Maybe you can relate. You’ve purchased the expensive camera equipment; you’ve read tutorials and books on how to use said camera equipment, and you are still unhappy with the quality of your photos. So what gives? Why don’t your pictures turn out looking like so many of the “magazine-worthy” pictures you see on other blogs and websites? While I certainly do not have it all figured out yet, I have learned a few things with my DSLR camera over the last 6 years that might prove helpful! There are three main reasons why your pictures might not be turning out:
- You need to stabilize your camera on a quality tripod.
- You need to create more light in your photos.
- You need to use a better photo-editing software.
3 Ways to Improve Your DSLR Photos
1. Use a quality tripod and use Live View mode.
If your shutter speed is less than 1/125 sec, then your photos will benefit from using a tripod. I use a tripod for almost ALL of my photography and it’s been a game-changer. I also use the timer, or a remote, to take my slow exposure shots. In the photo below (which was snapped with my iPhone), you can see that I’m shooting mini-pumpkin whoopie pies in a low-light situation with a 1/50 sec shutter speed. The tripod ensures that I won’t ruin the photo with my unsteady hand. Even small movements can significantly blur your photos. I also like to shoot in Live Photo which allows me to manually focus on the exact spot I want while giving me a better visual of what the end product will look like. If you’re not currently using a tripod or shooting in Live Mode, then I encourage you to give it a try and watch your photos improve!
2. Create more light in your photos.
Photography is all about capturing light. I find myself forever jealous of bloggers lucky enough to have amazingly well-lit, Southern exposure homes. My home is Northern facing, lacking windows on one side (it’s a row home), and is shadowed by buildings all around. On most days I feel like I’m shooting inside a cave! When you are dealing with low-light situations you have to either bring in more light yourself, or change your camera settings to maximize the light that is available.
Use an External Flash
I know, I know. You’ve been taught that under NO circumstance should you use a flash! Turn that baby off, crank up the ISO, reduce the shutter speed, use a wide aperture, but do NOT use a flash! Right? Well, not always. While I’m still learning how to master my external flash, I have had some success with it on days where all my other tricks fail. I own this speedlight and am impressed with how it can lighten and brighten my cave! It connects to the top of my camera and fills in all the shadows and sharpens my images. I shoot Nikon, so I use the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash. It received 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon which is one of the reasons I chose it.
My kitchen is one of those rooms in my home that is next to impossible to shoot. It’s incredibly dark and always horribly backlit. I am rarely happy with the photos I take in here. For my Christmas Kitchen Tour, I used my speedlight and was much happier with the results. You can see that the light did create a shadow from the chandelier, but it also illuminated all of the items on the kitchen shelves and made the focal objects on the island pop. It’s a great tool to have in your photography arsenal!
Another way to bring more light to your photos is to use a disc reflector, or even large pieces of white posterboard will do in a pinch. I own this inexpensive disc reflector and love it. The only drawback to reflectors is that you need SOME light to reflect. If it’s too dark in your space, then the reflector won’t be much help.
Change your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to create more light.
Your camera settings can be changed to “create light” in situations where you don’t have enough. If you are shooting in low light, you will want to slow down your shutter speed, increase your aperture, and increase your ISO. As a reminder, aperture is the “eye” of your lens. When you look directly into your lens, the wider the hole (think dilated pupils) the lower the aperture (f-number). An f-stop of 1.8 (think really dilated pupil) lets in 4x’s the amount of light as an f-stop of 3.5 (think semi-dilated pupil).
Many kit lenses only go down to f/3.5 which may not be sufficient for your lighting needs. I LOVE shooting with my Sigma 35mm lens which has an aperture of f/1.4. It’s an expensive lens, but it takes great shots and allows me to achieve an incredible depth of field. The photo below was taken with my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 for Nikon. You can see that only the top of the napkin and edge of the plate are in full focus. This is a great “artsy lens” that will allow in a ton of light and help you achieve brighter, sharper images.
If the 35mm f/1.4 isn’t in the budget right now, then invest in a 50mm f/1.8. It’s a great lens and will allow you to take bright and beautiful photos that have a dreamy depth of field.
Use a quality photo-editing software such as Lightroom.
Beyond the fancy camera equipment, the thing that has helped me the MOST in upping my photography game is editing my photos in Adobe Lightroom. I use the downloadable software instead of the online “Creative Cloud” version. Adobe now offers a monthly subscription fee of $9.99/mth to use their Creative Cloud online. I’ve owned Lightroom 5 for several years and have definitely saved money by owning the software. I don’t have all of the latest updates, but I haven’t missed them. I’m not going to lie. Lightroom is tricky to master. But even if you are just learning the program you can significantly improve your photos with some of their automated features. Take a look at the before and after below. All that was done to edit this photo was to click the “Auto Tone” and “Auto White Balance” buttons. Two-clicks and the photo looks 100 times better!
Lightroom can literally save photos that straight-out-of-the-camera appear to be unsalvageable.
I was able to work some Lightroom magic on this cute picture of my son and create an image I was proud of. The straight-out-of-the-camera picture would probably have been deleted, but the after picture is a framer!
I hope you found these tips helpful towards improving your pics! Feel free to click on the “Related Posts” below for even more photography tips.