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DSLR Photography for noobs. Tip 1: Recompose »

FERDY CHRISTANT - JUL 13, 2011 (07:31:10 PM)

I'm going to do a series of tips for improving your DSLR photography, one at a time. This bares some explanation...

I think the population of DSLR owners can be divided into three groups. There's professionals, masters of their equipment. There's hobbyists, who have a special interest in photography. This is a very wide range from amateur to near-pro. And finally, there's DSLR owners. People who just own one. A lot of those are entering the market now that DSLR is affordable. These people struggle to understand their cameras. They leave it on automatic and just shoot away. They have no special interest in photography itself, they just want to capture the moments that matter to them.

Those DSLR owners are missing out on the power of their camera. There's a wealth of material available that would help them improve their photos, but it does not serve them well. It takes too much time to read, to practice, its hard to remember it all, and the theory at one point becomes hard to comprehend.

That's why I want do a series of tips. Tips that are super easy to learn, remember, apply, yet can greatly improve your photography. The reality is that I am really a beginner myself, and this allows me to share my journey.

Enough with the introduction, let's get to tip 1. Actually before I can talk about tip 1, I should start with tip 0:

#0. Don't press the shutter release button through to take a photograph

More experienced photographers may laugh at this, but many people do this to take a photograph:

  • Look through viewfinder and establish the scene to capture
  • Press the shutter release button all the way through to take the picture 

This approach has two problems:

  1. Your subject may not be in focus
  2. By pressing through in one go, you move the camera significantly, which can cause unsharp photos

Here's how you should do it:

  • Look through viewfinder and establish the scene to capture
  • Press the shutter release button halfway, this will trigger the camera to auto focus
  • Press the shutter release button through to take the picture in focus

There could be steps in between to adjust the focus but for now let's keep the basics simple. Press halfway, then press through. This tip is essential for the next tip: Recompose.

#1. Recompose your photo to make them more interesting

Photographers have a rule called the Rule of Thirds.If you're unfamiliar with it, please read the link. In summary, in most cases it is best to avoid framing all your subjects exactly in the middle. Such photographs often lack depth.

So here is a meerkat centered in the frame:

As you can see, the subject is in focus and in the middle. If we follow the rule of thirds, it would be better if we move it to 1/3 of the photo. Since the meerkat is looking to the right, we will want to place it to the left:

The change isn't dramatic and this is not the best example, but clearly the photo has a bit more depth now. We're giving the meerkat some room to look in a direction.

So what is the recompose tip about? Notice how the second photo is still in focus, whilst the meerkat is on the left. If it was the second photo that we would have in our viewfinder (meerkat to the left) and then auto focus, the meerkat would likely be out of focus. Actually, this depends on your focus mode, but usually it would be out of focus.

The recompose tip is as follow. In my viewfinder I started out with photo 1, the meerkat in the middle. Next, I pressed the shutter button halfway to focus with the meerkat still in the middle. Then, whilst holding the shutter button, I moved the camera to the right, in order to place the meerkat to the left. Finally, I pressed the button softly through to make the capture.

Easy enough. Center on subject. Press halfway to focus. Place your subject anywhere in the frame. Press through.

There is an alternative way to do this: you can manually adjust the focal points of your camera, but I think this is far easier.

This simple but effective technique comes with an additional benefit: prefocus. Prefocus means that you anticipate on a subject that is not there yet. If you can find an object that will be at the same depth as the subject to-be, you can already focus on that point, keep holding the shutter release button halfway, and press through when the subject is there. Particularly useful for fast moving, dark or unpredictable subjects. 

More to come. I will probably be posting one tip per week. I hope you like it?

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Comments: 2

COMMENT: JERRY CARTER email

JUL 20, 2011 - 07:14:12 PM

comment » Good stuff. I took photography from Ken Burn's father, Bob, back in the 90's. He just about failed me. :-)

In television, when shooting with telephoto lenses, we learned a nice tip for focusing on the subject. Zoom all the way in on what you want in focus, focus the lens, zoom out to frame the shot. Manual focus of course. It was the quickest way with a big TV cam to get selective focus and get it right since the view finders were often poorly registered and trying to get a good focus from a distance was very difficult. «

COMMENT: FERDY

JUL 20, 2011 - 22:04:33

comment » hi Jerry,

Interesting technique. I've been doing some occassional manual focusing but my eye sight seems not good enough for it to be razor sharp. What looks sharp to me while shooting seems slightly of at home on the big screen. «

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