Image Doctors Top Ten Eleven

For those of you who do not have connections with other Nikon shooters, there is a great community available on the web at Nikonians.org. One of the features I particularly enjoy is their bi-weekly podcast cast of the Image Doctors. Photographers Jason Odell and Rick Walker, ala CarTalk (without all the obnoxiousness that is charmingly CarTalk), chat about a lot of different topics involving photography ... specifically Nikon photography.

I was listening to episode #37 a few weeks back in which they presented their top ten photo tips which, in usual Image Doctor style, turned out to be eleven tips ... one louder. I thought that these tips offer good sense and wanted to share them. They explain that this list is prioritized from most important however, I'm not sure that you should prioritize this list. I think it could be delivered in any order without impugning the integrity of any one tip. Anyway ... here it is, enjoy!

1. Get a tripod ... use it!

You don't have to go out and buy a $500 Gitzo Carbon blah blah blah. Get something that can hold your camera equipment without flexing and that you will use. If you don't think your lenses are sharp enough, use a tripod. Your images will be much sharper!

2. Get to know your flash? ... use it!

You will get better quality images where ambient light just won't cut it. Get a flash, learn to use it and consider using it more often. For instruction on how to use it off-camera see Strobist

3. Learn the basics of exposure.

Learn the effects of shutter speed and aperture. Take your camera out of Program mode and use it in Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or better yet, Manual mode. You want to be making the decisions about how your images look not letting the camera make those decisions. Otherwise, your images will all look alike ... almost if made by a computer! doh! they are!

4. Bump up the ISO setting

You may think, "but my images will be full of noise!!!" ... well, that's true to a certain extent but a lot of that can be cured if you stop looking at your images zoomed into 100% on a 72 dpi computer screen. Which leads us to ...

5. Make some prints

A monitor is not necessarily the most useful tool on which to view a digital photograph. Viewing a photo at 100% on a computer screen is like looking at slide film using 50x magnification. Nobody ever does that. Your average loupe is only like 8x. Make some prints (or get some prints made) and let that be the judge of your photo's quality.

6. Learn to recognize good and bad light

Think about it consciously. Wait for good light or know how to handle poor light situations. If you recognize that the light is less than ideal, bring supplemental light and know how to use it.

7. Learn the Rule of Thirds

Don't "bulls-eye" your subject. The frame should be divided in three horizontally and vertically. Where the grid lines cross are the references where eyes, horizons, faces should appear in the image. Here's is a nice little reference on Wikipedia

8. Learn how to use the Levels function

The levels feature in whatever post-processing software you're using can have a profound impact on your images. Determine what is white, determine what is black and adjust the overall brightness. This can turn seemingly flat photos into crisp, deep images.

9. Get closer to your subject

Get in tighter and make your subject fill the frame. Pay attention to extraneous distractions in outside areas of the composition. Get in close ... you want to see faces. A good rule of thumb is: frame the picture the way you think it should be then, take one step closer.

10. Persevere ... don't be lazy

Getting good pictures takes perseverance. Do your homework before you shoot. Wait for the right light, compose with the camera away from your eye. Work at your craft it will payoff many time over.

11. Don't blame your equipment

If you're not getting the results that you like, don't assume that it's your camera. First, assume that you're not using it correctly. The reason why National Geographic gets the shots they do is because those guys know what they're doing with their equipment. They work hard to know their equipment before they take them on a shoot. Spend a lot of time with your camera ... experiment ... play ... take notes ... blog.

I thought those were very insightful if not just plain common sense, and hope that you find them useful. One of the things that I've been working on is using the camera in manual mode. Pick a subject that will let you think before you have to trip the shutter and experiment with the effects of aperture versus shutter speed.

One of my favorite resources for exposure is Bryan Peterson's book Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera. It's really a nice, up-to-date reference that really explores the principles of aperture, shutter speed, light, motion ... as well as give you some reference points that you always have with you. Check it out at Amazon here and check out his website here.

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