Here are twelve tips to help you take better pictures. Like all tips, they’re just a start point to get you thinking, not a series of rules that need to be followed rigorously.
Each tip is illustrated with an example. Note that many of the examples combine the tips in different ways. Take the time to explore the tips – and then enjoy combining them to produce striking pictures you’ll treasure.
Photography is a very rewarding activity that depends of thinking about how you feel about things, and then trying to get that emotion to come through in your pictures. These tips will get you started along the road to creativity and some holiday pictures you’ll want to share with your friends.
Thirds are good
The ‘rule of thirds’ has been a photographer’s friend for years. The principle is to imagine lines about a third of the way in from the edge of the frame – see diagram below.
Any subject placed along these imaginary lines will look good – placing a subject on the intersection of a vertical and horizontal line looks even better.
Whilst this principle – sometimes known as the ‘golden section’ – is one of photography’s oldest ideas, it’s still very effective and a great start point for composition.
Check all round the edges of the frame
A picture is about a subject, and you don’t want things distracting from the subject. A great way of stopping odd things creeping in at the edges of the frame is to quickly flick your eye around the edges of the frame just before you press the shutter. Takes a moment to do, very effective. Everything you do to tighten up the composition will add impact to your pictures.
In the example above the little chapel in Agios Georgios is surrounded by lots of other stuff. Keeping the composition tight and all the distracting elements out of the frame has simplified the picture and focuses the mind on the subject.
One or three
For some reason one of something or three of something always looks good, whilst two of something isn’t nearly as effective. The ‘one’ and the ‘three’ can be things, people, colours, shapes – anything that’s distinctive.
Looking for and thinking in terms of one or three of something also helps you simplify a picture, which is always a good thing.
The example above simplifies a subject – a single tree, three colours. ‘One’ and ‘three’ working to your benefit.
Lines, triangles and shapes
Pictures with a strong graphical element are almost always effective. This is about finding lines and shapes, and photographing them.
A really strong and simple technique is to find a diagonal line, and then run it across a picture from bottom left to top right. The strong line works well, the upward slope of the line when read from left to right subliminally suggests optimism.
Developing the tip about one or three of something, arranging three of something into a triangle is almost always a good thing to do. Triangles are very strong shapes, so pictures incorporating triangles are almost always very strong pictures.
The picture above is very simple. Notice the line of the breaking wave is a diagonal line – strong in itself – but note also that it breaks the picture into two triangles – stronger again.
A base makes a better picture
Some subjects don’t need a base, many do – especially with a landscape (horizontal) format picture. A good base gives a picture a sense of stability and togetherness.
In the example above, the base provides a solid platform for the jars that form the main subject of the picture.
Get right down
Its easy to just stand there and take your picture. But varying your viewpoint by crouching down (or standing up on something) adds variety to your pictures.
Getting down low and shooting up at something makes for a dramatic picture. Watch out when using wide angle lenses, they do strange things to the perspective. For example, if used to extreme with buildings, they can appear to be falling over backwards.
In the example above, a low viewpoint adds to the drama of the water cascading through the holes in the old bridge.
Feet make a great zoom
Many ‘serious’ photographers carry a bunch of lenses to give them a big choice of focal lengths to play with. Why? Usually the reason is long focal lengths take them closer to things, wide angles get more into the picture.
What they often ignore is that long lenses and wide angle lenses do different things to perspective. Long lenses tend to flatten perspective, whilst wide angles tend to exaggerate it.
On that basis the best zoom lens is your feet. If you want something bigger in the frame, get yourself closer. If you want something smaller in the frame, move back.
An interesting exercise is to go out with only one lens on your camera, and then find ways of making it work. You’ll learn a huge amount about perspective in the process.
In the example above, the subject is the old tree and the wall. Typically, the sort of shot you’d use a long lens for to isolate the subject. This was shot with a 17mm super wide angle lens, because that’s the lens that was on the camera at the time.
Strong foregrounds make strong pictures
This tip is especially valid when taking vertical format pictures. Something interesting at the bottom of the frame acts as a base to the picture, and the background to the picture gives the foreground a context. One supports the other.
The challenge with this sort of picture is usually depth of field. You want both foreground and background sharp, so you end up stopping right down to make it work.
In the example above, the large rock on the beach makes the shot much more interesting than shooting the sunset alone. It did require a graduated filter to make the colours of the sky work, and a tripod to keep the camera still during the long exposure necessitated by the small aperture.
Shoot into the light
Given thinking is you shoot with the sun behind you. Sure, that produces bright, evenly lit pictures that look good. But to get something that really sparkles, look out for ways of shooting into the light.
If it’s the sun you’re shooting towards, you’re going to need to a good lens hood. Never, ever, look at the bright sun through your camera’s viewfinder. Keeping the sun out of the frame helps control flare. Keep dust off your lens, and you’ll control flare even more.
A useful way of dealing with shooting into the sun is to put it behind something to make a silhouette. That solves issues with flare, and usually leads to very contrasty, graphic pictures.
The example picture above combines both shooting into the light and shallow depth of field. Shot with the sun on them, they looked alright. Shot with the sun behind them, they look vibrant.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
For a picture to have impact, it needs to have the minimum number of elements. Anything extraneous to the main subject needs excluding. It really pays to take your time checking out different angles until you can simplify a picture down to its most basic components.
The example above is a part of the large, domed, Panayia Khryseleousa Church in Emba. The church is an interesting subject that looks good from many angles. The picture was taken to reduce all the elements of one of the cloisters to the minimum.
Note also the inclusion of three windows – three being a strong number, and the strong diagonal lines. The use of three, the lines and the simplicity of the composition are the picture’s strength.
Give the action somewhere to go
Action feels more comfortable if the picture gives a sense of what’s going to happen next. So if something’s moving, give it space to move into. If somebody’s looking, give them space to look into.
The example above illustrates the principle. The guy sat in the sunshine at a bar in Coral Bay was happy just watching the world go by. The composition supports this, including him and the table he’s sat at, plus a bit of space at the right of the frame to give him the room to look into.
Pictures read left to right
When we read, we start at the left and work right. That means that naturally we’re conditioned to look at pictures in the same way. A composition that supports this immediately feels right.
A development of this idea is that if the principal lines in the composition go bottom left to top right, subconsciously it feels like things are getter better. We’ve all seen graphs with lines facing upwards, so without thought our minds make that connection.
The example above uses both ideas to get a strong image out of some mundane plastic crates containing oranges. The strong diagonal line from bottom left to top right instantly makes the picture strong, then the simplicity of the composition makes it stronger again.