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Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Photography

Dramatic photography requires a good eye, some luck, some hard work to put yourself in the right place at the right time, and an understanding of light and your subject. But basic photography can and should be fun.

There are some simple steps you can take to improve your photography, whether you're using a fancy digital SLR or a point-and-shoot. These tips won't make you into Ansel Adams or Yousuf Karsh overnight, but they should help improve your photography if you're not already aware of them.

  1. Use Your Flash - How many times have you had a nicely framed picture of some relative at a picnic, or a travel companion in front of some landmark, but their face has long shadows from the bright sun? Many beginning photo guides tell you to "shoot on a bright, sunny day", which has some advantages, but one big disadvantage is harsh shadows. A simple way to deal with it is to turn on your flash. Most cameras people buy these days come with a flash -- even many disposable cameras come equipped with them. It's not going to make it look like you took it indoors -- no flash in the world is going to be brighter than the sun. But it will light up some of those shadows and make for a more pleasant picture. You may have to refer to your camera's manual to find out how to turn it on to anything besides the "auto" setting, but it's well worth it. You may even want to leave it on the "on" setting, and only turn it off for scenic shots and sunsets. It also has the advantage of putting a little "catchlight" in the eyes of your subject (assuming they're looking at the camera), which makes them look more alive in a photograph than darkened eyes will.

  2. Shoot Low and Close - Kids, pets and flowers are favorite subjects for a lot of photographers. And you watch the avid photographers walk around a family event, point their camera, and shoot. But if your subject is a 3'6" tall child, you're going to be looking down at them pretty sharply. You'll generally end up with a more flattering image (and a happier subject to boot, since you're paying closer attention) if you crouch or kneel to get down to their level. The same is true for photographing pets or flowers or lots of things shorter than you. And don't be afraid to try new viewpoints. Sit on the ground. Stand on a chair. Lie on your stomach. OK, so this is two things. Besides getting to the level of your subject, get in closer. Fill the viewfinder with your subject, don't leave it a little dot in the center. It's usually better to take 3 pictures of 3 objects than 1 picture with each a small bit in the image.

  3. Flash, closer, and rule of 1/3rds

  4. Rule of ThirdsRule of Thirds - This one takes a little more thought at first, but soon comes without much effort. A natural tendency to is to put the subject exactly in the center of the frame, or to put the horizon in a landscape exactly half way. For a variety of artistic and mathematical reasons (which boil down to "it looks better"), it's better to put the horizon 1/3 from the top or 1/3 from the bottom (depending on whether you want to emphasize the sky or the foreground). This is true horizontally, too. Which means that there are four spots that generally work well for your subject, rather than dead-center. It doesn't mean your subject has to be exactly on those spots, or that it doesn't sometimes work best to put the horizon exactly in the middle (like for a reflection), but it's a good starting point to improve the composition of your pictures. Just be sure your subject is looking or moving "in" to the picture.

As with all rules (even this rule), there are always exceptions. But these are some good guidelines to keep in mind for "most of the time". As you get more practice, you'll learn when to break them, but most of the time they'll get you a better picture.

Have fun shooting!

Copyright © 2009 Gene Anderson / Designs in Light