Most modern digital cameras can be relied upon to get a decent picture in the majority of conditions, but making really great images takes a little more know-how, the sort of stuff that professional photographers know, but don’t want to tell you.
In this guest post our friends at Photoventure gathered together some of their best photography tips that the pros don’t want you to know!
Photography Tips From The Pros: Don’t be afraid to crop
Here’s a little secret that most pros prefer to keep to themselves: many sports photographers rely on cropping to get the composition right.
They shoot a little wider than is ideal and keep the subject in the centre of the frame so there’s more chance of capturing it whichever direction it moves in.
Another key reason is that it’s quicker to just use the central AF point rather than selecting the more peripheral point, plus the centre point is the most responsive and accurate.
Photography Tips From The Pros: Back-button focusing
Most people focus a lens by pressing the shutter release half-way down, but many cameras offer an alternative approach that pros like to use: the AF button.
As this button is usually found on the back of the camera, the technique is called back-button focusing.
One of the benefits of back-button focusing is that you don’t have to worry how hard you press it, you won’t accidentally take a shot.
It’s also very useful when you’re photographing moving subjects as it allows you to keep them sharp in the frame without locking the exposure settings until you press the shutter release to take the shot.
Back-button focusing is useful when photographing subjects like plants and flowers that move about in the wind.
You can lock the focus with the AF button and fire the image when the composition and lighting are right. It saves time and effort because the camera won’t focus every time the shutter release is pressed.
SEE MORE: Back button focus made easy
Photography Tips From The Pros: Set to f/8
As apertures go, f/8 is a great option. It’s often around the optimum aperture for a lens, which means that it’s sufficiently stopped down to avoid the softness that usually comes when shooting wide open, there’s reasonable depth of field and diffraction isn’t a major issue.
If you carry your camera on your shoulder with a standard zoom lens mounted, the lens hood on, the lens cap removed and the exposure mode set to program you’re pretty much ready for action at a moment’s notice.
Just make sure that the sensitivity is set to a value that allows normal hand-holding shutter speeds, or set it to automatic.
There’s no substitute for being there and having your camera prepared.
Photography Tips From The Pros: Expose to the right
The technique of exposing to the right makes use of the fact that the lighter parts of an image have a stronger signal and less noise than the darker parts.
This means that, provided that you don’t burn out any important highlights, it’s better to record a bright image and make it darker than it is to create a dark image and make it brighter.
Capturing a bright image without losing the highlights means keeping a close eye on your camera’s histogram view and setting the exposure so that there’s a peak towards the right-hand end.
However, you want to avoid having a huge peak at the very far right as this indicates that some pixels are burned out.
In practice this can be done by taking a shot and the checking the histogram before adjusting the exposure and taking another shot.
It can also be useful to activate your camera’s highlight alter if it has one, as this indicates when pixels are burned out – or close to being burned out.
Once you have your correctly overexposed images you need to adjust them to make them darker, and if necessary tweak the contrast. You can use whichever photo editing software you normally use.
Keep an eye on the histogram as you make the adjustments. In most cases you’ll want to ensure that the histogram trace reaches the far left as well as the far right indicating that there are some black and white pixels in the image.
Photography Tips From The Pros: Hire a fast lens
Pro sports and wildlife photographers give themselves a huge advantage by using top-notch lenses with large maximum apertures. Yes they are big and heavy, and they cost a fortune, but the quality shines through.
As well as allowing more control over depth of field, in low light they give the AF system a fighting chance of working and allow movement-freezing shutter speeds to be used.
Few amateurs can afford to buy such luxurious optics, but there are plenty of hire firms out there that offer reasonable day rates.
So if there’s a sporting event that you fancy photographing why not take along the perfect lens?
And while you’re at it, you could hire yourself that Canon 1Dx for the day as a little treat.
With a nice fast card installed you’ll be able to shoot images at 12 frames per second.
Photography Tips From The Pros: Use a flashgun
In daylight a burst of light, preferably from an off-camera flashgun, can really bring your subject to life.
However, the level of automation provided by modern units makes life much easier.
So buy a flashgun and learn how to use it – what have you got to lose?
Photography Tips From The Pros: Focus stacking
Focus stacking is a neat trick that allows you to create images with very wide depth of field so the whole image is sharp, and it’s especially useful when shooting macro subjects.
The subject needs to be motionless and the camera mounted on a tripod because the first step in the technique is to take a sequence of shots with the focus at different distances.
Take the first shot with the nearest part of the scene in focus and then, without moving the camera, refocus just a little further in and take the second shot.
Repeat this process of refocusing further into the scene before each shot until the furthest part of the subject has been photographed in focus.
The next stage is to combine all the images. While this could be done manually using any image editing software that supports layers it would be very time consuming.
Fortunately, Photoshop’s Photo Merge function is capable of doing the work for you, or you can download Combine ZP for free.
Photography Tips From The Pros: Keep things simple
Remember the basics such as the rule of thirds and make use of leading lines to draw the viewer into the shot.
Don’t be tempted to include lots of elements as it can result in an untidy, cluttered image.
Less is very often more in photography (unless your talking camera specs and price because then more is always more).
The same guide applies to lighting arrangements. Great images can be created using just one or two lights and there’s very rarely need for more than three.
Photography Tips From The Pros: Mirror lock-up
If you want super-sharp images when your SLR is on a tripod, use a remote release and engage the mirror lock-up function.
This lifts the mirror with the first press of the remote shutter release, then when any vibration caused by the mirror movement has died down you press the shutter release for a second press to take the shot.
Mirror lock-up is especially important if you want to get the full benefit of high-pixel count cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III as even very slight movements are recorded.
If you’ve got a compact system camera like the Canon M, however, there’s no need to worry as it doesn’t have a mirror.
Photography Tips From The Pros: Edit, edit, edit
A professional photographer is judged by the images that he or she shows the world, and in order to impress, it’s essential to only show your best work.
Don’t show the alternatives, don’t show the also-rans, be ruthless in your editing and only show your best images.
Establishing a strong digital workflow and a photo management system that works for your schedule and your style of photography is also essential.
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