India has to be one of the best countries on earth for photography. With its dramatic scenes and vibrant colors, even mediocre photographers like me can leave India with hundreds of great-looking photos on their memory cards and hard drives. In a country where even bad photos often end up looking pretty good, a few simple tips can result in some pretty incredible shots.
1. Don’t Just Center Your Subject
The “Rule of Thirds” is probably the most basic and well-known composition rule—basically, it says to divide your photo into thirds, creating nine rectangles, and to place your main subject on one of the points where the lines intersect. Obviously, your photo will sometimes look better with the subject placed elsewhere, in which case you should feel free to break this rule, but generally, you want to avoid putting your subject in the center. It is almost always more eye-catching when placed off-center.
2. Pay Attention to the Foreground or Background
Many amateur photographers, myself included, can become so focused on the main subject, that we completely forget to pay attention to the background behind the subject (or the foreground in front, if the subject is located in the distance). When setting up your shot, scan the whole area of the photograph to make sure there is nothing to distract from your main subject. You want the background (or foreground) to add to the story you are trying to tell with your image, not distract the eye from it.
3. Fill the Frame with the Subject
As a general rule, the closer, the better. This point continues the one above, in that the best way to avoid a distracting background is to minimize the background altogether. So try filling the whole frame with your main subject and see what happens. More often than not, you will end up with a stronger photo.
4. Use a Fast Shutter Speed to Freeze Motion
If there’s one word to describe India—in the large cities, anyway—it’s chaotic. People, animals, cars, motorbikes, the whole country seems to be in constant motion, which can lead to a lot of blurry photos. In order to avoid this, you need to use a fast shutter speed. I would say, try to get at least 1/500th of a second. On cameras that let you control these settings, your best bet is to use the “shutter priority” setting (labeled Tv on the camera). This setting will let you choose the shutter speed and will then automatically adjust the other settings for you. Many point and shoot cameras do not have manual settings, so you’ll have to check your manual to see which automatic settings use faster shutter speeds. Generally, you’ll want to avoid the landscape setting, as it sacrifices shutter speed for a higher aperture.
Of course, sometimes you’ll want to blur the motion to make your images more dynamic, in which case you should choose a slower shutter speed. In this case, you’ll also need a tripod or some other method to keep your camera steady.
5. Don’t Use a Flash
Of course there are times when using a flash makes sense: if you’re taking pictures of people or an object directly in front of you, for example. But most of the time, you should avoid using a flash. This is especially true for landscape shots, as most flashes have a range of less than five meters and will thus have no effect on lighting the scene. In fact, they will often lighten an object in the foreground–or even dust particles in the air—while making the distant landscape you were trying to capture much too dark. To capture good landscape shots in low light, you’ll have to use a tripod or some other method of holding the camera steady.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Use a Flash on Sunny Days
I know I’m contradicting my previous point, but in certain cases, using a flash on bright, sunny days can greatly improve your images. Basically, when you have a darker subject in the foreground (like a person’s face) and a very bright background (like a bright, sunny sky), you will end up with an image where the foreground is much too dark or the background is much too bright. If you use a flash, you can illuminate the subject in the foreground, while keeping the background properly exposed. I brought this point up, because it is a fairly common situation in India, where you get a lot of bright days.
If you are currently traveling in India or are planning a trip there in the near future, try some of these tips and see if they help. Then try the exact opposite, because the great thing about the digital photography age is that it costs nothing to experiment. And that leads to probably the best tip of all: take as many photos as you need and try every technique you can think of until you get the image you want. Good luck and happy shooting!
Don't go to India without a camera
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Did you find these tips helpful? Do you have any additional tips for beginning photographers? Please feel free to share them in the comments below.
About the author:
Daniel McBane has been traveling and working overseas for the past ten years. During that time, he has visited numerous countries and experienced countless crazy, hilarious or just plain weird adventures. You can check out his funny stories on his blog DanielMcBane.com. Occasionally, Daniel will even make his way onto Twitter as @DanielMcBane.