How background affects the photo. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir
Everyone seems to have a digital camera these days. Because of the large market, manufacturers spend good money on research and development of new cameras. Part of this research is the work of legions of software engineers aimed at improving camera usage.
But I often wonder how much of that research actually benefits the user of the camera. Many people feel technologically daunted by their cameras. Mobile phone cameras continue to be clunky to use and often behave unpredictably.
It is no surprise, then, that people are often disappointed with photos they take. If you are constantly tinkering with the camera, trying to make it take the picture when you want to, you will never find time to pay attention to composing the photograph.
Here are six ways to improve your photographs.
1. Find your mode
Find a camera mode that works for you and stick to it. For example, if you have a “P” mode in your digital camera, use it for all occasions. For cell phone cameras, stick with a basic mode that focuses quickly and turns on the flash when needed.
Once you have found a camera setting that always works predictably for you, you are free to concentrate on what you are actually photographing. Now you can compose your photograph.
Photography is light. So pay attention to the light falling on your subject. If it is too dark or too harsh you can move the subject or wait for better light.
The subject of the photograph is usually on the foreground. That's what we care about. So why is the background so important? That's because the wrong background distracts the viewer. In the first photograph above, the leaves behind the lizard's tail distract you from looking and appreciating the curve of the tail. Moving my viewpoint slightly in the second photograph, I was able to place the leaf away from the tail, improving the photograph.
Look at the edges of your photograph carefully when taking the picture. For example, if the feet or hands of your subject fall outside the photograph, it creates a sensation of cutting them off. This bothers the viewer subconsciously. Also watch for bright objects at the edges and exclude them from the photograph. Otherwise, they will drag the attention of the viewer away from the subject.
Try to “frame” the subject when photographing it, that is, find a way to enclose the subject with lines or a circle. Framing helps direct the viewer's attention to the subject. For example, a child looking out a window makes an attractive photograph because the face is framed by the window.
A common mistake is to tilt the camera from the horizontal. Because mobile phones are small and light, it is especially easy to tilt them inadvertently. But a small amount of tilt can spoil your photograph. Hold the phone or camera with both hands and check the horizon when taking the photograph.
With some practice you will find these steps become habitual. Then you will be able to compose your photograph quickly and instinctively.