Photography is one of life’s simplest yet greatest pleasures. There’s something about being able to capture a single moment in time and keep it forever that is almost magical. Now, thanks to the widespread availability of easily affordable but sophisticated digital cameras, great photography has become accessible for everyone.
But have you ever felt that the photos taken by your friends or by amateur photographers whose work appears on the internet are somehow better than yours? What are they doing that you aren’t?
No matter what kind of photography equipment you have, there are simple tried-and-trusted ways in which you can improve every shot you take, turning the humble holiday-snap or people-shot into something that you’ll be proud to show off.
Here are ten great tips to improve your photography, helping you to get the best from every picture opportunity.
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1. Use light to your advantage
Photography is all about light. If the sun’s out, try to position yourself so that it is behind you and slightly to one side. This arrangement naturally enhances colour and shade, and also introduces shadow to give subjects a three-dimensional aspect. Soft light such as that of overcast days or at dusk or early morning can dramatically alter the mood of a photo: consider the warm glow of a landscape basking in the first rays of the morning sun then compare it to the stark areas of light and shadow created by the absence of sun on an overcast day.
2. Your subject doesn’t have to be in the centre of your photo
If you want to add depth and interest to a photo, use the ‘rule of thirds’. Imagine your viewfinder as a three-by-three grid like a noughts and crosses game. Experiment by framing your subject at any of the intersections of these imaginary lines rather than simply shooting it as though it was in the centre square. Whilst your subject is still the focus of the picture, moving it off-centre can give it some context with its surroundings giving the photo more ‘life’.
3. Get up close and personal
Or, if the subject is smaller than you – a child or an animal, for example – get down so that you share their eye line rather than shooting them from above. Getting close to your subject so that it effectively fills the frame removes unwanted or distracting background detail and allows you to concentrate on the detail; sunlight caught in dewdrops on a single rose, for example.
4. Keep the background simple and unfussy
To present your subject at its most vivid and make it the star of the photo try to shoot it against a neutral, clutter free background. Imagine you were photographing a duck in its natural environment. You could take a picture of it in amongst the reed beds of your local river or lake, but this would make for a fussy picture in which the duck blended with the background. Picturing the duck on a background of clear, calm water as it swims on the lake or river will contrast the duck sharply with its surroundings, emphasising the subject.
5. ‘Frame’ your photo to provide depth and perspective
Framing a shot gives a photograph contest, leads the viewer’s eye towards the subject and adds an extra dimension of depth. As an example of framing, you might picture an historic building as seen through an entrance archway, using the archway in the foreground to frame the picture. Alternatively you might shoot a landscape through an open window, using the window as the shot’s frame. Experimenting with framing, such as blurring the foreground can add extra visual appeal and ensure that the subject is the focal point of the picture.
6. Use a reference point to emphasize scale
You might want to take a picture of the gigantic snowman you’ve just built with your kids, but alone in the shot it’s just going to look like any other snowman. In order to truly represent the impressive scale of your subject, be it a snowman, waterfall, redwood tree, building, mountain or whatever your shot needs to include a point of reference such as another human being to provide a context which the photo’s viewer can relate to and which emphasises the true scale of the subject.
7. Think in diagonals
Horizontal and vertical lines make for less interesting pictures than diagonal lines. Imagine you’re setting off on the most exciting car journey and you want to capture the occasion. You could take a simple picture of your car on a road that appears as a simple horizontal line across the photo. It doesn’t really say a lot. Now imagine picturing the car with the road beginning close up at the bottom left of the photo and narrowing and vanishing in the far distance at the top right of the photo. This diagonal view places the car in context and gives a sense of the epic journey it’s about to take.
8. Don’t be scared to use your flash in daylight
It might be the brightest, sunniest summer’s day, but if you’re shooting a portrait of your partner wearing their favourite sunhat the chances are that the hat is going to throw shadows over their face. Ensuring that your subject is in the range of the flash will remove shadows and brighten up the subject, highlighting it against the background.
9. Know your camera inside out
There’s a lot to be said for taking the time to compose a shot, get the lighting and distance right and arrange the subject or subjects just as you want them. Sometimes though, there’s no time to prepare in order to catch that brief golden moment on camera. You need to know how to capture that image instantly – if you’re left fumbling through your camera’s menus and buttons in order to find the perfect setting then you’re already too late. Taking the time to learn how your camera works and being able to quickly find the best settings for any given situation can mean the difference between catching or missing those perfect camera moments.
10. Experiment, experiment, experiment
The beauty of digital cameras is that you can shoot the same scene to your heart’s content and easily delete the images you don’t like. So experiment – different light qualities, different weather conditions, panoramas, macro shots, different shooting positions… there are infinite variables that can be applied to taking a single picture. How about shooting through a rain-blurred window? Capturing a sunburst through a silhouetted tree? An intense close-up of a single daisy? Your camera may have 1001 different functions – play with them all, try new things and you’re almost certain to be surprised and delighted by the resulting pictures.