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There are quite a few common questions that any photographer gets asked regularly. As they're so common, we thought we would cover a few of them!
1) How Do I Get the Background Blurry? – So you have taken a beautiful portrait of your newborn child with beautiful light and a wonderful and peaceful expression and there, 10 meters in the background, is their older brother, unmistakably in the act of picking his nose. Shot ruined, right? Not necessarily. If you know how to blur the background, then you could have had 100% of the viewer's attention squarely on your newborn.
The trick here is to blur the background. That is as simple as controlling your depth of field (you can download our detailed guide to depth of field for free here). The way to do that is to shoot with a wide aperture. You can manually set your camera with a wide aperture, you can set your camera on aperture priority mode and shoot with a wide aperture (f1.4-f5ish) or you can set your camera on portrait mode.
2) How Do I Get the Background Sharp? – Another common scenario is finding the perfect landscape. You get there before sunset, a light sprinkling of clouds is reflecting the warm colours of the sun. The scene is perfect and you take the shot. When you get home, you find that the blade of grass in the foreground is in perfect focus, but the rest of that glorious landscape is blurry. What happened?
The trick with this one is to maximise your depth of field so that all of the scene is in focus from the foreground (mostly) through to the horizon. This is done by shooting with a narrow aperture (f16 to f22ish). In fact, f22 is commonly called the “story telling aperture” as it means almost all of a scene will be in sharp focus. Set the aperture manually, shoot in aperture priority mode and close it up or shoot on landscape mode.
3) Why Are My Skies Not As Blue As I Remember It? – Many people will take a photograph in the middle of a sunny day, when the clouds are clear and the sky is a deep blue. Then, when they get the image onto their computer (or processed at a lab) they will find that the sky is a far paler blue and maybe a little washed out. What happened? The fact is that most cameras find it difficult to produce strong the strong colours you remember in your head when there is so much light around. Shooting at midday has its limitations.
There are several remedies for this, but the easiest one is to come back when the sun isn't shining so brightly (like at golden hour). If that's not possible, then you can do a few other things. Shoot with a narrow aperture (f18 or f22ish) or follow the sunny f16 rule. Use a ND filter to take some of the brightness out of the light. Consider a polarizing filter. Each of these tactics serves to restrict the amount of light hitting the sensor or film. They will theoretically result in stronger colours too.
4) Why Are My Flash Shots So Harsh? – You're at party or in a dark setting and you decide to shoot off a few frames of your friends. The problem is that they look like a deer caught in headlights. The flash is way over powered and showered them in in a harsh and white light that looks less than flattering.
Again, don't fret! There are a couple of different things you can do to help this. Firstly, read our guide to how to fight the bright in flash photography. That will give you several options. You can start by diffusing the light from the flash in several possible ways. Put a piece of material in front of the flash (like a light coloured scarf or handkerchief) or, better still, get a proper pop-on flash diffuser for your flash (easy to find for a off camera flash, but slightly difficult for a lot of on-camera flashes). Another option (if possible) is to redirect the flash so that the light bounces off the ceiling, wall or other surface onto the subject. That will result in a more diffused, pleasant light.
5) Why Don't My Shots Have Any Impact? – This problem is a little more difficult to define, but it usually starts with a photography novice comparing their own shots to that of a technically proficient photographer who has shot the same scene and wondering why the images are so different.
Now there can be a lot of different reasons for this. But there is also a single mistake that 90% of new photographers make. They stand too far away from their subject. A big part of good composition in photography is moving your feet so that your subject fills the frame of your image. In short, get closer! The saying that the first three rules of photography are, “get closer, get closer, get closer,” is only partially in jest.