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Take it from the pros

Photography secrets from the insiders to take your skills beyond auto mode.

By Michaela Satterfield

Most know you can switch your camera to auto mode and get a decent shot without a second thought. It’s a one-step photography tactic. The problem? All those shots start to look the same. No matter how advanced technology gets, auto mode can’t compete with the expertise of a pro. “If you’re shooting on auto,” photographer Michael Hrizuk said, “you’re missing the craft of making a picture versus simply taking one.”

If you want to break the mold of those cookie-cutter, auto-mode photos, look to the photography pros. They know all the secrets to take your photos to the next level. You can leave auto mode to the amateurs.

©Mike Ritterbeck

Get your priorities right

Photographer Mike Ritterbeck’s advice is simple. “In order of importance: the lighting, the background, the subject,” he said. “If you nail those three things, all the rest will fall into place.” If photography seems complicated, never fear. It’s not rocket science.

©Photo by Michael Hrizuk

Make it your own

“Auto can get you something,” Hrizuk said, “but it won’t be distinctive.” Developing your own photography style is one of the keys to getting great shots others will have trouble replicating. How do you do that? Hrizuk explained it starts with knowing what you have in your toolbox. To start, get to know your camera and experiment. One of those essential tools is exposure. Exposure consists of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. “For me, shutter speed and aperture are what define my style as a photographer,” Hrizuk said. “In combination with my post-production, my style is achieved with lighting, composition and subject matter, but my camera settings are what make my work look like my work.”

©ALL PHOTOS Michael Hrizuk

Know what you’re working with

Understanding the components of exposure is essential. Aperture refers to the size of the opening that lets light into the lens. This determines the photo’s depth of field – which aspects of the photo will be in focus, such as the subject, the background or both. Aperture is measured in f-stops. A larger aperture will have a lower f-stop and will bring the subjects into focus while blurring the background. A smaller aperture will have a higher f-stop and will keep the entire photo in focus. Shutter speed determines how long the shutter on the camera will stay open to let light in. Slow shutter speeds let in a lot of light, while fast shutter speeds don’t let in as much light. The shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. ISO determines the way the sensor responds to the light let in by the aperture and shutter. Brighter photos have a high ISO, while darker photos have a low ISO. Increasing ISO increases the noise of a photo, so it’s best practice to keep the ISO as low as you can. Keep in mind all three settings work together, so changing one may mean you have to change another.

©Photo by Michael Hrizuk

Time it right

Knowing when to take a photo is as important as knowing how to take it, according to photographer Kim Smith. “Wait until the sun goes down a bit,” she said. Mid-day sun is not your friend for portraits, as it creates harsh shadows on the face. “As the sun gets lower, it lights the face and figure itself rather than the top of the head and shoulder,” Smith said. “There will be a little sparkle in the eyes. The color also shifts to a warmer hue, which is more flattering on skin tones.”

©Photo by Michael Hrizuk

Chase the sunset

While you’re out getting portraits at golden hour, you’ll probably decide the sunset is worthy of some photos on its own. Photographer Whitney Boring said the moment right before the sun disappears behind the horizon is when you’ll want to be camera-ready if you want to distinctly see the sun in your photo. However, the best sunset photos will be in the moments that linger after the sun has set. “The sky continues to change to beautiful, saturated colors for a good 20 to 30 minutes after the sun has actually disappeared below the horizon,” Boring said. “Those photos are my personal favorites.”