As that avalanche of white stuff approaches the holiday season, most of us will be dreaming of sugarplums, dradels and getting as far the heck away from that menacing white stuff as geographically possible. Many Northern residents will be seeking refuge in warmer climates at some point in the frosty season, vacationing in tropical paradises or enchanted ancient cities. So why not brush up on some essential photography skills in your snowed in fortress in order to prevent returning from your vacation with a gaggle of pictures that suck?

Get to Know Your Camera

This might sound silly, but read your camera’s manual. I guarantee you’ll stumble upon a few features you never even knew existed—some of which could help you substantially. Explore all possible settings on your camera and make sure that you know what each control does. For tutorials on basic manual controls and adjustments, refer to my Mastering Camera Controls stories.

Build You Arsenal

Camera? Check. Camera bag? Check. Extra Battery? Charger? SDHC cards? Extra lenses? Filters? Lens wipe? Make sure you’re fully prepared before you pack—missing equipment or an exhausted battery can ruin that magical shot of the Stonehenge creations.

Become Part of the Grid

Most point-and-shoot cameras and nearly all advanced models have some sort of Grid function. The grid function is a translucent layer splits the LCD or viewfinder into nine symmetrical portions. If you plan on shooting any landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben, then the Grid function is a necessity. Not only does it aid the shooter in making sure that the object they’re shooting is level, but it also helps beginners with the Rule of Thirds. Some cameras even have a digital level meter that helps shooters snap a perfectly level shot. The last thing you want is for everything to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The Rule of Thirds


The Rule of Thirds using the Grid Function

The most famous photography tool used today, the Rule of Thirds is a simple concept that is a bit more difficult to execute. The goal of the Rule of Thirds is to line up your prominent subject matter along one of the grid lines in the 9-pane segmented frame. For instance, rather than try to frame that British telephone booth perfectly in the middle of the shot, offset it to the left or to the right. Make shore lines run along the bottom or top portion of the frame—never the middle. If you’re taking a picture of your friend or partner, line the phone booth up along the right portion of the frame and have them stand along the left portion of the frame, slightly towards the foreground. This way, nothing is smack dab in the middle and the picture attains a level of depth.

Use Angles

Don’t be afraid to make an ass of yourself and crouch down on the street to shoot upwards at a beautiful alleyway in Spain. Or, if you have a flip-out LCD, raise the camera above a giant crowd and shoot away. Angles in your photography will open dynamic doors that can transform an ordinary picture into one that shines.

Be Funny

If you do happen to make it to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, frame yourself in the foreground with your arms up so it looks like you’re holding up the building with your arms. Shift over to Burst mode and shoot you and your friends running in fear from the world’s largest Paul Bunyan statue. Hold your hand in front of the camera and make pinching fingers that look like they’re squishing your friends on the beach. Just a few ideas.

Savor the Flash

If your camera is not that great in low light, make sure the flash is on as soon as the lights go down. Chances are you’ll end up in a pub in Dublin or dance club in London. Whatever the case, Flash it up to the max. Also, enable Red-eye Reduction if your camera has it. The Flash can even come to the rescue when shooting someone in front of a backlit environment. It’s a dreadful time when you review that picture of your significant other’s shadow standing in front of a perfectly lit scenic backdrop. Alter your angle when shooting in a backlit environment or bust out that flash.

Final Thoughts

This is very important: take lots of pictures. As many as your memory card and battery will allow. Trust me.  Snap the same scene more than once in different angles and positions. On a typical shoot, I’ll end up printing about one or two pictures per every 70-100 shots. If you have the time, shoot at a few different exposures by boosting or lowering the Exposure Compensation control. Focus on different portions of the frame—chances are you’ll take pictures that aren’t focused properly at some point, so taking multiple shots will improve your chances on capturing a crisply focused image. And most of all, have fun and forget about the mad, mad world!