Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

How to… take photos like the pros

Want to make your photos look even better than your memories? We asked an expert to show you exactly how
© David Strohl

You know the scenario: After hours of hiking, you reach the top of the mountain and can’t quite put into words the beauty of the landscape before you. Thankfully, you’ve got your spanking new Nikon to capture the moment. Once you see the pictures on the computer screen, they’re too bright. Or dark. They seem… rubbish. Fear not. American photographer David Strohl has 10 indispensable tips to make you a happy snapper.

1. Don’t trust the built-in light meter in your camera

Cameras tend to average out the exposure, which only gives you the correct setting if the light source is at your back. If you’re shooting into the sun, or in certain other conditions, you may need to over or under-expose the shot. Observe what works and why. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your exposure settings.

2. Get some photo editing software

Read up on how to adjust contrast (via levels or curves). While Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard, at around £300, it’s not feasible for the average photographer. Check out cheaper alternatives like Adobe Elements, GIMP, or Paint Shop Pro. And learn how to crop!

3. Get a tripod

You’ll be amazed that once you shoot on a tripod, it’s hopelessly addictive. It also helps you relax while composing your scene. Additionally, now you can shoot night-time landscapes with a stable long exposure. Don’t miss out just because it’s dark outside.

4. Shoot at the highest image quality possible

A lot of people will lower the quality so they can fit more images on a single memory card. Don’t do that: memory is cheap, plus you’ll be hitting yourself over the head when you can’t get a big print of a great shot because the file is too small.

5. Keep your horizon line level

Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how most amateur photographers don’t get this right. Shooting subjects with ‘wacky angles’ just doesn’t work (i.e. tilting the horizon line 45 degrees). I promise, as quirky and fun as you think it is, it’s not. It just looks wrong.

6. Learn your camera

Know what your camera can and can’t do. Can you adjust settings manually? What do the automatic modes mean? What does white balance mean? FIND OUT. All this information is in your manual.

7. For sports or action of any kind

Chances are you’re shooting at too low a shutter speed. That leads to blurry pictures nobody wants to see. The foolproof way to get a faster shutter speed is up your ISO (film sensitivity). Every camera on the market can have its ISO adjusted. The standard setting is 100, so if you up to, say, 200, your shutter will be twice as fast (400 is twice as fast again, and 800, 1600, etc). Faster shutter equals sharper pictures.

8. Framing is vital

Some people naturally understand how to frame or compose a shot. Most though, don’t have this natural ‘eye’. Despite that, you can still make good compositions if you follow a few loose rules. One is to shoot your subject off-centre (the bottom right corner is almost always a good place to have your focal point. The viewer’s eye will naturally drift to that location.) One exception is if your subject matter is symmetrical. If that’s the case you’ll almost always want to centre your subject. For landscapes, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep the horizon in the bottom third, or the top third of the frame. Only if the scene is symmetrical would I recommend centring the horizon (for example a scene that is reflected in water).

9. Look at other photographers’ work

Observe what works and why. You’d be surprised how easy it is to break down a good photo. Take note of the composition, the light, the subject matter. If you can figure out how it was done, you can do it yourself. The more you look at, the more you know. It’s a visual language.

10. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more

Give yourself a reason to go out and take photos. Websites like dpchallenge.com, photo.com, and deviantart.com run weekly contests, community feedback and critiques. It’s a great way to get excited about taking pictures, plus they often provide you with ‘topics’ that help you diversify your subjects. It’s a wonderful way to learn, share ideas, knowledge, and concepts.

To see more of David’s work, visit davidstrohl.net