9th May 2016 Shannon Kovacs

6 Ways To Capture A Stunning Photograph

Is your camera just gathering dust because you don’t really know ‘where to start’ when it comes to taking a brilliant photograph?

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We spoke to Dave Peck, who knows how to take a fantastic photograph or two, and he shared his six top tips for achieving a magical picture.

Here’s what he had to say:

As a landscape/seascape photographer who has featured on the site, thortful asked me to compile a ‘6 top tips’ to help you capture that perfect scene. I am aiming this at beginners and those of you who want to quickly improve their imagery. Here we go then…

1. Use ‘A’ or ‘Aperture Priority’

Most landscapes should feature interest from the foreground to the background and usually you want all of those features sharply in focus. The Aperture of your camera’s lens controls how much is in focus and you ideally need this to be as small as possible. On a DSLR you should ideally aim for an f-stop of f16 upwards. If you focus on a point in the mid ground, this should make sure everything is acceptably sharp. Of course, rules are there to be broken, so do not be afraid to experiment! The best way to learn about ‘Depth of Field’, which is the term photographers use to describe this, is to photograph a fence or wall at an angle of around 45 degrees and change the aperture for each shot. Then look at the results. Portraits, conversely benefit from using a wider aperture to throw the background out of focus

2. Use a tripod

One of the downsides of using a small f-stop will be a slower shutter speed. This can result in blurred photographs. There is little point in having everything in focus if the whole photograph is blurred. My photograph of Bamburgh Castle was taken an hour before sunrise and needed an exposure of one-minute to properly expose it. Therefore, use a tripod or other support to help. There are cheap tripods for sale from many online auction sites that, although they may not last forever, will help you experiment with your photography. If you cannot afford one, or do not want to buy a tripod, look for somewhere to balance the camera. For a long time I have carried a small beanbag in my camera bag to put onto rocks, posts or the floor, which enabled me to get that shot that would otherwise be ruined through camera shake. You can also use jumpers, coats etc. or just put your camera down on anything solid and then use some imagery software to crop your photograph to make it straight.
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3. Hold your breath as you squeeze the shutter button

The most common mistake beginners make is pressing the shutter button too hard when taking an image. If your camera is on a tripod this should not really apply, although I have seen it happen! With the camera on a tripod use a ‘cable release’ or use the ‘self-timer’ setting on your camera to allow camera shake to disappear before the shutter fires. If you are shooting without a tripod, briefly hold your breath as you gently squeeze the shutter to make sure everything you think you are capturing remains in shot. The familiar portraits with the top of peoples heads missing is usually caused by an over excited shutter button press. Gently does it.

4. Shoot from higher for lower viewpoints

We are used to viewing the world from the height at which we stand. To give your images more impact think about climbing higher if possible or, get down on your knees. Sometimes a good image can be turned into a brilliant image just by shooting from an unusual angle.
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5. Composition

Landscape photographers usually pay some regards to the ‘rule of thirds’ in their compositions. This rule involves dividing the frame of your image into equal thirds and, where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect (at four points), using one to place your main point of interest in the photograph. This could be someone’s face in a portrait, a castle in a landscape or a motorbike or car in a sports shot. Usually, with action images you would give more space in front of the subject for it to move into. Following the rule of thirds also means keeping your horizons either a third of the way down from the top of the frame or a third of the way up from the bottom if you want to include a dramatic sky. Using this simple compositional tip will improve your photographs straight away.

6. Look at photographs

If you love photography then this seems obvious, but I have learnt almost all that I have learned in my 35-year career by looking at loads of images, some I liked, some I didn’t and working out why they had this affect on me. The next stage is to try and work out how it was achieved and try and recreate it with your own twist. It may be a particular lighting technique takes your eye, or a particular way of composing an image, but either way look at good images with a quizzical eye to improve.

See more of Dave Peck’s cards on thortful here.

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