Some things in photography take years to master, while others take just a few seconds. Here are three tips that take less than a minute but can have a massive impact on your photo results.
Your Breathing Really Matters
Want a guaranteed way to get sharper photos every time? Focus on your breath just before you’re about to hit the shutter button. Honestly, I can’t underestimate the importance of breath when you’re taking photos. If you’ve ever seen some scenes in movies such as "Sniper," you’d have noticed how the background sound effects are often nothing but the pulse of the heartbeat and the breath going in and out as the sniper waits for his target to enter into the crosshairs. The breath is always slow and deliberate and the trigger is always pulled during the pause between inhalation, exhalation, inhalation. This is not coincidence. It’s during those moments of pausing that your body is at its most still.
The breath is a fundamental part of yoga and meditation too. Indeed, on the Hridaya yoga website’s homepage, it says: “The awareness of the pauses after inhalation and exhalation is a very simple and efficient method for quieting the mind and opening ourselves to the background of stillness.” And that’s exactly what we want in photography too when we’re about to press the shutter button. Pure stillness.
Honestly, it makes no sense to push the shutter button in the middle of an inhale or an exhale. Why? If you’re breathing correctly, you are taking air down into your diaphragm, which means your stomach is going in and out on every exhalation and inhalation. If you’re not breathing perfectly, the air is going down only as far as your lungs, meaning your chest is going up and down along with your shoulders.
Either way, there is movement. And movement in your body is the last thing you want when you are trying to obtain maximum focus and sharpness in your shot. If you’re skeptical, try it yourself. Just breathe in and out right now and watch your body move. It’s impossible to keep your body completely still when you are inhaling or exhaling. The only time your body is truly still is during that pause between breaths. And that's exactly when you should press the shutter button.
Whether you press the shutter button on the pause after an inhalation, or on the pause after an exhalation is up to you and personal preference. Personally, I prefer to do it after an inhalation but that’s just me. But this is something that takes literally a couple of seconds to master but can make all the difference in your photography if you’re not shooting with a tripod. Try it next time you’re shooting and make it a common part of your photography process.
Open the Door and Walk Outside
The second thing you can do to improve your photography with less than a minute’s work is just as simple. Before you go out shooting just do this: open the window and stick your head out. Or if you’re closer to the door, open that and walk outside. It’s that simple.
Why? Because this will tell you what the weather is like and what the light is like. Once you know the weather conditions and the type of light you’re going to get that will determine what kind of photography you’ll do and which kind of lenses you’ll need. And it’ll also prevent you from taking the wrong ones and getting frustrated by having the wrong gear for the wrong conditions.
I’m not one of those photographers who is just a landscape photographer, or just a seascape photographer, or just a portrait photographer, or just a macro photographer. I love to mix things up and take different shots depending on how I feel on any given day. But one thing I’m absolutely clear about is the optimal conditions for each type of photography.
For example, if I open the window at home here in the south of Japan and the sun is harsh and the wind is blowing fiercely, I automatically know that it’s not a day for macro photography. Therefore, I won’t pack my camera bag with my macro lenses or take any of the relevant gear I use for macro photography.
Bright sun, and especially gusty winds, aren’t really ideal when you’re getting close up trying to take shots of still flowers or other kinds of flora. For that type of photography to work best, I want cloudy skies and practically zero wind. So just a quick excursion out onto the back deck of my house while I’m having my morning cup of coffee will tell me in no time flat what kind of photography I can or can’t do on that day.
You can’t underestimate the importance of taking such a small, simple step. There is nothing more frustrating than packing your camera bag with gear for shots that you might want to take on any given day and then arriving at your destination and realizing that you just don’t have the right gear for the conditions you’re presented with.
So before you plan for the day ahead and make all the necessary preparations, stick your head out the window or take a walk out the front of your home and just do a quick 30 second survey of the weather conditions. Having the right gear for the right conditions ensures your passion for photography remains intact, you lessen your chances of getting frustrated, and you get more shots that are keepers.
Check the Frame Before you Push
This last tip is something that I stress to all of my photography students over and over again. It only takes 5 seconds but it can save you hours and hours in postproduction. Once you've composed your shot and placed your subject where you want it, take a final look around your entire frame to ensure that there’s nothing there that shouldn’t be. Or that your subject is exactly where it should be.
Very often we focus so much attention on our subject that we forget to look around the rest of the frame and notice any small details that could detract from the shot or annoy our viewers Things like trash on the ground, or someone’s outstretched leg entering the top corner of the frame can easily be removed if we notice them at the time and just take a couple of steps either side of our current position, wait a few moments, or even go over and manually remove them.
In the shot above from my photography class, we were learning about complementary colors (red and green). But as this shot was taken, another student's shoe entered the frame. A quick double-check could have prevented this. Very often we focus so much on the subject that we forget to even look and then later on notice when we’re checking our photos at the computer. We then have to spend countless minutes removing such annoyances when we could’ve done it very simply out in the field.
So again, it only takes a couple of seconds to do a final survey of the scene either through the viewfinder or the back panel of your camera. But it can make a world of difference to your shot and save you loads of frustration and countless hours of time in unnecessary postproduction.
So there you have it, 3 quick tips that take less than 30 seconds to implement but can have a tangibly positive impact on the quality of your photos.
Are there any other quick tips you know of that can have equally beneficial results? I'd love to hear about them from you and discuss them in the comments below.
Lead image by annca via Pixabay.