Top 20 Photography Hacks to Perfect Your Photo Skills

According to Ansel Adams, a good photograph is all about knowing where to stand. But it turns out that taking great photos is a lot more complicated than simply finding the right spot. Photography is an art and science that requires skill and creativity, and with the ever-improving smart phone capabilities, apps, free photography sites, and e-books, taking amazing photographs has never been easier. Whether you’re striving for more impressive Instagram-worthy shots on your smart phone or are a DSLR photographer in the making, here are some tips and tricks that can help lead you down the road of picture-taking mastery.

1. Use the Aperture Priority mode to get professional looking portrait shots with an out-of-focus background.

Using the “A” or Aperture priority on your camera’s mode dial gives you control of depth of field. Aperture settings are measured in “F-stops” and vary depending on the width of the aperture. The wider the aperture, the less depth of field in your shot, which results in a blurred-out background and a sharp subject.

2. Mix artificial and natural light for ideal city night shots.

Taking photos in low light can be a challenge, but you can take advantage of both natural and artificial light by timing your shots to ensure the light levels are the same. Take a spot meter reading from both the sky and an area of the scene that’s well artificially lit. When the sky is still slightly brighter, start shooting using the spot metered setting for the artificially lit part of the scene to achieve a perfectly exposed shot.

3. Use apps, such as Camera Awesome and Camera+ to enhance your smart phone pictures.

While smart phones don’t offer professional camera capabilities, apps can help adjust and enhance your photos to take them to the next level. Two favorites are Camera Awesome (iPhone and Android) and Camera + (iPhone), which offer features such as separate ISO, white balance, and exposure adjustments and an easy-to-set timer and burst feature.

4. Use burst mode to capture fleeting expressions, motion, and improve group shots.

In burst mode, several photos are captured in quick succession. This feature is available on most digital cameras, DSLRs, and through app features on your smart phone. Hold down the shutter button while in this continuous high speed to capture multiple shots.

5. Be in two places at once with an easy panoramic trick.

With the help of a friend and a little jogging, you can appear in the frame multiple times. Open your phone’s camera app and select the panoramic mode. Have your friend start on the far left of the frame and slowly pan to the right. As soon as you’re out of the frame, run around behind your friend and pose again somewhere to the right. Experiment with the number of times you can squeeze into the frame.

6. Change the direction and angle of panoramic shots.

Change the panning direction by tapping the arrow to switch direction. Take vertical panoramic photos by rotating your smart phone to landscape orientation and panning vertically from low to high, or high to low.

7. Perfect “Jumpology” photos using burst mode and faster shutter speeds.

Get low to the ground to make the jumpers appear higher, and have your group create shapes with their bodies instead of jumping straight up and down to create a floating effect. Use the burst mode on your camera and a faster shutter speed to freeze movement and capture the perfect moment.

8. Use The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app to find the best spots for stunning sunrise and sunset photos.

TPE is a map-centric sun and moon calculator that allows you to see how the light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location on Earth. It’s especially helpful for planning early-morning shoots when it’s harder to pinpoint the exact position of the sun.

9. Don’t look through the viewfinder to capture candid street shots.

Select your camera’s program mode, set the drive mode to silent if available, and pre-focus the lens manually about five or six feet. Place the camera on your strap at a longer length over your shoulder and press the shutter release in short bursts as you stroll around an interesting people watching street.

10. Use inexpensive macro filters for magnification.

If you can’t afford a dedicated macro lens, you can get a similar effect for a fraction of the cost with macro filters. However, you’ll want to keep your aperture small (f11 to f18) to get a good depth of field (more light is required).

11. Take backlight photos at golden hour for desirable portraits with a warm glow.

The golden hour in photography is the first and last hour of sunlight of the day, where you get the desired soft light for halo-like portraits. Use The Golden Hour app to see the path of the sun in the sky for the location and date selected.

12. Capture both sides of the moment with the Frontback app.

The app uses the front and back of your camera to capture what you see and how you feel. Once you’ve taken a photo, you can share it in a single image to social media.

13. Turn a turkey pan into a DIY beauty dish for under a dollar.

Beauty Dish is used by portrait photographers to get a flattering lighting effect on their subject. Cut a hole in the center of the turkey pan, add some aluminum in front, assemble with the flash/bulb inserted, and add a silver color for the desired effect.

14. Use a drop of water or plastic bag on your lens for a creative effect.

Use a straw to make a small droplet of water on your smart phone lens to magnify your image. Or crumple a plastic bag, wrap it at the front of your camera lens, and fix it with a rubber band to create a haze and blur effect.

In conclusion, taking meaningful photos doesn’t just require you to know where to stand. With these tips and tricks, you can achieve professional-looking shots even if you’re just starting out. The key is to experiment with different techniques and to practice, practice, practice until you master the art of photography.

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