Stop wasting pictures! 10 tips for bagging keepers every time

Stop wasting pictures! 10 tips for bagging keepers every time

5. Avoid portraits that lack focus

Photography Tips: Avoid portraits that are out of focus

This portrait suffers from eyes that just aren’t quite sharp

Autofocus is a marvellous invention. But although it works well, it can’t read your mind. Your camera uses a number of sensors across the frame to focus on your subject, but it makes the simple assumption that you want to focus on the closest subject. Many pictures will work using this approach, but lots won’t.

The focus point is more critical with some pictures than others. The wider the aperture you are using (find out what a wide aperture is), the longer your zoom setting and the closer you are to the subject, the less depth of field you have available (find out what depth of field is).

As depth of field decreases, it becomes even more important to focus on the exact point (check out these three ways to affect depth of field).

With portraits, for instance, it is the eyes that need to be sharp. If they are even slightly out of focus your shot will be ruined.

The combination of lens setting, aperture and camera distance may mean that not all of the face can be sharp, so focusing must be totally accurate (for more on portraits, check out our in-depth photography cheat sheet on family portrait photography).

Three tips for pin-sharp focusing

Get eyes in focus - step 1

1. Switch to Manual focus and turn the focus ring at the front of the lens until the desired part of the scene comes into focus in the viewfinder (learn everything you need to know about manual focus to get sharp images). You need good eyesight (with or without your glasses) to do this well, because it relies on your ability to see when the scene looks sharp.

Get eyes in focus - step 2

2. Alternatively, let the AF do the work for you. Switch the AF point selection from automatic (where it uses all the focus sensors) to a manually selected point (the number of AF points varies depending on the SLR, but could be anything from three to 45). Use this one point to focus on a desired area (find out how to choose the best AF mode for your camera).

Get eyes in focus - step 3

3.  If necessary, lock the focus by pressing the trigger halfway down and then recompose the picture. This will work only if you have the Autofocus mode set to either One Shot or similar. Some AF modes continuously refocus on moving objects, so don’t work in this way.

Photography Tips: get eyes that are sharp

With the eyes in focus, this image is much stronger

More accurate focus has allowed us to get the eyes sharp, and capture a much stronger picture.


6. Shoot into the light and avoid a washout

Photography Tips: shooting into the light to avoid washout

With strong backlight, this image suffers from poor exposure.

Exposure needn’t be a problem in photography. If you want to avoid any difficulties, simply stand with the sun behind you. Take your pictures like this and your digital camera should provide perfect exposures every time – because the scene is evenly lit and shadows are kept to a minimum. The limited contrast range this produces is well within the capabilities of your camera’s sensor.

Stand and shoot towards the light, however, and the contrast is much more extreme. The range of brightness is greater than the sensor can cope with. You can still take pictures, but choosing the exposure becomes a compromise.

Either some parts of the scene will be too dark [1], or some will be too bright [2]. Sometimes you’ll see both. Your digital camera can guess which is appropriate, but often you need to take control yourself.

Shooting in to the light - problem areas

With strong backlight, it’s often best to sacrifice the shadows so that you create a silhouette. The secret is to expose for the bright parts of the scene. To do this you can use the exposure compensation button or dial to between -1 and -2.

You can also help by cropping unessential bright or dark parts of the image [3]. Underexposing a high-contrast scene is better than letting large areas become so bright that you can’t rescue tonal detail.

Photography Tips: shooting into the light to avoid washout

By exposing for the brightest parts of this scene and then cropping, we were able to get a more dynamic image than the original.

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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