So you’ve finally decided to take that first step into the world of photography and take better photos. You’ve got your camera, an idea of what you want to shoot and all the ambition in the world, but unfortunately you’ll be fighting certain bad picture-taking instincts you’ve learned throughout your life. That’s okay, you’re an amateur, and amateurs make mistakes. However, some mistakes, even for amateurs, are considered mortal sins in the world of photography.
How Can I Take Better Photos?
Simple, just don’t do any of the ten things below. While you aren’t damning your camera or your own soul to an eternity of fire just by making a few of these mistakes, the best part about any hobby is the ability to get better at it. Follow these photography tips, don’t make the mistakes below, and you’ll already be well on your way to learning more about composition, positioning, and all the other things that make better photos.
1. Holding Your Camera Wrong
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably recently upgraded, or are thinking about upgrading to a single lens reflex or SLR camera, the most popular style camera with professional and amateurs alike. However, you probably upgraded to it from a digital camera that didn’t even have a view-finder. Or if you did, the size and shape of the camera meant it was positioned daintily within your fingers.
This is actually one of the first photography tips most amateurs get: when you’re holding your SLR, grip the lens with one hand, the shutter controls and side with the other. You lens hand should be supporting the bulk of the camera, while keeping it as still as possible, and your other hand should be mostly free to work your shutter controls. This will help keep motion blur and accidents from happening, and is the first thing you should learn how to do after un-boxing your SLR.
2. Being Afraid to Get Close
With your old camera, it’s likely you took a lot of “overall” shots. Maybe sometimes you didn’t even bother aiming the camera, you just held it over your head and clicked the shutter a few times. Your shots, while capturing a lot, didn’t really “say” anything, simply because you stayed back.
Don’t be afraid to get close and fill the frame with your intended subject, because that’s the only way you’re going to get the details and emotion into your shots that you want. Taking shots from far back and cropping them not only makes your subject look washed out, but it can often introduce unwanted clutter into your shot as well.
3. Disregarding Your Lighting
Besides not paying attention to where your subject is positioned, lighting mistakes are probably the second most common in the world of amateur photo-taking. Overexposure, underexposure, you’re going to see a lot of it in the beginning. Sometimes, it’s as simple as getting a different angle on what you’re shooting, or using a flash. Other times, you might wish to rig up a lighting system in order to capture that perfect shot. Learning how to light is mostly outside the realm of simply beginner photography tips, but is easily one of the easiest and interesting parts of photography. It is also quite essential to get better photos out of your camera.
4. Centering the Subject in the Frame
With your old camera, you probably snapped a few shots to share with friends after your vacation, or grabbed a couple of shots of the kids. You probably went with your instincts and put them posing right in the center of the frame, smiling a big cheesy smile. These shots are okay for family shots, but centering the subject is the fast track to an ugly shot when you decide to start shooting for real.
Holding subjects off-center is one of those photography tips that seems simple but vastly improves the composition of your photos. Often times, centering a subject in the shot will interrupt the background, which can be important for the composition of a photo, or you may want to try and convey some action within the photo. Even still shots of landscapes shouldn’t be centered. Follow the rule of thirds, and try to keep your subject in the left or right third of the frame when shooting, and you’ll end up with far better photos.
5. Too Much Clutter
Before now, you probably haven’t paid much attention to what has been going on in the background of photographs, but from now on you will. What is going on in the background of a photograph is just as important as what’s going on in the foreground, because your eye is perceiving the whole shebang in a mere two dimensions.
Trying to position photos so they include as little clutter behind them as possible is another one of those photography tips that most amateurs knew they knew about right away. Powerlines, ugly buildings, or distracting crowds can all detract from an otherwise quality photo. If you can’t get the shot you want from the angle you want, try getting low or going high, sometimes you can find a new direction, and you’ll shoot better photos because of it.
6. Using the Wrong Gear
When you first buy an SLR, it’s easy to want to run out and buy every single little gadget you can get your hands on. Try to delay this urge as long as possible, at least until you figure out what kind of picture taking you want to do, and what you’re going to need to do it. There’s something silly about using a giant telephoto lens when a much smaller lens would have been more appropriate, and you really don’t want to be that guy. Take better photos, not more expensive ones.
7. Using “Angles”
Now that you have your new SLR, you’re probably going to want to take some shots to post on your Facebook or Flickr accounts. You’ll want to take shots that showcase your artistic panache, as well as your skills in composition. Remember that you are not a photographer for MTV, and that crazy, stilted angles in photographs rarely work, even on Facebook. The shots you end up with will be all the proof you need that this does not make better photos.
8. Focusing On the Wrong Thing
If you’re new to the world of SLR cameras, it’s better to learn about focus before you learn just about anything else. Putting the focus on the wrong subject in a photo can completely mislead the viewers eye. Make sure you’re setting the right depth of focus before you snap a photo, otherwise the wrong things are going to be blurry. Also, make sure you learn how to focus, because nobody likes a blurry photo.
9. “Just Photoshop It”
Since computers have debuted on the photo scene, it seems like amateurs have gotten notoriously lazy, or even too crazy when applying a “personal touch” with Photoshop. Remember that Photoshop is a tool, not a paint studio. Things like selective desaturation, gimmick filters like sketch or watercolor, and the ability to change the hue, contrast and color of your photographs at whim are there to improve your art, not become it. If you’re looking to become a Photoshop wizard, buying an SLR was a bad way to start.
10. Not Having Patience
You are not going to get that shot after a mere five minute wait everytime. Sometimes, by the time you’ve set up to capture a beautiful sunset, you’ve still got a while to wait before the sun actually goes down. It doesn’t matter, learn to park yourself and wait. Don’t be afraid to take plenty of pictures between now and then, you never know when you’re going to come home with an award winning shot of something random, and you’ll have better photos because you waited for that perfect moment to shoot. All the photography tips in the world can’t equal a great sense of patience in a photographer.
Also, this applies towards learning the hobby as well. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and learning to shoot photos is no different. Have patience, know that you will learn from your mistakes, even if you make some of the ones listed here. Eventually, you’ll be bringing home shots that you’re not only proud of, but others love as well.
As always, feel free to subscribe via RSS and get free photo tips along with the latest updates. You can also follow me on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook. Feedback is greatly appreciated, so please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below.