10 tips to improve your photography skills

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With smiles on their faces, members of the K-State Yosakoi Dance Group danced their way down Moro Street during the Homecoming parade on Oct. 12, 2018. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

Whether you’re interested in landscape, portrait, food or any other type of photography, here are 10 tips to help you get started taking amazing photos.

1. Location

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Location is an important part of every image. Taken for an SGA article, this portrait was taken in the SGA offices inside the K-State Student Union. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

Taking a photo isn’t entirely about your subject. You want the background to help tell your story.

For example, if you’re taking photos of an engineering graduate, don’t take their photo next to the College of Business building.

Find a nice spot outside of the engineering complex to show off where they spent the last four years. The above portrait was taken for a news article about Kansas State’s Student Governing Association, so the location for the photo was in the SGA offices.

2. Rule of thirds

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This photo of the Statue of Liberty with grid lines demonstrates the rule of thirds and where to align your subject in the image. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

The rule of thirds is used by photographers everywhere to produce higher quality photos.

To use the rule of thirds, divide your composition into a 3-by-3 grid and try to align your subject with the grid.

In the above example, the Statue of Liberty is aligned in the right third of the photo. When you look at a photo that utilizes this concept, your attention is immediately drawn to the subject.

In some cases, like in portraits, it might be better to have your subject be in the center of the image. Most cameras and phones have a grid overlay that you can enable.

3. Choosing the right lens

If you use a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses, you might consider using a different lens for different types of photography.

Most portraits are taken with 35mm, 50mm or 85mm prime lenses. The number of millimeters represents the focal length of the lens — or the distance between the lens and the sensor on the camera.

While prime lenses don’t zoom, they’re used for their high quality since there are less glass and components that need to be inside the lens.

However, you don’t want to bring a 50mm lens to a sporting event. Sports photography usually requires a telephoto lens like a 70-200mm, 300mm or even 400mm. These larger lenses let you capture a closer view of the action.

4. Aperture

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This photo demonstrates how camera aperture affects the image depth of field. The left image was taken with f/2.8 and the right with f/16. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

Aperture is the size of the opening in a lens that allows light to pass through and is measured in f/stops like f/1.8, f/2.8, f/16, etc. The lower the f/stop, the more light is let into the camera.

Aperture also affects the depth of field in an image. In the photo above, the left image has an aperture of f/2.8 and a silky smooth background to really pull your focus to the spoon and the sesame seeds.

The right photo has an aperture of f/16, and while the background is still a little blurry your attention isn’t immediately drawn to the sesame seeds.

5. Shutter speed

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This photo demonstrates the difference between a fast and slow shutter speed. The baseball photo was taken at 1/4000th while the right photo of the KC Streetcar was taken with a 5s shutter. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

Shutter speed is the amount of time that light is let into the camera, or how long the camera takes a photo for.

The greatest thing about shutter speed is that it allows for some amazing effects without any photo editing.

For portrait photos, a shutter speed of 1/250 should be perfect. This means that the camera lets in light for 1/250th of a second. The longer the shutter speed, the blurrier objects will be.

In the above photo on the left, we want the baseball to appear crisp and not blurry. The shutter speed used in the baseball photo was 1/4000.

In comparison, the photo on the right of a Kansas City streetcar was taken with a shutter speed of five seconds, creating a blurry effect with the lights on the streetcar as it passed by the camera.

6. ISO

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This photo demonstrates the differences in the camera ISO. The left image, taken on a sunny day, has an ISO of 320, while the nighttime photo on the right has an ISO of 6400. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

The ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light. When taking photographs you’ll typically want to use the lowest ISO setting you can, while still having ample light in your photo.

Setting your ISO too low will make your photo too dark and grainy. Setting your ISO too high can make the image too bright with your subject blown out.

On the left side of the photo above, the ISO is set to 320 since it was taken during a bright and sunny afternoon. In comparison, the photo on the right was taken with an ISO of 6400 since it was taken at night.

If the street photo was taken at the same ISO of the photo with the model, the photo would be completely black and you wouldn’t be able to see anything.

When arriving at a new location, it’s a good idea to take some test photos to accurately set your ISO.

7. Flash

On occasion, camera flash can come in handy, but the best source of light is the sun. Even when taking photos at night, flash isn’t required and nearby lights are usually enough to illuminate your subject.

The next time you go out, try to get creative with the lighting available. If you do absolutely need to use a flash, there are plenty of affordable options that are hundreds less than the regular Nikon or Canon flash kits.

8. File format

The most common image file that you’ll see is a jpg or jpeg. While this file format works well for sharing photos, it’s a compressed file, which means some of the data is taken out of the image to make the file size smaller.

When taking photos, set your camera to shoot in RAW. While RAW files take up more space on your memory card, they hold more image data and make editing your images a breeze.

Once you are finished editing your photo, you can export it as a jpg and send it to all your friends.

9. Editing

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Editing can make all the difference in a photo. The left photo is the original, unedited version. The right photo has had some simple edits like contrast and color applied to it. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

Every photographer has an editing style they really like, but this doesn’t mean you’re locked into editing photos the same way every time.

Some of the most popular editing software is Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, but there are free alternatives like the Photos application on Apple laptops or Gimp for Windows.

When editing a photo, the main changes you might want to make include exposure to make the image brighter or darker, contrast to having a greater difference between the light and dark colors, highlights to brighten or darken the “light” sections of the photo, shadows to brighten or darken the “dark” sections of the photo and the white balance to adjust the temperature or overall color of the photo.

In the above photo, the left is unedited. The right photo is edited for higher contrast with more vibrant colors.

10. Practice

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The most important steps to be a good photographer are to have fun and be creative. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

The classic saying “practice makes perfect” definitely applies to photography.

The best way to improve your photo skills is to go out and take more pictures. Meeting new people in your community and networking with other photographers, videographers and models will provide you with tons of great opportunities.

Every photographer has a favorite style of photos to take, but the best way to grow as a photographer is to try new experiences and shoot different styles of photography.

If you like sports, try shooting fashion. If you like product photography, try event photography.

The two most important things to remember when taking photos: have fun and get creative.

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