I like photography a lot and I love looking at great pictures that others have taken. I’ve also met a lot of people who assume they’ll never be great photographers because they don’t have expensive equipment. While the truly great photographers have spent many years honing their craft and own state-of-the-art equipment, the rest of us can go a long way to improve our photography just by following a few simple tips regardless of whether you are using a simple point and shoot, an expensive DSLR or even the camera on your phone! So follow these tips and watch your travel photos become much more interesting!
1. Learn how to work your camera
I know this one sounds silly, but this really is the best way to improve your photography. You may like to point, shoot and forget it, but your camera can probably also do simple things like turn on and off the flash. It’s important to experiment with this! One counter-intuitive thing that we’ve found is that we try not to use the flash at night (it often results in awful glare and terrible contrast) but we do use it during the day (to light up the foreground/subjects) of photos taken in bright sunlight. Play around with it and see what works in different settings.
Your camera may be capable of other fancy things like adjusting EV compensation (which can brighten or darken your photos as necessary), change the F-stop (that not-so-scary number that really just means how much light your camera lets in, the higher the F-stop, the less light gets let in) and the shutter speed (faster shutter speed means less blur, but also less light… it’s a balancing act).
If you are using a camera phone, there are lots of interesting apps that can give you impressive features. Cassie’s iPhone takes really dramatic looking HDR (high-dynamic range) photos using the $1.99 app Pro HDR! They are impressive for a cell phone.
Your camera probably has a 10-page manual. That’s not so bad, so read it! Alternatively, one goal you could set would be to try learning one new thing about your camera each time you use it.
2. Follow the Rule of Thirds
If your first instinct is to center your subject right in the middle, you need to break that habit. Studies have shown that our eyes are naturally drawn to the intersection points at the thirds of photos, so we feel more comfortable looking at photos where the main subject and/or horizon is placed along those lines. The rule of thirds applies in three dimensions, too — Horizontal, vertical and depth.
Check out this example. Which photo do you prefer? Photo #1:
Or photo #2 (gridlines added to show the thirds):
I’m guessing you like #2 better where I cropped the image with us at the left vertical third and the horizon at the top horizontal third. Though you can fix this problem as I did here in image editing software, it’s easier to just line the photo up properly when you take it. Lots of cameras offer a “grid view” where you can lay out the image when you take it. If your camera has this, activate it!
Try various compositions on different thirds in order to see what works best for your subject.
3. Stand somewhere else
Pretty much wherever you go, you’ll see a crowd of people in one place all taking the same picture. If you want your photo to stand out, stand elsewhere. Find a different angle that gives the viewer of your photo a unique perspective on your subject. You could also find some other object to frame your primary subject, giving it another context. And don’t forget about the Rule of Thirds while you’re moving around looking for a viewpoint that stands out to you. This is related to Number 4…
4. Don’t be afraid to get dirty
Many great photos are taken from low to the ground pointing upward, especially photos of pets, kids, and architecture (see above). This can have the effect of making your subject appear “larger than life” and allowing it to really stand out and catch the eye of your viewer. You shouldn’t hesitate to get low to the ground, even lying in the dirt, to make sure you find the best angle.
5. When you think 1 photo will do, take 20
There have been so many times when I’ve gone somewhere, taken 1 or 2 pictures that I thought would be good, said to myself, “Naaaaaiiiiilllled it!” and then gone home only to find my photos actually weren’t any good at all. Don’t just stand in front of your subject, snap the shot and move on. Use the first 4 tips above to try different settings on your camera AND photograph your subject from different angles. Digital photography makes it really easy to experiment (just take plenty of memory cards). And of course, if your subject is moving around (kids, sports, wildlife, etc), every picture is going to be different anyways!
What are your tips for taking better photos?
I definitely echo that last one. It might be annoying to edit through all the photos, but then you’ve got plenty to choose from! 🙂 Fantastic tips.
Agreed. When I came home from Europe after a month, I had 5,000 pictures! The more you have to work with, the better.
Cassie Kifer says
Yup, definitely better to have more than less, though there is that stress of being 6+ months behind on photo processing. At least this blog encourages me to edit some of them 🙂 I can’t wait to see more of your Europe pics, Nick!
Excellent, useful, sensible tips. Well done!
Kevin Adams says
Thanks, Steph! As I sit here in Mindo, Ecuador, having just returned from the Galapagos, I think one other tip I’d add is, “Go to really beautiful places!” 🙂