Even if you’re working with a point-and-shoot camera or have little photography experience, you can take an artful photo with the help of these technical tips:
1. Bring more than one speed of film. Even outside, you never know what your lighting conditions are going to be. A 200 speed film is a good starting point, but in the deep woods with little sun, a 400 speed film would be optimal.
2. Avoid shooting in the woods in bright sunlight. This is perhaps the most challenging of lighting conditions because you get a lot of deep shadows and brilliant light, and the range of tone is difficult to capture on photographic paper. The best solution is to shoot in the woods on an overcast day. Otherwise, try to find subjects that are either totally in sunlight or totally in shadow.
3. Use your flash. Many people don’t realize that a flash is useful even for outdoor photography. If your camera allows it, force your flash when taking pictures where you need fill-in light, such as when you’re shooting subjects in strong light and shadow. Keep in mind, however, that a flash doesn’t have a range of more than 10 to 15 feet. One of the most common mistakes amateur photographers make is using a flash to shoot a subject at a great distance, such as a musician on a concert stage—a distance that’s far outside the range of the flash.
4. Use a tripod. A tripod allows you to take a slow exposure without shaking the camera. If you’re using a camera that allows for manual adjustments—a 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera—for instance, a good rule of thumb is to use a tripod if you’re shooting anything slower than 1/30 of a second.
5. Avoid the zoom. If, instead of going back and forth between your normal and zoom lens, you use one fixed focal length lens for a period of time, you’ll find that you start to visualize photos through that lens without the camera in front of your eye. This allows you to walk around and see photos in that frame by looking around with the naked eye.
6. Get closer. The closer you are to your subject, the better your picture. We’ve all taken photos of a tiny person surrounded by a lot of irrelevant background matter. The more you can isolate your subject and zero in, the more successful your outcome.
7. Take your time. Before you shoot, allow time for reflection and contemplation. The temptation is to shoot the whole roll, or rolls. Instead, take fewer pictures, but spend more time planning. This isn’t to say you can’t take as many pictures as you want. In fact, the benefit of a 35mm camera is that once you have an idea, you can take lots of shots at different distances and from different angles. But you shouldn’t take more pictures than you have ideas.
8. Take multiple exposures. If you’re using a 35mm SLR camera, take bracketed exposures. That is, when you take a photograph, the meter will tell you the exposure. To bracket, set your camera to retake the photograph at a half-stop less exposure and a half-stop more, so you’ll have the same photograph at three different exposures. When developed, you can then pick the one that seems to be the correct exposure.
9. Write it down. Keep a log of your photographs, noting such things as the date, location, time of day, weather conditions and your camera settings. Not only will the information be helpful for you in terms of improving your skills, you can also use the data for a photo journal.
10. Do your own framing. Don’t be afraid to frame your favorite photos. You can mail-order frames (metal frames are easily assembled) and mats relatively inexpensively. They’ll even supply pre-cut Plexiglas, so you have everything you need.
Tera Leigh is a writer and artist living near San Francisco. She writes columns for several magazines, including Decorative Artist’s Workbook and Artist’s Sketchbook (from the editors of The Artist’s Magazine). Her Web site is www.teras-wish.com.