Learning photography is definitely so much fun, but it can also be hard work to begin with!
There is so much to learn and take on board at once, that it can feel a little overwhelming.
That's why in this post, I'm going to give you 7 quick tips that you can take action on TODAY that will help give you better photos. So, for each tip, you also have something to do - there's no sitting around being an armchair photographer here 😀
Actually, before we do, I just want to tell you about a little freebie I have that I think you will love: a free 90 DAY Photography Learning Roadmap. This free (and highly actionable!) cheat sheet will walk you through what you need to learn in photography, and in what order, so that you have a complete blueprint to refer to. Go here to grab it!
1. Get the Light Behind You
The word photography literally means “painting with light”. I’m not sure there is anything more important in photography than light, as without it, we simply cannot make an image. Light can also be manipulated to help us fulfil a particular vision, or simply help provide shape and dimension to our images.
Learning how to use light effectively is SUCH an important part of photography, but one that beginners tend not to pay too much attention too!
That said, it does take time to learn how to learn how to use light effectively, so when you are starting out I suggest making sure that you have the light behind you - so that the light is hitting your subject from the front.
This is called front or flat lighting, and although it’s not the most dramatic light to use, it is safe and predictable - which may sound boring but it is absolutely ideal for when you are starting out!
If the light is soft, then it is also incredibly flattering as it smooths out imperfections in the skin, and gives great catch lights in the eyes.
Here's how to do it: stand so that the window is behind you - the photographer - and the subject is facing directly into the light as per the diagram below.
Lighting your subject is this way also helps by giving you catchlights - which is basically eyes that are full of light and sparkle!
The simplest way to get good catch lights in the eyes is to simply have your subject face toward the light source, as catch lights are simply a reflection of the light in the eyes. (The larger the light source, the larger the catch lights!)
In my course Auto to Awesome there is a whole module devoted to using different types of light effectively, because as you get more proficient you are definitely going to want to move on from using front light, since it can be a little "safe". (Introducing shadowing to your images is a good thing, as it gives shape to your subject and makes it look more three dimensional) but for now, front light is the easiest to use, and will give you great results, so it's definitely what I recommend that you start with.
What to do now
If you haven't already been doing so, I want you to practice working with front light.
Start by using window light indoors, and set yourself up so that you have your subject face into the window.
You'll see that the light hits them fully on the face, and they have great sparkle to the eyes. If they turn away a little from the window, that's absolutely fine (in fact it can be a good thing!) so don't struggle trying to get your subject to face the window directly, especially if you have little ones who won't listen to a word you say anyway 😄
2. Turn off your flash
Now that you know where to place your subject, I’d like you make sure you turn OFF the flash on your camera if you haven't already done it.
Flash does absolutely nothing for your subjects – the light produced from a flash is hard and unforgiving, and your subjects will end up with red-eye and washed out faces.
Instead of using flash, move your subjects closer to a light source instead – get them closer to that window, or open up the blinds to let more light into the room. If you are shooting with indoor lights, turn on another lamp.
More light will mean that you don’t need to resort to pop up flash!
What to do now
Go on, turn it off now.
I'll wait 😄
3. Simplify The Scene
Now that we have the light sorted, and turned off the dreaded flash, we are going to move onto how to compose your image.
The very first thing that we want to ensure when taking a photo is that we have a clearly defined subject or story. Many people simply point the camera in the direction of the subject, leaving lots of extra “room” or clutter around the subject, and in doing so, fail to ensure that the image has a clear focal point.
There is a saying that goes “if your photos aren’t good, then you aren’t close enough” and whilst there are always exceptions to the rule, that is quite good advice!
Try to keep out anything that doesn't ADD to your image, and especially make sure that there is nothing that DETRACTS from your image!
That’s definitely NOT to say that you need to exclude ALL external elements, or never show the environment, but rather to keep an eye on what is important in that particular scene and make sure that it is clear in your frame, with no distractions.
What to do now
When you are next taking an image I want you to make a visual sweep of what you can see in your viewfinder. Is there anything in the frame that doesn't add anything to the story? Practice viewing an image through the frame, not through your eyes (that sounds weird but I hope you know what I mean!) and taking note of EVERYTHING in it, not just your subject.
4. Watch where you crop
As you begin to fill more of the frame with your subject, it’s important to make sure that you aren’t cropping out any important elements - particularly fingers, toes, hands and feet. It can be very difficult to keep track of where everything is as you focus on getting your composition right in camera!
Generally speaking you don’t want to crop anywhere than is a joint - so fingers, wrists, toes, ankles, elbows, shoulders and so on are a no-no.
What to do now
This is back to the whole visual sweep thing. So after you have finished checking that there is no extra space or "stuff" around your subject that doesn't add to the picture or story, have a quick check of the edges of the frame, and make sure there isn't a missing finger or foot. (I'm still really guilty of this one!)
5. Use the rule of thirds.
OK. So, we have our light better, and we have a good idea of what we DON"T want to do in our frame, so let's turn our attention to what we SHOULD do with our subject.
To start out with, I suggest that you place your subject according to the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds is one of the most basic “rules” of composition and rightly so - it can change an image from being bland and boring to something much more interesting, and it is a rule that I still follow quite often!
To use the rule of thirds, imagine that the frame is divided into nine equal sections - three sec- tions horizontally and three sections vertically. You should aim to have the important elements in your frame fall generally along those lines and / or at the four points where they intersect, as marked on the image below.
What to do now
If you are struggling with remembering where to put your subject in the frame to meet the rule of thirds, on many cameras you can turn on a grid overlay so you can still this grid when you are taking your picture. You'll need to have a look at your camera manual to see if you can do this, but if you can, it can be a good idea to turn it on for a few days until you get more comfortable with placing your subject like this.
If you don't, it's no problem, you are just going to have to mentally think of the grid when shooting, and place your subject along one of the lines.
6. Watch Your Shutter Speed
Yep, here's yet another thing to keep your beady eye on when photographing: your shutter speed.
When you shoot on AUTO, your camera will very often (more often that you think!) give you shutter speeds that are far too low for what you are photographing. If you see your shutter speed with a number under 1/60 - then you are probably going to get a blurred and soft image.
So, what can you do? Well, the very best thing you can do is learn how to control your camera in manual mode. Using manual mode gives you so much control over your settings, and therefore the final result of your image, that is definitely something that you are going to want to learn. It is harder at first than sticking with Auto or Aperture Priority Mode, but it is so definitely worth the little bit of extra time it takes to learn!
(And if you want a step by step guide that shows you exactly which settings to use and when, check out my Auto to Awesome course. You'll learn exactly how to choose your settings on manual mode so that it becomes much easier to do!)
What to do now
Although learning to control your camera is really the ONLY way to effectively solve this problem, I still want to give you something you can do right now!
If you are on AUTO and you see your shutter speed drop, try to get more light onto the scene - more light will allow you to use a faster shutter speed and stop you from getting a blurred image due to motion blur!
If you are already able to change some of your settings on AV mode, and you see that your shutter speed has dropped so so low, then either raise your ISO number or lower your F number - both of these options will let MORE light into your camera, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed.
7. Shoot from Different Angles
When you see something you want to take a picture of, try to shoot it from as many angles as possible. Try shooting from above, below, from the side, from straight in front then move in close and go back out and show the environment.
This does two things: firstly, it helps tell a complete story of an activity or moment, and you will end up with a great set of images that together really bring you back to that time (once you have culled away the ones that just didn't work!)
Secondly, it really helps you get more creative, and you’ll probably find that your favourite image is not the very first one that you took, but one of the others along the way!
What to do now
Try to put all the tips together and practice with your own little photo shoot.
Grab a (preferably willing....or inanimate 😄) subject and plonk them down in front of a window.
Make sure your flash is turned off, and take a quick look at your shutter speed to make sure that it isn't too low. Position your subject in the frame according to the rule of thirds, and make sure that they are clearly the focal point of the image. Also quickly check you aren't chopping off an ear or a toe, or half their head. Looking good? Great! Snap your picture. Now, MOVE around your subject and see what else you can come up with!
Before you go, don’t forget to grab your free 90 Day Photography learning blueprint so you can see what you need to learn in photography, and in what order!