Everyone enjoys having photographs of family, friends, vacations, and interesting sites to capture memories and perhaps express a little creativity. Often times, a simple adjustment or two can greatly improve the shot, bringing even more pleasure to the finished photograph.
Whether the photographer is using an expensive 35 MM SLR type of camera, or a simple, inexpensive 110 disposable pocket camera, attention to a few details can make all the difference in improving your pictures.
The main areas where anyone can improve are content, lighting, and angle:
Flip through your favorite magazines and notice how professional photographers “frame” their subjects. Grouping a nice collection of objects or people together is one method of creating good content, and isolation of a single subject is another. Remember who is going to be looking at your pictures and what you want them to see.
Taking photographs of several objects or people can make a beautiful layout. A group of people standing together can turn out nicely if you ask them to act “natural” and place them in a natural setting. For example, having them all sit randomly on a large rock is more natural than having them line up like a classroom of kindergartners in a yearbook. The surrounding scenery can provide more color and interest, too.
Indoors, if taking a portrait of your office crew, why not have them all standing around the coffee machine as if chatting, or have them act as if they are working and you caught them with your camera. The more natural the background and subject, the better the photograph will look in the end. Most “posed” pictures are not much fun to look at, although there may be rare occasions where this type of shot is desired.
Outdoors, things such as groupings of flowers, trees, and the like in nature can be balanced by being aware of how many items you wish to include and the angle at which you take the picture. Keep in mind your final product and how you would like it to appear. Do you want to show the detail in one little daisy, or would you like to capture the whole field of daisies?
Sometimes it helps to include an object for size reference with your subject, such as a person standing next to that cactus can show just how huge it was, or placing your little child beside a common object, such as a door in your home, can help register their height at that particular age.
The most common mistake amateur photographers make is having too much background that is not related to the subject. By getting a little closer, and/or zooming in on your subject a little, try to isolate your subject from all the surrounding blank walls or chaos. Getting closer can also capture a little more detail in your subject itself. Be careful and know how close you can get with your particular camera model, as getting too close can cause your shot to come out distorted or out of focus. Some of the best people portraits are gained by filling the whole picture frame with their face and capturing the detail of their expression and likeness.
Lighting is something you must be very aware of in order to take better photographs. Even with the simplest camera equipment, the amount, direction, and quality of light make all the difference between a great photo and a terrible one.
Despite most amateur photographers’ beliefs that you need lots of bright lighting, most cameras take better photographs with indirect lighting. This would be an overcast day or light shade outdoors, and a covered flash indoors. You can cover your flash with a light white cloth, which will allow some of the light through, but not bring such a harsh light to your subject.
The direction of direct, harsh light brings problems to your pictures. If facing the sun, your subjects will end up squinting, but with their back to the sun, their face may turn out too shaded, and you risk getting the glare of the sun in your camera lens. With the more indirect type of lighting, you do not have to worry about glare or shadows so much.
Sometimes, though, you can use direct lighting and shadows to your advantage, such as taking a close-up of a person’s face, allowing direct light to shine on one half of their face, and the other half cast in shadow. This may bring out their unique facial features. This can also work well with rock formations, with the long shadows of early morning or late evening giving more of a feeling of depth and angles in your subject than taking a straight-on picture at high noon. If you choose to shoot in bright sunlight, always make sure the sun is not pointing directly into your camera but is at some angle to your back.
Choosing your angle can make a great deal of difference in the interest of your photography as well. Don’t be afraid to move around and see how the view looks from higher, lower, to one side, or even turning your camera for an angular or longwise shot. Try placing the subject in different parts of the picture, the top, bottom, or to the side, rather than always the dead center. Intentionally off-center shots are very much the rage with professional photographers today.
A final word: accept the fact that as you practice and experiment, you will have some bad shots, but as you look at these, try to learn from them by asking yourself what you could have done differently to improve your photograph. Then your experience will not be wasted.
The keys to taking better photographs are being aware of your content, your lighting, and your angle; not being afraid to experiment; allowing yourself to be a little bit creative, and knowing what your camera can do.