9 tips to improve your photography

9 tips to improve your photography

Most people I talk to have an interest in taking photos of family, friends, and travel destinations. Some would like to take better photos.

Feeling like your work is looking a little “blah” and want to step it up a notch?

TIP #1 – Mind your horizons

A deliberately tilted horizon (known as a Dutch Tilt and by other names) can add an element of interest and drama to an image, an unintentionally crooked horizon just looks awful. It ends up looking like that picture we’ve all seen that is isn’t quite level and we just want to straighten it up.

Another way horizons can be ‘fixed’ is to not let them cross behind your subject  in odd places on the subject. For example, the horizon shouldn’t cross behind someone head.

The tall grass of the Tamar Island Wetlands is cut by a boardwalk leading into the distance.

TIP #2 – Nail your focus

Regardless of anything else in the photograph, there are two places people will look at first. The brightest part of the image and the part of the photo that is in focus. It can be fine to have the background out of focus and when done well, makes for a more interesting photo.

Make sure that the subject of the photograph is in focus.

TIP #3 – Cut the right bits off

When something is cut off at the edge of the frame, the human mind will add the missing bits to make it complete again. When photographing people and the joint of an arm or leg is on the edge of the photo, the viewer’s mind can’t quite make sense of it and you end up with a photograph that looks awkward.

If you do have to cut bits off, do it between the shoulder and elbow or the elbow and wrist. Likewise, between hip and knee or knee and ankle.

Never ever have half a foot or hand on the edge of the frame.

Cutting the tops of people’s heads off is OK but make it look intentional. For example cutting off the top of their head with their forehead half way is fine as it looks deliberate.

TIP #4 – Don’t over- or under-edit

At one end of the editing spectrum are people who don’t believe in manipulating images in any way, shape or form. The end result is a photo with not depth to it. It looks flat and boring.

Basic editing adds to the image depth in the same way the brain does.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who edit the bejeezus out of an image. Creating unrealistic images from natural scenes with highly saturated colours.

Strike a balance between leaving your work looking untouched and editing it to within an inch of its life.

An outline image showing where to crop limbs when photographing people.

TIP #5 – It’s about the light

At its most basic level, photography is about recording light on film, a sensor or other media (look up cyanotype).

If you can avoid it, don’t make photographs where your only light is normal household lights. In the same way, avoid bright, harsh direct sunlight. Taking photographs in an area where the subject isn’t undercover but they are in a shady spot (known as open shade) is a great way to start.

TIP #6 – Good composition

A good photograph starts with good composition. Composition isn’t hard. The ‘Rule of Thirds’ as an idea has been around since long before the camera was invented.  Many artists use it particularly when learning composition and it works.

It’s not the only compositional tool we can use. To keep it simple look for patterns. Use compositions based on symmetry can be a great way to learn to see what’s around you.

TIP #7 – Change your point of view

Most photographs are taken at standing eye level. It can be very easy to take a photograph of the same subject but add more interest.

Simply crouching or kneeling down will make a more interesting photograph. If you’re keen, get down on your belly. Likewise, look for places where you can get higher.

Another option I don’t see a lot of people doing is simply moving left or right.

Combining up, down, left or right and you’ll see more interesting photographs in your collection.

A magpie stands on the green grass with a setting sun behind the trees in the background.

Taken with the camera approximately 15 cm off the ground.

TIP #8 – Edge patrol

Before you take the photo, you need to do a little edge patrol.

Some things to look for include:

  • Lines – If you have lines entering, exiting, or running parallel to an edge, think about re-positioning them to strengthen the visual geometry. Do they need more room, less room or should they be eliminated altogether?
  • Too much or too little space – Is any space on the edge of a frame too little or too much? If so, re-compose to reduce or eliminate it. Or could your subject benefit from more?
  • Unwanted objects – The most common unwanted elements on the edge of your frame are tree branches. Also look for parts of people, parts of bins and any other incomplete object.
  • Don’t forget the subject – Too many times I’ve seen photographs where there appears to be a post sticking out of someone’s heads.

TIP #9 – Photograph with a purpose

Are you someone who sees a potential photograph, puts their camera to the eye, presses the button and moves on? Don’t do it. Think first, then take a photo. When you really look, you may see something more.

And that’s it

This was only 9 tips to improve your photography and there are many more I can give you. It’s a start and by following at least one of these, you’ll start taking better photographs.

When you try one or more of these tips, leave a comment below and tell us how it went. You can also share the result on my Facebook page.

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