By Gregg McLachlan

The arrival of digital cameras has given reporters a dramatic edge in photography. Remember the days when we developed film after an event and hoped like heck that we got a good shot? If they were all weak, we sometimes got assigned to retake the photos which was always difficult because the eventb finished long ago.

Digital photography now gives us the instant ability to shoot a photo and then evaluate the composition and then make corrections. You the instant you have taken a weak photo. The camera's LCD viewer doesn't hide it. Take advantage of this powerful tool and make your adjustments in the field.

And be sure to take a variety of shots. Downloading a dozen photos of the same scene, pose, etc., isn't providing variety.

Here are some basic tips to help you improve your photos immediately:

  • Beware the horizon: Generally, try to keep the horizon to a minimum in your photos. Too much sky (which is often bright) can negatively affect exposure.
  • Use camera's exposure compensation (+/-): It's a quick way to improve exposure. Generally, light or white-coloured objects require +1 to +2. Dark subjects require less, usually -1 to -2. Exposure compensation will help make your photo closer to what your eyes see.
  • No family album shots: We've all seen boring family photos on albums. Your subjects know how to shoot shots like these. That's why they try to crowd all kinds of people into the photo. Remind people early and often that you're there to take 'news' photos.
  • Avoid the execution-at-dawn pose: You're shooting photographs, not people to death. Don't line people up and fire away. Group shots are taken by the public, rarely journalists.
  • What is the subject?: It's the most crucial question a reporter can ask. The subject isn't always the people. The subject may be an object, or an action. In these cases, the people become complementary to the scene. If a story is about carving pumpkins, you'll want to emphasize a pumpkin, with the person complementing the scene.
  • Go natural: Do people in the photo absolutely have to be looking at the camera? If you're photographing homebuilders, don't make them stop work so they can smile at the camera. Tell them to keep working. 
  • Change angles: Shoot verticals, horizontals. Try different angles. Move around the subject, shooting as you go. The best photographers do more than move their finger on the shutter. They move their feet.
  • Show faces: Beware tops of heads, side views where the face is obscured.
  • Consider mood: How many times have you seen a photo that accompanies a very serious story (ie. break-in crime story) and the people are smiling in the photo? It's not reality. Set the mood.
  • 1,000 words: Good photos tell 1,000 words. Weak photos say one word: ugh. Great photos should help tell your story. If readers look at the photo and don't have a clue what the point is, you've probably got a photo that says little.