In this article on tips for better photos I want to share some basic tips that can help you take your photos from snapshots to “Wow”. Some of these tips will apply more toward those with a DSLR camera since most phone cameras and point and shoot models don’t have manual controls. However, the tips on composition and lighting apply no matter what camera you are shooting with.
Some people simply want to take a picture to have a memory of a time or place. I’m betting if you are taking the time to read this you want to improve your photography and go beyond the basic snapshot. These tips will help you improve your photography. The goal is to give you some helpful advice that will allow you to take photos you can be proud to print and display in your home or office. So let’s get into the tips for better photos.
Use the rule of thirds– this tip will help your photos become more interesting from a compositional viewpoint. Imagine your viewfinder is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Imagine a tic-tac-toe board on your viewfinder if that makes it easier. Place your main subject at one of the 4 points where the lines intersect instead of always directly in the center of the frame. This will immediately add more interest to your photo.
Framing your photo– No, I’m not talking about putting your photo in a picture frame. We’re still talking about composition. This is another example of taking a photo with your subject off-center. Use objects in the foreground such as a tree or an overhanging branch to give depth to the photo. You can also use natural framings such as shooting through a doorway or window. Also, you want to eliminate objects in the frame that take away from and distract from your subject. A busy background will take the viewer’s eye all over the place. Either move to get a better background, move your subject, or get close and use a shallow depth of field to blur the background. For tips on getting a blurry background read my post on Understanding Depth of Field. On the other hand, when shooting landscapes you want to use a narrow aperture so you get good focus all the way through the photo. Use an object such as a rock, grass, or tree limb in your frame to add depth.
Understand Lighting– In its most basic form, a photograph is capturing light. You need to understand light and how it affects your photo and the quality of light. For instance, the bright sun in the middle of the day is directly overhead. If you shoot a photo of a person in the midday sun there will be harsh shadows under the eyes and nose. Not flattering to your subject at all. Find some shade to place your subject in and your photo will be much more flattering. If you have an overcast day that is even better. The clouds diffuse and soften the light. The best times of day to photograph subjects outdoors is the first hour of light around sunrise and the last hour before dark. The hour around sunrise is called the “golden hour” and the hour before dark is called the “blue hour” due to the quality of the light. Try shooting at these times and see if the lighting in your photography doesn’t improve.
Understand Flash– Knowing when to use flash is a part of understanding lighting. Flash can help you light your subject in dim conditions such as indoors, and can also help fill in shadows if you have to shoot outdoors during the day. Flash can help you get proper exposure between your subject and the background if you have your subject standing in the shade. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to use a flash during the day, but if you try it you’ll be amazed at the difference. Also, understand your flash range in dim settings. You may have to get the flash close to light the scene properly. That’s why using a DSLR with an off-camera flash can really make a difference.
Use the Histogram– On a DSLR you have what is known as a histogram. You can look in the camera manual for your model to see how to turn it on. The histogram shows light values from white on the right all the way to black on the left. If your values bump up to the right of the histogram your photo is overexposed. If your values are bumping up on the left the photo is underexposed. That is a very simplistic explanation, but the histogram can be a lifesaver to let you know if your scene is properly exposed before you take the photo.
Understand White Balance– Understanding and using the white balance on your camera can save your photos or save you a ton of work in post. Setting the white balance will save you from having a bunch of photos with a yellow tint if shooting indoors under incandescent lights, or a green tint if shooting under fluorescent lighting. If you use auto white balance your camera may get it wrong, since it looks for something that it thinks is 50% grey in the shot, and adjust accordingly. Many photographers use a grey card and adjust the white balance using that.
Understand Shutter Speed– Shutter speed is part of the exposure triangle of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings. For more info on the exposure triangle, you can read my last post, The Exposure Triangle. Setting your camera to shutter priority and experimenting with shutter speed can allow you to get some interesting effects. For instance, but slowing your shutter speed and shooting a moving car while tracking it with your camera, you can get an image of the car in focus while the background is blurred, indicating movement and speed. Experiment with this and see what you can get.
Know Your Camera– I know reading the manual for your camera is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but you need to understand all the controls on your camera. Then you need to practice with your camera so you can change the settings quickly to get the shot you want. Nothing is more disappointing than missing a shot because you were fumbling with your camera. Learn all the controls and what they do so this doesn’t happen.
Use a Tripod– Another way to help you shoot creatively is to get a good quality tripod. Tripods can help you get tack sharp images when you are shooting with a slow shutter speed, especially at night or when shooting landscapes. I regularly use a tripod to shoot multiple 20-second exposure shots of the night sky during meteor showers. A quality, stable tripod is indispensable for getting those shots.
Try using these tips for better photos and show me some of your results in the comments section. If you use some of these tips for better photos I think you will find they will improve your photos and help you capture those “wow” photos your friends and family will love.
If you want to learn more and take your photography journey to the next level you might like the Photography Master Class. This video course will definitely help you on your journey to be a better photographer.
Check out more great photography tips on our Photography Tips & Tricks page.