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How to take good pictures?

I have a huge passion for photography. I have done a lot of research on different techniques for taking good pictures. My basic interests are Landscape, Nature and Wildlife photography. This page outlines some of my tricks and suggestions for people who are interested in photography. I myself am a amateur photographer and if you want to make some suggestions to my techniques, please feel free to do so.
The f/16 rule : I generally follow a rule called the f/16 rule while taking landscape pictures. This rule states that "Under perfect lighting conditions, use a aperture equal to f/16 and this should automatically set your shutter speed to 1/ASA rating of your film (for digital cameras - the ISO setting that you are using). If this is not the case then adjust the aperture to lower or highers stops until you get the desired shutter speed."
Aperture Priority Aperture Priority : Aperture priority helps you adjust the aperture size which in turn controls the intensity of light entering your lens. Aperture is usually used to get a good depth of field preview. The adjacent picture was taken with a aperture of 1/2.8 mm. Look carefully how the focus fades out gradually. Click on the image to see a bigger version of it. Lower the aperture value (larger the aperture) lesser is the focus range and vice versa. So if you want to take a portrait of someone sitting in a garden and want the person as well as the background to be focussed, use as high aperture value as possible(low aperture size). Now it would be evident why I use F/16 for landscape photography, so that most of the picture is in focus. Note: The aperture value is always 1/f so higher the value smaller is the aperture and vice versa.
Shutter Priority Shutter Priority : Shutter priority helps you control the exposure time. This is useful when taking pictures of fast moving objects or very slow moving objects. For example you may have seen pictures of F1 cars which show you a specific motion in the image. This is done by using a slow shutter speed. If you want sharp images of fast moving objects use high shutter speeds of 1/1000th of a second. The picture was taken with a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. Click on the image to view a larger version.
Zoom Zoom : How big a zoom lens do I need on my camera? Is the most frequent question I get from people. My answer is always simple go for as large as possible and as large as you can afford! I have a 10X zoom on my Olympus C700UZ and a 300mm on my Nikon SLR and I think its small! I wish I had a larger one :). To be honest, in routine usage you hardly use such a big zoom. But when while taking wild life photography the larger lens you have, the better it is. The adjacent picture was taken with a 300mm (10X) zoom. It would have been impossible to take such a good picture otherwise!
Night Mode Film vs ISO setting : In traditional cameras the ASA setting of the film is same as the ISO setting in digital cameras. Chosing a correct film speed (ISO setting) is often tricky. Lower films speeds (50-200) give you a less granier picture but you loose shutter speed and vice versa. I almost always use a film of 100ASA I will be soon shooting with Velvia 50, which is a slide film (I cant afford the high prices of developing yet!). If you want to enlarge your pictures make sure you use a low ISO setting or else your picture will be granier. If you are taking night shots, use a higher ISO (800-1600)or else the picture wont turn out to be sharp. This picture was taken at Times Square on the New Years Eve I made use of a ISO setting of 800.
Note : As regarding to the film brand? I would suggest going for Fuji Color Film and Kodak B/W.
Use of tripod : Many times you think that you dont need tripod to take good pictures.......think again! I always make it a point to carry my tripod where ever I go. I have a pretty steady hand and can take pictures with shutter speeds as low as 1". This doesn't mean that I dont need a tripod! Having a tripod always helps. I almost always use it even though I know I am going to use a high shutter speed of 1/1000.
Polarizer Sepia Use of filters : I am big on filters. I almost always use my polarizer and my sepia filter. I recommend that if you can afford filters go for them. Filters will help enhancing your pictures greatly. Dont forget to use a UV, Haze and protection filter on your lens. I keep it on always. It helps protecting the lens from scratches and other type of damage. If you have a digital camera, you can get most of the effects that the filters would give you, by editing the image in Photoshop. But as I said "some" not all. The first image is taken with a polarizer this caused the sun to become a little tranquil and gave a stagnant look to what were wild sea waves. This effect would be impossible to achieve without the use of a polarizer, especially when the sun is directly pointing towards the lens! The landscape in the adjacent picture looks nostalgic, a special effect given by sepia filter.

You may have heard 80A, 80B and 80C in filters, what are they?
  • 80A increases the color temperature from 3200oK to 5500oK for the use with 3200oK lamps.
  • 80B increases the color temperature from 3400oK to 5500oK for the use of photoflood lamps.
  • 80C increases the color temperature from 3800oK to 5500oK for the use of clear flash bulbs.
Blue filter Blue filter Blue filter

What are color compensating filters? These filters let colors burst from your landscape photos by filtering the light reaching your camera. This is an easy and inexpensive effect that can produce breathtaking results. A color-compensating filter doesn't tint the photograph, but rather, amplifies the colors already present. For example, using an orange filter won't make the blue sky look orange, it will still be dark blue, but with a hint of orange light. The orange hues already in the photograph, however, will be greatly accentuated. This is accomplished by filtering out light from other places on the color spectrum, while allowing the desired color through.

Although there is no universal way of classifying filters according to the color, the most common is a system developed by Kodak. Under this system, #80 is a blue filter that is great for serene scenes, an #85 is an orange filter, which will produce brilliant results at sunset, while a #81 is a yellow filter good for warming up a scene on overcast days. The adjacent picture is taken with a blue filter.
Bracketing : This is nothing but a feature of some cameras which lets you take multiple pictures with different exposures. This feature can be used when you are unsure how your pictures would turn out because of weird lighting conditions.
The mythical Red Eye : What exactly is red eye and why do people have red eye in pictures with a flash? The red color comes from light that reflects off of the retinas in our eyes. In many animals, including dogs, cats and deer, the retina has a special reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum that acts almost like a mirror at the backs of their eyes. If you shine a flashlight or headlights into their eyes at night, their eyes shine back with bright, white light. Humans don't have this tapetum lucidum layer in their retinas. If you shine a flashlight in a person's eyes at night, you don't see any sort of reflection. The flash on a camera is bright enough, however, to cause a reflection off of the retina -- what you see is the red color from the blood vessels nourishing the eye. So how would you avoid a red eye after all? Its not that difficult here are the steps to do so

  • Use the red eye reduction feature of your camera. While using this feature, the camera flashes multiple times causing the pupil to contract and hence it reduces any reflections from the eye.
  • Taking pictures in extreme dark conditions will cause red eye and the best solution to avoid this is to illuminate the area.
  • If the flash is too close to the lens, the reflecting light from the flash goes almost directly into the lens. So using a external flash will help reducing red eye.
  • If the subject is not looking at the lens while taking the picture, this can cause the pupils to contract just a little and hence redeye reduction will fail. So make sure the subject is looking at the lens if using flash.
You may develop other skills to avoid red eye. I have taken over 2000 pictures till today and have gotten red eye only 5% times.
Purple fringing : Have you noticed bright purple light along sharp edges in your pictures that were taken against bright light? This is not evident when you look at the picture on the small LCD screen of your camera. But when you download the image and see it at full resolution, your first reaction is where did this purple light come from? This is nothing but purple fringing or chromatic aberrations. This aberration can turn into magenta or some other colour but purple is more common. There are many technical reasons, and some disagreement, as to why purple fringing occurs in digital cameras. These factors include the lens, focus, leakage between pixels, and more. Most of the problems are a result of the camera's design and there is little that can be done to change these factors. It is possible, however, to understand the shooting conditions that are likely to cause problems. The most common cause of purple fringing is low light with high-contrast boundary areas in an image.

How to avoid purple fringing? This is by experience. As I said the lighting conditions generally make a huge difference and once you start shooting it would be intuitive. How to remove purple fringing? Adobe Photoshop and most other graphics programs would let you control the Hue and Saturation of the image. You can play with the settings there (DONT change the master colors, but only touch the individual color settings).
Choosing a right camera : Do cameras matter in taking good pictures? Not really. You may want a good camera that offers you wide functionality and durability but the image composition is really a photographers eye. My most favourite brand for cameras is Olympus for digital cameras and Nikons for SLRs. Lets look at what these brands offer.

MegaPixels : People often ask me. I am getting a good deal on a 6MP camera shall I go for it? My first question to them is what is the digital zoom? A 2.1MP camera will let you take images of 1600 x 1200 pixels. The image size at this resolution is about 500KB. This size is just suited for mailing pictures. As you go higher, image size increases. Recently I took a picture at 5MP resolution with someones camera and it gave me a 2.5MB image. I could not upload it, could not email it I had to resample it to a lower resolution. I have known many people who use a resolution of 1200 x 800 for their pictures. Thhis resolution will take images upto 12" x 8" (i.e. a A4 Size). For printing a 4 x 6 (or a 5 x 7)image which we do almost always 2.1MP camera serves the purpose perfectly. However still I suggest people to go for 3.2 or 4.1MP (MAX) just in case a higher resolution sometime, they have the capability to use it.

Zoom : Most cameras give you 3X optical zoom. It doesnt really matter how much the digital zoom is since in digital zoom all that is done is the existing pixels are enlarged and that can be easily done in Photoshop. Olympus C series cameras are one of the few that offer a full 10X optical zoom, which is equivalent to 300mm lens. I have always made use of my high zoom and prefer zoom over megapixel. If I were to suggest, I would say go for the highest.

Digital Cameras made by Olympus : Olympus makes the best lenses in the world and their cameras have a high zoom (10X) which is not offered by any other brand. Olympus offers a control of flash intensity which is rare. It gives you all standard functionality such as B/W images, sepia filters, black board, white board, white balance, panorama mode, fast shooting (3fps), bracketing etc. Aditionally they offer you accessories such as 1.4-1.7X telephoto lens and a 0.7X wide angle lens. Olympus cameras focus at a distance of 4cms and this will help you take extreme closeups of objects. My current favourite is the Nikon Coolpix 5700

SLRs made by Nikon : Nikons are famous for two things, compatibility and durability. Their accessories are compatible backwards for 20 years and will be compatible forwards for 20 years. But since Nikon is a number 1 brand, its expensive.
How to Choose the Batteries : If you are spending some money on a quality camera, I would say if you could afford, go for a lithium battery. Lithium batteries are extremely powerful and long lasting. If not, any Ni-MH battery would do. Dont even try to go for anything other than a Ni-MH since your camera will suck on them like a leech. Usually any brand batteries with a battery life with 1500mAH (milli-ampere-hours) is enough. Again higher the better. I would say go for a Energizer battery charging station (charges AAA,AA,B,C,D,9v) which is relatively inexpensive ($22) and buy energizer 2100mAH batteries which cost about $12 for 4.
My idols in photography are Ansel Adams and Ken Rockwell. Here are a few links relating to photography that you may find useful.
Photography

Ansel Adams
Ken Rockwell
Alethea Steingisser
Michael Frye
Paul Renner
Shopping of Photographic Equipment

B & H Photo Video