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5 Photography Tips to Improve Your dSLR and Phone Photos


Posted February 19, 2015 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

cameras and camera phones tips

We review quite a few cameras and smartphones with capable cameras, but what do you do with that great gear after you've purchased it? This article is for novices--if your dreams are filled with photo ops in Brunei with Leica in hand, you know f/1.2 from f/11 and how to use them and are mastering advanced lighting in your photos, then you likely know these points. The things we cover here apply equally well to dSLRs, point and shoots and camera phones.

1. The Icarus principle: Don't shoot into sun or backlight your subject unless you're going for a special effect like the sun setting behind mountains. Unless you want your subject to be in the dark and her surroundings well lit, avoid placing your subject directly in front of the sun. Move to the side or into a lightly shaded area, but watch out for striped shade that can leave your subject looking mottled. Now if you're shooting a palm tree silhouetted by a low, red sun then go for it! Modern HDR can help with extreme exposure issues caused by backlighting your subject, but you'll still get better details and color if lighting is coming from the front or side (again, this doesn't apply to art shots where you're using the sun as your own high intensity spotlight for visual effects).


2. Don't shoot portraits at wide angle. Portrait lenses are typically 90mm or 60mm for a reason--use that zoom ring to zoom to 50mm or greater when shooting your spouse so she doesn't grouse. If you have no choice as with a camera phone (those all have wide angle lenses), then step back to avoid the fish-eye like distortion that up close wide-angle portraits induce.

bad portrait

bad portrait


3. Rule of thirds and composition--lots of folks see this one and take it too seriously. Here we divide the photo frame into three equal areas both horizontal and vertical. The idea is to create a sense of movement and set the focal point of your photo in a corner for more visual interest and movement (the eye follows across the frame to the point of interest). Also you'll use it to decide where you want the horizon line. Take all that with a grain of salt. Portraits look great centered, as do photos of pets up close. But in our photo of a lamppost in a parking lot, you can see how the smaller tower on the lower left balances the placement of the lamp in prominence on the right and a tree at the bottom right frames and gives perspective. For landscapes, architecture and art style object shots, the rule of thirds and object placement off to the side work well.

Use lines to bring attention to your subject in landscapes. For example, use the converging lines of the two rows of parked cars to move the eye a centered supermarket.

bad portrait

bad portrait

Video: 5 Photography Tips to Improve dSLR and Camera Phone Photos


4. Rug rat principle. They call kids that for a reason--they're close to the rug, so get down to their level for a much more compelling shot. Also keep in mind that kids and pets are small and get lost in our adult human size man made stuff like chairs and tables that dwarf them. Try isolating them from the clutter and bulk of adult human life.

bad portrait

bad portrait


bad portrait


5. Use telephoto lenses for wildlife. If you're using a camera phone, you're out of luck here, but I would suggest avoiding digital zoom because it degrades photo quality and that's particularly evident if you wish to crop the photo. And cropping the photo is key, even if you have a mid-range 200mm zoom lens. It's hard to get close to wild animals so you shoot from a distance. Crop out what you don't need. This is where higher megapixel camera phones shine because you can crop and still have enough sharp pixels to create a nice photo. Higher end Nokia Lumia phones like the Lumia 1020 in fact use cropping rather than digital zoom to create an end result that's similar to what you'd do with a dSLR and zoom lens.

bad portrait


Our Reviews of the Cameras Used for the Photos in this Article:

Canon PowerShot G7X Review

Canon EOS 6D Video Review

Sony a6000 Video Review (camera used to shoot this video)

Sony RX10 Review

Canon EOS 50D with Sigma 90mm portrait lens APS-C 140mm equiv focal length. (photos taken years ago, camera long discontinued)

iPhone 6 Review

Other Camera Tutorials and Tips:

dSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras: What's the Difference and Which Should You Buy?



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