Would you like to quickly improve your photography without taking a full-blown course?
You’d be surprised at how a few small changes can instantly improve your photography. It doesn’t matter if you use a DSLR or a phone, these 10 tips will help you make better use of the camera you’ve got.
1. Take more photos than you need
Even professional photographers do this. It's hard to get the shot you want with just one click. What may look great on a viewfinder or phone, doesn’t always translate to a full screen.
Give yourself the best chance of taking a good shot by taking lots of them. The worst thing that can happen is you have to press delete. Taking multiple shots also gives you a chance to play with composition, light and viewpoint (see below).
Be ruthless and delete all but the best. Having a lot of photos to choose from makes this much easier. Every time you do this, that best of the bunch will get better and better.
Try it: Next time you take a photo, take twice as many as you would normally. See if the photo you end up using is one from the ‘extras’ you took.
2. Find natural light
Is it a dry, cloudy day? Get outside, if you can, and batch shoot images. The light doesn’t get more flattering than this: beautiful blue light, soft shadows, fast shutter speed and quick exposure giving you well-lit, sharper images.
If you’re stuck inside, find a window, turn off artificial lights, and set up your shoot.
No windows that are suitable? Then open an outside door and set up on the floor in the doorway. You can stay inside while getting the full benefit of the outdoor light. Working on the floor also makes taking aerial shots much easier.
I find having a lightweight, foldable table comes in handy too. I’m not restricted by what furniture I have in each room. I just set up my table, inside or out, and I’m good to go.
You can do a certain amount of editing to improve an indoor shot taken under artificial (yellow) light, but it’s never as good as the real thing.
Try it: Follow the light around your workplace or home. Keep a note of where you get the best light at different times of day.
3. Clean your lens
Get into the habit of wiping your lens before each photo session.
This is particularly important if you use your phone for your photography. Smartphones go in and out of pockets and bags all day long. I dread to think what my poor phone comes into contact with at the bottom of my rucksack.
If you use a DSLR camera, attaching a lens cap or uv filter will keep rain spots and dust to a minimum. I find I'm forever losing lens caps. I now keep a uv filter on the front of my lens. They are cheap, easy to keep clean, and keep my more expensive lens dust and scratch free.
You can also get lens covers for mobiles, which might be a good investment if your phone is subject to a lot of rough and tumble or perhaps tiny, sticky hands!
Although you can edit out lens spots using software like Photoshop, this isn’t the best use of your time. Always take the best image you can at the time and keep your editing and additional work time to a minimum. Editing should be the polishing stage.
Try it: If you use your phone for most of your photography, consider using a lens cover to keep it free of daily wear and tear. Pop a lens cleaning cloth into all your bags, so you are ready for action when that ‘perfect’ shot comes into view.
4. Keep still
Tripods come in all sizes and budgets. From tiny phone tripods that can wrap their legs around poles, to top-of-the-range tripods with pistol-grip mounts that can be adjusted to take photos horizontally.
Using a tripod might seem like an unnecessary extra step, but it can make a huge different to the number of shots you take that can actually be used. In low-light situations, they are essential. If you use a DSLR, try a hot shoe mount to quickly attach (and remove) your camera.
If you don’t want to carry around any extra baggage, you can always prop your phone up against something. Using a remote or timer is another quick and cheap way to stop any wobbles.
If you are out and about, and don’t want to carry a tripod with you, there are ways to brace yourself, so your body takes on the role of the tripod. Leaning against a wall or solid surface can stop you swaying. Pulling your elbows in to your side, forming a triangle with your arms and body, can help stop camera shake too.
Yes, Photoshop can sharpen images. You’ll get much better results, however, if you add a touch of selective sharpening to an already in-focus image.
Try it: If you take a lot of your photos out and about on your phone, tiny tripods like the Joby GorillaPod are lightweight and portable.
Understanding the basics of composition can transform your photography.
You may well have heard of the rule of thirds. This is based on dividing up your image into 9 sections using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. You want to look at where these lines cross. These areas are great for creating a balanced photo. Aim to have the main subject at this points.
There may be times when this rule isn’t a great fit for the image you're taking, for example a close up or a shot that is designed to highlight symmetry.
Just being aware of the ‘rule’, however, will make you think more about the main subject of your image and their position relative to everything else in the shot.
Try it: Next time you peer through the lens, give the composition a second thought. What is the main subject of the photo? Take a few extra shots moving the main subject to the different position on the grid.
6. Change your viewpoint
It is tempting when we see a great photo opportunity, to stand face on and click. Changing your viewpoint can add fresh interest to an over-photographed subject or location.
When you find your shot, take it. Then take the same shot again, looking up or down, perhaps at an angle or get right down with the subject eye-to-eye.
Move in and capture the detail. Or, move out and make the subject part of a bigger scene (keeping the rule of thirds in mind).
This is also a great way to create multiple shots of the same subject, perhaps for a collage or blog post.
Seeing something familiar in a different way can transform a subject from ordinary to eye-catching.
Try it: In addition to your go-to shot, take a few more looking up, down, at an angle or get down on the floor (depending where you are, of course).
7. Make (or buy) your own backdrops
If you take product or styled shots, it's worth creating a consistent style.
If, like me, you don’t have a range of beautiful furniture just lying about waiting for a photo opportunity, homemade backgrounds can save the day.
All you need are pieces of foam board. These can be painted, covered with wallpaper or fabric, or used as they are. They don’t need to be huge either. I’ve used A2 ( 17“ x 24“) for all sort of craft, food, office and lifestyle shots.
It's a really cheap way to create a range of different backgrounds that can take your images beyond the confines of your office or home.
Although a more expensive option, I’ve also used planks of woods to create great backgrounds. I painted each side a different colour, so I could get two different looks with the same small prop.
Try it: Get some whiteboard foam board, or recycle old wood and paint, and create a go-to background for your products or styled shots.
8. Soften or Bounce light
You’ve found the natural light. Great. Unfortunately, it’s a particularly bright day and the sunlight is causing heavy shadows.
If you’re shooting indoors and the light coming through the window is too bright, a voile or net curtain will diffuse the light and soften shadows. I have an expandable curtain pole with a piece of voile fabric attached to it. I can pop it into place in seconds and store away when I don’t need it.
If you’re outside, you can use a portable light reflector (a pop-up fabric circle) to put a barrier between the sun and your subject. It’s handy to have a spare hand when using these.
If you find it difficult to hold the camera and reflector, this is where a tripod can help you out. I also use spring clips to attach reflectors and backgrounds to my folding table.
Another way to lighten up the shadows is to bounce light.
You simply place or hold a white or reflective surface on the opposite side to the light source. Something like a piece of foam board or a silver cake base. Tilt it inwards slightly and you’ll see the shadows lift and brighten.
Again, for this it’s handy to have an extra hand. I use two square cake stands. I’ve joined them with tape along one edge, so they stand up on their own, like an open book.
Try it: Make your own reflective board. You can cover cardboard with foil or get a piece of white foam board to get you up-and-running with little cost.
Always try and take the best shot you can.
With a larger selection to choose from, be ruthless and select only the best shots you’ve taken. These may not always be perfect, but the more you follow these tips, the better that selection will become.
Make the most the 'digital' in digital photography and delete, delete, delete!
Now you're left with the best of the bunch, it's time to start editing. Investing some time in learning a photo-editing tool like Photoshop will pay you back ten fold.
Photoshop, or similar software, will not turn you into a professional photographer. What it will do is help you make the best of what you have. I think good editing software is just as important to a beginner photographer as it is to a professional.
Try it: Take a look at the Adobe Camera Raw series using Photoshop. This works for raw and jpeg files. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a few tweaks can make.
10. Take pictures all the time
And, the best way to improve? Take photos all the time. Technique, composition, working with props, viewpoints, understanding light and editing all improve with practice.
Before you take a shot ask yourself:
Where's the light? How's it affecting my subject?
What or who is the main subject of the image?
Where could I place my main subject according to the rule of thirds?
Is there one other angle I can use for the same shot?
Would this shot benefit from getting in close or moving back?
Most of your images won’t be works of art. That's normal. Just delete them.
If you have a DSLR, but find you don’t take it everywhere because you don’t want it damaged, it's time to get the right bag for the job.
I have a rucksack, handbag and shoulder harness, all specialised camera bags, that I use for different occasions.
Try it: Make sure you've always got at least your smartphone with you. Make a point of taking pictures every day and compare your shots over time.
I think the first step to improving your blog or social media images is to have a better selection of shots to choose from.
This means more shots, thinking about light, steadying your shots, remembering composition, selective editing, and getting used to hitting that delete button!