When I first started blogging, I took terrible pictures. I had no idea what I was doing and every picture reflected this. But I knew that if I spent time to learn the basics, my photos would vastly improve, and they have. I’ve read lots of books and tutorials, taken a few online classes, and practiced and practiced and practiced. In fact, I’m still practicing.
While I’m not even close to being a professional photographer, I’ve learned a few basic tips that anyone can use, whether you shoot with your smartphone camera—which these days is just as good as a point-and-shoot, or if you want to take your hobby to semi-pro.
1. Shoot often and try to be prepared
Simply having your camera with you and getting into the habit of shooting can take your photography skills to the next level. Like any skill, photography takes practice. Back in the days of film, this could become expensive, but these days, we can take as many photos as we desire.
Try shooting multiple rapid-fire photos of the same subject. You’ll decrease the number of ruined shots because someone blinked or looked away. You’ll also be amazed when you capture perfect moments, like when your daughter ’s eyes light up when she sees her parents walk through the door or son catches a ball during his softball game.
I used to bring my big camera with me everywhere but phone cameras have now improved to where there is almost no excuse for not taking pictures whenever you can.
2. Be brave
Being an amateur, beginner or even a semi-professional photographer, many of us may feel like, “Oh, I have no idea what I’m doing—a lot of others know more about this than I do.” Yes, there is a lot of photography terminology to learn and all the fancy lenses and accessories can be somewhat overwhelming.
Remember, anyone can learn to take good pictures. Maybe everyone won’t make the cover of a national magazine, but most of us can learn how to take a good family photo with some practice and forethought.
3. Always find the light
The general rule for lighting is that natural light works best for photographs. Pay attention to the way the light hits your subject—good lighting can work wonders to draw the eye in, hide flaws and add highlights.
Sunlight and bright overhead lights can be harsh and create deep shadows. For sunny and bright midday shots, try to use shade and move your subjects as needed. Shoot in front of a bright window or try overhangs and areas that are shaded but offer natural, indirect light.
Understanding ISO and shutter speed can really make a difference. Learn about the ISO setting on your camera. Use higher numbers when light is low and lower numbers when it’s bright out. Adjust your shutter speed when needed as well—slow it down to allow more light to enter the lens or use a faster speed when you don’t need the extra light.
4. Be steady
Consider using a tripod for clearer, less grainy photos, especially when you’re using a slower shutter speed. A tripod is also useful for family photos. Set your camera’s timer and join in instead of hiding behind the lens. Tripods are also handy when snapping pictures of your kids, if you have a shaky hand or if you’re easily distracted.
While tripods aren’t for everyone—sure, they can be inconvenient to carry around—they can really amp up your game in terms of clarity, allowing you to take pictures at slower speeds and in lower light.
5. Pay attention to composition
If you’ve ever taken an art or photography course, you’ve been introduced to the rule of thirds. This means that you should visually divide any scene into threes, both vertically and horizontally, and aim to have your subject positioned slightly off center. This technique ensures your photos are more visually interesting.
6. Keep it simple
Keep your photos as simple as possible, for the maximum visual impact. Make sure to give consideration to patterns, distracting items and other things that may detract from your photos. Try simply moving unflattering items out of the frame. It also helps to dress your family in solid colors and simple patterns for photogenic events.
To make your subject the subject and eliminate distracting backgrounds, get a little closer than seems necessary too. On the same note, keeping things simple also means overthinking it. If your daughters look adorable in their best dresses but they don’t coordinate, don’t sweat it. Take a fun black and white photo, add a filter, blur the background or focus on the foreground and you’ll still wind up with a photo that you’ll love forever.
7. Take advantage of editing software
You can improve the look of your photos with the vast photo editing software available. I like PicMonkey, but there are many other options, like Picasa and Photoshop, plus plenty of filter apps and downloadable photo enhancers.
Once you get comfortable with a photo editing method, you can use it to soften backgrounds, brighten colors and even smooth blemishes and wrinkles. But don’t expect miracles. There are many websites dedicated to Photoshop disasters—please don’t overdo it and damage your photos.
Think of editing as a way to enhance and bring out the best in you photos. I avoid over-cropping since it lowers the resolution or use extreme effects. Black and white can fade a busy background. And there are filters that can add a special touch and allow you to add text to your images, fade the edges and make the photo look more “finished”.
The most important part of taking photos is capturing the moment. Photography is a really a means to tell a story and a way to document our lives.
What are your secrets to the perfect shot?
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