10 things photographers can do to stop wasting shots
No one likes wasting pictures. And the real beauty of taking photos with a digital camera is that it’s so easy to learn from your mistakes. Simply press the shutter button and you’ll see the result instantly on the camera’s LCD screen, so you can assess it at once.
It’s easy to zoom in on the composition, check the exposure, and confirm whether you have used the right camera settings. Then, if you haven’t quite nailed the shot you wanted, you can retake the picture until you’re totally happy with the result.
As any convert to digital knows, retaking an image costs nothing. You can keep taking shots until you get what you want, and it’s easy to continue deleting pictures that don’t make the grade.
But getting a second shot that’s better than the first can be tricky. To improve your picture, you inevitably have to do something different – alter the settings, reframe the shot, or use a different technique.
But sometimes re-shooting is simply not an option – the moment has passed – so you need to know how to edit and improve your images digitally.
Here we’ll show you how to capture great shots the first time and stop wasting pictures by avoiding some of the most common mistakes in photography (and make sure you also check out an exhaustive list of 99 common photography problems – and how to solve them). You’ll learn how to improve your shooting skills, but also how to correct less-than-perfect shots that you simply can’t delete and re-shoot.
1. Cut out the clutter
You can easily get so carried away shooting your subject that you forget to scan the viewfinder carefully. If you don’t check the foreground and background, you can end up ruining an otherwise perfect picture. Do you really want shots with sign posts growing out of people’s heads , or an Asda lorry sitting in an idyllic landscape?
The easiest way to avoid such compositional toe-curlers is not to shoot them in the first place. The most effective tools are your eyes, and it’s important that you discipline yourself to look carefully at your composition through your digital camera’s viewfinder (for more on composition, see the 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work).
Every time you take a photo, scan the frame from left to right and from top to bottom, checking every corner  and keeping a lookout for elements that create a distraction from your main subject . If you notice an offending item, simply alter your angle of view, recompose and shoot.
Photoshop to the rescue
There will almost certainly be occasions when you simply can’t avoid a distraction in your shot. Perhaps you couldn’t get yourself into the right position, or didn’t notice the offending item until after the event.
In this picture we have removed the offending lamppost using the Clone Tool in Photoshop Elements (its icon looks like a rubber stamp). Using the Clone tool can be rather time-consuming, but it does the job.
The secret is to take it slowly, varying the size of the brush and your source point to suit the area you are altering.
2. Avoid limp landscapes
Great scenery doesn’t necessarily make a great scenic picture. Ignore this fact and it is all too easy to get carried away by the beauty of a landscape and end up with a dull, flat image.
It’s essential to watch the lighting. You don’t need a sunny day to bag a great shot, but the position of your light source can make all the difference. On a typical cloudy day you need to be patient, otherwise the sky will be a drab whitewash .
Wait for the light to break through the clouds in a way that successfully lights the main parts of your scene or the colours throughout the landscape will be drab . A good trick, whatever the lighting, is to use a graduated filter to help darken the sky in the image.
Make sure, too, that your shot has a clear focal point. Many impressive views are weakened by a lack of foreground interest, with acres of boring grass that fail to grab the viewer’s attention .
Find a camera angle that eliminates empty space at the bottom of the frame. Try getting down low to a rock or flower that will create foreground interest, or simply zoom further into the scene (for more on shooting landscapes, check out the 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography – and how to break them).
Make a perfect landscape shot
1. Once you’ve found your view, set up your tripod and wait for the light to fall on the correct part of your scene. Lighting changes rapidly, so you must be ready and prepared.
2. Use a graduated grey filter on your lens.
This balances the contrast of the scene, darkening the sky and making the land look brighter.
3. Avoid shaky shots with slow shutter speeds
You often get the best pictures when you take things slow. Pictures of running water – whether it’s a babbling mountain brook or an ornate garden statue – often benefit from a slower shutter speed than you would normally consider when shooting in daylight.
Shutter speeds are often set in whole seconds, not fractions of seconds, so you’ll need a solid support. If you try and get away with balancing your camera on a rock, you’ll end up with shaky pictures . A solid tripod is essential so that the stationary parts of the scene  are pin sharp and contrast with the frothy blur of the moving water (see our 4 tips for sharper shots when using a tripod).
The speed you set will depend on the speed and volume of water. For example, at 15 secs a mountain stream would appear as a milky blur, but you’ll need a setting closer to 1/10 sec to shoot a city fountain. Don’t let your shutter speed get too long, though, or your waterfall will become a wash-out, with no range of tone in the white water at all  (for a more on this, find out how to set up your DSLR to shoot moving water).
Four ways to improve slow shots
1. Use a tripod to frame your shot tightly. Composing the image to avoid bright areas of sky or dark shadow areas will make it easier to get a balanced exposure.
2. Use a neutral density filter or polariser. This will cut down the amount of light entering the lens, enabling you to use a slow shutter speed. Use ISO100 to reduce noise.
3. Use aperture priority mode to set an aperture of f/22 and allow a slower shutter speed. Take a test picture, then use +/– compensation to darken or lighten (to find the right level, check out this quick cheat sheet on exposure compensation.)
4. Use your camera’s self-timer to fire the shutter (or use a cable release, if you have one). This will eliminate the kind of camera shake seen in the image above.
The combination of these four steps has allowed us to keep the camera steady at a shutter speed slow enough to capture the movement in the waterfall.
4. Banish lifeless still lifes
With many types of photography you can’t alter the subject to suit your needs. Mountains can’t be moved or penalty kicks retaken to help you nail your shot. But still-life pictures offer much more scope (find out how to take control of depth of field).
For example, our autumn leaf makes an attractive, colourful subject , but photographed exactly where it is found it could lack impact. However, by moving it you don’t have to settle for a dull background .
Take control of the situation, moving the subject or grouping leaves together. Alter the scene to make the most of the texture, colour, pattern and lighting, then take your shot.
Take control of your still life scene
1. Collect the leaves together so they can be shot in a group. Use a tripod so you can fine-tune the composition. This will also leave you free to pick any aperture (try a setting of around f/16).
2. Move the leaves into the best arrangement, making one change at a time. Check your image through the viewfinder after each move to get an accurate view of how it will look.
3. Take the items home (but don’t disturb the environment). This will give you more time to arrange them, and give control of lighting and framing.
5. Avoid portraits that lack focus
Autofocus is a marvellous invention. But although it works well, it can’t read your mind. Your camera uses a number of sensors across the frame to focus on your subject, but it makes the simple assumption that you want to focus on the closest subject. Many pictures will work using this approach, but lots won’t.
The focus point is more critical with some pictures than others. The wider the aperture you are using (find out what a wide aperture is), the longer your zoom setting and the closer you are to the subject, the less depth of field you have available. As depth of field decreases, it becomes even more important to focus on the exact point.
With portraits, for instance, it is the eyes that need to be sharp. If they are even slightly out of focus your shot will be ruined. The combination of lens setting, aperture and camera distance may mean that not all of the face can be sharp, so focusing must be totally accurate (for more on portraits, check out this in-depth photography cheat sheet on family portrait photography).
Three tips for pin-sharp focusing
1. Switch to Manual focus and turn the focus ring at the front of the lens until the desired part of the scene comes into focus in the viewfinder (learn everything you need to know about manual focus to get sharp images). You need good eyesight (with or without your glasses) to do this well, because it relies on your ability to see when the scene looks sharp.
2. Alternatively, let the AF do the work for you. Switch the AF point selection from automatic (where it uses all the focus sensors) to a manually selected point (the number of AF points varies depending on the SLR, but could be anything from three to 45). Use this one point to focus on a desired area.
3. If necessary, lock the focus by pressing the trigger halfway down and then recompose the picture. This will work only if you have the Autofocus mode set to either One Shot or similar. Some AF modes continuously refocus on moving objects, so don’t work in this way.
More accurate focus has allowed us to get the eyes sharp, and capture a much stronger picture.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 at 10:15 am and is filed under Canon D-SLR Skills, Photography Tutorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a comment. Pinging is currently not allowed.