I was recently complimented by a photo forum participant about a photo I took with a true point-and-shoot camera, the Canon SD700. The reason I use the word “true” is that it has no manual controls.
The person wrote:
“You accomplish such wonderful results with your SD700 and this photo (of the sunrise) is yet another great example! You’ve got to share your secret.”
I really don’t have any special knowledge that other seasoned photographers do not possess. But I can share some of how I think and what I do.
As the famous photographer, Ansel Adams, said: “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” It sure is!
Composition plays an important role in distinguishing between just a snapshot and a photograph. Not that you have to get it perfect at the scene but close enough so you can get a good crop when editing. Cropping, like all photo editing, is quite subjective. But with a careful eye, cropping can improve composition.
There are many principles of composition that can be used as guides, not hard and fast rules.
When shooting a scene like a sunset, I always try to include a foreground object. The scene looks more interesting and gives it context.
Exposing a photo
I decide how I want a photo exposed. Why leave it up the the camera?!
I frequently use the two step-shutter release button to lock exposure and then recompose. If necessary, I use AE-Lock and/or AF-Lock, very useful exposure features found on a number of digital cameras (check your manual)
In the sunrise photo, I locked exposure near the sun not on it so the area wouldn’t be too blown out. Depending on the lighting and subject, I try to expose for the brightest or near brightest part of a scene.
The resulting image may be a bit underexposed but that can be adjusted with image editing software. I much rather have an underexposed image that retains detail than one that contains blown areas with none.
As soon as I get a new digital camera, I switch focus to single area focus mode. Most are factory pre-set to continuous or some other new-fangled auto focus mode. Single area focus mode lets me focus on the subject where I want to.
The other focus modes may be okay such as when shooting video or faces, but I’ve rarely found them useful for general photo taking. Once I change to single area focus mode, “I set it and forget it.”
Luck and photography
For a number of my best shots, I simply got lucky. I was at the right place at the right time or something entered the image that I didn’t expect.
In the case of my sunrise photo, it was the bird flying in the sky. Darned if I saw it when I snapped the shutter button. It looks nice. I lucked out.
With digital cameras, you can take plenty of photos and not worry about extra costs like when using film. So I always take lots and lots and lots of shots.
I move around and watch the subtle changes in composition and exposure on the LCD. If it looks good, I snap the shutter-release button. Just to make sure, I take more photos of the same scene, sometimes varying the angle.
Practice, practice, practice
I’ve practiced these techniques for a long time. Now they are second nature and I rarely even give them a thought. They are well-worth learning so practice them too.