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In a world where using post-production suites to enhance your photos is almost a necessity, it can be hard for the beginner, computer illiterate or photography purist to feel they have something to offer. How does one create a beautiful picture from the get go which requires no post editing? In this tutorial, I aim to outline some tips which will tackle just that!
1. Know Your Desired Outcome
It is helpful to prepare in your mind, or on paper, what it is you're trying to achieve in your images. Are you going for drama? Romance? Excitement? Brainstorm ahead of time how you can achieve this look. For example, romance could involve subdued lighting, sultry colours and a lot of closeups.
Instead of relying on a ‘filter’ or ‘action’ to create this for you later, consider how you will alter your settings instead. What angles of your subject will you try to capture? How will you pose them? Maybe it should be later in the day to accommodate softer sunlight? What locations would you consider romantic?
2. Location Choices, Indoor vs Outdoor
Why not a mixture of both? An outdoor location will potentially give you the prettiest, most natural light. Indoors has the potential to create some grainier shots if not lit adequately. However, working with your flash gives you the ability to control how the light hits your subject and from what direction, both indoors and out.
I keep my flash attached to the camera at all times, just in case I’d like to add an additional light source to the shot regardless of where I am.
Baby Sully taken indoors with only a window to light his face.
3. Know Your Equipment
Ask yourself some questions: Is your subject fast moving like a sporting event? Maybe you need a different lens to capture this appropriately. What kinds of shutter speeds, have you noticed, work best with fast moving subjects?
Getting to know your equipment ahead of time will help you in a moment of panic or when you’re feeling rushed or pressured. Practise shooting in categories across the board:- sporting, portrait, candid etc in order that you become ‘fluent’ in more than one genre of shooting. Figure out some setting guidelines for each scenario so you can memorize and refer to when needed.
4. Camera Settings
When I first started using a DSLR a friend of mine recommended I start with some basic settings as a guide: Shutter Speed = 125, ISO Outdoors = 100/200, ISO Indoors = 400.
I have always started a shoot with these settings, except when out in the bright Hawaiian sun. Then my shutter speed goes way up there! The ISO determines how sensitive the sensor is to light, thus the lower the number, the better your image will come out.
The lower the shutter speed the better your image will look in darker conditions. I also like to monitor the Exposure Level Sensor on my LCD screen because when in bright sunlight (like on the beach for example) it can be hard to see the image clearly on the LCD screen.
5. Use The Light As Best You Can
With no post-production as your backup, now is not the time to be lazy with lighting. Lighting is a photographer's best friend especially when shooting outside. Even clouds moving in front of the sun (or moving away from the sun) can affect a shot and how well it’s lit.
Take the time to thoroughly scope out your light source. Even if this means having your subject move from area to area while you look through your viewfinder to see where the light hits them. Don’t forget to pack your trusty reflector or white sheet to brighten your subject. Reflectors are not cheating!
When shooting inside with your flash beef up the lighting with lamps and overheads. It is very important to take your time scoping out the light source. Although not something you necessarily pack, light sources (natural or not) should always be considered part of your equipment repertoire.
A poorly exposed photo equals bad contrast. Lighting conditions, lens filters and exposure can all define contrast. The higher the contrast the greater the perceived sharpness the image will have. When looking through the viewfinder I often find the whitest white and blackest black first.
I then look (often in setup time before a shoot) for as many colours of the rainbow that might fall in between. I adjust my settings accordingly. I would recommend adjusting the in-camera contrast settings as well (Picture Settings ~> Contrast).
Someone who edits their photos in post will have this contrast setting low to ensure more picture information is saved. Of course, as editing photos is not what we’re into right now, we can up the contrast levels a lot further to make them ‘pop.’ Play around with this a bit to find where you like it.
7. Consider Your Composition
Is the horizon straight or lopsided? Do you need to zoom out or in more? Is there a rubbish bin in the bottom corner you really don't need in your shot!?
Have a good look around in your viewfinder before snapping the picture. If you’re not sure which you prefer, take a close up shot and a wide shot. Take more pictures to ensure you get a good one.
Amazing tree, and a nice green rubbish bin as a bonus.
8. Where's Your Focus?
Autofocus is, of course, the safest option (not the most creative though!). However, it can sometimes be off in close up portrait shots. Consider using your manual focus which, although more risky, definitely allows a wider range of interest.
It is fun to alter the focus on the same image more than once, reverting from foreground focus to background focus. When not editing pictures afterwards it is helpful to have multiple options of a shot to choose from just in case!
Perfect smiles! Completely off focus.
9. Take Your Time
Taking your time is absolutely crucial. This can be hard on a shoot with four kids who can’t sit still! But without post-processing to correct any potential mistakes you need to take the time to assess your scenario more deeply.
Possibly set your camera to ‘burst’ mode to increase your chances of getting a good photo, especially if timing out that perfect group smile is an issue for the four children mentioned above! If at all possible, try not to feel pressure from your subjects and work at your own pace.
Whenever possible communicate with them what it is you’re doing, when they can relax, or when you need them to pose. This will help your subjects understand that this ain’t no ‘point & shoot’ setup here! Perfection takes time and it's why they are paying you to do the job for them.
10. Consider Your Subjects
People are people. They have flaws. When it comes to photography more often than not these flaws can shine brightly. It is always helpful to observe and assess the state of your subject. You can look out for skin blemishes, scars, birthmarks, hair inconsistencies, etc.
Maybe they’re having a bad hair day. Suggest running a comb through it! As silly and potentially insulting this may sound, you are taking photos of people where they want to be seen in the best light possible. Don’t avoid, confront!
Remember, you’re avoiding the ‘Retouch’ brush, thus communicating (as nicely as possible!) what it is you need remedying will help you out later.
Shooting with no post-processing in mind is something that will help you perfect your craft. You’ll become sharp and very observant knowing exactly what you want in your photos.
Putting in the extra time and research in setting up your shot will bring confidence to your work. Even if you then go on to edit your photos after, at least you’ve eliminated as many errors as possible before you’ve even started.
There is only so much photo editing suites can do to cover up mistakes. In no time, you’ll become an expert at both what your camera can do and how best to shoot with no post-production in mind!