I’m no expert when it comes to photography, I’m a self-taught amateur with a deep love of taking photos and a heck of a lot to learn. That doesn’t mean you should stop reading because I have nothing valuable to share – quite the opposite. I’m an enthusiast you see, determined to improve as a photographer and soak up everything I can relating to photography; and that means I’ve got a whole heap of tips and tricks to share with you. My hope is that sharing what I’ve learned with you will help you get better too, RIGHT NOW!
I’ve learned a lot about photography over the years and there’s oodles more I could share with you, maybe in a future blog series, but for now here are 12 tips based on my own learnings that will instantly help you take better photos.
Start calling yourself a photographer
Stop devaluing yourself as a ‘photo taker’, ‘likes taking photos’ or ‘amateur photographer’. That’s all any of us are: amateurs, we don’t live long enough to become anything else’ (stole that one from Charlie Chaplin!)
Thanks to our friends Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg we are all photographers today and if it’s something you’re passionate about, congratulations you’re a photographer! You don’t need a degree or a queue of people waiting to hire you to make you legitimate, give yourself credit and give yourself permission to take it seriously.
Learn to use your camera
Before you think you need to upgrade your camera to take better photos – learn to use the camera you’ve got. Take some time to read the manual (snore I know but you’ll thank me!) and watch tutorials. The more you know about your camera the better you’ll be able to use what you’ve got. iPhones are no exception here and there’s a lot you can do with an iPhone that many people don’t realise. This iPhone photography article is brilliant. I’m sure there are loads out there for other smartphone users too. YouTube is your friend!
Before I’d trained my eye to look for scenes that would make good photos, I’d pick up my camera and shoot anything and everything. This makes for very messy, cluttered photos. Simplifying your photos sounds like the easiest thing to do but remember simple is not easy, it requires you to strip things back and it’s far easier to hold your camera up and just capture the whole scene. It takes time so be patient. For now, challenge yourself to keep subjects to a maximum of 4, for example the person in the shot, the background and the thing they’re holding. Eliminate everything else from the frame.
Notice the light
Natural light is your best friend and good light can make for a beautiful photo all by itself. If you’re inside, turn all the lights off and get near a window. A north facing window is even better because it creates softer light. If you want to take better travel photos or photos outside in general, stick to photographing early in the morning or later in the evening. An app called Golden Hour will tell you the best time of day to photograph wherever you are in the world. If harsh midday sun is your only option, photograph into the shadows e.g have your photo taken standing under a tree or in the shade of a building.
Photography is an art, there is no right or wrong. That being said, when you’re starting out and looking to improve, it can be helpful to put some constraints in place while you learn. Try sticking to three angles – head on, top down and 45 degrees. You’ll notice on my blog and Instagram I only ever shoot from directly above or head on. Make sure you’re holding your phone or camera perpendicular to the subject. e.g if you’re shooting a cup of coffee you should only see a circle and non of the cup.
Rule of thirds
Composition is so important, some would say the key to great photography, and we can learn a lot from those who have come before us. Before photographs there were paintings and all the best compositions are still there for us to steal; the rule of thirds being one of the easiest. The rule of thirds tells us to split the frame twice vertically and twice horizontally and then place the subject on one of those cross points or lines. Watch this video tutorial for a simple visual explanation.
Take a look at any painting, photo or film and you’ll start to see it everywhere, learn from what you notice and like. Most cameras (including iPhones) will let you add this grid to your screen when you’re shooting so you can use it as a guide.
I went through a white phase not so long ago (scroll back through my Instagram and you’ll see what I mean) It took me too long to realise that white on white on white is nowhere near as interesting as contrast is, even if that contrast is a beautiful late afternoon shadow. Contrast creates interest and a much better photograph. Try looking for some contrasts to capture, for example if you’re photographing some white flowers, place them in front of a dark or contrasting background and vice versa.
These days we’re quick to capture an image simply because we think it looks pretty and would look great on our Instagram feed (also guilty, there’s no shame in it!) The thing is, the best images have a story to them, these are the ones that make us feel instead of just think oh that’s a nice photo.
To convey a story think about the who, what, why, when and where of an image. Who is it about? What is happening and is it obvious? Why is this being captured? When is it? Where is it? These factors can be obvious or implied but checking off each one will bring your photos to life.
Lines can make or break a photo. It’s important to get them straight to keep the image clean looking and relay what we see in real life to the viewer. Always make sure your horizons are straight (you can edit them easily enough after if you forget) and try to keep your camera lens perpendicular to what it is you’re shooting. You can correct some wonkiness by playing with the X and Y angles in an editing tool, but it’s best to try and get it right first time.
Last week my foodie friend told me how she loves food photography but she’s no good at it. When I asked her if she practiced she said no, and that she feels too embarrassed to take photos of her food when she’s in public. The thing is, If you don’t practice you’ll never get good at something. We’re all amateurs remember and everyone has to practice to get any good.
Forget who might be looking and what they think (they’re probably too busy thinking about themselves to think anything anyway) and instead think about that beautiful photo you just envisaged and all the other people who want to see it – there are millions of us! Practice practice practice.
Stop looking for the perfect ready made shot and start look for the beautiful details of real life moments. As a recovering perfectionist, this is something I’m still working on daily. It’s those little details that will make a photo special and individual, the coffee stain on your notebook or the crumpled bed linen from a blissful night’s sleep.
Learn to edit
You don’t have to learn the ins and outs of Photoshop but a few tweaks here and there will instantly make the world of difference to your photos. My favourite editing app is VSCO, they have the best filters you can purchase in my opinion – my personal favourites are the A range and J range. Colour Story, Photoshop Express and Afterlight are all really popular apps too.
It takes time to develop an editing style, but to start with have a go at playing around with exposure, contrast, temperature, sharpness and saturation. Shooting in the same light and then using the same editing process will help with consistency if that’s what you’re looking to create.
If you’re keen to venture further down the photography tips rabbit hole, this is my little black book of photography….
My favourites for photography tips and tutorials
- Her Internest
- Me and Orla (also does YouTube)
- Humphrey and Grace
- The Slow Traveler
- Hannah Argyle
- Simple and Season
Steal Like An Artist – to help you overcome your fear of copying or having no style
Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs – the simplest and most valuable book on basic photography I’ve ever found
The Photographer’s Eye Remastered 10th Anniversary: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photographs – If you’re really serious and want to dive into the ins and outs of compositions
If you’ve got any more photography tips, now is the time to share! I’d love to read them and I’m sure other people would too. If you enjoyed this and you’d like me to share more about my photography, let me know in the comments.
Pin for later