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Rishov Chakrabarti

Many years ago when I was a starry-eyed undergrad I would

ask every photographer I came across the same question:
How do I take better photos?
I was extremely lucky to have many talented and generous
photographers take me under their wing to show me the ropes.
Without their valuable advice there is no way I would have become
the photographer I am today.
Ironically, the number one question I now get asked as an Open
producer is How do I take better photos?
So along with some tips that Ive picked up over the years, Ive
recruited some outstanding snappers across Australia to share their
own secret techniques about how they take their photos to the next

1. Get in close
It was the famous photojournalist Robert Capa who once said If
your photographs arent good enough, youre not close enough. He
was talking about getting in amongst the action. If you feel like your
images arent popping, take a step or two closer to your subject.
Fill the frame with your subject and see how much better your photo
will look without so much wasted space. The closer you are to the
subject, the better you can see their facial expressions too.

2. Shoot every day

The best way to hone your skills is to practice. A lot. Shoot as much
as you can it doesnt really matter what. Spend hours and hours
behind your camera. As your technical skills improve over time, your
ability to harness them to tell stories and should too. Dont worry too
much about shooting a certain way to begin with. Experiment. Your
style your voice will emerge in time. And it will be more
authentic when it does. Leah Robertson
Leah Robertson is a super talented Melbourne based photographer
and videographer, specialising in music and documentary
photography.You can see her work here.

3. See the light

Before you raise your camera, see where the light is coming from,
and use it to your advantage. Whether it is natural light coming from
the sun, or an artificial source like a lamp; how can you use it to
make your photos better? How is the light interacting with the scene
and the subject? Is it highlighting an area or casting interesting
shadows? These are all things you can utilise to make an ordinary
photo extraordinary.

4. Ask permission
When photographing people, especially while in countries with
different cultures and languages, it can be hard to communicate. In
certain countries if you photograph someone you are not supposed
to photograph, it can get ugly and rough very quickly if you are not
careful. So out of respect you should always ask permission. I have
started shooting a series of school children in Pakistan. These are all
posed portraits and they are looking down the lens. My guide helps
me with the language and I limit myself to smiling, shaking hands,
giving hi-five and showing them the image on the back of my
camera once it is done. You would be amazed how quickly people
open up. Andrea Francolini

Andrea Francolini is a well known Italian born, Sydney based sports

photographer. He is also the founder ofMy First School, as trust
which has the aim to facilitate educations in Northern Pakistan. You
can see his work here.

5. Use flash during the day

You might think that you should only use flash at night time or
indoors, but thats not the case at all. If it is an extremely bright day
outside and the sun is creating harsh shadows on your subject,
switch on your flash. By forcing extra light onto your subject, you
will be able to fill in those ugly shadows and create an even

6. ISO
There are questions to ask yourself when deciding what ISO to use:
What time of day are you shooting? If you are shooting outside
during the middle of the day you will need to use a lower ISO such
as 100 or 200. If you are shooting at night time without a tripod you
will have to increase the ISO to a higher number to be able to record
the light on the cameras sensor.
Will the subject be well lit? If your subject or scene is too dark you
will need to use a higher ISO such as 800 or 1600.
Do you want a sharp image or an image with more movement in
it? Using a high shutter speed to capture fast movement might
mean that you need to use a high ISO to compensate. Likewise, if
youre using a slow shutter speed to capture blur you will need a low
ISO to compensate.
Dont forget, increasing your ISO increases the grain or pixel size in
your photo. So dont use an ISO of 3200 or 6400 if you dont want a
photo with a lot of digital noise.

7. f/4
f/4 is my go to aperture. If you use a wide aperture with a long lens
(200mm-400mm) youre able to separate the subject from the
background. This helps them stand out. Works every time. Peter
Peter Wallis is a sports photographer extraordinaire, working for The
Courier Mail in Brisbane. You can see his work here.

8. Youve got to be joking

A well timed joke will always yield a more natural smile, than simply
saying smile Dean Bottrell
Dean Bottrell is a Emerald based photographer who specializes in
portraiture. You can see his work here.

9. Buy books, not gear

Having expensive camera equipment doesnt always mean that
youll take good photos. Ive seen some absolutely amazing images
shot with nothing more than a smart phone. Instead of having ten
different lenses, invest in some fantastic photography books. By
looking at the work of the masters, not only do you get inspired, you
come away with ideas to improve your own photos.

10. Read your cameras manual

The best way to know what to do with your camera is to actually
read the manual. So many people miss this really important step on
their photographic journey. Every camera is different, so by reading
the manual youll get to know all the funky things its capable of.

11. Slow down

Take time to think about what is going on in the viewfinder before
pressing the shutter. How are you going to compose the shot? How

are you going to light it? Dont jump straight in without giving it
some thought first. Brad Marsellos
Brad Marsellos is the Wide Bay ber Open producer. You can see his
photos, videos and musings on lifehere.

12. Stop chimping (checking the photo on the back screen)

Its a bad habit digital photographers can develop. Time and time
again I see photographers take a photograph and then look at the
back of the screen straight away. By doing that you could miss all
the special moments. You can look at your photos later. You can miss
the shot and it affects the flow of your work, so just keep shooting!
Marina Dot Perkins
The lovely Marina Dot Perkins is a news, travel and wedding
photographer who worked for The Canberra Times and is now based
in Newcastle.

13. Framing
This is a technique to use when you want to draw attention to
something in your photograph. By framing a scene or a subject, say
with a window or an archway, you lead the viewers eye to the
primary focal point.

14. Shape with light

Never shoot with the sun directly behind you. It creates boring, flat
light on the subject. If you shoot with the light source to the side or
behind the subject, you are able to shape with the light, creating a
more interesting photo. Patria Jannides
Patria is not only a talented news photographer, she is also my long
term friend, mentor, and personal cheer squad. She even helped me
to land my first job as a paid photographer. Thanks for everything P

15. Watermarks
This tip isnt in direct relation to TAKING photos, but it does affect
the look of photos. When it comes to watermarks, the smaller the
better. And if you can avoid using them, do.
Chances are, unless you are a paid professional, theres not much of
a chance of your photos getting nicked. But in reality, they wont
prevent your images from getting stolen. They only distract from the
fabulous image that youve created, because once youve slapped a
watermark all over it, thats all the viewer will be looking at. The
only way you can prevent your images from being stolen is to not
publish them on the internet.
Read Open producer Luke Wongs blog post on watermarks here.

16. Be present
This means make eye-contact, engage and listen to your subject.
With the eyes lower that camera and be human. Bring the camera
up for a decisive shot. But remember to lower it, like youre coming
up for air, to check in with your subject. Dont treat them like a
science experiment under a microscope. Being there with your
subject shows them respect, levels the playing field in terms of
power dynamics, and calms them down. Youll get much more
natural images this way. Heather Faulkner
Heather Faulkner is a photographer who convenes the
ePhotojournalism major at QCA, Griffith University. She is also the
executive director of The Argus, a student-run, visual journalism
online magazine. See her personal work here.

17. Shutter speed

Being aware of your shutter speed means the difference between
taking a blurry photo and a sharp photo. It all depends on what you
are after. If you are shooting a sporting event or children running

around in the backyard, you probably want your subjects to be in

focus. To capture fast action you will have to use a shutter speed
over 1/500th of a second, if not 1/1000th to 1/2000th. On the
opposite end of the scale, you might want to capture the long
streaks of a cars tail lights running through your shot. Therefore you
would change your cameras shutter speed to a long exposure. This
could be one second, ten seconds, or even longer.

18. Charge your batteries

This seems like a simple one, but pretty much every photographer
on the face of the planet has been caught out before. Including
myself. The trick is to put the battery onto the charger as soon as
you get home from your photo shoot. The only thing then is to make
sure you remember to put it back into the camera after it has been

19. Focal length

Keep it simple. I shoot with two prime lenses and one camera; A
28mm and a 35mm. For everything. I use the 35mm lens 70% and
the 28mm lens 30% of time. It takes some time to get used to it, but
once you work it out, shooting primes is the only way to go. It
means you have to work with what you have and you cant be lazy.
Basically, this means more pictures and less fiddling around with
zooming and maybe missing moments. It also helps for consistency.
If youre working on a project or a series, keeping the same focal
lengths is a great way to maintain a powerful sense of consistency.
Justin Wilkes
Justin Wilkes quit his job in Sydney this year to cover the political
and social change in post revolution Egypt. He has since had his
photographs published in The New York Times, TIME magazine, and
The Jakata Globe to name but a few. You can see his amazing
documentary work here.

20. Be part of a photographic community

Like ABC Open! Not only will you be able to publish your photos for
the rest of the country to see, youll be part of an active group that
offers feedback on how great you are going. You can learn new
things to help you improve your technique, and you might even
make some new photography buddies.

21. Shoot with your mind

Even when youre not shooting, shoot with your mind. Practice
noticing expressions and light conditions. Work out how youd
compose a picture of that scene over there that interests you, and
what sort of exposure you might use to capture it best. Leah

22. Return the favor

Always remember that if you are shooting people in a different
country, they are probably doing you a favor by posing. So the least
you can do is return this favor some way or another.
I often return to the same places year after year, so I bring along
prints and look for the people I photographed previously. In some
areas people do not have a picture of themselves. Imagine not
having a picture of you and your family? Strange dont you think?
Yet many people dont. So a $0.50 print can really make someone
happy. It also opens doors for more photography further down the
track. Andrea Francolini

23. Have a camera on you at all times

You cant take great photos if you dont have a camera on you, can
you? DSLR, point-and-shoot or smart phone, it doesnt really matter.
As long as you have access to a camera, youre able to capture
those spontaneous and unique moments in life that you might have
otherwise missed.

24. The golden hour

Shoot portraits and landscapes in the golden hours the light is
softer and the colours are more vibrant. Dean Bottrell

25. Keep it simple

Dont try to pack too many elements into your image; it will just end
up looking messy. If you just include one or two points of interest,
your audience wont be confused at where they should be looking or
what they should be looking at.

26. Dont get bogged down by equipment

Weve all seen these types of photographers out and about. They
usually have three or four different cameras strapped around their
necks with lenses long enough for an African safari. In reality,
theres probably no need for all that equipment. One body with one
or two lenses means that youll be freer in your movements to
capture interesting angles or subjects on the move.

27. Perspective
Minimize the belly-button photograph. This is a reference to Moholy
Nagy of the Bauhaus movement in photography (which was all
about lines of perspective). In other words, perspectives are more
engaging when we crouch down, or lie down, or elevate our position
in reference to the subject. Look at how changing your perspective
can change the visual language and implied power dynamics of the
image. Crouching low can make your subject more dynamic,
whereas gaining height on your subject can often minimize their
presence in the image. One of my favorite exercises is to make my
students lie down and take pictures, often in the dirt. I am a little
cheeky. Heather Faulkner

28. Be aware of backgrounds

Whats in your frame? So often I see great photos and think didnt
they see that garbage bin, ugly wall, sign, etc? Its not just the
person or object in your frame, its everything else in the
background that can make or break a great photograph. So dont be
afraid to ask the person to move (or move yourself) to avoid
something ugly in the background. Marina Dot Perkins

29. Shade
Shade can be your best friend. If there is no way you can make the
available light work for your photo, shoot in the shade. Youll get a
nice even exposure with no patchy highlights throughout your shot.

30. Rule of Thirds

This is one of the most common tips that pop up when it comes to
improving your photos.
To break it down, you cut your frame into thirds by using both
horizontal and vertical lines. You then place your point of interest
over the cross sections of the grid.
Check out this article for further details about using the rule of

31. Exposure
Ive been shooting a lot of protests lately. Basically, theyre just a lot
of people really close to one another; often moving. After having
made many mistakes with getting my exposures right, I worked out
that if the sun is behind me and in the face of protestors I will set
exposure compensation to underexpose by a stop to bring out even
tonal range. When the sun is behind the protestors I like to over
expose just slightly to bring out the shadow details on their faces.

This could apply to street photography when the light is in front or

behind your subject. Justin Wilkes

32. Dont spend too much time post-processing

The key is to get it right in the camera first, so you dont HAVE to
spend time editing. Over working a photo in editing software very
rarely looks good, unless you are trying to achieve a super-artsy
effect. If it takes you longer than ten minutes to alter your photo,
maybe think about going back out into the field to re-shoot it.

33. Variation
Variation is key. I often use a recipe from Life Magazine picture
editors for building a story narrative. I look for: over-all shots or
scene-setters, interaction, action, portraits, details, medium shots
and of course the signature image. Having this list in my head helps
me start photographing a story that sometimes isnt visually
apparent until you get into it. This is great when youre in a crowded
or busy place. Heather Faulkner

34. Become one with the camera

Push the button regardless of the outcome so the camera becomes
part of your hand. Dean Saffron
Dean Saffron is a photojournalist and an ABC Open superstar. His
video The Spokesman, has had over 170,000 views. Woah!

35. Hold your camera properly

You might not know it, but there is a right way and a wrong way to
hold a DSLR camera. The correct way is to support the lens by
cupping your hand underneath it. This is usually done with the left
hand, with your right hand gripping the body of the camera. This
helps to prevent camera shake. If you are gripping your camera with
your hands on either side of the camera body, there is nothing

supporting the lens, and you might end up with blurry photos. To get
an even stabler stance, tuck your elbows into the side of your body.

36. Limit your palette

When photos have too many colours spewing out from them, theyre
often hard to look at. Unless its a photo of a rainbow or the Mardi
Gras. Try to focus on having one or two colours predominately
featuring in your photograph. It will be more pleasing to the eye and
will help set the tone of the image.

37. Get your subject to relax

This applies mostly to portrait style photography. As a press
photographer, I spend most of my time doing one on one portrait
shoots. I think its really beneficial to take the time (if you have it)
talking to your subject, asking questions, showing an interest in
whatever it is they do. I find it really helpful in relaxing the person
and often theyll say something and that can lead to a better photo
opportunity. Marina Dot Perkins

38. Inspiration from all forms

Take in as much photography as you can online, and in books and
magazines. But not passively. Look at different styles. Work out what
you like or dont like about them. Look at the technical elements of
pictures and think about how they were made, and what the
photographer is trying to say. The more you take in, the more
arsenal youll have when creating your own work. Leah Robertson

39. Be patient and persevere

With time, patience, and perseverance, you will get better; with
each and every photo you take.

40. Break the rules

Now that you know some of the rules, go ahead and break them!
Experiment. Have fun. Learn from your mistakes. Make up your own
tips and techniques for taking fantastic photographs. Id love to hear
Go forth and shoot!
A special thank you to all the amazing photographers who
made this blog post possible.