Top Photo Tips

Hiking trail in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to improve your photography. The problem is, there’s a lot of advice out there.

So to help reduce information overload, I’ve attempted to whittle down all of the photo tips I’ve ever learned or have been taught into just a few select ones that I think could help you most.

Here, in no particular order, are my top photo tips for creating more images you love.

Vision

Shoot Mindfully

One of the best ways to improve your photographic vision is to be very present when you’re out photographing. It doesn’t matter what your subject is or what gear you have. What matters is you’re in the moment and, as much as possible, working on capturing the very best image each time you press the shutter.

Practice.

“ Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

The best photographers weren’t the best because of some magical gift (though it certainly helps to have “a good eye”, as they say).

The reality is, they practiced a lot and there’s just no substitute for this.

So to get better, we just have to get out and shoot. And shoot and shoot. Then, when we’re tired, shoot some more.

Study others’ work.

Finding photographers whose work we admire and then analyzing their images is a great exercise. We can ask, why do I like the images? What elements am I drawn to? How can I emulate (not copy) their style?

Be Picky.

Just because we shot 10,000 photographs doesn’t mean the world (or our friends and family) needs (or wants) to see all of them.

To become a better photographer, we need to start by taking a lot of photos, but we don’t need to keep or show all of them. So first we should take the time to cull ruthlessly and pare our images down to our very best and then share those.

Technique

Pay Attention to Your Focus Point

One common reason why some of our photos don’t turn out as well as we’d like is if we get our focus point wrong. And if you have a shallow depth of field, it’s unfortunately pretty easy to do.

So one way to get better images is to pay close attention to where your focus point is, and make sure it’s lined up with what you actually want in focus.

Portrait of a Dog

While the photo on the left is cute – and I love Gage’s spotted nose – typically when shooting animals and people we want to get the eyes in focus. Because, as they say, it’s the eyes that are the windows to the soul (and I happen to think Gage’s eyes are particularly soulful. :)

Know Your Gear (well enough)

Most of us don’t bother to read our camera’s manual, and that’s totally understandable. It’s usually thick, dry reading and takes too much time.

But even if we aren’t willing to sit down and read it cover to cover, we should – at a minimum – at least skim it. This way we can pick out the most interesting bits that both interest us and help us use our camera better.

This way instead of feeling frustrated because we can’t make our camera do what we want it to, we’ll know exactly how to get the results we want.

Stabilize Your Camera

Many of our blurry photos could have been easily prevented if we had just held still when taking the shot. So taking a quick moment to remind ourselves of this can lead to far fewer throwaway images.

Plus, in addition to holding still, there are a few other helpful techniques:

♥ Brace your camera

Hold your arms against or closer to your sides, and put your left hand underneath your camera/lens to support it (instead of wrapping your hand over and on top of it).

♥ Use your camera’s Built-in Timer

To help eliminate the camera shake that can happen when you’re pressing the shutter (especially in low-light situations), you can instead find a stable object to rest your camera on (a wall, your backpack, the ground) and then set your timer.

♥ Use a Higher ISO

If you can’t handhold your camera with your current settings, you can bump up your ISO so that you’ll get a bit of extra leeway.

Composition

Get the Shot Right in Camera

Yes, we can usually go back and fix a photo later using photo-editing programs. But it’s much better to focus on getting the shots we want when actually taking the photos.

So say, for example, we’re taking a portrait and see a pole coming out of a person’s head. All we’d need to do in this instance is slightly reposition either our subject or ourselves so that it’s not a problem anymore. This quick fix is usually much easier than trying to fuss with our photos later.

“The picture is good or not from the moment it was caught in the camera.” –Henri Cartier-Bresson

Don’t Try to Capture Everything at Once

While it’s tempting to try to capture an entire scene with a single photograph, when we do this we often include far too many elements and don’t manage to capture anything well.

So instead, we should try to figure out what our main subject is – the primary purpose for wanting to take that particular shot in the first place – and then eliminate the extraneous elements. To do that, we can zoom in, walk closer or reframe the shot another way.

Use Available Light

Whether our camera comes with a flash or not, it can still be more beneficial to use whatever light is already available in our scene – that may be the sun, lamps, overhead lighting, etc.

Since the artificial and often harsh look of our camera’s flash isn’t very appealing for certain images, anyway, learning how to make use of the available light can even be preferable (and it’s what I use for the majority of my images).

Pay Attention to the Effect of the Light Source

The direction and intensity of our light source can have a drastic effect on our images and subjects.

Some lights will cast dark, harsh shadows that can be really distracting. So we need to be sure to watch for shadows and overly intense lights if it’s having an unintended effect on our images.

Shoot Vertically

I’m not sure if it’s because people forget to rotate their camera or just find it more natural to hold the camera horizontally, but some shots really are better captured if we simply reframe our shots by turning our cameras sideways.

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And those are my top photography tips. It’s a pretty short list, but sometimes in order to help cement ideas in our head it helps to keep just a few key things in mind.