Thursday, March 13, 2014

6 Tips For Better Photographs

We live in the microwave world of instant gratification. When people want something, they often want it now. Few are willing to put in the long-term time and effort to accomplish something great.

This is true with photography, as well. There are no "photograph-by-numbers" or easy shortcuts to great images. It takes years of practicing the craft of photography to become truly good at it.

With that said, there are some pieces of advice that I can give to get you on your way. Below are six tips for better photographs.

#1 - Keep It Simple
Wheat Grass - Tehachapi, California
A common mistake with photo composition is to include too much. Only the minimum to convey the point of the picture should be included, and everything else removed. Keep it simple. Often this means getting closer or changing your angle. Look carefully at the background. Look carefully at the edges of the frame. If something looks like it could possibly be distracting, it most assuredly will be distracting.

Sometimes the difference between a so-so photograph and a great photograph is just a few inches. A few inches closer. A few inches to the left or right. A few inches lower or higher. Sometimes small changes to the composition results in major improvements to the image.

Often photographs are improved by subtraction and only rarely by addition. In most cases, the more that is stripped away from the composition the better. Make it obvious to the viewer what the photograph is about by taking away everything possible that does not convey the message.

#2 - Better Light Equals Better Photographs
Big Bear Sunset - Big Bear Lake, California
Photography is painting with light. Without light there is no photograph, and without great light there is no great photograph. While great light can be found at any time of the day or night if one looks hard enough, the most obvious great light is found around sunset and sunrise. Photographing around this time is an easy way to immediately improve one's images.

But, really, it is not enough to photograph during the golden hour. One must learn to recognize great light wherever and whenever that light appears. Sometimes one has to make their own great light.

The pursuit of great photographs is really the pursuit of great light. The sooner one understands that the better.

#3 - Use Contrast
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Contrast is what will draw the viewer into an image. There are four types of contrast that are typical to photography: light, color, texture and subject.

Light contrast are areas within an image where black (or near black) and white (or near white) meet. Color contrast are areas within an image where contrasting colors (those opposite each other on a color wheel, such as red and green or blue and yellow) meet. Anytime you have light contrast or color contrast in a photograph, that is where the viewer will first look. You want to use this contrast to guide the viewer into the image and you don't want it to be someplace where you'd prefer the viewer not look first.

Texture contrast are areas within an image where two different textures meet (such as brick and grass or water and rock). Subject contrast are two opposite subjects occupying the same image (such as a wealthy man walking past a homeless man or a sports car and a kid on a tricycle). This type of contrast can add interest to what might otherwise be a boring photograph.

#4 - Use Lines And Shapes As A Guide
Old Tracks - McKinney, Texas
Lines and shapes within an photograph can be used to guide the viewer. This is sometimes called leading lines. Assuming that a contrasting area is where the viewer first looks, a line leading away from that are is where the viewer will go next. Perhaps that line leads to a smaller object that puts a new perspective on the subject (a punch line, if you will). Or, if the line leads out of the side of the frame, so does the viewer.

Lines protruding from the sides of the frame are not desirable, but, for whatever reason, lines from the corners will lead the viewer into the image (and not out). So if there are lines leading to the edges, if you can, put them into the corners of the frame.

#5 - Magical #3
Three Eaves - Rosamond, California

For one reason or another, the #3 is magical in photography. Three of the same object looks better than two or four or any other number. Something repeated three times in a photograph seems to have the right amount of balance or imbalance.

In portrait photography, the pyramid or triangle composition technique is often used. Basically, you should be able to draw a triangle between three faces in an image.

You might have heard someone mention the "rule of thirds" which I'm not necessarily for or against. The idea is that you place the subject in the right or left and top or bottom third of an image. It's a good starting point, but I wouldn't get too caught up in it. But it's another example of the number three being used in photography.

#6 - Tell A Story
Rolling Dough - Tehachapi, California
Photography is a form of nonverbal communication. One can speak to people through photographs. It is said that a photograph is worth a thousand words. Sometimes it is worth only one word or 10,000 words, but what is important is that it spoke to the viewer.

Because photography is communication, it can be used to tell stories. It can be used to speak words that might be difficult to put into literal spoken words. Photography can be powerful in this way.


Photography takes time and effort to master. It requires acquiring photographic vision. It requires being creative. It requires discovering the decisive moment. It doesn't come easy to everyone. But it is certainly not impossible to learn how to craft great photographs. The best thing to do is keep at it and don't give up.

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