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A while ago, one of the tips I wrote was called "Top Ten Ways To Become A Better Photographer." What reminded me of this was a recent trip to a local bagel store. I ordered a dozen sesame bagels and the lady behind the counter dropped 12 into the bag. The thought that went through my head was, "Whatever happened to a baker's dozen where a 13th one gets thrown in for free?" For you, I bring back the "good ole days." I present to you a "baker's dozen" worth of quick tips. Enjoy the 13th! In no specific order:
1) Bracket Tricky Exposures: With digital capture, I suggest you bracket in 1/ 2 stops rather than the default of 1/3 stops most cameras provide. In the days of slide film, a third of a stop made a significant difference. With upgraded digital sensors, this small amount is easily recoverable in RAW. Expand the range to acclimate to digital.
2) Depth of Field: Use apertures wisely. Open up the lens (f/4) to help throw a background out of focus and stop down (f/16) to increase depth of field. Photograph a given scene both ways. Check the difference in the capture on the LCD. Make sure you have a strong foreground, mid-ground and background, so you'll be able to see the difference. In general, an out-of-focus background works well with people and wildlife, while landscapes work better with maximum depth of field.
3)Steady As She Goes: Use a Tripod: Not only will it guarantee sharper shots, it slows you down and forces you to think more about fine-tuning your composition—this is BIG!
4) RTM = READ THE MANUAL: As much as we all want to think we're smarter than our camera and can figure it out, there are so many features imbedded in the menus. Don't deprive yourself of not knowing that your camera can do...and how cool it would have been if you only knew you could have applied (fill in the blank)...to a long gone situation.
5) Simplified Hyperfocal Distance: To maximize depth of field in any image, in a simplified explanation, focus one third into the frame. Hyperfocal settings are more precise and can be found on line, but in a pinch, the one-third rule works. The smaller the aperture, the more you'll expand the depth of field.
6) Rule of Thirds: Imagine a tic-tac-toe board placed in the viewfinder. The most strategic location to place a main subject is where the lines intersect. If you shoot with a horizon and the sky is interesting, have it take up the top two-thirds. If the sky is mundane, place the emphasis on the foreground.
7) Experiment: Try something new and different. It doesn't cost anything, except a few more minutes of edit time. There is no "bad" photo when you experiment. If you don't try, you won't open any new doors.
8) Time of Day: The warmest and most appealing color of light occurs around sunrise and sunset. Most subjects are enhanced when shot during these hours. Textures are revealed when side lit and patterns and shapes are more defined. Set the alarm to get up early and be late for dinner—the photos will be worth it!
9) Histogram Check: As a quick check, I keep the LCD screen set to the flashing highlights, but to really know if I nail my exposures, I use the histogram. Every scene will read differently, so there is no such thing as an overall ideal histogram that can be applied to every situation. Ultimately, avoid spikes on the sides to prevent losing shadow or highlight detail.
10) Shutter Speeds: Slow down your shutter to create special effects. A common subject is water with one-second exposures to get a cotton candy effect. But, don't limit yourself to this. With any subjects that move, play around with different settings to intentionally show the motion. Try panning for some cool effects.
11) Active Focus Point: Always be aware of what focus point is active, especially if you shoot wide open. If the active focus point reads a spot on a different plane than your subject, the result is a blurry subject and a sharp foreground or background.
12) Loosen Up: Not every time you go out with your camera, will you come home with a winner. There are times when I make two-hour drives, only to have the light be flat and ugly and I don't even raise the camera to my eye. Try to make the best of the situation and find something to photograph, but if you come home with no winners, it's not the end of the world.
13) Shoot, Shoot More and Then Some More: Like anything else, the more you practice, the better you'll become. Even if it means heading to a local park or going into your backyard, take pictures every week to keep the photo gears greased.