With fabulous devices affordable and relatively easy to use, everyone these days can take hundreds of photographs wherever they go. What, however, helps you get home and think 'wow', rather than 'it was better than that'? Here are my top ten tips for getting the most out of being an amateur landscape and still life photographer.
Great landscapes don't always photograph well because what is expansive and impressive in real life needs condensing and focussing to have a point of interest in a picture. Do you need to focus on a detail? It might help, for example, to put in a person in order to demonstrate the scale of what you're looking at.
Jeita Grotto (Lebanon) - putting a person in the picture shows the scale of the statue
Sometimes you're best off taking a picture head on. Experiment, however, with different angles. It might be that shooting upwards, or setting the camera at a jaunty angle, will get more of the focus in and give a more interesting shot. Staying safe, do you need to lean out of a window or over a bridge to get that quirky shot?
Sometimes an angle can liven up a photo. Here are bikes in Oxford and its Convocation House
Think about where the photograph starts and ends is important. If you're taking a long distance shot, is there something close up that might frame it to give it further interest? Conversely, you might what your subject to fill the photograph frame and pour out of the edges.
The Belvedere, through the trees, to give a frame, at Versailles
Where is the sunlight coming from? Or indeed the moonlight or electric light? Taking a photograph into the light is very different from taking it with the light behind you. On the same topic, what about shadows? Can you use shadow to draw your eye across a picture?
The effect of a flash on amphorae at Chateau Musar in Lebanon
It's worth paying attention to how the season affects your photograph. Does it make a difference to the light quality, from the warmth of the summer sun to winter's cold bright light? Will foliage and flowers change the shot significantly, or even rain and snow?
Merton College, Oxford's Fellows Garden in different seasons
If you are explicitly trying to get good photographs, then think about your timings. Getting to a location at dawn, for example, can give you great lighting, with fewer other people crowding your view. If you have to wait a few minutes at a spot for a crush to disperse, that's not a problem. Patience is a virtue!
Waiting until the best point of sunset in Algonquin, Oxford and Snowdonia yields stunning results
Instagram has its advantages, but isn't the only answer, particularly if you care about your data protection. Do a bit of research into how an app can help give you interesting effects and filters. This simple photograph of a hotel ceiling was taken and edited with Photobooth and then montaged with LiPix, for example. Website like Fotor will do your collage online, but aren't reliable for e.g. saving the final product.
Using photobooth for effects on a basic photograph
Keep spare batteries and memory cards, and think about the quality of these. There's no point setting up and taking excellent photographs if your camera dies or you can't process them properly.
Optical zooms will give you a clearer picture than a digital zoom. Phones and tablets are great to take simple pictures, but for detail use something with a moving lens. If your camera has both (like the Canon Powershot series), then make sure you know at what point they switch.
Which leads me to my final point...
10. Know your camera!
You don't have to have a top range camera to take excellent pictures. You do need to invest a little bit of time to explore its settings. Can the shop help explain it? Do you have a friend who can help? Does your local library or community centre run any sessions on such topics and if they don't, could you organise one? What can you find out online?
Angles and reflections can give great points of interest (here is our Lady of Lebanon, the Eiffel Tower, the Chesil Beach and Pen-y-pass)