Good photos and bad photos aren’t determined by cameras but by photographers. Implementing these tips will improve your pictures in no time.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting with the latest and greatest DSLR or a three-year-old smartphone, what results is still a photograph. Good photos and bad photos aren’t determined by cameras but by photographers.
The difference between a bad photo and a good photo—or a good photo and a great photo—can be very slim. Subtle changes may be all that’s required to close the gap. With that in mind, here are our top tips that will quickly improve your photos.
1. Post-Process Your Images
The single biggest thing you can do to improve the quality of your images is to post-process them. You can use Photoshop, Lightroom, or any other app you like. There’s no need to make dramatic changes; simply adjusting the exposure, contrast, and color tone are enough to take an okay image and make it special.
Film photography had a look. Each individual film stock had certain characteristics and no two were the same. This is what Instagram filters try to replicate. Some films were contrasty while others emphasized green tones. Straight out of the camera, film images have basically been edited.
Digital images, however, are designed to be neutral representations of the scene. Straight out of the camera they are flat and lifeless, they have no character, but this is on purpose so you can edit them as you see fit. Post-processing them brings them to the same point that a film image is at.
2. Shoot RAW
You should always shoot RAW image files if you can. RAW files save a lot more data than JPEGs, so you have a lot more flexibility to edit your images after you shoot. This means that you’re more likely to nail the shot and create a great image.
3. Instagram Doesn’t Count as Editing
Most of Instagram’s filters are great but they’ve become much too recognizable. Slapping an Instagram filter on top of your image might make it look kind of cool but it won’t make it a better photo. If you want to edit using a mobile app, try VSCO instead. Lightroom for mobile and Photoshop Express are also great for mobile photo editing.
4. Don’t Overdo It
Plenty of great images are ruined by photographers being too heavy-handed while they edit. Unless there is a strong artistic reason to push an image hard in one direction, it’s best to be subtle.
As a rule of thumb, go slow on the slider of every effect you add, and try not to surpass 70%.
5. Avoid Clichéd Photos
A great photo starts before you even take it: deciding the composition and overall theme.
What do you plan on shooting? Is your subject going to run through a grass field or pose in front of the Eiffel Tower? Unless you plan on adding a twist in editing, avoid these clichés; they’re a little boring.
Think of alternative poses for your subjects, include an interesting background, or try different angles. If you want people to stop scrolling and look, do what you can to make the photo pop.
Avoid clichéd edits while you’re at it. For example, selective color images are out; there are ways to get creative with just black and white editing in Photoshop. Another example is Bokeh, which can look beautiful, but relying on it to spice up your photos gets a little gimmicky.
6. Don’t Use a Massive Watermark
Nothing ruins a good image faster than an obnoxious watermark.
A small subtle logo in one corner is fine, but your name in bold across the center of the image not only stops people from stealing it, but it also stops people from looking at it. If you’re going to put your images online, you might need to accept the risk that some people may crop away your name and pass it off as their own.
If you’re truly paranoid about people stealing your pictures, there is a way to include your name in the composition without ruining the shot. Downscale your name, apply a transparent effect to the text, place it next to the outline of the subject, and curve it along the lines of the subject.
7. Use the Rule of Thirds
According to the rule of thirds, you should divide your image into both horizontal and vertical thirds. The intersection points of the thirds are where you should place your subject for the strongest image.
While it’s not true in all situations, for most things it’s a quick and easy way to guarantee a strong composition. Read more about how to effectively use the rule of thirds in your photography.
8. Watch the Edges of Your Frame
Real life doesn’t have borders, but photos do. It’s easy to forget this when you’re photographing.
The border of an image is a compositional element. If something is placed too close to the edge, it creates tension in the image. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you’re trying to convey with your photo.
In general, if someone is looking or moving in one direction, they should be placed on the opposite edge of the frame so they have some photo to move into.
9. Don’t Chop Off Limbs
You should avoid cropping a portrait so that it chops halfway through a person’s limbs; it looks strange. The best places to crop a portrait are at the subject’s neck, armpits, waist, just above the knee, or not at all. Be careful that things like hands aren’t accidentally cut off even if you crop at one of those points.
10. Keep Depth Perception in Mind
While humans have depth perception, cameras don’t. What we see as a 3D scene, they render as a 2D image. This means that some things that appear to have no relation in real life will now seem to have a relationship created by the compression to 2D.
A classic example is a subject standing in front of a tree or lamppost. While you see the scene normally when you’re shooting, in the final image the tree appears to grow out of the model’s head!
To create stronger images, look at what your subject is standing in front of and think about how it will be translated to 2D. If there’s a chance it might look a little funny, change up the shot.
11. Fix Tilted Horizons
Tilted horizons look unprofessional, especially for landscapes or any composition where an angle was clearly not the intention. The solution is easy; straighten your camera. Avoid holding it by hand and affix it to a tripod. If the ground itself is tilted, adjust the mount or legs of the tripod if possible.
Of course, you can always adjust the angle in editing as well with a Rotation or Crop tool of sorts.
If neither solutions fix the issue, you might be dealing with lens distortion. Here’s how to avoid or fix lens distortion.
12. Shoot in the Right Light
There’s no such thing as bad light, but certain kinds of light suit some subjects better.
Harsh midday light is one of the hardest to use effectively. If you plan on shooting a glamorous portrait in this type of light, you’re going to have a very difficult time. It’s far easier to shoot portraits when the sun is lower in the sky; golden hour is a photographer favorite after all.
On the other hand, if you want to shoot some high-contrast cityscapes, the midday sun may be exactly what you want. If you want a moody vibe, shoot in blue hour. And night photography is an excellent opportunity to capture things that would be impossible during the day, such as light trails.
Don’t try and force photographs in less than ideal circumstances, instead, play to the strengths of the lighting you have to work with.
13. Shoot Portraits in the Shade or With Window Light
If you’re shooting portraits without artificial lights, the two most flattering places to do it are in the shade outdoors on an overcast day or inside by the light of a window. Both situations create wonderfully flat light that is easy to work with.
14. Don’t Use Flash
When you’re shooting in low light, it can be tempting to use the flash on your camera. Don’t do it!
For starters, camera flash might be prohibited at places like museums and some events; always stick to policy unless you want your camera confiscated.
If there’s a reflective object in the frame, flash can cause a light reflection; this will ruin the shot. Flash can also make any dust particles in the air visible; again, ruining the shot.
Unless you have something like a bounce card to make the flash a softer light source, it won’t lead to good photos. It’s far better to increase your ISO or lower your aperture instead.
14. Avoid and Remove Distractions
If a viewer can’t distinguish the subject from the other elements in your photo, you’ve failed. And the problem is likely distractions in the frame.
The Spot Healing Brush and Patch Tool in Photoshop are great for removing objects. But try to avoid getting to that point in the first place; take control of your composition and be mindful of what you include when taking the shot. Be on the lookout for photobombers, too.
15. Move Around
It’s too easy to get stuck in one place trying to get the perfect camera angle with your wrists. Nothing is stopping you from lying down on the ground, climbing a tree, or walking around an entire building for the best shot.
You’ve got an infinite combination of angles, subjects, and lighting to work with. All you have to do is move around to find the sweet spot.
Take Your Photos From Good to Great
You don’t need to be a pro to take good shots, but a viewer will notice when you’ve put effort into your photos. And these tips aren’t anything over the top, anyone with a camera or smartphone can implement them.
If you’re getting a little more serious about photography, make yourself familiar with beginner guides and tips.