You’ve always suspected it, but in one hour, you’ll have proof: You’re the next Ansel Adams. You’re wandering around Wal-Mart while your pictures are being developed, wondering where you’ll be when National Geographic tracks you down. A smile creeps onto your face. This is it, you think. This is the beginning of something huge.
Then you get your pictures back and realize that the “something huge” is your mother’s nose, which you managed to freakishly distort with your camera in several different shots. Another picture shows your brother’s arm growing out of your friend’s head. Eight of the nine photos you took of the beautiful snowy river are too dark, and one picture is so blurry you can’t tell what the subject was supposed to be. With a sigh, you start toward your car, imagining what your best friend will say when she sees them: “You were being artistic, right?”
Maybe it’s best to set the Ansel aspirations aside and just shoot for taking better snapshots. Here are a few easy ways to get better pictures without having to buy an expensive camera or take a photography class:
Get closer. You’re taking a snapshot of your parents on their anniversary—do you need the whole living room in the picture (including your dad’s dirty socks on the floor), or would the brick fireplace make a better backdrop?
Scan the entire frame. Does the telephone pole in the background look like it’s sticking out of your friend’s head? Do you want that trashcan in the corner of the picture? Don’t be afraid to include things that frame your photo nicely, either, like the silhouette of the tree in the foreground of the sunset shot.
Try another angle. Don’t limit yourself to straight-on, eye-level shots. Sit down, stand on something, take it from the side, tilt the horizon.
Use natural lighting as much as possible rather than a flash. Go outside or get near a window.
Take time to focus, and realize that a moving subject is going to be hard to get (unless your camera features manual shutter speed control).
Eliminate the phrase “say cheese” from your vocabulary, unless you actually want cheesy pictures. Take the photo when your subject isn’t expecting it—posed pictures tend to be boring.
Don’t play center. The subject doesn’t always have to be in the middle of the photograph; try the right or left.
Give your subject something to do. Let your nephew keep dribbling his basketball or encourage your niece to play dress up. Make people feel as comfortable as possible to avoid those I-feel-awkward-just-standing-here-while-you-take-my-picture faces.
Pay attention to sharp shadows and how the scene is lit in general.
Know what your camera can (and can’t) do. Read the manual!
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