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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Don't just point and shoot - some basic photography tips and hints

When I finished my MA in Journalism more than five years ago and set off enthusiastically into my first job in The Evening Echo in Cork (Ireland), I was lucky to be going into a job that matched my training (and some), but since then every single job has brought with it more duties and extended roles.

Now, instead of being the journalist and features writer, I am in The Avondhu in Mitchelstown where I source and write the stories, decide where they will go in the paper, secure advertising if appropriate, take pictures, sub-edit, proof read and I also liaise with clients and customers to build professional relationships.

One of the biggest shocks of the extra duties that I was given when I first came to The Avondhu almost four years ago was that I was handed a very professional and daunting look camera and after I was given some perfunctory tips, it was a case of point, shoot and make sure you get people's names for captions.

When I look back on my first pictures, I don't cringe, but I do say a silent 'thank God' that my writing was good enough to prop up my very poor photography skills.

One of the main problems was that I was a trained journalist, but I also had to take photographs - now I still consider myself a journalist first and a photographer second, but I love taking pictures now and I truly appreciate what they can add to my stories.

My interest in photography has developed so much that I will now catch myself saying things like 'hold on, let me get my phone' so that I can freeze a perfect moment in time or capture that once in a lifetime flicker of an eye.

In light of all of this and to get to my point, I thought I would share a few tips that might help people, who like me had to take on something like this without any formal training or for people who want to use pictures to enhance their own writing and works.

- When taking scenery shots, use the third rule, which gives the image nice symmetry and makes it more aesthetically pleasing. Basically, make sure that each element takes up a third of the shot.

- If you are taking a picture of between one and four people, take it like a portrait and go full length, but make sure that the background is quite plain or that it enhances the picture (a nice scenic view or a blank canvas like a wooden door or painted wall all work well as backdrops and that is worth remembering - it is a backdrop, so don't let the scenery out do the subjects), otherwise take it landscape and just take in their head, shoulders and a little bit of upper body.

- For larger group pictures, avoid pictures that have everyone in the same position looking quite static and almost bored. Instead, make it more interesting by getting them to form a semi-circle or soften the shot by getting the people at each end to turn in slightly towards the others.

- To capture a relaxed and natural picture, tell a joke first and get them to relax - if you can capture that natural and often goofy smile, your picture will tell its own story.

- Avoid staging pictures in front of windows, large glass doors or under bright lights, as it will distort your subjects' faces.

- For children, get them to look at the lens and tell them a little story about a fairy living in the camera - it will capture their imagination and also get them to stay still for the half a minute that you might need. A double click function also works well here, as the camera will take four or five shots for every image and it eliminates the problems of children blinking, poking each other or gazing off into the distance. If you are not doing this professionally, but only taking pictures of little cousins or nieces or nephews, it is unlikely you would have things like toys, props and other accessories that professionals would have on hand for these shoots.

- Even if you are not a naturally organised person, get into the habit of creating folders on your computer and categorise these into the year, month and event using keywords that you will later associate with the photoshoot. This will not only help with archiving, but it will also make referencing very easy. I also format my SD card each week after I have saved the pictures onto my desktop and I keep a spare card in my camera bag. On that note, I also keep a spare notebook, spare batteries for my flash and spare pens (I should keep a pencil too, as a pen won't work if I'm outside in the rain) in the bag as well.

- With a fancy and advanced camera, it is easy to get bogged down by detail and get carried away worrying about the tiny features that you will probably never need to rely on. My advice here is to get comfortable with the equipment and then just set everything to Auto and let the camera do all of the thinking until you are more savvy with it.

- Finally, please don't just point and shoot - if you do, your pictures will reflect that. Take time with the pictures and give them the effort and attention that they deserve.

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