Owning a digital camera isn’t a panacea for taking bad photos. In fact, all too often, having a digital camera means you take many more bad photos – you just don’t pay to have them printed. Take a quick look through the photos you’ve taken recently and see how many great photos you’ve taken compared with how many you’re disappointed with.

If you’re erring on the side of having too many photos in the not so good category, then read on! This month I have some great tips for taking much better photos and they’re simple solutions that don’t need special tools or expensive cameras. In fact they’re techniques that are guaranteed to take anyone’s photography up a notch.

Cut the clutter
When your photos are marred by untidy backgrounds and general clutter, there are two simple solutions. One is to move closer. Most people shoot from way too far away from their subjects so it’s inevitable that there will be other extraneous detail in the shot. You can tell if you’re standing too far away if you look at the photos you take and identify how much of the surface area of the photo the subjects take up. If it’s less than 50% you’re not getting close enough.

Next time you’re about to take a photo, take one good big step towards your subject and check the LCD screen. Mentally calculate how much of the photo area is covered by the subject, if it’s not at least half, then take another step and check again. At the same time, ensure that the scenery behind your subject is attractive. If not, move yourself or the subject until you have a more attractive background (or move in closer still), and then take your shot.

Getting in close to this carousel turns the shot from ho-hum into wonderful.

No more blur
Blur in photos is great when you want it and disastrous when you don’t. When you want a sharp, clear photo and all you’re getting is blur, there are some things to check. One is that you’re not too close to your subject. Your camera’s manual will tell you the ideal range at which the camera can focus – if you’re closer than recommended then your photos will be blurry. The solution is to move further away from your subject so the lens can focus or switch to macro mode. Macro mode is indicated by a small flower icon and it is used for close up photography. Again, check your camera’s manual to see just how close you can be to your subject in macro mode – you will find this is usually a minimum of around 5cm. When using macro mode, zoom out (not in) as the camera generally won’t focus in macro mode if you’re using the zoom at the same time.

If the blur cannot be attributed to being too close, it might be caused by camera movement. When taking a shot, hold the camera in both hands and brace yourself. Take a breath, push the shutter release half way down to allow the camera to focus on the subject. Then push the shutter release the remainder of the way down to take the shot before breathing out again. Taking and holding a breath will avoid a lot of camera movement and pressing the shutter release half down gives the camera’s auto-focus mechanism time to focus correctly before you take the shot.

The camera moved a little as this shot was taken resulting in a slight blur.

When your subject is moving, taking a sharp picture is more difficult than when it is stationary. In this situation, switch the camera to sports mode so the shot will be captured faster and so there is less chance of the movement causing a blurry shot. It will also help if you adjust your placement so the movement is occurring towards you and not across the path of the shot. Of course, in some situations this is not possible, for example, standing in front of horses racing around a track is generally not possible, however it will give a clearer shot!

Too much light or too little
When your photos are repeatedly too light or too dark, adjusting the camera’s exposure may help. To do this, check your camera’s manual to see if it has an exposure compensation option. Generally you can adjust the exposure up or down by approximately 2 stops – these are marked -2, -1, 0, 1 and 2 on a scale. Zero is the value that is used by default and, to get a darker image, set the value towards the negative, generally around minus one third to minus half a stop is sufficient. On the other hand if your shots are too dark, adjust the setting to a positive value of around one third or one half. Exposure compensation settings are often lost when you turn off your camera so you should check it each time just in case.

If you’re shooting in bright daylight, and particularly if you are shooting portraits or a person standing in front of a scene, use the forced or fill flash setting on your camera. This forces the flash to fire in circumstances that it would generally not be required. The flash will light the person’s face and give a much nicer portrait shot and the background will still be captured just fine too.

Helen Bradley