Want to take better photos, like, NOW? And how about doing that without having to dig into technical settings? Even better, what if you could do all that, without needing any new gear – using whatever camera you currently own (even a smartphone?). Cool beans, right?
Today I’m going to give you 11 super-practical tips to make that happen. These are the suggestions that I’d give to someone who just picked up a camera and wants some rocking shots. BUT DON’T RUN OFF! Even if you’re more experienced with photography, these are ideas that are easy to forget, and we could all use the reminder every now and then! Let’s go!
1. Get Closer
If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough – Robert Capa
You can instantly increase the impact of your photos by shooting your subject closer up. A beginner mistake is to shoot everything from a few feet away, or more. It can lead to some pretty boring photos. Instead, get close. Zoom, or walk close to your subject. Even better: Try filling the entire frame with whatever it is you’re trying to shoot. Don’t worry if a few parts of your subject are cropped out. You don’t need to show the whole subject to get your point across!
2. Move Around
Don’t just stand in one place and don’t just shoot at eye level. This is how people normally see a scene, which means that it can look pretty boring. Find unique and interesting perspectives to capture your subject from. Make sure you’re using your feet as well. It’s easy to get lazy and rely on your camera’s zoom to change the way your photos look, but then you neglect to do the work needed to find a great angle. Crouch low, climb up high, shoot from a different vantage point. Don’t stay still!
3. Take More Photos
I almost always regret not taking more photos, especially when photographing people. Facial expressions change so quickly, it can be really difficult to capture a shot where your subject is looking their best.
Even if you’re not photographing people, the more you explore your subject (for example moving around, and getting closer) the more photos you’ll take and the better chance you’ll have of capturing that perfect shot.
Stick with the subject matter a bit longer, and make sure that you’ve really pushed yourself creatively to get the best shot.
4. Use the Rule of Thirds
You can imagine your frame like a tic-tac-toe grid (a 3×3 grid). Basically the rule of thirds predicts that your composition will be more visually interesting if you place your subject along one of the horizontal or vertical lines, or at one of the points where the lines intersect.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to follow this rule strictly, it’s just an option to explore! The big idea is trying to get your subject out of the centre of the frame – which usually makes for a more interesting composition. If you’re interested in taking your composition skills to the next level check out our full tutorial Incredibly Important Composition Skills.
5. Have a Clear Subject
Your photo might fall flat if your viewer can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be looking at. The practical tip here is not to take photos randomly. Have intention about what it is you want to capture in your photo. Use some of the other tips above (get closer, move around, rule of thirds) to help your subject stand out.
6. Pay Attention to the Background
It easy to forget that the stuff behind your subject also ends up in the photo. Pay attention to any distracting background elements and do what you can to control or eliminate them. Sometimes, like in the example above, you might find a perfectly clear background that helps your subject stand out! Score!
Taking things a step further, you can also keep an eye out for scenes that have visually interesting backgrounds. There might be something in the background that adds to the composition, or helps to direct attention to your subject.
Get in the habit of always scanning the background before pressing the shutter!
7. Interact With Your Subjects
Don’t just say cheese. Your goal when taking photos of people isn’t to tell them exactly what to do. Instead, you should be trying to get them to relax in front of the camera. Then they can be more comfortable, and you’ll get better photos! There are a couple ways you can do this.
First try to get real smiles out of our subjects. Check out 51 Way to Make People Smile for a Photo. (Spoiler alert: it’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it that helps get those great smiles!)
It can also help to actually give your subjects some direction so they aren’t standing around thinking “I’m not sure what to do with my hands…”
Awkward. Make sure to check out these helpful articles on posing, to avoid such situations:
- Stress-Free Posing: Standing Edition
- Stress-Free Posing: Sitting Edition
- Stress-Free Posing: Family Edition
- Stress-Free Posing: Newborn Edition
8. Shoot At Golden Hour (and Pinky Blue Hour)
If you’re wondering how to make get that magical light in your photos, the answer is shooting at golden hour! Golden hour is the hour before sunset, and the hour after sunrise where the sun is really low in the sky. It has the effect of creating great contrast across a landscape. It’s also a great time to try shooting some dramatic backlit photos.
After the sun goes down it’s still a great time to shoot (we call it pinky blue hour – the hour before sunrise / the hour after sunset). The contrast from the low sun is now gone, and instead you have really soft even light from the still-bright sky to work with.
9. Avoid Using Your Camera’s Built in Flash
Your camera’s built-in flash is not the best choice for creating flattering light on your subject. Camera flash has the effect of creating harsh shadows, with uneven bright spots. One option you can use to get better results with flash is to use an external flash and bounce the light.
Want to learn more about light in in photography? Check out our full tutorial Fantastic Fundamental Light Skills.
10. Have Your Camera Ready To Shoot
You miss 100% of shots you don’t take – Wayne Gretzky
Hockey and photography are pretty much the same thing, so let’s take Mr. Gretzky’s words to heart here. What good is your lovely, expensive camera going to do for you if it’s stuck inside a bag? To take good photos your camera needs to be out and ready to go. Great moments happen unexpectedly, so you want to be prepared. Get a good neck strap on there and wear that thing proudly.
Yes, I know your camera is expensive and you don’t want to break it or lose it. But you can’t get too precious about your gear. It’s a tool to help you get photos, so make sure you’re ready to use it! (This also means having extra batteries, and cleaning gear on hand to ensure your camera is in tip-top shape and can actually take those photos!)
11. Take Your Time
If you’re trying to rush things you’re going to miss out. Good photography takes patience. You need to pay attention to the details, and explore your options. Creativity takes experimentation, and experimentation takes time. Enjoy your time shooting and learning photography! It’s a fun, fulfilling and engaging process. Savour that experience.