How to make sure that what you see is what you get.
You know a great picture when you see one. And you know enough to lift your camera to your eye when you see a perfect moment. So how come those super situations don't always turn out to be super pictures?
Maybe that's because even though you're looking, you're not really seeing what's in your viewfinder. If you learn to pay close attention to what's there, it won't be long before the picture you had in mind is the picture you get.
So, before you push that shutter button, ask yourself the questions on the pages that follow, each of them corresponding to a different element you'll see in your camera's viewfinder.
A. What's the subject?
Chances are there's a reason you're taking the picture. And there's nothing worse than finding out that the very thing you wanted to photograph came out fuzzy. So before you click, make a conscious effort to ensure that what's important to you is what's in focus.
Using autofocus will take you part of the way there -- not only does it compensate for our sometimes-faulty eyesight, it also keeps things sharp when they otherwise might, by error or forgetfulness, be blurred beyond fixing.
But a camera's autofocus system has its own ideas about what should be sharp, and if it's on total auto mode, it may focus on a zone that has nothing to do with your subject. Pay attention! If it picks the wrong zone, toggle around your focus points until the focus is on the right spot.
Another option: Set your autofocus to the center point. When you know what you want sharp, center the subject, hold your shutter button halfway down to focus, then swivel your camera and compose the shot again.
B. What's around the edges?
The edges of the frame are the places in our pictures where all the junk collects, messing up our photos without our noticing. The edges are where unwelcome streetlights hang down from the sky, where disembodied hands float, and where things that should be making your composition better end up undermining it. So before you shoot, check those borderlands!
Don't just get rid of strays -- find elements that can help hem in your subject and guide the eye to the thing that you're trying to photograph. If you're shooting outdoors, look for tree boughs that might make a natural frame for a portrait. If you're zooming in on a bug, use the surrounding leaves to make the photo about more than just the insect. If there's a picture frame growing out of someone's head, shift your position.
C. Is your subject in the center?
If you look through your viewfinder and find the most important thing in your picture smack in the middle of your frame, move! The one best way to get better composition and more compelling pictures is to keep the subject out of that central territory.
By the way, this rule applies chiefly to the rectangular frame of an SLR image. If you're shooting in square format, or plan to crop to a square, or you'll fill the frame with your subject, go ahead and put it in the center.
D. Is your scene super bright or ultra dark?
Ever shoot a gorgeous snow scene in which, once you let your camera do its thing, the pretty white stuff turned gray? Or take a photo of a city at dusk only to find your picture's bright as day? To get your shot to look like what you see in your viewfinder, all you have to do is adjust your exposure compensation. Tell your camera to let in a little more light by cranking it up, and those white sandy beaches and brightly lit amber waves of grain will glow like they're supposed to. When you want to see the city lights but not everything that's hiding in the shadows, turn your exposure compensation down and get the night scene you're dreaming of.