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Five Secrets To Taking Better, Sharper and More Visually Inspiring Photos

The chances of taking the perfect picture on the first click are slim to lucky. Even the most experienced photographer with the best planning and using most expensive equipment will encounter variables. Anything from weather to people to wild life and unexpected technical glitches are all working against that perfect photo you visualized before the shoot. One of the many secrets to taking better photos is simple: slow down and know your gear.

Check Your Settings, Slow Down and Visualize

Does an airline pilot just jump in the plane and take off? Hopefully he has a long checklist to validate before take-off. He knows what every switch, light and digital instrument means before lifting off the ground. And, as a photographer you should know the same about your camera, lens, filters and gear.

A few things that are on my personal pre-shoot checklist include:

  1. Is there a filter attached to the lens? If so, is it the appropriate filter for the location? If no then switch it out. Don’t let a circular polarizer
  2. Am I using an empty SD card? I prefer to shoot new locations with an empty SD card because it makes importing a little simpler not having to cull through hundreds of previously imported photos.
  3. Aperture, ISO, and Shutter back to their defaults? I have munged a few shoots because I took everything at a super high ISO that I used at a previous location. For the sharpest results you are going to want to shoot ISO between 64–100. For landscapes I would never shoot higher than 400 and portraits 6400.
  4. File formats. Sometimes I switch around the camera file format settings depending on use. For the sharpest that retain the most information always shoot RAW 14-bit uncompressed using the Adobe RGB color space.

Now that your camera is ready: Slow down! What’s the rush really? If you’re out in the woods and taking a picture of a mountain chances are it isn’t going to move anytime soon or if you’re macro shooting a flower it’s not going to wilt in the few moments you take to smell the flowers.

Look around at the scene and visualize the photo you want. If you wait just a few more minutes will the breeze calm for a sharper up-close of the flower petals, or are the clouds shaping up into something amazing if you just hold off for a few a minute or two.

Put The Camera On A Tripod

One of the longest habits for me to break was being a hand-held shooter. Although there is a great sense of liberty in shooting from the hip your pictures will only benefit from this technique when capturing fast-moving action. Even with the best image stabilization either in-camera or in-lens the camera will never be as stable as on a tripod or mono-pod. What this means is that you are losing potential sharpness in your photos.

Almost every tripod these days includes two things: 1) a quick release plate and 2) a mono-pod option. Use them both and you will quickly see improvements. But, if you’re like me and still love the freedom of hand-held shooting you can do what I do and take two cameras. One camera is always on the tripod and the second is either my Ricoh GRII that slips easily in a pocket or my Nikon D600 that I attach onto my camera bag with Peak Design’s Capture v3.

Something else to keep in mind while shopping for a tripod is it’s sturdiness. A cheap tripod and ball head typically has a wobble which will defeat your purpose of using one for sharper images. Do your research and buy smart. I personally use the Benro FGP28C and love it. Even in knee-high surf on the Pacific Ocean it stands firm. It wasn’t cheap, but it is also a quality piece of gear that I don’t plan on replacing anytime soon.

Remote Trigger, Mirror Lock-Up (MUP) and EFCS

In addition to using a tripod, you should also use either a wireless or wired trigger remote like the Nikon Remote Release. Otherwise, even the simple motion of pressing the shutter button will cause enough vibration to add a blurriness to areas of the photo you may not desire. If you don’t have a remote trigger handy you can also use the self-timer mode. However, with some cameras, like my Nikon D810, you can only choose between self-timer or MUP.

What is Mirror Lock-Up? It is a feature on many DSLRs that raises the mirror before the shutter opens. This prevents some vibration which usually occurs at shutter speeds around 1/2 to 1/60 second. However, while the mirror is raised, photos cannot be framed in the viewfinder. Also, autofocus and metering cannot be adjusted unless you use Live-View. Live-View forces the camera to use MUP as well as lets you use a self-timer. As an added bonus, Live-View also enables ECFS (Electronic Front Curtain Shutter).

Now Go Out And Shoot!

If you have any tips and tricks on taking better photos, please post them in our discussion forum!

Originally published at jMcCarthy Galleries.