How to get professional looking photographs without being a professional: 10 tips

By Steve Kirsch

  1. You have five big things to get right: composition, lighting, focus, exposure, white balance. Generally, if you shoot raw, you can tweak the white balance and exposure in Lightroom. So you are down to three things: composition, lighting, and focus (as long as you do not overexpose the picture because once overexposed, you cannot fix it).
  2. For lighting, the camera has less dynamic range than your eyes, so a subject with "uniform" light will look great, whereas a subject that is partially lit will be hard to photograph. So outdoors, if someone is in uniform shade, that is going to be very easy to shoot. In direct sunlight with shadows, you're screwed.
  3. For focus, make sure the shutter speed is fast enough for the lens: 1/focal length of the lens. Otherwise, your shots will be blurry no matter what you do. And hold the camera steady. It makes a difference! Calibrate your lenses (this isn't so easy). Focus on the eyes.
  4. On Canon cameras, when you depress the shutter half way, the focus and exposure will ONLY both lock in One-shot AF, evaluative meter mode. For other metering modes, the exposure is NOT locked when you hit the shutter. So you cannot pick up the focus and exposure and move the camera without expressly locking the exposure with the * button (the focus will always stay locked of course).
  5. Know the rule of thirds. It makes a difference.
  6. If you want to make your photos even more sharp, sharpen them in post-processing (i use lightroom), but i seldom do this.
  7. Shoot in camera raw. I shoot in low res camera raw so I can fit plenty of photos on my SD card. And raw photos are much more forgiving when you edit because there is more information. The small raw are faster to upload and process. I output to JPG with a max file size of 500K to save on disk space.
  8. I will often adjust the white balance with the dropper tool in Lightroom and adjust the exposure. I adjust the exposure slider so that faces are typically about 75% red. That gives plenty of detail without over exposing.
  9. If you shoot at high ISOs, make sure the exposure is right on. If you have to push it in post processing, it will be grainy. Even ISO 800 pushed to over 1 stop is going to be grainy.
  10. Professional results is all in the lighting of the subject. Never use the flash in the camera. Get a flash that fits in the shoe and get a Gary Fong diffuser. And make sure you don't overexpose the subject or they will turn white and lose all color.
  11. You want the light ideally hitting the subject at 45 (both horiz and vertical) and the subject away from any background. That way, with one flash the shadows are all OUT of the frame.
  12. Never shoot flash with glass in the background due to reflections.
  13. I like to adjust custom white balance before I shoot so less to do in processing the photos. If not, just shoot a grey card before the shoot.
  14. I use Adobe Standard (so no customizations) on Lightroom. Some other settings matched the .JPG file the camera generates more closely, but the Adobe Standard profile seemed a better fit to real life. If you are into color, you can get a Color Checker Passport and set your profiles, calibrate your monitor, and then make sure your printer matches your monitor. Lot of work. I don't bother.
  15. Shuttersnitch is cool iPad app if you have a wifi memory card or wifi attachment to your camera. I rarely use it, but it is cool, and I've seen one professional use it. I have the WFT for my cannon. Be sure to wifi to infrastructure or it doesn't seem to work. Light blinks green when it transmits. You should see the LAN bars in the WFT device if all is good. So I put in my SSID name so it isn't locked to a channel (which you can do if you set g mode and pick a channel instead of auto).
  16. When you are taking a flash shot, remember that there are really two independent exposures happening: the base settings of the camera set the background exposure. The flash and flash compensation will affect the flash (as well as the f-stop of the camera).
  17. For people portraits, using a 50mm lens, with a low stop, and the subject close to you, creates the most dramatic blur (bokeh). Or use a long lens to bring the background appear very close to the subject.
  18. Try to avoid mixing light color temperatures. If you are shooting where there is incandescent, use a filter on your flash to match the light.

See also:

How to get super-sharp auto-focus

How to get flash pictures properly exposed



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