This was originally meant to be one post, but it got really long (3400 words!), so I decided to split it into a three-part mini series. Today will be tips 1-3, Wednesday will be 4-9, and then 10 will be by itself (it was the longest).
Let’s get started! (Note: This post might contain affiliate links. If you’d like to know more about my affiliations, please read my Disclosure Statement.)
Here’s the thing about photography: An expensive camera is a great thing to have…but it will only get you so far. You could spend all the money in the world buying the best camera available, but if you don’t have skills or knowledge, your pictures will always look awful.
The camera is only as good as the photographer.
I would love to get a DSLR, but they’re really expensive. So for now, I use a Nikon Coolpix S6300. It has some pretty cool features, though. Features that I’ve only been discovering recently because I’m actively trying to learn how to use my camera (as well as optimizing conditions outside the realm of my lens). And you’ve all been here to witness my little photography adventure. Lucky you. 😛
So while you sit here, like me, drooling over the amazing pictures those lucky DSLR-users are taking, remember that you can do pretty well with what you have! All it takes is a willingness to learn and some practice.
Let me tell you how I went from terrible pictures like this:
To crisper, brighter, and overall nicer pictures like this:
What may surprise you is that those were taken with the same camera. Let me share what I did.
1. Take advantage of natural light.
The best photos are taken under natural (or natural-looking) lights. This becomes harder if you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of light or has long winters. In both cases, you can build a light box. (Here’s another idea.)
This is something I want to make very badly, but I can’t find the right lights…without spending a ton of money, that is. (Though sometimes Amazon has “warehouse deals” on open boxes or used photography products. Prices can vary on them, but it’s worth checking out.)
For now, I don’t do a lot of food posts in the winter, because they’re often taken in the evening when I’m actually cooking dinner. However, I have been known to make dinner in the early afternoon to take advantage of the natural light. Keeping up with this blog has resulted in us having to reheat our meals on more than one occasion. 😛 In the end, though, natural light is very difficult to artificially duplicate (even professional photographers have trouble with it), so use natural light as much as possible.
Let me show you just why I prefer natural light (for this post, Batman will be assisting me):
This photo was taken in my bedroom. (I picked that room because it has no windows, so no natural light will get in.) Now…there is a way to fix this if there is no natural light available period. We’ll discuss that in a few moments. But I think we can all agree that this is a pretty terrible light to photograph under.
Fluorescent is what I’m stuck with in the winter, though, because it’s what I have in my kitchen.
That’s still pretty bad, but it could definitely be worse. I don’t appreciate the reflections I get on the poster board. I tend to use fluorescent lighting in the winter when daylight isn’t readily available. With the correct angling and some editing (which we’ll discuss on Friday), it’s doable.
Let’s see what happens in natural light.
Better, right? This was taken in direct sunlight, which isn’t ideal (the best light is on an over-cast day). The shadow behind him isn’t something I wanted (and I could have prevented it by closing my curtains), but it’s still a helluva lot better than the first photo. Also, I can just edit that shadow out and it would be perfect (again, editing is on Friday :)).
I have white-ish curtains in my kitchen and this is the reason. I love how clean white looks, but I have some really pretty flower-y curtains my mom gave me a while ago, but they block out most of the light. When you want to take natural light photos, but you have too much sunlight (because the sun is a thing that really exists), hanging up and closing white curtains is a cheap and easy way to filter all the extra light that can cause undesirable shadows. If you can afford it, I suggest getting different weights so you have different filters.
2. Play with the settings on your camera.
I recently discovered two things about my camera: I can change the ISO (to learn more about ISO, go here…and here is a short cheat sheet that includes ISO, but is actually for DSLR cameras) and I can change the white balance. If your pictures tend to come out with a yellow tint to them, it’s because you’re not using your white balance correctly (or at all…). So I suggest you get a little intimate with these settings.
Mine can be found if I change the scene to Auto Mode and then go to Menu –> ISO or Menu –> White Balance. There are a lot of options:
- Auto will attempt to adjust itself to fit your lighting. I generally don’t use this because it can be unreliable.
- Preset Manual is something I discovered two days before Thanksgiving (yes, I was so blown away that I remember the exact day). Use this when you can’t find the right light. All you do is click on it and then it will zoom in and say, “Cancel” or “Measure.” I usually point the camera at the background (or a white area really close to the object I’m shooting) and then click “Measure.” This has saved so many photos.
- Then you have Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Flash.
Daylight works just fine for natural light and it’s the one I use most often.
I don’t use the others because they’re often not what I need them to be. For anything outside of Daylight, I use Preset Manual.
Remember the photo I showed you that was taken in my bedroom?
Here it is again when I use white balance:
Yeah, that was taken in the same room. It may not be great, but with some editing, it can be salvageable.
3. Stop relying on flash!
I can’t stress this enough, especially because this rule is one that a lot of people have trouble grasping.
Flash is the devil.
When used incorrectly, flash ruins photos.
There are certainly reasons to use flash, but you have to know how to use it in order to get it right (and, no, correctly using flash doesn’t just mean turning it on).
DSLR cameras have flash extensions, where the flash is used to achieve a certain effect. The reason I hate flash for point and shoot, though, is that you only have one flash. One. And it always makes the subject look washed out. (For more on nighttime shooting, go to this post at Click It Up a Notch and this post at Mixbook.)
This photo was taken under the same conditions as the one above labeled “Natural Light–Normal.” Except I also turned on the flash.
Look how washed out that is. Where the Natural Light–Normal photo was kind of cheery and sweet looking, this one just looks cold.
But it’s good under other lights, right?
This is even worse than the one under natural light.
How about with the white balance on?
This picture is proof that to every rule, there is an exception (though it’s important to remember that the exception does not just rewrite the rule–something a lot of people seem to overlook when discussing exceptions).
Though Darkness + Flash doesn’t work in most settings, especially not with food. This really only works with Batman because it looks like a spotlight. And it’s awesome. Still, unless Batman is the focus of your photo…try not to use flash
Yes, using flash at inappropriate times can actually darken your photo! This was taken with my kitchen light ON. I had the white balance set to “Incandescent” by mistake and this is what I got. Pay attention to what you’re doing. 😛
Another instance when flash will darken the photo: if you take a picture of a large group outside, the people in the back won’t show up so easily. Your flash will only reach so far, so if you have to use flash, make sure it’s on an object that is already pretty close to your camera.
Turning the white balance to “fluorescent” like I should have, would have helped. For instance:
This isn’t completely terrible, but it does still puts a harsh light over Batman’s face. It kind of works and if it had been the only decent picture I could get, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. (Again, editing is helpful here.)
During the day, don’t use flash if you just have a point and shoot. Yes, professionals sometimes use flash to get different effects, but their flashes are much different (they can be rotated and brightened/darkened and such). So just…turn it off.