outside or in high ceiling rooms. I see a lot of photographers doing this and flash only has a range of twenty feet or so. Thus, if the ceiling is twenty feet above you, the light has to travel more than 40 feet, diffusing to hardly anything. If you’re outside, you are only lighting up the heavens, as there is nothing for it to bounce off of to light your subject up.


5) Get good candid shots with flash by turning off the red-eye reduction, which rarely works anyway. Red-eye reduction sends out a pre-flash to close down people’s pupils so it doesn’t reflect off the back. But the most common result is that they close their eyes. You get a lot of bad photos and anger your subject with all the repeated flashes. So turn it off and fix the red eye later in Photoshop.


6) Watch the backgrounds! Backgrounds often make or break a shot. It is human nature to focus on the subject and not see the background until you see the print. It’s because we are predators. So train yourself to look at what’s behind your subject before you take the shot. Look for poles coming out of their heads. Also, check the corners of the frame. Take some time to select the background before you have people pose for a shot.


Remember, you’ll only get one shot this Christmas, so relax and take you time when taking the shot. It will pay off immensely years later. 


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