6 easy photography techniques to learn this year

1. Panning

Panning a subject means to follow it as it moves across a scene, with the aim of capturing it sharply. More often than not the intention is to leave the background blurred, providing a contrast with the sharp subject, and this is the method described below.

It’s a useful technique to learn if you practice any kind of wildlife or sports photography, but it can be used to great effect in street photography and for any other type of action.

How to do it

Panning successfully involves a number of components. The first is to follow the subject throughout the duration of the pan so that it stays sharp. Knowing where to start and stop the pan is key; too soon and you may find it hard to keep up with a subject, too late and you won’t get the effect you want.

The other key part is learning the right shutter speed to use. Too long a shutter speed will make it difficult to successfully keep up with the subject throughout, while selecting a shutter speed that’s too short won’t give you enough time to blur the background sufficiently.

For most pans you want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/40sec but potentially as long as a second or more, although you will only know through experimenting.

The right speed depends on how fast the subject is moving and how far away it is from you; a particularly long pan can look great when the background is completely blurred, but it’s more difficult to achieve so start off with a shorter exposure.

If your camera or lens has image stabilisation, make sure to set it to the mode which is designed for panning, usually the secondary option. This disables stabilisation across one axis so that it only tries to compensate for motion along the axis you require.

The way you stand also affects your movement; stand with your legs spaced wide apart and try to move your knees and upper body (rather than just your arms) to keep the pan as smooth as possible.

Also, make sure to start panning before you press the shutter release button so that you start off smoothly, and carry on for a brief moment afterwards to ensure your end is smooth. You may also find a monopod helps you to keep steady.

Tip

If your subject gradually occupies more or less of the frame as you pan, such as if it is approaching you from a sharp angle, you may struggle to get a sharp result. You’ll have a much better chance of success if the distance between you and the subject is kept as constant as possible, so that you’re capturing it as perpendicularly as possible to its direction of travel.

2. Focus peaking

If you recently bought a camera you may have a focus-peaking function at your disposal. This is a useful tool to use when manually focusing to ensure you capture your subject as sharply as possible, and it’s available on many compact system cameras and enthusiast compacts (and some DSLRs).

How to do it
Turn your camera or lens to manual focus and enable focus peaking through your menu system. Now point the camera at your subject and turn the focusing ring until it starts to appear in focus. As this happens, a white or coloured highlight should appear over the areas that are sharp.

Keep turning the ring until the highlight covers your subject as fully as possible (you may want to go past this point and back to see exactly where the highlight shows the most) and capture the image.

You can use this with either a rear display or an electronic viewfinder, although the former may allow you to do this more accurately. For static subjects, such as still-life shots and most macro subjects, you may also want to use a tripod if possible for maximum sharpness.

3. Bracketing

Bracketing gives you a number of different exposures of the same subject, leaving you to decide which is best once you’ve captured them. It’s a useful tool to use when lighting conditions prove to be problematic for your camera’s metering system, such as when shooting reflective subjects, or whenever illumination is constantly changing. This is available on all DSLRs and the vast majority of mirrorless cameras, as well as on many compacts.

How to do it

Find the ‘AE BKT’ or ‘BKT’ option on your camera, or alternatively the icon with three differently shaded rectangles (if you can’t find this on your camera’s body it’ll be in your menu system).

When this is enabled you should have the option of changing the exposure for the different frames, so that you either get images with slight exposure differences or more severe shifts. Start off by adjusting this so that your exposures vary by 1EV each way before capturing your images.

You may need to release your shutter three times, or the camera may do this automatically once you take the first shot – either way, you should end up with three images captured at different exposures. If you want a more subtle effect, change the extent of shift for each frame to something smaller than 1EV, such as 1/3EV.

4. Zoom bursts

Zoom bursts have become somewhat less fashionable in recent years, with the easy application of Photoshop’s Motion Blur filter making the effect commonplace, although with the right subject and technique you can get some striking and unique results in camera.

How to do it

Using a camera with a lens that can be manually (physically) zoomed, set your camera on a tripod and frame your subject at a wide focal length. Remember this focal length and set your exposure in either the manual exposure mode or shutter priority mode so that your shutter speed is around 1/2sec.

You may need to adjust your sensitivity or aperture to achieve this, but don’t worry about getting this exact figure as they’ll be some trial and error to determine the right shutter speed for your shot.

Now, zoom into the scene and with one hand on the shutter release button and the other on the zoom ring, trigger the exposure while moving the zoom ring back to the first focal length you noted.

It will take practice to understand the appropriate length for your exposure and how fast to zoom, so don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t come out right on your first few attempts. Keep trying until it looks right, adjusting your shutter speed and the direction in which you zoom to see what works best.

For maximum effect, make sure your camera is completely stable on the tripod and try to only move the zoom ring during the exposure rather than disturbing the camera in any way. You could also use a cable release to keep the camera more stable during the exposure, but you can still get great results without one.

5. Embedding copyright information

Attaching your name to an image you take is something many photographers do for the sake of security, and once you’ve set this up in camera you don’t need to worry about it – it will automatically be embedded in every shot you take. What’s more, it couldn’t be easier.

How to do it

Find the option to input copyright information, or image comment, in your camera’s menu system. This is usually found in a camera’s Setup menu, although you may need to switch your camera to its manual exposure setting for it to appear.

Now enter your name, and perhaps even the year (remembering to change this each year), and either the copyright symbol or the word ‘copyright’ if the symbol is not available. For a bonus marketing point, you may even wish to add your website if there is space.

6. Setting up a tripod properly

Using a tripod properly appears fairly straightforward, but there are a handful of best-practice guidelines that many photographers often forget. The following will make sure you’re as stable as possible.

How to do it

With the camera off the tripod, spread each leg until they extend to the same angle. Now release the top section on each leg, closest to the head, extend them fully and lock. Repeat the process downwards until you have the height you require.

Don’t extend the lower sections first as these are the least stable and only extend the centre column (assuming your tripod allows you to do this) once every leg section has been extended.

Mount the camera on the tripod’s quick-release plate as the arrow underneath the plate instructs and place it on the head so that at least one bubble level faces you.

Finally, make sure all bubble levels on the head and legs (if provided) are level. If you need to adjust the tripod while you shoot, adjust the legs first and keep your eye on the bubble level and only extend the centre column as a last resort. Use a remote release or the self timer mode for extra sharpness and if shooting on softer surfaces, such as grass, see if the feet contain spikes, which will help lock the tripod in position.