Yes I know it’s Black Friday this week and you’re all gunning for new equipment. But what would you say if I told you that you could improve your images without buying anything new? Yep, sorry to be a killjoy but new gear doesn’t improve your photos very often. In this video wildlife photographer, Jan Wegener runs through a few different ways that you can improve the quality of your photos with any gear.
- Light: What is good light? Usually, we talk about the quality of light, and in Jan’s opinion, the only type of bad light is overhead mid-day light that creates harsh shadows and too much contrast. He says that he prefers cloudy overcast days so that he can then play with the image in Photoshop to bring out contrast and colour. He prefers cloudy conditions when shooting in a forest, although if the birds are on a lake or the sea he does like some sunshine to reflect off the surface of the water. “Knowing your subject and knowing what light makes it look the best is one important step forward to getting your image quality to the maximum,” says Jan.
- Distance: Being too far away from your subject and then cropping in will destroy your image quality. All this does is emphasise any existing issues already present in the images such as noise and lack of sharpness. Jan says in a situation where he is too far from his subject, he would not advise putting a longer lens on, but rather trying to get physically loser to the subject, or creating a wider composition where the subject is interacting with the environment.
- Under Exposure: Shooting under-exposed and then lifting the exposure in post is a recipe for noise, particularly with lower end cameras. Jan recommends exposing towards the brighter side of the histogram and making sure to check it when you’re shooting as well (I’m very guilty of ignoring the histogram!).
- ISO: Low ISO equals better image quality, right? Not necessarily. It’s actually better to boost the ISO higher and risk a little noise than it is to have blurry out of focus images that you can’t do anything with. You can always use software to reduce the noise after the fact. Basically you don’t want to prioritise a low ISO in favour of shutter speed.
- Shoot on a lighter coloured background: This way if you are boosting up your ISO any noise is much less visible. A great background can enhance your image while a distracting background will take away from the subject.
- Create a sense of intimacy with your subject: This is almost always down to eye contact. With eye contact directly into the lens it creates a sense of connection with the viewer. The other thing to remember is to try and be level with your subject, so that you’re not shooting up or down on them.
- Sharpness: Use a high enough ISO so that you can have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze action. The other thing to do to improve sharpness is to throw away your UV filter. It’s just an extra piece of cheap glass in front of your lens that you don’t need.
- Stop down your lens: Try not to shoot wide open all the time. It’s very tempting, particularly when shooting wildlife, but many lenses (particularly those towards the lower end of the price range) have a sharpness sweet spot around 2 stops above their widest aperture. In many that’s f/5.6 or f/8. If you’re using long lenses then even at those apertures you will still achieve nice blurred backgrounds and bokeh.
- Depth of Field: If you’re shooting with very wide apertures on long lenses then only a very small part of the subject will be in focus, in effect making the image appear to be less sharp. Jan says when shooting birds, he trys to get all of the bird’s body and feet in focus.
- Editing: Getting the image right in camera as much as possible will always put your images in a better position, but you do also need to pay attention to good post-processing techniques so that you don’t undo all that good work in the field at the the click of a mouse.
- Equipment: Finally getting the correct equipment for the task at hand will almost always set you up for taking better images. Know what you want to shoot and adjust your equipment accordingly. He does point out that higher end cameras and lenses do generally take better quality images.
So there you go, you can rush out and spend of your Black Friday cash after all. Just know what it is you want to shoot first! Do you have any extra tips for improving image quality without spending money?