PICK A SUBJECT A good picture paints a story. Giving a picture a foreground subject and its background puts both into context and gives the picture a narration that just the subject or backdrop by itself wouldn’t.
For example, you want to take a picture of a vegetable shop with all its yummy delights set out in bright rows. Putting the grocer into the frame, whether at attention looking into the camera or captured candidly at their work – make them the subject of the picture and the shop is the context.
Similarly, a picture of a row of impressive distant mountains or glorious sunset will be more impressive if an object is in the foreground, be it a gate, rock, tree or a lake. And it adds interest
Like great paintings, the eyes first focus on the subject of the picture and are lead around the picture to appreciate the other parts of the masterpiece.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL Before clicking the shutter, look carefully all around the frame. Is anything in the frame or protruding into the frame that you initially didn’t notice, such as a branch of a tree or a random plastic bag. Is there a tree or pole sprouting from the top of someone’s head!
Keep it simple! Leave out any clutter from the frame. Try not take a picture of everything (see next tip) as it will lead to a busy and confused picture.
GET IN CLOSE Get up close and personal to your subject. Make it (almost) fill the frame if it is the most important feature. Use a wide angle lens to keep some of the background and get in close to add some drama!
INTACT LIMBS When taking pictures of people obviously try not to chop of the top of their head but also try not to chop off a limb such as an elbow slightly off frame. It will make them feel more in the picture.
GOOD LIGHTING A picture will always look much better taken on a bright sunny day than a dull grey day. This is down to the pleasing appearance that a high contrast picture gives.
SHADOWS Be aware of shadows cast by other objects, for example, in a forest the trees might be casting shadows onto the subject you are photographing. Normally your brain will filter out these annoyances to the extent that you don’t register them. The camera, however, will happily reproduce these and spoil an otherwise beautiful picture.
Similar to intact limbs, think about how the subjects shadow lies in the frame and whether it is best to keep it fully in the frame.
Be aware of your own shadow. With the sun behind you it can easily be in the frame. Much like the TV documentaries where a beautiful landscape flyby has the helicopter’s shadow! Can be awkward to get the picture you want without your shadow getting in the way. There are, however, great photographs of mountaineers at the summit and their shadows are cast onto nearby mountains!
THE RULE OF THIRDS You remember when your art teacher told you to draw a line on a piece of paper and then draw another line on that line where you thought it was artistically correct? Half the class would draw the second line bang in the middle and the other half would draw it about one third of the way along (didn’t matter which way). There is something that humans find pleasing about thirds. It has been studied back as far as the ancient Greeks and is always a reliable rule.
So, for that landscape make the horizon about one third down the frame (or one third up if you want to emphasise the sky).
For portraits or groups of people make their eyes about one third down the frame.
(Many ‘snaps’ have people’s faces slap bang in the middle of the frame leaving a big gap at the top and chopping off their bodies in an ugly way! Lots of point-and-shoot cameras don’t have a focus hold or one that many people cannot use so perhaps this is mostly to blame?!)
The thirds rule works left to right as well as top to bottom. Experiment with putting your subject on the left (or right) third. Put the sun or a sign a third down and a third across.
ODD OBJECTS A rule that seems to work a lot is ensuring that the subject is an odd number of objects. Humans have an endless fascination with odd numbers. There is just something special about them.
FOCUS Animals (and I include humans!) see first by making eye contact. When taking pictures of where animals are the subjects it is vitally important to ensure their eyes are in focus, even if everything else is blurred.
Use depth of field to blur a background and draw attention fully on the subject.
PORTRAIT MODE Don’t be afraid to turn the camera 90 degrees and take taller pictures. Recommended for taking pictures of a single person (as in a portrait!)
POINT-OF-VIEW Also don’t be afraid to use different angles. Kneel to get lower or stand on a box to get the picture from a different point of view.
SPACE FOR MOVEMENT Give your subject room if it needs it. While a picture is a static image, give a side-on picture of a car driving by or man-riding-bicycle room in front for them to ‘move’ into.
Along a similar theme, a side-on view of a person looking thoughtfully off into the distance, can be given greater depth if you give the person room to look into.
*All rules are, of course, meant to be broken!
About the Author
Danny Hartley is a photographer and moderator at: http://www.ImagesClub.com
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