Best time to take photos: before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. The absolute best time is within 30 minutes after sunrise, and 30 minutes before sunset.
Know your camera. Select your ISO. In low-light conditions, you must increase it, but this can come at a cost – noise. I keep my camera at 400 ISO, but will push it to 1600. Some cameras handle noise better than others. Some noise can be removed in post processing. What is noise? It’s like “grain” in film days.
Camera shake: a major issue. Camera manufacturers have spent millions attempting to resolve this problem. They know that people who inadvertently move their camera as they take an exposure get blurry pictures. Stand as still as you can, making your body into a tripod, and squeeze off a shot, applying just enough pressure to trip the shutter. You want to be able to take an exposure at the slowest speed, especially in low-light conditions.
Remember F8. Most every lens is designed for maximum performance at or near F8. This was the setting chosen by many of the great photographers of yesteryear. Then, all they did was determine the shutter speed.
A combination of choosing the right ISO, the right shutter speed, and the right F-stop determines proper exposure. What is your margin of error? Depends. If you want a darker looking image, you can intentionally under expose. If you “blow out” the highlights, this means there is no information recorded, which means your image will have total white areas. This usually is undesirable and cannot be fixed in post processing without a lot of trouble.
If you want to blur a portion of your image because it will help you achieve your composition, then shoot with an F-stop set to a lower number. Remember, the lower the number, the greater the reduction of your depth of field. Depth of field is that area where everything in it will be in focus. Conversely, if you want as much as you can get in your image to be in focus, then you want to select a higher number, like F11 or F16.
Easy, quick way to shoot, and doable on most every modern camera: set your camera on automatic exposure such as F-8, and let the camera determine the right shutter speed. But, remember, you must watch what your camera selects: the speed may be too slow for you to stop the action, or for you to take the shot handheld.
Do you need a tripod? You need whatever you can get to reduce the effects of camera shake.
What is the best camera to purchase? In the old days, people were instructed to “buy glass,” meaning purchase the best lens you can afford. The camera was a box; as long as it was light tight, you were good to go. Nowadays, you must consider the glass, and the sensor, the chip in your camera that will record your data and what you want out of photography. You can overspend. When you have a camera in mind, go to Flickr.com and look for images taken with your camera. Go to Dpreview.com and see if your camera has received an analysis by this website. They have reviews of hundreds of cameras, both expensive and low cost. Finally, search the Internet to see if there is a forum dedicated to your camera, or your kind of photography. Flickr hosts many forums dedicated to specific cameras.
Remember the difference between shooting with film and digital. All digital images are linear recordings of information, and therefore produce flat images. With film, the designers of the emulsion factored in what was necessary to produce a “finished” look. You can apply contrast and employ other techniques in your post processing to add sharpness, and to increase a three-dimensional look to your image. You are working in a two-dimensional art form attempting to create the illusion of a three-dimensions.
Employ the Golden mean.
One single element should dominate your image. That usually means shoot close, and then when think you have right, get closer still.
Determine if you can include an accent point. This is a small portion of your image that will balance your overall composition, forcing the viewer of your image to move his/her eye around your image. This is what great artists achieve – they actually design their images so that the viewer moves his/her eye around it in a prescribed, predetermined form.
Remember, the eye first lands on an image at its point of highest contrast, point of greatest difference between light and dark.
Try and imagine in your mind what your image will look like when you have taken a picture. This takes time and practice. Digital photography is wonderfully inexpensive, once you have purchased a camera/lens. Shoot and shoot some more. In the old days, the film days, every shot cost money, for film, developing, etc. My teacher told me: get it on the first try. Today, we can shoot again and again until we think we “got it.”
Think of your depth of field. Determine what will and what will not be in focus. Use shallow depth of field to help you get the image you want. Or, go for the maximum depth of field. It all depends on what you want.
See if you can compose your images so that they conform to basic designs, like the L, or the A, or the S curve. These are commonly used to help the artist direct the viewer’s eye in a pre-determined form. It is also restful.
To add “energy” to your composition, look for the diagonal, or how diagonal forms can be used to accent your compositions. The advertisers of cars and trucks use this technique all the time – an image will be tilted, so it appears the vehicle is speeding around a corner. Diagonals add energy. Flat lines create a greater sense of peacefulness, calm. Both techniques can be used to create quality compositions.