Tips + Tricks To Taking Better Photos

Zach operating a camera during CET Action Auction

I’m Zach Kramer and I’m one of the videographers here at Public Media Connect – CET and ThinkTV. While I’ve always enjoyed visual art, my real interest actually began when I was studying science at Cincinnati State. I liked looking at things under a microscope more than I cared about why or what they were doing. That’s when I switched my major to Audio/Video Production and how I got my first internship as a one-man video production crew for a visitors’ bureau. When I went to the University of Cincinnati to upgrade my Associates Degree to a Bachelors, I earned an internship at CET and the rest is history! 

Growing up, I had no idea I’d be a professional videographer (which I still feel weird calling myself since every day I’m learning something new). My sister went to college for photo-journalism and her experience exposed me to all sorts of camera gear, but it wasn’t until I took an Intro to Photography course, where I learned to shoot and develop black and white film, that I discovered my passion for photography.

Self-portrait of Zack through grate

I loved the simplicity and limitations of film and being in the darkroom with the dim red lights and smells of the chemicals. I had never shot black and white before, but it really taught me the importance of composition and the placement of elements in a frame. Forget color and all the distractions it brings – there are only “lights” and “darks” and the greys in between. It was more about pleasing shapes than it was about finding vibrant colors and I really learned what it meant to frame up a shot. For those of you looking for beginner tips in photography, I will share with you one of the single most important rules that I learned very early on.

1. Rule of Thirds

One of the single most important rules that I learned very early on was the Rule of Thirds. It involves splitting your frame into three sections horizontally and vertically making a nine-block grid. You then either aim the cross-sections at the subject you’d like to put the most emphasis on or use the rows or columns themselves to split up the image in a pleasing way. Most modern cameras allow you to display this grid on their LCD screens, but once you shoot enough you may end up turning off the screen and looking through the viewfinder. The Rule of Thirds will become second nature!

Rule of Thirds grid overlayed an image of a woman sitting in large tree
Rule of Thirds grid overlayed an image of a beach landscape, with islands on the horizon line

2. Shooting in Manual

Another thing shooting film taught me was the importance of learning how to use your camera in manual mode, assuming you have an SLR or DSLR. If you are looking to better your photography skills, playing with these three main settings will teach you everything you need to know; f-stop (the size of the opening within your lens), ISO (your camera’s sensitivity to light) and shutter speed (how quickly or slowly you are letting in light into your camera to make the image). Your exposure relies solely on these three things and it’s much like balancing a three-way scale. Manipulating the settings is where things get fun and really the reason I love photography so much.

3 palm trees at twilight
25 seconds

Long exposures allow the picture to paint itself so to speak. This paired with high ISO, allows you to take pictures of the stars. Flowing water becomes soft in appearance. Ideally, you’d need a tripod for this, but you can get away with setting your camera on any stable surface before hitting the trigger. On the contrary, super-fast shutter speeds allow you to “freeze” time.

lake with rocks near foreground in water; background is opposite shoreline with trees

15 seconds

dogs running towards camera, outdoors

1/2000th of a second, outdoors with continuous light (sunlight).

water droplet

1/250th of a second, indoors with a fast strobe (or flash).

Wide-open f-stops, or apertures, allow for a very shallow depth of field and let in more light. In other words, you are able to shoot in much darker places and your lens will focus on a very thin plane making for nice fuzzy backgrounds and/or foregrounds. On the other hand, a smaller f-stop keeps most of the image in focus, near and far.

A man on left holding leash to brown and white dog, laying down at feet; with woman holding child on right

f1.2, considered a very wide aperture

Landscape image, pine in the foreground, mountaines in the distant backgroun.


3. Macro Photography

One of my favorite types is called macro photography. This relies almost completely on a type of lens that allows you to focus on small objects extremely close to the camera while being very “zoomed in.”

Macro image of Fly with water droplet on mouth parts
Macro image of a frog with vegetable fibers

Thank you for letting me share some of my favorite photos and blab on about my favorite hobby. For those of you who are interested in getting into photography, I hope this has given you a little insight into what you can do with your camera and spark you to try things out for yourself!