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Some portait photography advice you can actually use

I've just had a quick hunt around on the internet and found that a lot of the advice given on taking pictures isn't actually what I'd give, at least at first, so I thought I'd chip in. These tips will (hopefully) help you get some much better pictures this summer.
1) Read The Manual.
I know that when you have a shiny new gadget you want to get out there and do things with it rather than reading the endless instructions on how to do various things that you don't really care about.
But often the first question I get asked by people when they see me taking pictures is 'What does this button do?'.
Now I'm not saying you should commit the whole thing to memory; if you get as far as being to remember all the different scene modes that will take you a long way towards getting some great shots.
2) Practice With Your Camera.
Play with it. Take some shots. Fiddle with the dials and see what effect they have. Look at what happens to the picture and then try again. Everyone expects anything technological to 'just happen' and, to be fair, it often does but if you want to be more certain of the results you need to be a little more in control.
I tend to play around with a new camera with the manual right there so if I need to work something out the information is right in front of me.
3) Do the Half Press.
Does this sound familiar?
Your friend has their new camera out and they want to take a picture. You gather around and smile and...
...nothing happens so you wait some more.
Then a little longer.
Finally, just as the smile on your face has become really fixed and your eyes get that slightly desperate glassy look, the flash goes off.
The way around this is doing the half press.
The thing that most people skip over in the manual for the camera (you've read it now, right?) is something called focus lock. Aim the camera at somone who's going to be in the shot, press the shutter button half way down and keep holding it there. This makes the camera sort its focus out before the shot is taken.
Now get your rowdy friends to look your way and press all the way down.
The photograph will be taken straight away. No waiting and no strained expressions.
4) Think About The Sun.
You really shouldn't look through your camera directly at the sun because of the obvious damage that can be done to both the camera and, more importantly, your eyes. We all know this.
The problem is that most people make sure the sun is directly behind them when they take a photograph so that their subject is squinting at the camera. This isn't a great idea.
If there's some shade available from trees, a wall or a sun umbrella take the photograph with your subject there.
They won't be squinting and the light will be softer and more flattering.
5) Think About Your Composition.
A person bang in the middle of a picture will often look a bit boring, shift them off to either side and it suddenly looks a lot better. This is often called the rule of thirds (which is a simplified version of the golden ratio) and you can do it pretty simply.
Aim your camera directly at the person you're taking a photograph of and lock the focus (see how handy knowing that is?). Now imagine your camera view is divided into thirds vertically and horizontally and move the view so that the face is on a third line.
Take the shot.
Tada! Instant improvement.
The last couple of tips are ones that I use all the time, here's an example.
I got the happy couple out of the (extremely hot) Italian sunshine and into the shade of an old church. I then locked my focus on them and moved my camera so they were on a third line.
If you've got any questions for me I'd love to hear them, just leave a comment.
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