Stop wasting pictures! 10 tips for bagging keepers every time

Stop wasting pictures! 10 tips for bagging keepers every time

3. Avoid shaky shots with slow shutter speeds

Photography Tips: avoid camera shake

This image suffers from a bad case of camera shake

You often get the best pictures when you take things slow. Pictures of running water – whether it’s a babbling mountain brook or an ornate garden statue – often benefit from a slower shutter speed than you would normally consider when shooting in daylight.

Shutter speeds are often set in whole seconds, not fractions of seconds, so you’ll need a solid support. If you try and get away with balancing your camera on a rock, you’ll end up with shaky pictures [1].

A solid tripod is essential so that the stationary parts of the scene [2] are pin sharp and contrast with the frothy blur of the moving water (see our 4 tips for sharper shots when using a tripod).

The speed you set will depend on the speed and volume of water. For example, at 15 secs a mountain stream would appear as a milky blur, but you’ll need a setting closer to 1/10 sec to shoot a city fountain.

Don’t let your shutter speed get too long, though, or your waterfall will become a wash-out, with no range of tone in the white water at all [3] (for a more on this, find out how to set up your DSLR to shoot moving water).

Problem areas in this image

Four ways to improve slow shots

Photography Tips: use a tripod

1. Use a tripod to frame your shot tightly. Composing the image to avoid bright areas of sky or dark shadow areas will make it easier to get a balanced exposure.

Photography tips: use an ND or polarizing filter

2. Use a neutral density filter or polariser. This will cut down the amount of light entering the lens, enabling you to use a slow shutter speed. Use ISO100 to reduce noise.

Photography tips: use aperture priority mode

3. Use aperture priority mode to set an aperture of f/22 and allow a slower shutter speed. Take a test picture, then use +/– compensation to darken or lighten (to find the right level, check out our quick cheat sheet on exposure compensation.)

Photography tips: use your self-timer

4. Use your camera’s self-timer to fire the shutter (or use a cable release, if you have one). This will eliminate the kind of camera shake seen in the image above.

Photography Tips: stabilising the camera has produced a much sharper image

Stabilising the camera has produced a much sharper image

The combination of these four steps has allowed us to keep the camera steady at a shutter speed slow enough to capture the movement in the waterfall.


4. Banish lifeless still lifes

Photography Tips: how to improve still lifes

This still life suffers from a dull background

With many types of photography you can’t alter the subject to suit your needs. Mountains can’t be moved or penalty kicks retaken to help you nail your shot. But still-life pictures offer much more scope (find out how to master depth of field in still life photos).

For example, our autumn leaf makes an attractive, colourful subject [1], but photographed exactly where it is found it could lack impact. However, by moving it you don’t have to settle for a dull background [2].

Take control of the situation, moving the subject or grouping leaves together. Alter the scene to make the most of the texture, colour, pattern and lighting, then take your shot.

Still life problem areas

Take control of your still life scene

How to improve still lifes - step 1

1. Collect the leaves together so they can be shot in a group. Use a tripod so you can fine-tune the composition (find out how to use a tripod the right way). This will also leave you free to pick any aperture (try a setting of around f/16).

How to improve still lifes - step 2

2. Move the leaves into the best arrangement, making one change at a time. Check your image through the viewfinder after each move to get an accurate view of how it will look.

How to improve still lifes - step 3

3. Take the items home (but don’t disturb the environment). This will give you more time to arrange them, and give control of lighting and framing.

PAGE 1: Cut out the clutter; Avoid limp landscapes
PAGE 2: Stay sharp at slow shutter speeds; Banish lifeless still lifes
PAGE 3: Avoid portraits that lack focus; Shoot into the light and avoid a washout
PAGE 4: Avoid lifeless action shots; Avoid poor photos in low light
PAGE 5: Rescue dull, dark exposures; Don’t flood the scene with flash


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