When I bought my first DSLR, I picked up on the exposures aspects of photography pretty quickly but struggled with composition. It seems to come naturally for many people, but learning to see the world with photographer’s eye is an ongoing process for me. My job now involves a lot of photography, which has pushed me to up my game and get serious about taking better photos. I’m still far from being an expert, but here are a few tips that have made the most dramatic impact on the quality of my photos.
Use the Rule of Thirds for Your Subjects
This is virtually the first tip mentioned in any composition tutorial, but I want to repeat it here anyway because I still need to remind myself of it when I’m taking photos. The idea is to imagine breaking your viewfinder frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. You then make sure your subjects are placed along these imaginary lines, or the points where these lines intersect. The placement doesn’t have to be exact, although many cameras have a setting that allows you to overlay a grid on your photo for guidance.
My instinct was always to place my subject in the center, but somehow placing it according to the rule of thirds actually looks more natural. Tutorials will usually describe how using the rule results in photos that are more dynamic or interesting. To be honest, I still don’t fully understand how/why the rule works but it does. Like most rules in photography there are exceptions, but most of the time photos just look somehow “right” when you follow it. It’s great to try to compose your photos using the rule, but of course, you also have the option of cropping them when you’re editing to get your subject in the right place.
Change Your Angle
Along with placing your subject in the center, I (and most inexperienced photographers) tend to automatically take photos straight on. You see something you want to take a photo of and so you naturally just take that photo from your current perspective, which is usually straight-ahead and eye-level. You can certainly capture some beautiful photos this way, but changing your angle is an easy way to take those photos to the next level.
The general advice is to try shooting from up high or down low. It changes the feeling of size of your subject, exaggerating or minimizing it in ways that can dramatically shift the overall tone of the photo. Changing your angle can also help you eliminate extra distracting objects that you don’t want in your photo, or even cause you to notice something else interesting that you do want to include. Walk around the subject a bit, and experiment with shooting from different angles and levels to see what works.
Take Advantage of Golden Hour
Golden hour refers to the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset each day, and it’s a magic time to photograph pretty much anything. The lighting is soft and warm, the low angle of the sun adds more dimension, and there’s less contrast between the highlights and shadows in your scene. Photos taken during these times of day just naturally look better without you changing anything else about your shot.
The exact timing and length of golden hour varies depending on where you are. I usually look it up before I travel anywhere and plan to do at least some of my sight-seeing during that time. If you’re motivated enough to wake up for sunrise, the added bonus is that there are usually fewer other people around during that time to get in the way of your shots.
Take Your Time
There’s no way around the simple fact that great photos just take time to compose. If you snap a quick photo of something and then move on, it’s never going to look as good as it would if you slowed down and thought about your composition.
It’s obvious advice, but it’s also easier said than done. It means having the patience to keep taking photos until you get the right one, even when you have lots of other sights to see. I find I take much better photos when I travel alone because I’m not self-conscious about making my friends wait while I check out how my subject looks from different angles. You can take the same photos of the same sights that every other tourist takes, but I think that slowing down to create more unique photos results in much better keepsakes of your trip.