If you have a digital camera, chances are you are snapping a ton of photos. In fact, an estimated 67 percent of US households now own a digital camera, according to market research group InfoTrends. The number of camera owners (and home photo printers) is expected to increase in the next few years as prices drop, technologies advance and families embrace the capture-every-moment-philosophy.
Experts are calling the newest generation of American children the most documented generation. Parents with digital cameras are snapping thousands of photos of their children every year, as opposed to fewer than 100 photos a year 20 years ago. But without a good grasp on how to take a good picture, you are likely to end up with dozens of blurred, dark and unidentifiable photos -- or just plain bland shots.
Before you pick up that camera and snap another lousy photo, here are a few tips to get the most out of your shutter fun.
1. Don't shoot toward a light source
It might be tempting to set up everyone in front of that big picture window or in front of the lit Christmas tree, but chances are the pictures won't turn out well. "That is the worst thing you can do because you will have a harsh shadow on your face, or the glass behind you will light up and you will have a starburst," says Rhian Swierat, a New York-based graphic designer who studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design (www.rhianswierat.com). Instead, she says, make sure the light source is behind the person snapping the photo.
2. Get on the level
With children, people habitually will shoot photos while standing up. But, let's face it, most two year olds aren't the same height as your average adult. "Kids need to be shot at eye level, [so] get down on the ground," says veteran photographer Sonja Zinke, chief photographer of The Register Citizen newspaper in Connecticut.
3. Think natural
"A lot of time, people look really stiff in their photos," Swierat says. Pictures capture better memories if they show people laughing, talking or moving -- if for no other reason than that you "see people connecting." She suggests skipping the staged pictures where everyone gets together and smiles on the count of three, and instead focusing on snapping away when no one is paying attention.
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"Everyone seems to stand way back [for photos] and people are dots," says Zinke. She suggests getting personal with your camera's zoom feature or standing closer to the people you're photographing. It'll make for better pictures to display.
5. Fashion matters
Eyeglasses can cause light spots and red eye. Polka dots are the worst pattern you can wear. Want a slimming silhouette? Put on a belt and stand up straight.
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Also avoid dressing everyone in the same color. "You will tend to look like a three-headed monster -- you can't tell where one person ends and the next begins," Swierat laughs. Instead, opt for complementary tones or different shades of a single color.
6. Light matters
It's not good to shoot toward a light source, but you need to have enough light to properly illuminate your subject.
And even if the scene looks nice to your eye, Swierat says that having an insufficient amount of light can cause perils of its own. "If you don't have a good light source, the speed of the [shutter] is slow," Swierat says, which causes blurry photos. A flash and stability control on the camera is helpful, but having a good light source (or multiple light sources) is most important.
7. The digital revolution
One of the best things about digital cameras is that they are so much less expensive to use than their film counterparts. In years past, you'd have to buy rolls of film and then pay for processing and prints. You'd get everything printed -- even a close-up of your thumb -- because you didn't have any practical way of eliminating the lousy shots from the print run.
Apart from the economics, being able to store 100 or even 1000 pictures on a tiny little chip -- and the ability to delete what you don't like, save and share what you do -- is an enormous advantage.
More than ever before, you have the freedom to experiment with your photography. So go snap happy, use these tips, and figure out the best way for you to capture the images that most matter to you!
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