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Taking good Photographs in simple terms
Getting sharp images:
For best results use a sturdy tripod and lock-up your mirror prior to clicking the shutter with a remote release (or use the shutter release timer).
If you need to hand hold, ensure that the shutter speed is fast enough; this will depend on your personal ability to hold the camera steady, the focal length of the lens and whether or not the lens / camera has image stability built in.
Choose an appropriate aperture for the depth of field that you require; a small aperture (high f number) for wide depth of field (typical for landscapes) or a large aperture (small f number) for shallow depth of field (typical for portraiture). To maximise the depth of field achieved for a given aperture when taking landscape photos, focus approximately one third of the way into the scene.
Buy the best quality lenses that you can afford. A consumer camera body with a high quality lens will obtain better quality images than a pro camera body with a consumer spec kit lens; spend wisely!
There are various 'rules' for helping with composition, the most commonly used being the rule of thirds; divide the scene through your lens into three both vertically and horizontally giving four points of intersection; place the most important element on one of these intersection points.
Remember that rules are there to be broken and achieving good balance in an image can be more important than force fitting some arbitrary rules!
Crop your image to a shape that gives most impact; letter box, square etc.
Remember it is light that you are recording on the sensor / film and digital cameras and film have a limit to the range from darkest to brightest that they can record; exceed this and you will have either blocked up shadows or burned out highlights.
Landscape photographers use graduated Neutral Density filters to darken the sky so that all tones can be captured.
The light at and around sun rise and sun set is much warmer than at mid day and shadows are much longer resulting in much more pleasing images, particularly for landscape photography. That said, there are times when the soft light pre-dawn, post sunrise, or on an overcast or misty day is the perfect light for the subject. For each subject consider what will work best and the angle that you will make the image; also consider B&W / mono as days with dull colour can make great B&W images.
There is nothing new about post processing, it is not something that was invented for digital photography; it is much cleaner digitally, and you have the ability to click 'undo' but the concept of manipulating imagery goes back a long way with all serious darkroom printers at least doing a little dodging and burning to bring out the best in their prints.
Get as much right in camera and try not to over-do the processing; a good image can be ruined whilst a poor image cannot be turned into a good image!
Improving your skills:
One great way of improving your skills is to join a local camera club where you will learn from the experienced members.
Alternatively (or in addition to joining a camera club), enrol onto a photography course.
Most importantly, get out with your camera and practice!
To see examples of putting the above into practice feel free to take a tour of my web site, link below:
my brothers web site
A "colour cast" can arise for a number of reasons
quality control - cheaper ND filters (even the fixed ones) may be unevenly coated - I've seen reports that you can even see this if you hold the filter up to the light. I don't know that it's any particular brand, but rather some batches will be better than others. If you can buy from a shop where you can inspect (or return a faulty one) that would be best.
stacking filters - if you stack ND filters, and especially if you combine an ND filter with a polarising filter, you can get color casts (purple or orange are often mentioned). I've used very inexpensive ND filters and had no problems until I add a polarising filter into the mix, then got strong, but correctible colour casts
polarising filters and Vari-ND filters, used with a wide angle lens, skies will be uneven (lighter or darker depending on the angle of the sun). This isn't really a colour cast, but an uneven luminosity across a wide expanse of sky. Not a defect of the filter, just unavoidable physics of light.
if you use Auto white balance, as you add more density, I have found the camera may change the color temperature setting. If you set WB to a preset like Sunny, the issue largely goes away. So the reduction in light hitting the sensor may affect the white balance chosen which may look like a colour cast.
UNDERSTANDING 18 % GREY.
A CAMERA SEES A BLUE SKY AS 18 PERCENT GREY WHEN CONVERTED TO GREYSCALE ALSO IT SEES GTREEN GRASS ON A SUUNY DAY AS 18 PERCENT GREY.
FOR LANDSCAPES WITH LOTS OF TONES IT IS OFTEN BETTER TO USE MATRIX METERING.
BUT FOR PORTRAITS CENTRE METERING MIGHT BE BETTER.
THE BEST MODE TO USE YOUR CAMERA IN IS MANUAL MODE AS YOU CAN SEE THE CAMERA METER.
IF YOU SHOOT A WHITE DRESS WITH METER SET TO ZERO IT WILL COME OUT A GREY TONE ( MIDDLE GREY 18%) SO YOU NEED TO OVER EXPOSURE BY 1.5 STOPS TO GET THE TRUE WHITE.
LIKE WISE WITH A BLACK OBJECT YOU NEED TO UNDER EXPOSE BY 1.5 STOPS. WHEN SHOOTING A BIRD IN THE SKY METER YOUR CAMERA USING GRASS THEN SET YOUR MANUAL SETTING TO THESE SETTINGS.
OTHERWISE THE BIRD WILL JUST BE A DARK SILHOUETTE.
FOR A GOOD LANDSCAPE IMAGE YOU CAN CREATE DIFFERENT ZONES OF DEPTH OF FILEDS AND BLEND THE LAYERS IN PHOTOSHOP THUS GETTING A SHARP IMAGE FROM FOREGROUND TO THE DISTANCE.
REMEMBER THAT BEST DEPTH OF FILED OCCURS 1/3RD OF DISTANCE INTO THE IMAGE - SO FIND A BRIGHT OBJECT AT THIS DISTANCE AND FOCUS ON THIS.
WHAT DO JUDGES LOOK FOR?
REMEMBER THE MNEMONIC - OPTICS
O = ORIGINALITY
P = PRESENTATION
T = TECHNIQUE & TECHNICAL EXCLLENCE
I = IMPACT ( VISUAL ATTRACTION / VISUAL INTEREST)
C = COMPOSITION
S = STORY TELLING AND STYLE
THE TEN MISTAKES JUDGES TEND TO FIND
1. LACK OF FOCAL POINT/S POI
2. VISUALLY IMBALENCED
3. POORLY COMPOSED
4. TOO BUSY /CONFUSING
5. MERGES AND KISSES
6. EDGE OF FRAME DISTRACTIONS
7. LACK OF ORINALITY (CLICHES)
8. OVER PROCESSED - SHARPENING / SATURATION ETC
9. NO CLEAR MESSAGE -STORY /INTENT
10. POOR TECHNIQUE (PROCESSING)