It’s incredibly easy to find tips and techniques to help improve your digital photography. Photoventure is a great source of advice, for a start! But a quick Google search is all you need to find answers to specific photography questions you might have: you’ll find that the vast majority of photographers are more than happy to share their photography techniques and tricks.
That being said, you’re sure to discover photographers who are unwilling to let you in on some of the secrets to taking better photos. After all, they perfected their craft through years of hard work, so why shouldn’t you?
Well, in the same way that you don’t suddenly become David Hockney by using the same paint and brushes as David Hockney, or turn into Christopher Nolan because someone shows you how to work an IMAX camera and editing software, photographers are unlikely to lose out by sharing some of their secrets.
Photography is mostly vision and partly technical, after all. In light of this, here are 6 photography techniques that some photographers are unlikely to tell you.
1. ETTR (Expose to the Right) technique
A camera’s brightness histogram provides a useful guide to the exposure of a digital photo. With shadows indicated by the left side of the graph and highlights on the right, all you need to do is make sure the shadow and highlights of the scene you’re photographing correspond with these points and you’re done: perfectly exposed photos!
Well, yes. Sort of. The problem is that the sensor essentially records much more tonal detail in brighter areas than it does in darker areas. To make the most of this, some photographers use ETTR – or the Expose to the Right technique.
By intentionally overexposing an image, the histogram is shifted to the right. As long as the highlights don’t get pushed off the edge of the graph – or become ‘clipped’ – then you’ll capture more tonal detail throughout the image. The image may look too bright on the rear screen, but you can fix that later.
ETTR should only be carried out when you’re shooting RAW and not JPEGs. Shoot in RAW, and you’ll be able to alter the exposure of the image back to the ‘correct’ values ‘non-destructively’ when you process the image. You’ll end up with a photo that has smoother tonal transitions and lower noise in darker areas than if you’d exposed it ‘correctly’ to begin with.
If you tried to use ETTR with a JPEG, you’ll have to carry out the brightness correction destructively.
2. ‘Zoom first, focus second’ lens technique
Many camera lenses made today are ‘varifocal’ lenses and not ‘parfocal’ lenses, or true zooms. This means that the focus shifts as the focal length changes.
Traditionally, many photographers use the technique of zooming into a detail on the subject – such as the eyes on a portrait – before locking the focus and zooming out again to reframe the shot for the best composition. But doing this risks giving you OOF (Out of Focus) photos.
When you use smaller apertures, the increased depth of field can mask this focus shift, but the effect can be noticeable at large apertures like f/2.8. It’s obvious when you’re zooming while shooting video with your DSLR, too.
One technique to fix this is to switch the autofocus from One Shot AF mode to AI Servo AF mode, even when you’re photographing stationary subjects. This ensures that the focus is adjusted as you zoom, although you’ll need to keep the active AF point on the subject at all times.
Alternatively, stick with One Shot AF and zoom to find the best composition before you activate the camera’s AF system. Selecting a single off-centre AF point will enable you to focus on the subject, although Back-button focusing can help if you need to lock the focus position before recomposing the shot.
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