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5 Pro Tips for Taking Exceptional Photos for the Beginner Photographer
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5 Pro Tips for Taking Exceptional Photos for the Beginner Photographer

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Five Easy Ways to take your Photography to the next level!

Are you like me and really enjoy seeing people's posts on social
media? What a pleasant distraction from all of the crazy going on in today’s World. Not just photos, but pictures of people’s new creations now that they have to stay home. Everything from really cool paint-by-numbers projects, mask-making, jewelry making, new recipes and so on. Truth is Social Media is keeping us all connected and inspired to learn new stuff. So you think you’d like to take better pictures? Hooray! I hope that after reading this you are able to apply a few suggestions.

Pro Tip #1 Get Outside for Inspiration

Getting and staying inspired can be so much fun. For me, my first route to inspiration is to get outside and look around. Do you have a favorite neighborhood trail or public parks and gardens near you? Fortunately, just stepping out the back door with my first cup of coffee welcomes me with a bird jungle in the wee hours of the morning. The Robins, Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos are the first to sing Hello! We are surrounded by conifers on the edge of a golf course, home to Ravens, Great Blue Heron, Spotted Towhees, Varied Thrush, Evening Grosbeak and close to 30 other bird species. Between the lake down the street, a large saltwater bay and wildlife refuges galore, I have plenty of inspiration. Needless to say, my inspiration typically comes from nature and being willing to head out on my own to explore.

Pro Tip #2 Use the Rule of Three

Alright, so you like to take pictures and you’re wondering why your photos never turn out the way your imagination sees it through the lens or cell phone. When you later look at those photos on your phone, your reaction is, “Meh” and you delete them. Well, let’s take a moment to think about what makes a great photo. And along with that, what purpose does your capture have? Are you taking pictures of people? Flowers? Landscape? Whatever your subject is, you have the ability capture a great photo. It’s okay if it may need a little editing down the road. We have tricks!

rule of three - thedesigntank.comThere is a well known, basic technique that you can apply at both the time of shutter click and with editing. It’s called The Rule of Three. You may have heard somebody comment, “Ooh, great composition!” I had no idea what that meant the first time I received that compliment. I Googled it. Composition refers to the photo being visually ‘balanced’. There are tons of YouTube videos that are really helpful with understanding the Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three is a grid of 9 squares that draw the eye to points
of interest or detail in your photo. Ask yourself, what is the main or
best focal point in my photo? Rather than having your subject placed
right smack dab in the middle of the photo, you will create more
interest and draw the viewer’s eyes to specific points. By moving your subject slightly off center, and aligning your point of interest on
one of the intersections of your grid, suddenly you have a more
visually pleasing photo. If your subject is looking to one direction,
you will want to give more space to the direction in which the
subject’s eyes are pointing. DSLR cameras have grid options that you can turn on to see through the viewing lens. Putting your Rule of Three into action takes practice, but will become second nature with a little effort.

Pro Tip #3 Zoom in and Focus!

It is also helpful that there are little flashing red lights that you can see as you focus on your subject. When you are using your cell phone for photos, utilize the manual settings and zoom options. You’ll get a much higher quality photo with zoom and focus than taking a semi-panoramic snap with too much or not enough going on to be interesting. Would you rather see the cool, rustic detail of an eroding railroad spike or a photo that’s crowded with lush trees and brush, and somewhere in there is that really cool… where is that spike…

When I shoot birds and other wildlife subjects, I try zooming in to the eyes and face. Seeing the intensity of an American Bald Eagle’s sharp eyes is something that not many people have experienced close-up. Or capturing a large bird, like a Great Blue Heron’s wings in full flight thrust… it creates a WOW factor! My canvas print of the American Bald Eagle illustrates this point.

 Pro Tip #4 Go Online for Examples of Mind Blowing Photography

I would strongly encourage anybody wanting to improve their photo
taking skills to take the time to view really good photography. Most
larger cities feature beautiful photography in restaurants, hotels,
billboards, in-flight magazines, not to mention galleries and museums.
Searching for photo contest-winning work is also a great way to learn
composition. I could literally view beautiful photography online for
hours on end. Start paying attention to the imaginary 9-square grid
as an overlay on the photos that you’re drawn to. The more you
practice your ability to ‘see in layout’; you’ll be surprised how
quickly your photos will be transformed.

Pro Tip #5. Hone Your Photography Skills Online (and for Free!)

When it’s too rainy and cold to go for an outdoor meander, I can pick
up on new skills by quietly stalking my favorite Facebook, Instagram
and Pinterest pages and people. On Facebook, one of my favorite pages
is Western Washington Birders. I have found that many members are just bird enthusiasts, while others are serious ornithology photographers. I like the ones in between. My favorites are those members that post their beautiful photos, name the bird, and camera settings. If you’re lucky, some will even share the location. Just yesterday I woke up early to get on the road in search of a small flock of White Pelicans, which I have never seen here before. And nor have I yet, but it was worth the outing. Instead I was willing to be sidetracked and found Black-bellied Plover, Greater Scaup, Dunlin, Whimbrel and numerous Great Blue Heron among others. I have gotten more confident with certain types of shots by asking other photographers what their ‘settings’ were on a really great shot. Honestly, some photographers will just ignore the rookie. But others are so kind and helpful. Settings are tricky and really matter. A DSLR camera is so sensitive and will do exactly what you tell it to do. The problem is, are you telling it the right thing? I say fake it ‘til ya make it! I am constantly learning and experimenting with settings that have been shared. It would be helpful to keep a note pad handy so you can take those settings into the field with you.

You can also watch YouTube tutorials for whatever camera you’re shooting with. Or, watch a video on basic camera settings. It will help you immensely! I am a believer in continuing education. You don’t necessarily need to enroll yourself in a photography class, unless you don’t mind the commitment. With the Internet, we have carte blanche access to just about anything we think we need to know. I recently signed up for a free news and articles email from Digital Photography School and have read a few really well written articles.

This last tip is your bonus tip: Have fun with your photos. It’s okay if some of your photos are slightly out of sharp focus. It’s okay if your subject isn’t front and center. There are ‘rules’, but with art, aren’t rules meant to be broken? Who says you can’t turn an image that was either over exposed or not enough light, into a digitized pop-art phenomenon? You are boss! Keep learning, keep trying, keep snapping, never stop posting … You have a story to tell! Tell it well, my friend.

Your comments and questions are always welcome. Please don’t be shy.

Carrie Bullock