I am asked quite frequently how I make my photos good. While some of it does have to do with the camera you use, more of it actually has to do with how you utilize the tool(s) you do have – be it a point and shoot digital camera, a fancy DSLR or a smartphone. The tips I’ll share below work for any of the above mentioned devices, and I’ll share a mix of smartphone (iPhone5) and DSLR photos.
- Be closer than you think you need to be. This is done by moving your feet, and getting in tight! Don’t be scared!
- Avoid the junk. You want the focus to be on your ranch/animals/product/yourself – not the unsightly corrals, or poop on the ground, or (fill in the blank). I often tell people – I don’t care how cute your kids is, if you take a photo of them in their dad’s cowboy boots, but you’re in the living room with dirty laundry, trash, or toys scattered about in an unsightly manner, the photo will not be as powerful.
- Do not use the digital zoom. I have no examples of this, because I never do it. So, I’ll tell you what will happen. The photo will get “noisy”, and then it’s not as clear as it would be if you just moved your feet a little closer to the subject. See the first point above! I realize that when you’re shooting wildlife, this may not be possible, but for everyday shooting on the farm or ranch, you’ll get a better quality photo by simply moving closer. You destroy the data on the photo by using the digital zoom and reduce image quality. You’ll want to crop the photo for the best maximum impact, and I talk about that, below.
- Shoot into your shadow. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a way for a beginner or budding photographer to learn the best use of light. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see my shadow near the black and white calf. When you’re in mid-day sun it’s not as important as it is a dawn or dusk. Don’t be afraid to move around, but generally you’ll find the best light when you’re shooting with the sun over your back.
- Lead the eye with lines. You can make a very powerful impact leading the eye with lines. Think lines of dairy cows, or fattened yearlings at the feed bunk. This also allows you an opportunity to avoid junk by focusing on the cows closest to you.
- Tell a story. I am constantly dreaming up new shots/ideas/things I want to photograph. While it might be weeks/months/years before I’m able to make them happen, I know I’ll be ready when the opportunity presents itself. I try to avoid setting up shots on the ranch as much as possible, because I’d like to capture life as it happens.
- Don’t take a snapshot – take the time to compose the shot. By thinking about the story you want to tell, you will be ready when the chance happens, because you will have seen it play out in your mind at least a time or two.
- Think about angles. This makes the photograph more interesting and will capture the attention of your audience.
- Crop your photos for maximum impact. I don’t want to talk about what makes a great B/W photo now, because that’s another blog post in and of itself (hint hint), but I can say that cropping a photo can make a big statement! Always keep that in mind when you’re getting ready to share your photo with the world.
- Utilize the focus/exposure feature on your smartphone. If you learn to tap the screen where you want your phone to focus it will help you either make the setting brighter, or focus on what’s closest to you. Either way, it’s a win!
I truly hope you found these tips to be helpful, and if you ever have photography questions, don’t hesitate to look me up.
written by Jenn Zeller
Telling her story through photos, Jenn Zeller draws a portrait of her life as a cowgirl, photographer, horse lover, columnist and agriculture advocate. You can find her talking about brandings on Twitter as @thesdcowgirl, chatting about gorgeous jewelry and barrel racing on Facebook or lovin’ on her horses at her blog TheSouthDakotaCowgirl.