Whether you are new to photography and want to master your craft or you just snap with your phone and post your images on social media, these are the most useful tips and tricks to improve your photography now.
I’ve put together a list of what I believe are the best tips to dramatically improve your photography. And some techniques you can learn to immediately show your friends and family your progress. You can apply these tips to any style of photography. Remember, by mastering the most important aspects of photography, composition and light, you’ll dramatically improve the quality of your photos and take your photography to the next level.
1. Composition: The Rule of Thirds
You need to nail your composition. I found out pretty early that photography doesn’t just mean point and shoot. You need to research and train your eye on what is a good composition. I read an insane amount of material on composition and also created an article that I highly recommend you to read here: Rules of composition in landscape photography.
You can learn composition even without a camera, by simply observing nature, or by just experimenting with your phone. Remember the best camera is the one you always have with you. Photography is a visual art, and to master it you need to know how to place “objects” within your image.
The most fundamental rule of composition in photography is the rule of thirds. Divide your image in an imaginary grid made of nine spaces or boxes. On your camera you can turn this grid on and you’ll see it on your screen. These boxes will help you position objects and if you start by placing the main point of interest at the intersection between two lines of the grid you’ll have an idea of how the composition will result more balanced and scientifically the human eye will be led to that point. It will be more pleasant to the eye of the viewer. I’ve recently posted an article on the importance of the main rules of composition in landscape photography. I highly recommend you take a look, because seriously, composition is almost everything. You can find the article here Rules of composition in photography
2. Play With Motion Blur
With Motion Blur you can produce an eye-catching effect by capturing a moving subject such as a car or a bicycle. Set you camera to manual mode and slow down your shutter speed. Hold your camera still and when the subject passes in front of you you can follow its direction by moving your camera in the same direction before releasing the shutter. This is also called ‘panning’. By moving your camera you’ll also obtain a blurred background. This technique is mainly used in sport photography, but the amazing thing is that you can basically try it anywhere. I recommend try it when it’s a bit dark outside to take advantage of city and car lights and create interesting effects.
3. Adjust Your ISO
The most natural thing to do when you are new to photography is to set your ISO on automatic (I used to have everything set to automatic really). But to step up the visual value of your pictures you need more creative control. Hence, forget about auto settings. ISO in digital photography is a measurement of the sensitivity of the camera sensor. The lower the ISO number the less sensitive your camera is to light and vice versa, an higher ISO number will make the sensor more sensitive to light so that you can use your camera in darker situations. You need to know that by setting an high ISO you can yes, shoot in a dark environment (let’s say at sunset) but it comes with a cost. Your image will be more grainy. To solve this, if you want to shoot a sunrise or sunset and don’t want to get a grainy photo, you’ll need to set up a low ISO and increase your aperture and lower the shutter speed, you’ll also need a tripod.
4. Adjust Your Shutter Speed
The shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open. It’s the length of time the camera sensor is exposed to light. By using low ISO in dark conditions you’ll need a slower shutter speed or your sensor won’t be able to capture the right amount of light needed to create the image. For long shutter speed (usually slower than 1/60 of a second) you’ll need a tripod or the image will be blurry. Most new cameras today have a really good image stabilization and this will allow you to push the limit of your shutter speed in dark conditions without using a tripod. This is also one of the reasons I decided to buy my current camera, because it has an unbelievably good in-body image stabilizer, you can find the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II on Amazon.
Back to shutter speed. You don’t always want to have a slow shutter speed, there will be times when you will want to ‘freeze’ your image. For example when shooting sport or wildlife. In these cases you’ll want a really fast shutter speed, like in the image below, where you can see how sharp are the drops of water.
5. Choose the Right Shooting Mode
If you look at your camera from above you’ll notice some little icons on the dial that say P, S, A, M. For now let’s just talk about A mode. First of all as I said, you need to move away from the auto mode if you want to become a better photographer. The symbol ‘A’ (or ‘Av’ depending on your camera brand), is the Aperture Priority Mode. In this mode you will set the Aperture and the camera will choose the right shutter speed. Aperture has a huge impact on Depth of Field and for example if you want a shallow DoF, to create a nice bokeh on your image background, you’ll need a wide aperture value (f/1.4 or f/2.8). With smaller aperture (f/22) you’ll have a deeper area of your image in focus. In landscape photography you’ll pretty much shoot at apertures from f/8 to f/22 since on beautiful landscape photo you’ll want to have everything in your image razor sharp. Remember, by using this mode the camera will decide the shutter speed to balance the exposure. If your aperture is too small the camera will pick a longer shutter speed with the risk of obtaining a blurred image. The ‘S’ mode as you can imagine will do the opposite. You set the shutter speed and your camera will choose the right aperture. Very useful for action photos.
To learn more, read The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Camera Settings
6. Car Light Trails
This is a pretty cool technique and once you’ve learned you’ll definitely wow your friends
If you have a tripod (if not you can get one here) you can easily achieve some spectacular effects by playing with traffic light trails at night. Here’s how.
First know that by using a slow shutter speed (hence increasing your exposure time) car lights will create this cool aesthetic effect that you can’t see with the naked eye. Set your camera on a tripod and choose the lowest ISO as possible (50, 100 or 200 depending on your camera). Set your camera in Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av) and choose an aperture of F/11. Since you’re shooting in aperture priority your camera will now determine the shutter speed. To obtain a good amount of trails check the the shutter speed is in the 10 or 30 second range. If it’s lower it means that you’ll need to adjust your aperture.
7. Don’t Buy a More Expensive Camera
I highly discourage buying expensive gear if you are at your early stages in photography. You don’t know yet what you want to do with it and you might end up wanting to play guitar or learn piano next year! Don’t waste your money in super expensive gear in the beginning. A more expensive camera won’t give you anything. Camera bodies will become obsolete in a few year time with the advancement of technology. With the money you save you can buy some good lenses. A good lens is where the real value is. Good lenses will last for ages (if you don’t destroy them) and don’t depreciate as much as camera bodies. But again please, you probably have already a digital camera. Don’t upgrade just because you think you’ll get better photos because it’s not true. And if you want an advice from me, write in the comments below, tell me what model of camera and lenses you have and I’ll tell you how to get the best out of it. And if you’re already decided and your hands are on you credit card, about to buy a new camera, I highly recommend exploring the world of Micro Four Thirds sensors. For a lighter option and less expensive. My article on Micro Four Thirds cameras explains all the advantages of this camera system. Read the article here
8. Think About Light
Light is one of the fundamental aspects of photography. When taking your photos, think about where the light is coming from. You need to be very careful if the source of light is right at the back of your main subject. In this scenario all the shadows and darks will be in front of the main subject which will end up with a silhouette. Though, if you know how to adjust the exposure properly, you can obtain spectacular effects. Another advice is to not shoot at noon. Around that time of the day, you’ll have very little shadows and the light reflections are very unpleasant in a photo. If you want a more dramatic and interesting image, especially when shooting landscapes, try to shoot during or slightly after sunrise and before sunset. That is called the golden hour. During golden hour, shadows are longer and the image will have more depth.
9. Change Your Point of View
When taking photos most people don’t realize that standing on two legs and shooting from eye level will often result in a less interesting photo. The photographer’s viewpoint has a huge impact on the final composition and it’s worth experimenting with different angles. Change your perspective, if your camera has a tilting screen try to shoot from a low angle or if you don’t have one, don’t exclude getting down to the ground level to play with a different point of view. It could make a significant difference in the final image. To take it a step further, read my article about Rules of composition in landscape photography and learn how professional photographers compose their photos.
10. Check your white balance
Every photographer has a favourite shooting location. You’ll have yours too. Even though you will find yourself going back again and again to that location you will soon realize that the light will always be different. Depending on the time of the day, month of the year, weather conditions, you’ll have to deal with different lighting and learn how to manipulate it at your advantage. By controlling the white balance on your camera you can avoid that your image ends up being too blue or too orange, too green or too magenta. Light, depending on the source has many different colors despite our eye is made to not notice it and it just adapts to it. Cameras unlike our eye need some help to achieve this. Thanks to color metering they’re able to adapt to changes in the color of light. Color metering though can fail and different lighting conditions can give you different and unexpected results.
White balance is what comes to help in this case. You can set it to Daylight or Sunny, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, K, Pre.
For now I want to give you an example of what the Daylight mode would help you with. With this white balance setting you can shoot outdoor in sunny conditions and be sure that the camera won’t overcompensate red colors for example, so you’ll get more consistent tonalities.
11. Shoot Shoot and keep shooting
Only practice will make you perfect. This seems so obvious, I know. But seriously how many times have you used your camera last week? You have talent! but you need to cultivate it. If you don’t take photos, if you don’t go out of your home and experiment with your camera you can’t improve I’m sorry. With digital cameras, snapping pictures is free! So do it. There’s no guide, blog article or course on the Internet that will make you better by only reading it or watching a video. A while ago I started realizing that I was spending so much time researching and reading tutorials and I wasn’t getting any better. The reason was that I was not taking pictures! You have to go out and shoot. It’s not necessary to wake up at 5 to shoot a sunrise to get better. Just take your camera with you when you go for a walk with friends, it doesn’t matter if you like nature and landscape photography and you live in a City. Welcome to the club! Capturing different subjects, snapping some portraits, taking photos of a urban space. Everything will help further your skills and you’ll become much more familiar with your camera too.
I really hope you find these tips helpful. And if you do, please consider sharing this article on social media and subscribing to my blog, so that you will receive notifications of my new posts. Creating this content requires a lot of hours of research and work. Thanks to some technicality of the Internet, by sharing this article with others on your social media channels you will help me creating more content like this. So I can keep doing researches and helping other people like you improving their photography skills.
Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.