Take Better Photographs

Some people think that great photography requires an expensive camera, but good technique is more important than expensive equipment. If you are unhappy with the quality of your photos, then you might benefit from reviewing some of the basics and ensuring that you are using your camera as effectively as possible. Since light plays a big role in the quality of your photos, learning how to find, adjust, and adapt to your light may also help. Then, if you want to intensify the creativity of your photos, you can learn more about framing your shots.


Improving Your Basic Technique

  1. Familiarize yourself with your camera. Take the time to get to know your camera and ensure that you are using it properly. Read the manual to learn what each control, switch, button, and menu item does.[1] Learn the basic actions, such as using the flash (on, off, and auto), zooming in and out, and using the shutter button.
    • If you can find an online tutorial for your camera or a video, then this might be helpful as well.
  2. Hold your camera properly. The way that you hold your camera may make a difference in the quality of your shots. It is important to hold your camera with both hands to have the most control over it. Hold it so that you are supporting the lens with your left hand and holding the camera body with your right hand.[2]
    • This position will make it easier to keep your camera steady, take pictures quickly, and adjust your settings if necessary.
    • You can also try holding your elbows close to your body to help steady the camera.
  3. Steady your camera with a tripod. If you have a hard time keeping your camera steady enough to photograph your subjects, then you might find it helpful to get a tripod. A tripod will keep your camera steady while still allowing you to adjust it to different angles.
    • You might consider getting a low-cost tripod to start out with. You can also get mini-tripods that adjust so that you can place them on table tops and photograph from lower angles.
  4. Set the camera's resolution as high as possible. Low-resolution images are more difficult to alter later and they don’t look as good. To ensure that you are getting the best quality photos possible, change your camera’s settings so that you are taking high-resolution photos.
    • Keep in mind that higher resolution photos take up a lot of memory, so you may need to get a larger memory card to accommodate this change.
  5. Use one of your camera’s automatic modes. Most digital cameras have an easy automatic mode that will change your camera’s settings based on the type of subject you are photographing. For example, the camera may detect that you are taking a portrait of someone in low light and adjust the settings to get the best image. Try using your camera’s automatic setting to make it easier to take better photos.
    • If your photos come out poorly focused or poorly exposed, then start operating certain functions manually.
    • For portraits, using an anti-red eye mode may be helpful.

Using the Light to Your Advantage

  1. Find your light source. Identifying where your light is coming from is an important part of ensuring the best lighting for your subject. The light needs to be on your subject to illuminate it properly. Before you take a photo, take a moment to look around you and determine which direction the light is coming from.[2]
    • For example, if you are outdoors, figure out where the sun is at and observe how it is casting light on your subject. Consider what angle might be the most flattering or interesting for photographing your subject.
    • Avoid taking pictures with the light source directly behind you. This can make your photos look somewhat boring and flat. Instead, always try to position yourself so that you are shooting your subject at an angle to the light.
  2. Take photos during the golden hour whenever possible. The golden hour happens twice per day—in the hour before sunrise and in the hour after sunset. During this time, you will notice that your subjects will have a warm light cast on them. There will also be some shadows that may result in interesting details.[3]
    • Try taking outdoor photographs during the golden hour to reap the benefits of this pleasing light. You will notice that shadows are longer during this time as well, which can also add visual interest to your photos.
  3. Use a shaded area if the light is too harsh. Sometimes natural light from the sun can be too harsh for portraits. It may cause your subject to look washed out or cast harsh shadows and make it hard to see the details of a person’s face. One way to adapt when your light is too harsh is to photograph your subject in the shade.[3]
    • Keep in mind that photographing your subject in the shade may create a cooler effect than photographing your subject in an unshaded area.
  4. Put up the flash. Many people only use the flash in dim light. However, if you only use the flash in low light, then you may not be getting the best possible pictures. Your flash can be especially useful when the sun is shining brightly, such as around midday. This may result in harsh shadows and unappealing photos.[1]
    • By using your flash when the light is harsh, you can direct extra light at the shadows and bathe your subject in more light. This may result in more pleasing photos.
    • Keep in mind that you do not always need to use the flash, especially if the natural lighting is good. However, you might want to try taking photos with and without the flash to see what works best for the light you have available.
  5. Prevent red eye in portraits. Red eye is caused by the camera’s flash reflecting off of your retinas. This usually happens when you are taking photos in low light and your eyes don’t have enough time to constrict.[4] To avoid getting a red eye effect, you can try:
    • Turning on more lights. If you are taking pictures indoors, then you can prevent the red eye effect by turning on as many lights as you can and making the environment brighter.
    • Telling your subjects to look away from the camera. If your subjects are not looking directly at the camera, then you can avoid the red-eye reflection.
    • Turning on the red-eye function. Most digital cameras have this feature and it can help to prevent red-eye shots.

Framing Your Shots

  1. Identify the story you want to tell. Taking time to think about the composition of your shot is also important. This means thinking about the story that you want to tell about your subject or subjects.[5]
    • For example, if you are photographing a man sitting on a bench in a park, what is his story? Is he waiting for someone? Is he sad? Happy? Concerned? What else is happening that is relevant to this man? How can you frame your subject to tell this story?
    • If you want to portray the man as lonely, then you might choose to frame him in a way that no other people will be in the shot. You might also look for interesting things in the background or foreground to help tell your story about the man. For example, framing the shot so that a statue of woman is in the background might help to make him seem like he is lonely.
    • Investigate your surroundings and experiment with different angles and ranges to frame your shot and tell your story.
  2. Choose a focus. It is important to have a central focus for your photo. This item or person should be at the center of the photograph or highlighted in some way. One way to do this is to use a physical object as a frame.[5]
    • For example, you might use an archway or window as a frame for your subject. Taking the photo so that the subject is within the archway or window, either in the foreground or background, will help to place emphasis on this subject.
    • You can also use people as a frame. Once you have chosen your central focus, frame your shot so that the subject is surrounded by people from all sides.
    • You can also emphasize your focus by using the rule of thirds. This is when you divide your shot into three vertical sections and three horizontal sections and then take the shot with your focal point in the center of this grid.
  3. Look for pleasing shapes and lines. Incorporating pleasing shapes and lines can also help you frame your subject and enhance the visual quality of your photo. You can use buildings, structural aspects within buildings, or other physical objects to incorporate pleasing shapes and lines.[5]
    • For example, you might find the exterior of a building visually pleasing and photograph your subject in front of it. The building will add a backdrop and help to frame your subject.
    • You can also use architectural elements within buildings to your benefit, such as a stairwell, a doorway, or a window.
  4. Add dimension to your shot by placing something in the foreground. Shooting with something in the foreground or background can help to add dimension to your photos. If you want your subject to seem small, then you might place something in the foreground of the shot. If you want your subject to look large, then you might place something in the background.[6]
    • For example, you might take a picture of someone standing on a beach, but photograph the person from far away with a seashell in the foreground. Or, you might photograph the person from a closer vantage point, but capture a seemingly endless white beach in the background.
  5. Get closer to your subject. Sometimes photos do not look as good as they could because you are too far away from your subject. If you notice that the details of your subject are hard to make out, then try moving a little closer.[1]
    • For example, if you took your first shot while standing 10 feet away, then take the next one from five feet away. Keep checking your shots and adjusting your distance until you have captured the desired amount of detail in your shot.



  • To find an interesting angle at a tourist location, look where everybody else is taking his or her picture, and then go somewhere different. You do not want the same picture as everybody else.
  • Don’t be afraid of taking too many pictures. Take pictures until you feel like you got the best shot possible!
  • If the camera has a neck strap, use it! Hold the camera out so the neck strap is pulled as far as a can, this will help steady the camera. Also, it'll also stop you from dropping the camera.
  • Keep a notebook handy and make notes about what worked well and what did not. Review your notes often as you practice.
  • Install photo-editing software and learn how to use it. This will allow you to correct color balance, adjust lighting, crop your photos, and much more. Most cameras will come with software to make these basic adjustments. For more complicated operations, consider buying Photoshop, downloading and installing the free Gimp image editor, or using Paint.NET (http://www.paint.net/), a free lightweight photo editing program for Windows users.
  • Pick up a big-city newspaper or a copy of National Geographic and see how professional photojournalists tell stories in pictures. It's often worth poking around photo sites like Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) or deviantART (http://www.deviantart.com/) for inspiration, too. Try Flickr's camera finder (http://www.flickr.com/cameras/) to see what people have done with the cheapest point-and-shoot cameras. Look at the Camera Data on deviantART. Just don't spend so much time getting inspired that it stops you from getting out there.
  • Get your photos off your memory card as soon as possible and back up your work.
  • Try to use sunlight whenever possible. This will prevent your photos from getting too grainy or looking too yellow.


  • Ask for permission when taking photos of people, their pets, or their property.

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Sources and Citations