Do you know how to take good pictures? Perhaps you’re struggling to get to grips with a complex new camera, or you’re lacking inspiration? Don’t worry – we’ve all been there! Photography can be bewildering, but there are some simple things you can do to help you progress.
Fifteen years ago I was new to photography and going through the same process you are now. I
To help you get to grips with your photography I’ve compiled a list of simple things that’ll help you create better pictures. Some are easy, while others may take a little more work. One thing’s for sure though – you’ll have fun trying them and you’ll come out the other end a better photographer!
Let’s start with the most basic one of all…..
1. Always carry a camera
This should be obvious really. After all, how are you going to improve your photography without one?! Remember, you don’t have to lug around loads of heavy gear if you don’t want to either. Even having a smartphone to hand is useful if you want to capture that spur of the moment image. If you want to carry a ‘proper’ camera, you could always just take a body and one lens. Photographer Chase Jarvis once said, “The best camera is the one you have with you”. After all, it’s no good thinking, “What if….” when you see a fabulous photo opportunity but don’t have a camera to hand!
2. Take photos as often as possible
Ask any professional musician how they got where they are and they’ll tell you it’s down to daily practice. Having natural ability at something is a good starting point, but you still need to hone those skills to reach the top. Photography is exactly the same. Use a camera every day and you’ll see your pictures improve over time. If you need a reason to shoot, why not start a 365 project, sharing a new image every day for a year? We have a great 365 project calendar here on Photoblog to help inspire you, so what are you waiting for?!
3. Make time for your photography
In these modern times, it’s easy to hurry through life and find you have no ‘me time’. Use your interest in photography to reclaim some of this time by setting aside a few minutes each day, or an hour or two per week to focus solely on making better images. It’ll help your photography and give you a better work/life balance too.
4. Join a camera club
Meeting up with other like-minded people can be a great way to get your creative juices going and learn new skills. If there’s a camera club near you, why not ask if you can pop along? It’s a great way to make new friends with shared interests. Meetings usually feature a mix of talks by experienced photographers, workshops, and competitions, so there’s something for everyone. If there isn’t a club near you, why not sign up to a photography forum or blog so you can talk about photography with people online instead?
5. Check your posture
This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t hold their cameras correctly. This is especially important when using a long lens, or when shooting in low light. Obviously, your right hand goes on the camera’s grip. Rather than holding the other side of the camera with your left hand, cup it beneath the lens, with the heel of your hand under the camera body. This spreads the load and gives you better control. Breathe steadily and keep your feet hip width apart to aid stability.
6. Read your camera manual
When we first get a new camera, we’re so keen to get out shooting, it’s easy to leave the user manual in the box, unread. Manuals may not be the most scintillating read, but they will help you use your new tool more effectively. Perhaps read a couple of pages each day? Make sure you have your camera handy when you do this, so you can try the various settings out. Most camera manufacturers also publish their manuals on their website, so you could download the one you need and save it on your smartphone or tablet for reference in the field.
7. Move closer!
The great war photographer, Robert Capa, once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough!” Undoubtedly a bold statement from someone used to shooting in war zones. There’s a degree of truth here though. Getting closer will focus the viewer on the subject of your photo, and will also help you exclude distracting elements from the background.
8. Check your backgrounds before shooting
Leading on from the last tip, it’s a good idea to check right round the frame before you take a photo. We’ve all taken pictures where we’ve realised, too late, that someone has a lamp post growing out of their head. Shifting your position just half a step left or right will often remove these distractions and result in a stronger picture. Likewise, watch out for that infuriating person in a red T-shirt, lurking in the background!
9. Travel light
It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking all your gear with you on a shoot, so you’re equipped for any eventuality. Do this though, and there’s a good chance you’ll come home with some of the lenses unused. Instead, why not travel light? Take a single camera and lens with you and make them work for you. Yes, there may be opportunities you miss, but you’ll shoot for longer as your back won’t ache under the weight!
10. Try shooting at one focal length
If you want to restrict yourself even further, why not spend a day/week/month shooting at just one focal length? The easiest way to do this is by using a small prime lens. If you need to get closer to a subject, you then have to walk – sneaker zoom, as I call it! It’ll make you think more carefully about your compositions and you’ll begin to think in a more creative way too. Another bonus of prime lenses is they tend to have a much faster maximum aperture than a kit zoom lens – perhaps f1.8 rather than f3.5. This gives you more creative possibilities, such as blurring the background. Don’t have a prime lens? No worries – just choose one focal length on your zoom and stick to that. You can always use gaffer tape to fix it in place if you don’t trust yourself!
11. Use a tripod
There are many places where shooting with your camera on a tripod isn’t ideal or even practical. However, a tripod can be a fantastic tool. Not only does it allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds, but it slows you down too. You have to consider your compositions more carefully, and take time to line your camera up. This often results in better thought out images. A word of warning though…. If you’re thinking about buying a tripod, don’t just pick the cheapest one. It’s better to save a little longer, to buy a quality one that’s really stable, but small/light enough that you’ll actually be willing to carry it around. This may mean saving for a carbon fibre tripod, but it’ll save you money in the long run as you won’t need to buy multiple tripods until you get the right one!
12. Take your time when shooting
Are you one of those photographers who
13. Never stop learning
As well as taking photos of your own, make sure you continue learning from others too. You can spend time looking at photos taken by other people – especially professionals whose work you admire. Look critically at their images and ask yourself why they work so well. What can you do to emulate that? Don’t forget, learning can also encompass reading photography books, watching video tutorials or listening to photography podcasts. It’s worth taking a moment to think about how you learn best. Do you pick things up better by seeing others do it, or by digesting information steadily from a book? Finding the best method for you can help succeed faster.
14. Don’t be afraid to fail!
We’re so lucky in the digital age – making mistakes doesn’t mean they’re financially costly. With film, every single frame cost money to develop and print so we shot less
15. Get out of Automatic Mode
This tip’s crucial if you truly want to take control of your photography. You don’t need to shoot in full manual mode yet – that can come later if you wish. Instead, select Aperture Priority Mode (A or AV on most camera mode dials). This allows you to choose the aperture you shoot
16. Find interesting places to shoot near your home
So often we see amazing images online, only to discover they were shot in some far flung, exotic location. This can be disheartening, especially if you don’t have the necessary funds for long holidays. Instead think about locations near you that are beautiful or intriguing. You could pick a place and shoot it every month, watching the progress of the seasons. Sometimes the best photographic locations can be right on your doorstep.
17. Get up early or go to bed late
If you want the most flattering light for your photos, shooting at the golden hour is always a good strategy. The hours immediately around dawn and sunset can bring gorgeous, golden light. Added to that, because the sun is low in the sky the angle of the light can bring out the textures in whatever you are photographing. If you’re on holiday and you can’t persuade the whole family to get up at the crack of dawn, why not set your alarm an hour earlier and take yourself off for a solo shoot while they’re still snoozing. The streets will be quieter and you can enjoy some quality photography time!
18. Look for interesting light
We’re used to the concept of light coming from above – after all the sun is above our heads for much of the day. Why not take time to look for interesting light. This could be low, early morning light, revealing hidden textures, or a shaft of sunlight catching your subject like a spotlight. Once you begin to see this you’ll find it’s addictive!
19. Work the scene
How do you shoot? Do you look at a subject that interests you, take your picture and move on? Why not try really working the scene, wringing every last drop of photographic interest from it instead? Start off with a wide shot, setting the scene and showing a sense of context? Then zoom in and focus more on the central subject of your image. Finally, get in really close and find some details that interest you. This technique works on pretty well any subject – landscape, people, architecture. This way you create a coherent series of images which you could display together.
20. Compose your pictures with care
Rather than just sticking the subject of your photo in the middle of the frame, try using some of the rules of composition to create more interesting images. Your options are almost endless – the rule of thirds, leading lines, rule of odds, using frames. Take a look at our article all about the rules of composition to explore some of the possibilities. Of course, once you know the rules, you can also choose to break them sometimes!
21. Use gridlines to keep horizons straight
Ever taken a picture by the sea, only to find you’ve got a wonky horizon? Yes, me too! It’s easy to fix in post-processing, but you’ll be throwing away pixels as you do so. Check your user manual and you’ll probably find your camera has either gridlines or an electronic level which you can display in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen. Using this means you need never have a crooked horizon again….. unless you choose to, that is!
22. Don’t catch G.A.S.
For those not into acronyms, G.A.S. is short for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. This is the ailment that leaves you lusting after the latest camera or lens, usually cursing the fact that you don’t have the spare cash for either! There are times when an upgrade can be useful, but ninety nine percent of the time the gear you already have is quite good enough. Instead of perpetually browsing YouTube for video reviews, why not get out and shoot, promising yourself you’ll really get the best out of your current gear before you buy anything else?
23. Share your pictures and seek feedback
Many of us take loads of photos, then leave them quietly festering on a hard drive or computer. Instead, why not share them with the world? You could do this via social media or even start a blog with PhotoBlog. The number of likes or thumbs up you get isn’t necessarily a good indicator of the quality of your pictures, but you can ask for feedback too. The important thing is to request constructive criticism – tips about how you could improve your picture. This is always more helpful than a simple, “Great shot!” Don’t forget to get involved in whichever outlet you select too. You’re more likely to receive comments if you give feedback to others.
24. Print your pictures
If your pictures never travel beyond your phone or computer, make this the year where you print some of them. If you don’t have a photo printer at home there are plenty of online printing services, where you upload images and the prints are posted back to you. Of course, you could also try creating a book – perhaps an picture album of your last family holiday. There’s nothing quite like the tactile engagement with a printed image to make you smile!
25. Shoot from a new perspective
The majority of photos are taken from a height of between five and six feet – the elevation of our heads when standing. This is the way we generally see the world, but you can create much more dramatic images by choosing a new perspective. Perhaps shoot really low, to capture a snail’s eye view of the world. Or lift your camera above your head for a high level perspective. Articulated LCD screens on many cameras make this much easier, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Children and animals are almost always better photographed from a low level, as you get to share their view of the world, but this can work for many other subjects too.
26. Make use of different ISO settings
In the old days, you set your camera to the ISO rating on the carton of film and that was your setting until you’d finished the roll. Now we have the luxury of being able to change our ISO on the fly. Don’t forget to increase your ISO if you’re shooting in dark places. It’ll help you achieve a faster shutter speed and keep your pictures sharp. Most cameras offer an Auto ISO option, where the camera ensures the shutter speed set is always fast enough for you to achieve a sharp shot on whatever lens you’re using. Some also offer the option to set a minimum shutter speed of your own. Yes, a high ISO setting will introduce more noise (or grain) into your pictures. But a sharp noisy image is better than a clean but blurred one!
27. Shoot in landscape and portrait formats
Unless you have a pro model with a bulky battery grip, holding your camera to shoot in landscape mode is always easier. Don’t overlook the option to shoot in portrait mode too though. Some scenes work better in portrait format and you may find a wonderful composition you might otherwise have overlooked.
28. Experiment with different techniques
It’s easy to get into a rut, always shooting the same things. Every so often get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Perhaps lock your camera onto a tripod, set a slow shutter speed and see what happens when you slow the world down? Alternatively set a slowish shutter speed and intentionally move your camera while the shutter is open. Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) can create some wonderful effects, but be prepared for every single frame to be different! Some cameras even have multiple exposure abilities – check your user manual to see if yours does.
29. Get creative in post-processing
If you have access to some post-processing software why not take it out for a spin and see what you can create? If you use Lightroom, all edits are non-destructive and can be undone. In other programmes, such as Photoshop, it might be wise to make a copy and play with that, so as not to destroy your original if you don’t like the end result! There are plenty of free or low cost programmes out there so you don’t need to spend a fortune. Don’t overlook apps either if you mostly shoot with a smartphone – there are loads of creative ways you can edit pictures on your phone.
30. Take control of focusing
Most cameras come from the factory with all the focus points enabled. This means the camera focus on what it thinks is the subject of your photo – usually whatever is closest to the lens. A better strategy is to select one focus point and use that to focus on what you think is the subject. Do check your user manual if you’re not sure how to do this. When photographing people and animals, always focus on the nearest eye, as it’s the eyes that draw your viewer in first.
31. Give your camera a spring clean!
After we’ve been using our cameras for a while they tend to get a bit dusty and grimy. Once in a while take a few minutes to give your camera a clean, knocking off any dust and gently wiping greasy spots from the lens. Inside, dust spots can gather on your camera’s sensor, creating dark shadows on your images. You can easily buy sensor cleaning kits. But if you’re not brave enough to meddle inside your camera, most good camera stores will do it for you for a modest fee.
32. Use your camera’s histogram
The histogram can be a powerful tool to help you achieve a good exposure in your pictures, but it’s often overlooked. Take a look at my recent article about histograms if you’re not sure how they work, and take control of your exposures!
33. Set your white balance correctly
Our eyes are amazing miracles of natural engineering. They see a huge range of brightness and shade, and compensate for different colours of light. For instance, sodium street lights have an orange hue, while fluorescent lights often make things look slightly green. By contrast, our cameras need to be told what colour the light is. Auto White Balance will often do a good job. But you can also take control by selecting a setting that’s appropriate to the light you’re shooting under, often giving better results. If you shoot in RAW format you can reset your white balance in post-processing, but in JPG mode you need to get it right in camera.
34. Do some research before visiting somewhere new
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can easily check out images of places we’re going to visit from the comfort of your own home. This can be enormously helpful if you’re only going somewhere for the day. Take a little time to look for images online, to help you find must-see locations and angles you might otherwise have missed. Don’t feel you have to copy these though – you can put your own mark on a location too!
35. Have patience!
Next time you’re out on a shoot, remember to have patience and to be more ‘present’ when you’re taking photos. Take time to consider your picture before pressing the shutter button so you create thoughtful images. Equally, don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t improve quickly. Everyone learns at their own speed and it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to assimilate new techniques and styles. After all, you’re doing photography because you enjoy it!
Over to you….
Which of these tips did you find helpful? We’d love to hear how you used them to take better photos. Perhaps you have other tips we didn’t cover? If so, please take a moment to share them in the comments below, perhaps with an image or two to show what you’ve learnt.
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