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How to Take Great Photographs - A Beginner's Guide

New Camera for Christmas? Or perhaps a new smartphone (who needs a separate camera these days?) Sean Tucker, the talented photographer, who recorded our Forest Foraging event back in October, has some great tips for the rookie photographer. 

Over to you, Sean:

“Here are my 8 top tips on how to take and make better images. To prove that this has nothing to do with how much fancy gear you have, all these tips can be applied to any camera, and all the example images were shot and edited using only my phone.

Tip 1: Teach yourself to recognise good light.

I'm putting this up front because I can’t emphasise it enough, and it’s something you can practice every minute of the day, with or without a camera. Photography means, ‘writing (graph) with light (photo)’. Any camera is only a light proof box which captures light coming in. Some are complicated, some are simple, but this is always the essence. 

The single biggest tip I can give you is 'learn to recognise and appreciate good light', then capturing it becomes the easy part. Is the light coming in through the trees in a beautiful way? What is the colour of the light? Is it bouncing off a reflective surface and doing something interesting? Is it creating unique shadows? If you can learn to see good light you are halfway to becoming a good photographer.

Tip 2: Compose your shot.

There are many schools of thought on how to compose a photograph, but a solid principle to start with is the good old ‘rule of thirds’. Imagine breaking your frame up into 9 blocks of equal size.  The easy way to do this is to mentally draw two vertical and two horizontal lines across the thirds of the frame. 

Now, to use this pattern in your framing you either want to compose any interesting vertical or horizontal lines on these imaginary thirds or place any points of interest on one of the four intersections of these lines. This will give you a more pleasing composition than just pointing your camera straight at a subject. Here are a couple of examples of using the rule of thirds:

Tip 3: Choose an interesting subject.

Is it too obvious to say that shooting something engaging will make for an engaging photo? If you think your shots are too boring, the problem may be this simple.

Shoot something which tells a story, or freezes a moment in time. That day the kids were playing with that pile of leaves. That light setting over those hills. That guy on the street in the crazy hat. 

Remember, it’s what you put in front of the lens that will make the photograph, not the camera. A boring scene shot on the best camera in the world is still only a boring photo, but a compelling scene shot on a mobile phone can win awards.

Tip 4: Don’t neglect your background.

You may be out shooting a particular person or thing, but your subject will only make up a portion of your frame. Ask yourself what you are filling the rest of the frame with. By rotating around your subject a bit you will totally change the background they are set against in the composition. How bright or dark is the background? What is the dominant colour? Does it serve to highlight what’s going on, or does your subject get lost against the scene behind it? If your background isn't working, notice it, and shift position to frame your subject and to place them in the scene.

Tip 5: Look at something from a different angle.

We are used to viewing things from 5-6 feet off the ground but you may discover a unique shot if you can find a way to get above your subject, or shoot it from below. Perhaps you can get right up close, or shoot it from an interesting angle.  Experiment with where you place the camera to give a fresh vantage point on a familiar subject.

Tip 6: Catch the detail.

It’s not all about shooting people and places.  Notice the little things; keep your eye out for the small details we all walk past every day. By getting in close with your camera, you could be giving us a glimpse into a world we never stop to notice. Think about textures in the concrete, patterns on the leaves, insects, shapes in the bark of a tree. 

Most mobile phones today will allow you to get very close and maintain focus, with the added bonus that you will force the background out of focus, giving you that professional blur for your shot which people associate with higher end cameras. Give it a go.

Tip 7: Look for lines.

Lines are everywhere: telegraphs poles, the horizon, trails in the sky, roads. Think about how you can use these lines to point out your subject or create an interesting shape in the frame. Sometimes you can use lines to point at your subject by placing them at the convergence of these lines within the frame. Sometimes you can use the lines to create a frame around the subject. Start to notice the lines around you, and use them to your advantage.

Tip 8: Wait for the decisive moment.

This is where all the tips come together in a single moment. Many times people will put the camera to their eye to take one picture. For example, mum wants to snap a picture of her kids playing in a stream. She lifts the camera and clicks. Job done. But watch a little longer, adjust your position, look at what the light is doing, observe how your subjects are moving, and wait for the moment something magical happens.

This is the difference between simply taking a picture and making a picture. Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is considered the father of street photography, coined the phrase ‘the decisive moment’ to express that confluence of events which make a good shot. He would camp out in a spot where he knew the light was good and the composition worked, and then wait for the magic to happen. 

Obviously we don’t all have the time to shoot like this, but maybe his attitude helps us take a small step away from a 'quick snap' mentality, towards actually creating a memorable image by staying with the moment and remaining aware of all the elements we've spoken about, to create a unforgettable photograph.

Happy Light-writing in 2016”

Come and capture the forest

Here at Forest Holidays we've built up a collection of great outdoor shots, not to mention the amazing entries we had for our Forest Bathing competition. Have a browse below and see if you can spot where they apply Sean’s principles.

We hope you have been inspired to capture some decisive moments of your own, whatever camera or phone you are using. If nature shots are your thing, then you must come and stay in the forest for some great photo opportunities – and of course, we’d love to see your shots too.

Find out more about Sean and his work at www.seantucker.photography and follow him on twitter: @seantuck