Tips for Great Photos

The best way to keep improving is to practice often, make mistakes and be open to learning from others, whether they’re well-established photographers or newcomers to the craft.

Understand the rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is based on the idea that pictures are generally more interesting and well balanced when they aren’t centered. Imagine a grid placed over your images with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines that divide the picture into nine equal sections.

If you were following the rule of thirds, rather than positioning your subject or the important elements of a scene at the center of the photo, you’d place them along one of the four lines, or at the points where the lines intersect. Some cameras even have a grid option you can turn on, which can be useful if you’re still learning to compose your images.

Eyes should always be in focus

When shooting portraits, you’ll be focusing on a very small area so it will be more important than ever that you get a nice sharp image. The eyes in particular are an important facial feature, and they’re often the first thing people look at, especially when it comes to close-ups and headshots.

With this in mind, your subject’s eyes should be your main point of focus.

Pay attention to the background

Generally speaking, the background should be as simple and clutter free as possible so that it doesn’t pull the viewer’s attention away from the main subject of the photo. Muted colors and plain patterns tend to work well, because you don’t want viewers to end up being more interested in the colorful building or church tower in the background than your model.

Fixing a distracting background can be as simple as moving your subject or changing your angle, but if that doesn’t work, it may be possible to obscure it by using a wider aperture and getting in as close to your subject as possible. Whenever you can, though, try to keep the background neutral, especially if you’re placing your subject off to the side of the photograph and the background is very visible.

Understand the exposure triangle

The exposure triangle simply refers to the three most important elements of exposure; ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

ISO

ISO controls the camera’s sensitivity to light. A low ISO setting means the camera will be less sensitive to light, while a higher ISO means it will be more sensitive to light..

Aperture

Aperture is the opening in your lens and controls how much light gets through to the camera’s sensor as well as the depth of field. Depth of field refers to the area surrounding the focal point of the image which remains sharp. A larger aperture (indicated by a lower f-number) lets more light through, but has a shallow depth of field. While a smaller aperture (indicated by a higher f-number) lets less light through, but has a deeper depth of field.

Large aperture is best for portraits

When shooting portraits, whether of people or animals, your subject should be the main focus of the picture and the best way to achieve this is to use a larger aperture. This will keep your subject sharp, while blurring out any distractions in the background.

Small aperture is best for landscapes

Landscape photographs require a different approach, because everything from the rocks in the foreground to the mountains in the background should be sharply in focus.

A larger f/ number means a smaller aperture, so go towards f/22 or higher, depending on what your lens allows.

Learn to use Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes

If you want to venture out of automatic mode but don’t feel confident enough to switch to manual yet, Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av) and Shutter Priority Mode (S or Tv) are two very useful options that are available on most cameras and will give you more control without being overly complicated.  

Aperture Priority Mode lets you select the aperture you wish to use and then the camera adjusts the shutter speed accordingly.

In Shutter Priority Mode, you select the shutter speed you want to use and the camera will select the aperture for you.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed controls how long the shutter stays open when you take a picture. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light gets through to the camera’s sensor. A fast shutter speed is good for freezing action, while a longer shutter speed will blur motion. Long shutter speeds can give interesting effects, but usually require a tripod.

Make a habit of checking the ISO before you start shooting

Discovering that you’ve accidentally shot a whole series of images in ISO 800 on a bright sunny day can be extremely frustrating, especially if the photos were taken to document a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or other event that can’t be recreated.

It’s an easy enough mistake to make, though, so to avoid this unpleasant surprise, make a habit of checking and resetting your ISO settings before you start shooting anything. Alternatively, make a habit of resetting this every time you’re ready to put your camera back in its bag.

Be careful with your on-camera flash

If you’re not careful, using your camera’s built-in flash at night or in low light can lead to some unpleasant effects like red eyes and harsh shadows. In general, it’s better to crank up the ISO and get noisier photos than to use the on-camera flash and risk ruining the shot altogether.

Invest in a tripod

If you want to get sharp photos in low light without raising the ISO too much, a tripod is an essential accessory. It will also allow you to experiment with long exposure photography, where you leave the shutter open for seconds or even minutes at a time, which can make for some amazing effects when photographing things like cityscapes or rivers and waterfalls.

Shoot in the early morning and evening

Lighting can make or break a photo, and the early morning and evening are widely thought to be the best times of day for taking photos. In photography, the hour just after the sun rises or before it sets is called the “golden hour,” because the sun is lower in the sky and the light is softer and warmer.

Whether you’re shooting landscapes, portraits or still life, using the early morning or evening light can give your photos a serene feel with its warm glow and the long shadows it casts. Of course, the golden hour is not the only time you can get good outdoor photos, but it does make it easier.

Learn from your mistakes

Getting overexposed, blurry or badly composed photos can be frustrating, but rather than letting such photos discourage you, use them as a learning tool. The next time you get a bad photo; don’t immediately hit the delete button. Instead, spend some time studying the photo to work out what went wrong and how you could improve it.

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Print Resolution for Photographs

Generally, images should be at least 300 dpi/ppi at the dimensions you plan to use the photograph. For example, if a photograph is intended to be printed at 5” x 7” in your final printed piece, it should be at least 300 dpi/ppi when at those dimensions.

Web Resolution for Photographs

Pictures should be 72 dpi RGB  saved as a jpg. Crop or resize images to a maximum of 800px for use on a web page. Continue reading for more tips for great web images.