33 Essential Photography Tips

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More than ever, the photograph is a crucial part of every bit of the vast amount of information we read and ingest.

In many instances it’s even more effective than video.

To commemorate the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s 33rd Anniversary, here are 33 no-nonsense photography tips that can serve you well.

1. The best camera you can have is the one that’s always with you. In this case, it’s most probably your smartphone.

Learn to maximize its potential, and hone your skills in shooting with it. You’ll thank yourself for doing so.

2. Contrary to what people say (or memes you get to read), the kind of gear you have does matter to do a better job at taking photos.

Decide for yourself how seriously you want to get into photography and what you’ll use it for, gather experts’ opinions, and do your homework with a bit of research online.

This way, you’ll know what specific gear to aim for and invest on, and not end up with buyer’s regret.

3. It pays to know the basic principles of photography before acquiring some serious gear for shooting.

It also pays to learn well the workings of your current gear to effectively apply those principles for better photos, so read that operations manual and tinker and experiment with your camera by using it often.

4. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re already a seasoned pro, don’t forget to take photos for your own enjoyment.

The first person you should satisfy is yourself; the audience only comes second—unless, of course, you’re shooting for a client.

Take time to indulge in photo shoots just to keep your passion piqued, to sharpen your skills, and to learn a new style of Photography.

5. Some people are born with a great eye for photography, but without this, you can learn.

First, you’ll have to decide to “open your eyes” to see the smaller things and appreciate the simple details.

Browsing through other good photographers’ works would be a good reference to get inspired and to imbibe their point of view and see what they see.

6. Don’t stress about getting that photo perfectly right away; eventually, you will.

Photography is like a language—you’ll have to learn it thoroughly and practice it often to be able to eventually speak it fluently and effortlessly like it’s second nature.

And like a language, some people know exactly which words to use, and can be quite eloquent and precise when it comes to expressing themselves.

7. The three things you need to pay attention to, to instantly improve your picture-taking are: timing, focus, and framing.

Great timing takes practice, to always be on the lookout for the best time to press that shutter button. Wait a bit after your first shot though, as a better moment may come around.

Nobody really appreciates an unintentionally blurry photo. To make sure your focal point or subject is sharp, touch to focus, even on smartphones, and level that horizon!

Also, not putting your subject at the dead center can bring more attention to it, so try to be more creative with your framing.

8. Invest in good lenses instead of the camera body. Buying the latest and most advanced camera body will be pointless if you’ll scrimp on the lens. It’s like buying an expensive sports car only to install the cheapest tires on it—you just know it’s going to mess up and waste its performance potential.

Lenses with the best quality optics are keepers, while camera bodies keep getting upgraded in the market.

Still, getting a top-notch camera and lens combo is best if you can afford it.

9. You can relax with not getting your photos perfect SOOC, or straight out of camera.

While it’s good to get a great “unretouched/unprocessed” photo right after that click, 99 percent of professional photographers use post-processing to improve their photos.

Almost always, it’s the end result that matters. Of course, learning to use the right amount and the right kind of processing is imperative, and so is admitting that you did.

10. Protect those expensive lenses! Get yourself good quality UV filters for them to protect against smudges, and especially scratches.

UV Filters are the most “transparent” filters you can get, leaving no visible effect on your photos.

Cheap ones tend to degrade the quality of your photos by reducing sharpness of your images and affecting the color as well, so give that expensive lens what it deserves.

Examples of good branded filters are B&W, Hoya, Kenko, Fujiyama, Sigma, among others.

11. Which brand of camera to get? First decide on your budget, then your usage, and finally, get a lot of advice from reliable sources like working photographers.

Off-hand, this is certainly the age of mirrorless cameras, as opposed to DSLRs.

Based on my experience, Fuji is great for instant gratification. It’s just easier with Fujis for beginners and intermediate photographers to get great looking photos.

Sony is fantastic if you also intend to use it often for high quality video.

Canon and Nikon entered the mirrorless category a bit late with lackluster offerings that cost more than they should, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get great photos out of them.

12. If you’re getting serious about photography, make it a habit to read various reviews about the gear you intend to acquire, to see if it’s worth the money you’ll shell out for it, or if there are better and cheaper options.

A good source is Google, YouTube, and most branded photography forums in Facebook. Just start your search by typing the brand and model you have in mind, add “review,” and choose from the results.

13. Where’s the best place to buy your photography gear? Let’s start with the worst: the mall.

Cameras and lenses found in mall shops are approximately more expensive by P10,000 to P20,000 on average, or even more. Yes, even in the official shops of camera brands.

Your main concern should be getting the official local warranty of the camera/gear you intend to buy (usually 2-3 years’ worth), and it’s offered by shops in Hidalgo St. (Quiapo) and some trusted online sellers too—for much cheaper.

Unless saving P10,000 to P20,000 doesn’t matter to you, it’s worth the effort.

Yes, they can be cheaper overseas, but make sure the warranty is applicable locally.

14. Get capable and reliable memory cards. Do yourself a favor, don’t buy from budget shops like ***-King and mobile
phone kiosks, as memory cards from these sources are almost always sub-par and just poor knock-offs, and you risk losing your valuable data at the worst time possible.

For the right specs, get nothing below Class 10. As a rule, the higher the data read/write rate, the better (e.g., 95 Mb/sec., or 800 x). These are written on the memory card itself and on the packaging. Buy these only from reputable shops/online stores.

15. As the amount of your gear grows (actually even if it’s just a single camera and lens set), you’ll need an automatic dry cabinet. This is where you should store your expensive gear, with regulated humidity (45-55 percent) to avoid getting fungus in them.

It can get really humid due to our tropical climate, or if your place doesn’t have ample ventilation.

If your gear gets fungus growth, it’ll be very expensive to have them cleaned up.

A cheaper option is to buy an airtight box, then put dessicants that you’ll have to replace approximately every other month.

16. What’s a good walk-around lens? Or if you’d own just one lens, what should it be?

It should have a focal range of at least 16 mm to 50 mm to cover the wide angle to medium zoom/telephoto range. This’ll be good for travel (landscapes) and detail (portraits, close-ups) shots.

Kit lenses (lenses bundled with the camera body) usually have these or similar focal ranges.

17. What are the right specs for a new camera? Assuming you’re getting a mirrorless camera, something with at least 18-21 megapixels of resolution and capable of shooting at least 1920 x 1080 video (full HD) would be ideal.

Technology has gotten a lot cheaper, and these specs are now considered average or minimum requirement.

18. What’s a good budget for a mirrorless camera set? If you’re just starting out (or gifting someone who is), expect to spend between P35,000 to P45,000 for a good mirrorless camera with a lens.

Of course, there are cheaper options, but you’d want it to have room to grow, as you/the recipient gets better in photography.

19. Is it okay to buy second hand photography gear? Definitely, as even the pros do it often.

As a rule, avoid cameras that are about 5 years and older. Eight years and older? You’re better off with your smartphone.

It’s safer to buy used lenses than used camera bodies, as potential problems are spotted easier, and lenses are less affected by wear and tear.

As always, it pays to consult, look around, and compare (prices, specs, units) thoroughly. The huge savings are worth it, and be wary of scammers.

20. Always buy a well-made camera bag that has room for expansion.

As you get better and more enthused with photography, you’ll need more space for extra lenses, a flash, and other essential accessories (yes, this hobby could get costly).

Get a good one right away, so you won’t end up spending more by replacing a small or subpar one you scrimped on at the start.

Note: There are unknown brands that are cheap, but will do very nicely. Search the forums.

21. Buy smart. There are bargains to be had! Normally, professionals love having the latest gear, selling their older gear relatively cheap to be able to upgrade.

Get a good reference of the brand new price of the gear you’re eyeing so you’ll know (based on the condition of the used item) if you’re getting a great deal or not.

Again, online marketplaces are the best hunting grounds for these.

22. What’s the best camera for a vlogger, besides a high-end smartphone? The most portable one with the highest specs, of course.

It all depends on the quality you’re targeting for your vlog, but high specs (about 21 megapixels, 4K video capable, great low light capability, fast-focusing, with mic/headphone inputs), and a small-ish form factor would be ideal.

Why? Your gear should be able to deliver when the situation calls for the highest quality output.

Oh, don’t forget your spare batteries and tripod—and stabilized gimbal, if your budget allows.

23. Which photography style is for me? The question you should be asking is, what feeds your passion the most?

There are so many choices: landscape/travel, portrait, macro, fashion, etc., and it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to just one.

Start with what you’re likely to get into a lot, and one that won’t require too much of an investment.

If you’re choosing a style to make a living out of, first decide how much you’re willing to invest (time/effort/resources) to be exceptional at it, then shoot! shoot! shoot!

24. Is there a fast track in getting good at photography?

Photography is an enigma. Some would go as far as taking a master’s degree on it in a prestigious university, or who’d pick it up as a hobby and end up getting so annoyingly good at it.

On a casual level, I believe you’ll learn it faster when one explains it to you—compared to figuring it out via reading books, just like you’ll get more proficient with your camera by using it often/exploring it manually compared to reading its manual.

Get inspired by other people’s photos, and try to emulate them. Find a shoot-mate. Attend photo workshops.

25. Can I get into photography with just my smartphone? A big resounding yes!

Provided you’re using one of the later generation of smartphones, you can get into photography with it as a hobby, and even use it for work.

With high quality optics and robust processing power, photos from smartphones have gotten so much better that they could sometimes be used for magazines, and most definitely for newspapers.

Plus, you get the benefit of on-site editing like cropping, color correction, or even for adding text and graphics, and publishing it online almost instantly.

You just have to know its limitations, and maximize it.

26. What are the best photo editing apps to use?

Normally, your smartphone, whether on the iOS or Android platform, has a native photo editing app. They’re usually amply equipped for basic editing, like cropping, lighting and color correction.

But if you want more detailed and extensive editing, you can check out Photoshop Express, Enlight, Snapseed, Pixomatic, among many.

Try a demo/trial version first to see if it fits your needs before actually buying the full version.

27. Do I need an external/separate flash?

The main function of a flash is to illuminate what’s not amply lit within a photo. So unless you’ve learned to max out the potential of your gear without using a flash (boost ISO, use longer exposures, use a tripod), an external flash could be useful.

With proper settings, your camera’s built-in flash will suffice, but the external flash is more flattering and capable in more demanding situations (large groups, darker and wider areas to light up).

28. To not make your subject look like a deer in front of headlights when using a flash, try pointing your flash (if it’s an external flash) upward to the ceiling for a bounce effect, or to just let a partial spill of light hit your subject. It’d look more flattering and subtle.

If you’re using your camera’s built-in flash, add a diffuser (it can be bought), or a piece of tracing paper on it will do. Or simply back away to put some distance between you and your subject, and just zoom in to minimize the “in your face” flash effect.

29. For more flattering photos of people, whether solo or as a group, be conscious of your location.

When outdoors, avoid shooting near noontime, when the sun is directly above you. Shadows won’t be flattering, and the colors will be less vivid, and pictures appearing flat. People may be squinting, too.

If the subject is backlit, and you can’t reposition your it, use your flash as a fill-in light (in auto mode), even if it’s a bright sunny day.

30. For portraits, always try to photograph a person from a slightly higher angle than eye-level, for it makes their jaws and necks less prominent, and it has a slimming effect on their bodies.

If a lower point of view can’t be avoided, ask your subject to slightly bend towards you to diminish the low-angle effect.

31. If you’re using a zoom lens (meaning you can switch from wide angle to zoom), you’ll achieve more flattering results of your subject if you’ll step away then zoom in, than being close to the subject then zooming-out to fit him/her in the frame.

What you’re trying to avoid is the barrel-distortion or warping effect of a wide-angle shot.

32. As much as you can, avoid “do-it-all” lenses that have extensive range from wide to telephoto, like 18-200 mm, 28-300 mm, etc.

Though a lens like that can shoot wide angle and “super-zoom” shots, the image quality is compromised due to the many glass elements inside the lens, and that means less sharpness and detail and contrast on your photos.

It’s still better to get a kit lens, then add a dedicated zoom or prime lens.

33. How do I get the “bokeh” or blurred background effect? You’ll need a lens with a large maximum aperture (lens opening).

The advantages of lenses with large apertures are to separate your subject from the background via that pro-looking bokeh, and to give you an extra margin of brightness when shooting in low light conditions.

Best value lenses with a large aperture? Try a 50 mm with a 1.8 aperture.

Bonus tip: Don’t stress out on your shots, and just keep shooting! Happy clicking!



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