Quick and Dirty Photography Tips

There are a million pages on what you can do to improve your photos. Just Google “tips for better photos.” All of them, including this page, are designed to help you see some of the millions of little tweaks pro photographers take to make their photos amazing and not just a snapshot.

But first of all, it is 90-99% not the camera. (I do write a lot about better equipment, but that’s AFTER I have maxed out the other tweaks.) You’ve heard it before:

  • Hand an experienced photographer a point-and-shoot and the photos will still look better than an inexperienced person with the best camera.
  • Or an inexperience and an experienced photographer shoots the same subject and you can immediately tell which is which even though they were both were standing in the same air.

Why? Experience photographers don’t just point and shoot. That’s the secret. Every tweak that I have come across boils down to that.

Here are some techniques that you can do right now with nearly any camera (not using a smartphone helps):

Hold your DSLR/mirrorless camera correctly

On DSLR and mirrorless cameras, use the viewfinder when possible and support the lens with palm facing you. Hold your elbows close to you. There are reasons why this is the method used for decades. It steadies your camera better, you can hold this position longer, you can control your lens better, and your fingers are not in the shot.

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Use interesting compositions

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  • Most of my subjects (for faces) are not right in the middle (look up rule of thirds)
  • That includes group shots. The heads should NOT line up across the middle leaving a HUGE gap above their heads!
  • You (yes, you) can do this with:
    • focus-then-compose
    • learn how to change the focus point in your camera
    • or take the photo and crop later (which I have to do for soccer since the best focusing sensors for action are right in the middle)

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Look for interesting angles

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  • Unless the subject is very far away (like sunsets), I often do not shoot just standing where I am — I am often getting low to the ground. (And this is getting harder and harder as my knees get older.)
  • Eye level with kids helps you connect with them and makes them look more interesting.
  • Backgrounds can be more easily out of focus at lower angles

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Isolate

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  • Low depth of field is one method. This doesn’t always require better lenses. Being closer to the subject can help a lot.
  • Another method is to make your subject have the most contrast in the photo. One way to do this is by moving your subject to the light (a lamp or window is one method), or by chasing where the light falls outside. Another method is to blow the background out by backlighting your subject or overlighting your background.
  • If you are lucky enough to have your subject be the only warm colored object in the photo, that helps a lot.

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Eliminate distractions

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  • I am often moving around to eliminate distractions (colors, bright spots, objects in the background, etc) and to get better compositions
  • Low depth of field also helps eliminate distracting backgrounds.

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Add interest and look for a story

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  • The shot that I want often takes minutes to get
  • I’m waiting for expressions, a story, the right combination of elements, etc
  • I’m looking for leading lines and interesting patterns
  • Tip: take a safety shot, but keep shooting.

Happy shooting! (I hope you make many mistakes (and learn from them).)

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