Giving it your best shot

By Sarah Ivey

Herald photographer Sarah Ivey shares her top tips for making sure your holiday snaps are keepers

Before you get snap happy these holidays, bear a few points in mind to achieve a better picture. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Before you get snap happy these holidays, bear a few points in mind to achieve a better picture. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Once upon a time I was a little girl with a throw-away panoramic film camera. Like most people, I was delighted when I came away from a summer holiday with a few good images, and disappointed with all the ones that didn't quite work.

So, before you launch into your holiday snaps, guns blazing, and shoot everything and anything that you think might make a picture, have a read of the tips below.

With a little care and attention, you will find your results a lot more pleasing (and create better entries for the Herald's holiday photo competition).

You also don't need a top of the line camera to get good results.

Keep the horizon straight
Unless you're wanting some quirky effect, it's usually best to keep things on the flat and make sure the ocean isn't sliding downhill or a house in the distance isn't resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Turn the camera around every now and then to shoot vertical images
Landscapes are usually well suited to a horizontal format, however some subjects, such as people, fill the frame better in a vertical format.

Be aware of cutting off limbs
If you're shooting people, avoid cutting off their arms or feet.

Make sure you step backwards if you can't fit everything in the frame.

Use the zoom function
If you only want people's faces, zoom in to remove distracting surroundings

Check the background
Try to avoid having poles behind people, so they don't appear to have things growing out of their heads. If you're shooting inside, move away from unnecessary clutter or distracting bright objects.

Use flash when shooting outdoors
When in bright sunlight, position people with their backs to the sun and turn the flash on.

That way they won't be squinting and the flash will fill in the shadows on their faces.

Have the subject off-centre
Instead of placing your main subject in the centre of the scene - with a lot of dead space around it - move your camera until the subject is off to the side.

For people, turn their shoulders inwards slightly so they're looking more towards the centre of the frame. This will give a more balanced composition.

What to look for in your camera

A lot of cameras have functions you'll never use. Make sure you take into account what you want it for. You don't need to spend thousands on a camera with all the bells and whistles if you're never going to use them. You can get a reasonable point and shoot for around $400.

Go for optical zoom rather than digital zoom
Most people who have used a 35mm camera or an APS camera are aware of only optical zoom. Optical zoom uses the optics (lens) of the camera to bring the subject closer. Digital zoom is an invention of digital video cameras. It is not uncommon to see digital videocams with 300x digital zoom. What digital zoom does is enlarge a portion of the image, thus "simulating" optical zoom. The camera crops a portion of the image and then enlarges it to size. In so doing, you lose image quality.

Don't get carried away with megapixels
In 1999 when digital cameras were only 1.2 or 2 MP, each megapixel mattered if you were making bigger prints. Now even the cheapest have at least 5 or 6 MP, enough for any size print. If you go for 8 or 9 MP you'll have ample to play with. Most of the time people don't have their cameras set to shoot the largest file size.

Ask how the camera performs at a high ISO level
One of the major differences between a consumer digital camera and a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) is that the former produces images with a lot of "noise" when using high ISOs and long exposure times, and the latter is practically noise-free. Noise is apparent by the presence of colour speckles where there should be none.

- NZ Herald

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