My late uncle was a great photographer. You may not have heard of him, but his peers had. Right after graduating from Indiana University, he moved to New York City where he briefly photographed fashion models, but quickly grew tired of their neurotic behavior. Over the course of the next 30 years, he would travel the world to photograph exotic and remote locations for travel guides and magazines.
My dad was no slouch with a camera either, and he set the bar fairly high for his boys. Thankfully, my brother and I both have a knack for taking good photos. It seems that just about anybody that has a decent camera these days fancies themselves as a “pro." The problem is, the technological advancements and advantages of digital photography, including editing, rarely overcomes poor composition. People that have the ability to quickly analyze what makes a great shot tend to take the best photos and don’t rely on excessive editing trickery.
It’s truly amazing how photography has evolved, when you consider that only 20 years ago, digital photography was barely accessible to the consumer. Now most of us have a smart phone with a digital camera in our pocket that features capabilities that were formerly relegated to pro photographers. It is absolutely astonishing what these cameras can do; from high-definition video and amazing still shots to incredible editing ability right at our fingertips – there isn’t much the latest generation of smartphone cameras aren’t capable of. You’d think we’d all be taking amazing photos, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case.
When I’m guiding anglers, it’s common for me take photos of monumental fish. It could be a “first” or “biggest” fish, or even prettiest fish, but most of the time the person holding the fish is relying on me to take a great photo, so they can frame a print and plaster the image all over social media. I’m often amazed at how well these shots turn out when you consider the ramifications: A guy that rarely holds a big fish is attempting to hold a big fish that does not want to be held. They have cold wet hands, and quite often I do, too, which makes camera operation difficult. More often than not, we are standing in the water. At a minimum, there's a lot of water around us.
Splashing happens, falling happens and inevitably, wet cameras happen. I once tripped while taking a photo of an angler with a big steelhead and went completely underwater. I’ll never forget as I opened my eyes underneath the surface and saw my iPhone 5 fizzle out right before my eyes. I held my good Nikon DSLR above the surface as long as possible, but eventually the current swept me under. Thankfully I had insurance on both items and they were quickly replaced, but we were without a good camera for the rest of that day. Now I carry a nearly waterproof and shock-resistant smartphone that takes such great photos I don’t have to risk ruining a high-end full sized DSLR.
While I don’t expect everybody to take publishable photos, it sure would be nice if the average person would take a few steps to assure the photos are more appealing. Here are some tips.
First off, make sure you have the lighting right, which generally means it should be somewhere behind you. Avoid casting a shadow into the frame of your photo. This is a common mistake – change the angle a little or use the cropping function when editing to cut the edge of a shadow out of the photo. Unless there is something in the background that is worthy of a wide angle, fill the frame as much as possible with your subject and strive for a background that's pleasing to the eye.
If you’re having trouble with shadows use a “fill flash." If that doesn’t work out, it’s often possible to use clever editing to illuminate features. When editing, click the digital enhance filter, which may make an otherwise terrible photo come to life. Incidentally, the newest smartphones come with great proprietary camera features, but if you want to kick it up a notch, there are some awesome apps available.
Make sure the subjects are photo ready. If the person you're taking the photo of has some burrito residue on their beard, or a booger dangling from their mustache, take care of it. If their shirt is “all weird,” then tell them to fix it. Avoid piles of poop behind pets and tidy-up litter that may be in the background. Of course, you should pick up litter anyway, but there is nothing worse than a nice vista shot of the sunset with a foam carryout container in the foreground to really convey the beauty.
Hunters are notorious for taking terrible photos. First of all, the subject matter isn’t exactly something a lot of people want to dwell on. Check it out, here’s a big pile of dead stuff. In this day and age, we must be cautious of what we post on social media. While you may think it’s really cool, and most of your hunting buddies might think it’s really cool, the majority of folks out there likely do not want to see a deer with his blood and leaf-covered tongue dangling out after taking a bullet through the neck. Take some time to tidy him up, even wash his face. Be tasteful about your hero shots.
Birds are another matter entirely. Well-posed waterfowl and gamebirds look way better than a random pile of muddy and bloody birds kicked into the corner of a duck blind, or half-hazzardly chucked into the back of a pickup. Take a few minutes to straighten them out and fix their feathers. Again, wash or hide the blood and wait until birds are dry to take photos. Turkeys should be groomed so their spectacular plumage stands out. It doesn’t take long to do and the photo will be much better. Think of how you would want a photo to look in a magazine and go for that look.
Jay Anglin writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Argus. Write to him at email@example.com.