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Better Photos!
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Part 1 - Getting Started

In our social media, smartphone era, photos are everywhere! Almost everyone has a form of camera in their handbag or pocket. A couple of clicks and you can share an image with the world. All you have to do is to point the camera (whether it is in the form of a smartphone, tablet or dedicated camera) and press a button and voila!

Here's one I took earlier.

Taken on an iPhone 6S, without flash (unedited)

The trouble is it's not always that simple. This photo is the type that I'd normally be immediately deleting (if I'd taken it in the first place).

Social media has created two opposing issues. Firstly, what we may call photographic laziness: we point the camera and shoot without any real understanding or thought. At the other extreme is the obsession of some to have the 'perfect' photograph, which is so altered that it has little resemblance to reality. We want to look younger, slimmer or more muscular to compete with an unrealistic and artificial non-reality; but the fixation with fake beauty parades on social media is something we want to avoid.

This blog begins a series over the next few months to help us move from the former (photographic laziness). They're some basic tips to help the beginner take a step from just the 'point-and-hope-for-the-best' technique and avoid some of the common errors in photography. And while we'll look at getting pictures of you (or your subject) looking your best (or their best), I'm not in the business of manipulating photos to compete in the unrealistic beauty pageants of our online world. It's about getting great photos of you!

Looking at my selfie (and let's be brutally honest, it is far from flattering!) there are several things that we can easily do to improve it next time we take such a photo. These things don't need flashy cameras, fancy lights, studios or an expensive suite of editing software. They're things that we can do with the most basic of cameras and without understanding complicated photographic jargon. Why not take a moment to have a look at it closely and see what you might do differently?

Here are some things that we might do:

  • We could reposition the subject in relation to the background (look at all that unnecessary photographic junk!).
  • We could compose the scene and subject differently.
  • We could crop the photo (notice how little there is of me in proportion to the rest of the photo).
  • I could alter my pose and facial expression (why do people feel the need to look so glum in photos?)
  • We could orientate the subject to make the most of the lighting (notice the nasty shadows across my face).
  • We could alter the angle and distance from which we photograph.

See? All things that are relatively easy and quick to fix!

Here's another image of me, taken a few feet away from my original image in identical lighting conditions. See how much more pleasing this photo is.

Taken on an iPhone 6S, without flash (unedited)

To give you a flavour of what's to come, here's what we'll be covering: we'll start with the camera, setting it up (if you have options - not every camera or phone does), how to hold it and where to stand with it. Then we consider how to crop your photos for the most flattering look. Next, we'll consider composition. Then we address the issue of lighting and how to avoid the rather nasty images flashes can produce and make the most of the available lighting around us. Following this, we'll look at posing and how to stand (or sit or lay) to show you off at your best. In this section, we'll look at posing techniques to make yourself look more masculine or more feminine.

If you've done any photographic training, you'll probably find this fairly basic: to some extent that's my deliberate aim - to keep it simple.

Without wanting to get too technical, let's consider some of the issues when taking a photograph.

  • We are taking something that is three-dimensional and changing it into a two-dimensional form.
  • Our camera lenses and sensors do not see in the same way our human eyes do. Our eyes see a much greater range of colours and tones than our cameras can. For example, they struggle to take photos where you have very bright colours and very dark colours in the same picture.
  • All camera lenses distort to some degree (sometimes it flatters, and sometimes it can get you into trouble!).
  • Some - but not all - camera lenses zoom in and out in a way that human eyes don't; this can give you a greater or narrower field of vision than the human eye. (A 50mm lens on a full-frame camera is roughly what the human eye sees.)

If we have even a limited understanding of these photographic quirks, we can either avoid them or exploit them to take better pictures.

As I end this introduction, I will say that photography is an art form. Rules are made to be broken! What constitutes a good and a bad photo is often subjective, but I hope that you'll end up taking better portrait photos that you like.

Each article I'll give a challenge; the idea is to look back at the images we take at the start and to learn and improve. The challenge for this article: to take a selfie! That simple!

Happy snapping!

Sunday November 29th, 2020
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