There seems to be a great magic difference between the pictures and portraits we take and the kind of professional shots we see in magazines. Maybe it’s because our friends don’t look like models (some of mine don’t even look like humans), or because Karachi’s skies are just not blue enough. Perhaps it’s because the cheap tiny cameras we get are holding us back.

But what if there is no magic barrier?

The truth is, with just a little attention to detail you can make your pictures look much more professional. This is the first installment in a series of blogs written to help solve common camera-problems, and also provide some handy tips for creative photography.

Most people aren’t interested in getting too technical, they just want to take nicer pictures which aren’t shaky or flat so that their memories are captured, and their friends won’t complain afterward about looking like vibrating convicts.

Umair, one of my colleagues at the office. I think.

 

The most commonly used cameras are PS (point and shoot) cameras, like the Sony Cybershot or Canon Powershot. We normally use these cameras in the most basic way, taking full advantage of their convenience. But in each of these little gadgets there is a whole array of interesting features and capabilities designed to help you get creative with your shots. You may also find these tips useful for your cell-phone camera, and to irritate that one friend of yours who just spent thousands on a fancy DSLR.

(To give realistic examples, I made sure that all of the pictures I used in this entry are from PS cameras and not professional DSLR’s)

Basics of the Camera

Understanding the way a camera works is always a helpful (if not essential) step towards taking better pictures. Most of us have already studied the way cameras work in school, but like many of those things (vectors, the Fourteen Points, pretty much all of algebra) it’s a bit hazy.

The physics of the camera, as I remember it from school.

 

But seriously, just to refresh your memory, this is how your small digital camera works:

The camera’s lens captures the outside light through an adjustable hole called an aperture. The focused light hits the camera’s sensor and very quickly forms an image. To provide this short exposure, the camera has a shutter which quickly opens and closes when you press the trigger-button.

Bigger apertures and longer shutter-timings give us brighter images. Our cameras automatically adjust these two according to the amount of light in the surroundings. The result is usually a well exposed picture. However all machines have their limitations and sometimes, as we all have experienced, the automatic results leave a lot to be desired.

When photographing it is very important to be aware of light, if there is abundant light around you - such as outdoors, in the daytime - then you have the ability to shoot fast, preventing any shaky images. In situations where the light is low (such as indoors, in the evening or at night) the camera’s shutter works slowly, requiring you to hold it much more steady or resort to using flash.

In special modes almost all cameras allow us to control a surprisingly large array of variables, giving us more room to customize our pictures. To start off however, we can avoid the complicated bits (I’ll go into more details in further blogs) and just focus on the basic tips that guide you towards taking nicer images.

Good photography is firmly based on some simple aesthetic rules that are very easy to understand, they include:

Framing and Composition

Whether you are shooting a person or an object, it is your ‘subject’. Try to make the subject of your picture stand out by placing it in your frame so that attention is driven to it; and avoid unnecessarily cluttered backgrounds. Move yourself or your subject around till the frame contains only what you want, and there are no distractions in your picture.

Within your frame you can place your subject anywhere, not just dead center. Try shooting with your subject on the right or left of the frame, sometimes this leads to a more interesting shot.

Lines are very important in photography; the lines in a picture will guide the eye of the viewer. These lines may be in the form of a wall, the horizon, stairs, a footpath, a building or any other objects in your shot. You can use these lines to compose your picture. Lots of diagonals give the picture a dynamic feel, while horizontals give a calm, stoic feel to your shot. In any shot that you take, ensure that you’re holding your camera straight so that lines (such as a building or horizon) are not crooked.

A picture taken one early morning at Sea View in Karachi. Notice how the lines in this photograph lead your eyes to the center, you can use lines in many creative ways to guide the viewer and give different design elements to your photos.

 

Shooting at Interesting Angles and Times Try to shoot from unusual positions, for example if you are taking someone’s picture, instead of shooting them straight from the front, move around them and let them turn their head towards you, or take their picture while they are not posing- they may be looking elsewhere, over your shoulder or talking to someone else. You can even get above or below your subject to try and get a more interesting viewpoint that is not conventional – sometimes this makes for very interesting and remarkable pictures.

A portrait of a friend as she checked her make-up in a compact mirror.

 

Experimenting with Colours

Try to observe the different colours you are seeing inside your frame, sometimes you can spot very interesting contrasts that look wonderful next to each other, and cause your subject to ‘pop’ against the background. Matching colours are also interesting because they create a ‘theme’ in the picture.

Edit your images

Always do a little bit of work on your images after you upload them onto your PC. You don’t need to be a Photoshop expert to tastefully tweak basic settings like hue, saturation, contrast and sharpness.

Another picture from that early morning at Sea View. This time a picture of my friends talking on the sea-wall while I shot from the beach below. When I edited it, I increased the contrast to emphasize their silhouettes and played with the hue and saturation settings to intensify the blue colour.

 

Here is a recent picture of my colleague Taimur, in our resplendent break-room:

Taimur, barely containing his enthusiasm at being part of my project.

 

Notice that he is shot straight from the front, the background is very cluttered and even that broken chair on the right looks more interested in posing than he does. I decided to demonstrate some of my own tips for you by trying to shoot a better portrait in the same environment, with the same camera (a Sony Cyber-shot). All I had to do was ambush Taimur one day during his tea-break.

Here’s what I came up with:

Taimur heroically contemplates the plight of the suffering masses. Either that or he's woefully eyeing the exit.

 

I tried to use my sense of framing and composition to declutter the photograph by shooting him off-center in front of the wall. This way the blue colour also provided an interesting backdrop. I also used a different angle from which to shoot him and allowed him to look diagonally rather than straight into the lens. This worked well because there was a window to the right that was casting a pleasant light onto his face. Finally I told him to keep holding his cup so that he would have something to do with his hands without feeling awkward and self-conscious. Once I had the shot, I brightened the colors, increased the contrast and improved the sharpness till I was happy with what I saw.

Getting in the right state of mind

The most important step towards taking nice pictures is to try to have fun with the camera and enjoy the process. Go over your images on your LCD display and try to imagine how to make them better. Take more than one picture from more than one angle and then choose the best one later on. Break the rules and shoot differently from the way you always have, just to see if there’s a better way. Inspire yourself by browsing through other people’s work on Flickr or other photography websites; this is the most fun way of learning how to shoot. As you begin to do this you will find your own style drive you towards taking unique and interesting shots.

If you liked this blog, do check again for my next entries, where I will address more detailed tips and techniques, like shooting in the dark, tackling shaky images, and photoshopping your pictures etc.

If these tips proved helpful and resulted in some nice pictures for you, then you can get your work published in my blog too! Send in your photo to shutterbug@dawn.com along with your name and your camera model, as well as a little background on your image and how you took it.

- All images and designs by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

Nadir Siddiqui is a photographer and interactive producer at Dawn.com. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/#!/NadirSid and view some of his photography here.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (56)

Zeeshan
June 9, 2011 12:08 pm
Good one Nadir! realy impressive work! admired! and now i can be proud of my POS camera :)
Srivy
June 9, 2011 12:31 pm
Thanks Nadir. Quite an interesting article.Looking forward to more.
Imran
June 9, 2011 1:20 pm
Thanks for these nice tips. Its indeed a very good start although I was expecting more advanced techniques or tips about camera settings :) But I think I need to be patient as you mentioned those one will come next. Please include some suggestions about photo graphing kids too when you can't make them to pose for the camera.
Shoaib
June 9, 2011 1:29 pm
Perhaps something very good I saw in days!
suneel
June 9, 2011 1:48 pm
Great !
Safder
June 9, 2011 2:00 pm
Great article Nadir.
Ali
June 9, 2011 2:24 pm
Great article! You make it sound so simple! :D Loved the humor in it too.
Fehd
June 9, 2011 2:28 pm
I would've loved it if you had included outdoor photography with the built-in flash of the POS. I'll be waiting for that tip in your later installments. Keep it up ol' chap.
Asad Sadiq
June 9, 2011 4:27 pm
Great Nadir Sb.. Very informative to all of us.
Aysh
June 9, 2011 4:37 pm
Lovely photography but I am one of those people who doesn't believe in improving the photos unless its to make a colour photo black and white...I am going to send you some photos which are taken without any work done on them ;)
Nadir Siddiqui
June 9, 2011 4:51 pm
I would love to see them Aysh... Thanks for your input!
Chak
June 9, 2011 5:00 pm
Mr. Taimur did an excellent job as a subject.
sameen
June 9, 2011 5:50 pm
Loved it, photography fascinates me and I'm always looking for ways to improve my photograph taking skills ;) Thanxs alot + it would be great if you could explain how natural and artificial light should be used in a picture. oh and yes it's a silly question but How do we improve the contrast, framing and composition you mentioned :/
Nabeel
June 9, 2011 7:27 pm
Good basic article that illustrates how composition and an understanding of light are critical to good photography. One quibble though, if I may - the Seaview photo has a pole growing out of a man's head. Not exactly great composition there!
Nadir Siddiqui
June 9, 2011 8:18 pm
Many purist photographers also prefer to not to edit their photos, and stay as natural as possible. Personally I enjoy editing. I range from editing minimally to extensively depending on the nature and purpose of a photo. At best I think editing can be a great way of adding to the personal expression and the aesthetic of my work. As far as the artform is concerned - there are essentially NO rules except the ones you make for yourself. Of course in photojournalism, one needs to be careful not to manipulate the image too much - and abide by the ethics and rules of the publisher.
Nadir Siddiqui
June 9, 2011 8:25 pm
I hope to write more on specific types of photography Fehd. Glad to have your blessing :D As for flash, I'm a big follower of strobist.com and I happen to agree with David Hobby when it comes to on-camera front-flash: I avoid it like the plague :P If you have some examples of this technique that you did with your POS please do send it over though!
Kaleem
June 9, 2011 8:32 pm
Sameen, You use computer softwares, e.g. Photoshop CS5
Nadir Siddiqui
June 9, 2011 8:28 pm
Noted Nabeel! I wish I'd noticed that pole when I was shooting.
Taimur
June 9, 2011 8:37 pm
Thank you - I really enjoyed reading your article. Look forward to your next one.
Nadir Siddiqui
June 9, 2011 8:40 pm
Sameen, for editing you can use many sofwares ranging from simple to powerful: Microsoft Office Picture Manager is one which comes with your Windows, but you can also use other picture viewing softwares like Picasa. If you really want a nice software, try Adobe Photoshop. Look for the edit options in these softwares and you will find what you are looking for there (or in that category). As for composition and lighting, there are some basic rules that I hope to address in detail in future blogs, but the greatest way of learning is observation and experimentation! I love to browse Flickr.com and explore the work of other photographers, you will soon find a few patterns in their composition that give great hints (this is a more fun than it sounds, actually quite addictive).
sameen
June 9, 2011 8:59 pm
ok then Flickr.com and Adobe Photoshop it is :) Thank you!
Muhammad
June 9, 2011 9:02 pm
My dear brother, U must know that making pictures is HARAM in Islam. You should avoid this sin and stop your effort to entice others to do the same.
Danish S.
June 9, 2011 9:18 pm
Utterly enjoyed your photostream. You're a wonderful photographer Nadir.
Sarah
June 9, 2011 11:03 pm
This was a wonderful article with some great tips. I personally love editing my photos too, though I just use Picasa at the moment because I don't know how to use Photoshop. Also, isn't Photoshop super expensive? I like POS cameras because they're great for taking random on-the-spot pictures and they're small and convenient as well but DSLR photos have their own charm and I hope that you give some tips on how to use those in your future blogs. Great effort though, and I look forward to reading more of your work! Oh also, are you on Flickr? Because I'd like to see some more of your work!
iqra
June 9, 2011 11:10 pm
good stuff. loved the humor too. : ) waiting for more!
B
June 9, 2011 11:16 pm
eh what?
Baber
June 9, 2011 11:18 pm
Great stuff Nadir. I also tell some of my friends the same thing.. cameras have their own functions which should be explored. Also, how about some theoritical stuff like the 3x3 rule etc. I am sharing this material on facebook. :D
Asim
June 10, 2011 12:08 am
Loved the article. The two photography inclined (and motorbike enthusiast) persons of our family are I and my nephew Faraz. Whereas I live in USA, Faraz, who works for Telenor, recently moved from Karachi to Islamabad. We both moved to Digital Photography a couple of years ago and captured thousands of pictures north to south of Pakistan. When ever I visit, I used to tag along with him to capture some wonderful early summer lights of Karachi mornings and artificial lights of vendors in dark nights. I have always asked him 'Is there a good photography club in Karachi which we can join and use, to capture the abundance Karachi has to offer?' but I never got a clear reply. My plan was, and still is, to capture Karachi (and the rest of Pakistan) street by street, action by action, day and night in all seasons. And since now a days Karachi is rather unsafe for such such activities, I am sure there would be safety in strength. Any suggestions?
a
June 10, 2011 12:14 am
Why did Bo derek NOT marry Mr Siddiqui? Bcoz here married would become Bo sid....
Asim
June 10, 2011 12:14 am
I took it as an intentional flaw. Happened to me few times when I was in a hurry to catch the frame fearing I could loose the light or essence of mood.
Rajesh
June 10, 2011 12:25 am
Please include taking pictures in dark (night outdoors) in your next blog.
Aijaz Hussain
June 10, 2011 12:59 am
shouldnt looking at photos be equally haram then? or maybe Nadir and his fellow photographers should quit their jobs and go begging in the streets...
Anoop Saxena
June 10, 2011 1:11 am
I am sorry, but none of the picture here are quality pics. Not even with a point and shoot camera. Your points are well taken about lines leading into the pic, but then a viewer wouldn't know about the pole growing out of the head or the amount of burning the pic has and how they wrongly impact the pic. Regards, Anoop
Benam
June 10, 2011 2:18 am
You may use GIMP instead of Phptpshop.And it is free
Saif
June 10, 2011 3:55 am
dude! a great article written for the beginners. please explain the terms "hue, saturation, contrast and sharpness" in terms of light and photography. cheers and thumbs up :)
Asim
June 10, 2011 3:58 am
I will agree with yu only if you answer the following questions. 1.Then why does Saudi Arabia, the land of our beloved Prophet and rest of the Arab and Muslim world have TV stations? 2. Why does Islamic Ulema come on TV? May be you know better then the rest of the world.
Sana
June 10, 2011 6:32 am
Thanks Nadir, it was nice reading it. Can you please teach us how to use the manual settings of POS cameras, like how to adjust the white balance and other settings when we use the camera with manual settings? will the results be better than AUTO? Waiting for your next blog.
Talha
June 10, 2011 7:49 am
Please tell me where is he promoting any indecent pictures or glorifying a human being? People like you are the cause of the current state of our country.
sahar
June 10, 2011 8:56 am
Yea .... why dont u stop other Haram acts like killing...injustice, stealing, fraud, corruption, suicide bombings etc etc my brother...let people have little peace. Be blessed
Ayan Khan
June 10, 2011 9:18 am
This news paper is not for you brother.
HST
June 10, 2011 10:39 am
I've always done my work using simple point and shoot and I believe that if you get it right, you can get pretty close to a DSLR. A little bit of playing around in a some post-processing software always helps, however just a little I assume, we don't wanna make our snaps look like detergent ads :). Since you're gonna write more, there are a bunch of things I'd love to hear about. Shadows - I think they're the single most important element in a photo, personally for me, more crucial than lines, so don't miss out of those :). That's exactly why flash is plague, it kills the shadows. I never use it! White balance with tiny point and shoots - Ok this is something I always struggle with; I live in Europe which kinda means that you get more cloudy days than the sunny ones. It can be especially annoying in urban or even landscape snaps. If you focus on the buildings/hills/trees, the cloudy/grey sky appears white, if you don't want the white sky and give a little emphasis to the clouds, the subjects on the ground appear dark. Is there a way to get both right? Ok another point is how to get it right at night but I am sure you'll take us there :). And finally, I would LOVE to hear about limitations of ordinary cameras vs DSLRs and how to get around those. I have many friends who invested in bulky DSLRs but their shots look no better than pocket cameras. What do you think about bridge cameras (something like canon powershot with say 35x optical zoom?). I am considering buying one of those and it costs as much as a low end DSLR but I may be able to get what I want from it. I travel alot and I travel light, DSLR loses there.
saleem
June 10, 2011 11:06 am
taking a picture is not haram. worshipping engraved images is haram. Please read and re-read the Quran and other guidance.
Sarfaraz
June 10, 2011 11:07 am
Awesome.
Hassan Nasir
June 10, 2011 11:14 am
so, i should stop till i read all your tutorials and work them out on my POS before deciding to buy a DSLR! okey, I think I would do that....before spending huge money on a DSLR!
Nadir Siddiqui
June 10, 2011 11:30 am
Thanks for reading HST! You seem to be quite experienced yourself, I definitely agree with your point on shadows, I hate to use on-camera flash for the same reason. I think night photography is the biggest challenge with POS cameras - I do intend to address that as well, to the best of my own knowledge. As for your 'white balance' problem, it is actualy a problem relating to exposure (white balance is the setting that helps adjust the colors in the camera). In fact it is one of the shortfalls of POS cameras compared to DSLR's, because their cheaper sensors cannot capture the same dynamic range as well as a more advanced sensor would. You can try to use masking techniques on Photoshop to bring back the lost details in the sky - it's a bit tricky but it works sometimes.
Nadir Siddiqui
June 10, 2011 11:33 am
I'm glad you liked the blog Sana... I will write about manual settings soon! When they are well used, manual settings get much better results than AUTO.
Nadir Siddiqui
June 10, 2011 11:40 am
Saturation: The amount of colour in the picture. Hue: The tint of the colours - shift the hue left or right and you will see the over-all colours change in your picture. Contrast: Increasing the contrast will make the brights brigher and the darks darker - making the difference between light and shadow in your picture more prominent. Sharpness: How crisp is your picture - the opposite of sharp is blurry Ajdusting all of these settings can accentuate your photograph nicely - but be careful to use them tastefully!
Zafar Khokhar
June 10, 2011 1:57 pm
Great Article! I bought a CBT to learn the same from Lynda.com but your words explained things better than the videos... Hope to read more from you soon!!!
Kaleem
June 10, 2011 1:58 pm
You can make this pole disappear using clone, Lasso or the patch tool in CS 5. Plenty of ways. These things never bother me taking the right aspects, shades or contrasts.
Tanveer
June 10, 2011 2:37 pm
I have a Nikon D-60 with 18X55 lense. My interest and requirement is capturing rural culturalife--men and women, children busy in daily life. Can u give me some useful suggestion. I have ideas but need to learn technique.
Faisal
June 10, 2011 2:41 pm
Nadir, unfortunatley i took the unadvised route to launch my career in photography and invested (rather heavily btw) in a Sony DSLR. is there anywhere that they offer classes on how to improve and possible utilize a DSLR more effective? i use it like a POS at the moment... but your suggestions are great. can't wait for the next article.
Edwin
June 10, 2011 3:41 pm
Hi Nadir, I like what u mentioned at the start of this article. "The truth is, with just a little attention to detail you can make your pictures look much more professional." this has been basic in photography, yet most has left out. Thanks! Edwin
Poonam
June 12, 2011 4:55 pm
Pole coming out of the head sure looks sweet to me. Heh.
zardari ki pahari
June 15, 2011 4:55 pm
Oh Nadir, You're so hot Nadir. I loooove you Nadir. I want you to take pictures of me Nadir.
saurabh
June 16, 2011 8:30 am
I would like to hear abt more on night mode shooting and ISO setting. also could you let me know the expected date of your next entry.
Nadir Siddiqui
June 16, 2011 8:36 pm
Thanks for reading Saurabh! I hope to make another entry sometime in the coming week. If things go well it will hopefully be a bimonthly blog.
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