Top ten tips to making better pictures

People often ask me which camera they should buy to take better pictures. Ironically, most of the time it has absolutely nothing to do with their camera equipment and much more about how they craft their images that’s the issue. If you’ve bought a new camera recently and are wondering why your pictures are very similar to those you made before, or you simply want to make better photos, my top tips might be just what you’re looking for…

Tip 1: The Light Matters…

Photography is all about light. If you want to make great pictures, you need great light. In many cases it really is that simple. The best light you can have is at dawn and dusk. It only lasts for an hour and it’s absolutely magical. At other times of the day try to avoid direct sunlight. Instead, place your subject in the shade, in a doorway, under a bridge or canopy. The light is much gentler and much more flattering to the suject.

Tip 2: Take care of your background and it will take care of you

In many ways the background of your picture is much, much more important than the foreground. It has the power to make or break an image, rendering what could be an amazing family photo or an incredible piece of art into nothing more than a quick snap.

Make sure there are no patches of strong colour, lines severing heads and objects growing out of bodies. If the background is really distracting try throwing it out of focus with a wide aperture.

Tip 3: Framing is everything

When framing your image, try to avoid “bulls-eyeing” the subject in the centre of the frame. Instead put the main subject slightly off centre to the left or right and vertically. The result is much more pleasing to the eye. The same goes for horizon lines too. Never put them at the mid point but always slightly above or below.

One of my favourite composition rules is the rule of thirds. It’s been used for centuries and there’s a very good reason for that: it works. It’s very simple too. Imagine dividing the frame into 9 equal rectangles and put the main subject on one of the dividing lines. The intersection of your imaginary horizontal and vertical dividing lines are called “power points.” Put the subject at one of these points for a stronger composition.

Tip 4: Pose to flatter your subject

If you’re photographing one or more people don’t let them stand or sit square to the camera. It’s very unflattering, especially for women, and makes the subject look a lot heavier than they actually are. It’s much better to have them stand at an angle and turn their head toward you. They won’t appear as wide and it’ll enhance the natural shape of the body. Always tilt the head slightly and try to arrange it so the inner corner of the eye is in line with the centre of the nose, especially for female subjects. Then get her to tilt her head down slightly until you can see the white of the eye below the iris (some portrait photographers call this canoe-boat eyes) but not so much as to create a double chin or you’ll never hear the end of it. Sometimes a slightly higher viewpoint can really help.

Tip 5: Don’t be afraid to try something different

If you want to get a different result, you have to try something different. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Different camera angles can add impact. Work the subject: shoot wide, then close, then details. Find abstract patterns and textures. Break the rules.

Tip 6: Try a different point of view

Most photographs are taken at head height, usually between 5 and 6 feet from the ground. If you want to add impact, try finding a different viewpoint. Bend down, kneel on one knee, lie on the ground. If you can get the camera into a different position, you’ll get a different photograph.

Tip 7: Tell me a story

STOP! Before you press the shutter button, ask yourself this: why am I taking this picture? What am I trying to say?

Rather than just take a quick snap, look for a story. For example, don’t just take a picture fo your dog in the garden, try to show what your dog means to you and your family. The trust, the love, the happiness.

Tip 8: Mini projects

A great way to improve your eye for a good photo is to set yourself a mini project. I use these with my students all the while and have seen some incredible results.

Give yourself a subject. It needs to be something simple and could be almost anything. My favourites are specific colours, lines, shapes, reflections or patterns. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Now set yourself a time limit. The rules are very simple: make as many different photos as you can of your chosen subject in the time available. You’ll find that you make the obvious pictures first then start to get more creative in how you incorporate your chosen subject as you progress.

When the time is up, upload them to your PC, no editing or post processing, just review them as they are. Go through each frame and decide if you love it, like it or hate it. Then work out why. Finally, compare your best image with your first image to see how far you progressed. The next time you do it, pick a different subject.

TIp 9: Don’t fix in Photoshop what you can fix in the camera

I’m a photographer and I also use photoshop to enhance my images. What I try to avoid at all cost is fixing things in photoshop that I should have fixed on set. Making a great image is a very deliberate process. Relying on photoshop to fix simple errors breeds sloppiness and wastes time. In my view it is far better to remove unwanted items at the point of capture than to do it with the heal and clone tools. For a single image it’s not that bad but if you have a hundred images to rework it’s a punishment.

Tip 10: Energy begets energy

One of the best pieces of advice I was given about making pictures of people was this: I would get back as much energy from the subject as I put in. Try it, it works. Next time you take a picture of someone, don’t say ‘smile’ use your energy, your passion, your personality. Your enthusiasm will help them overcome their nervousness. It’ll help them to open up. You’ll start to see the real person. More importantly you’ll start to see genuine emotion rather than an awkward, forced smile.

Tip 10½: Don’t forget to have fun

My last tip is very simply to make sure you stop and have fun. Photography isn’t about equipment. It isn’t about f/stops, zoom lenses and megapixels. That’s just the tech., the mechanics of the craft, its a means to an end.

Photography is about making pictures and having fun doing so.



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