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Regardless of whether you take photos with your smartphone, a medium format camera or something in between, there are some essential photography tips that can help you improve the quality of your images.
In that regard, becoming a better photographer has much less to do with the camera you use and much more to do with things like the camera settings you use, lighting, framing, composition, and the like.
Though the tips outlined below aren't an end-all, be-all summary of everything you can do to improve your photography, it'll certainly give you a strong foundation for moving forward and creating better photos.
Without further ado, let's get to it!
If you enjoy taking portraits, one of the most important tips you can remember is to get candid.
And by candid, I don't necessarily mean a shot of people rolling on the floor laughing.
Instead, a candid shot is something that shows the moment - the emotions and feelings of that instant in time, as seen in the image above.
That means you can capture a moment of happiness or joy just as easily as you can capture a moment of heartache or loss.
By focusing on the moment, you're able to capture something that's far more authentic, something that resonates more with viewers than if it's something that's heavily posed.
Think about it - which is better to look at, a portrait of your kids lined up sporting forced smiles or a candid shot of your them laughing, playing, and blowing bubbles like in the image above?
The whole point of taking a photo is so that you can remember a moment. You're much more likely to capture the feelings and emotions of those moments by focusing on taking pictures that are authentic.
So, rather than forcing your friends and family to line up for a posed portrait, just take a few steps back as they interact with one another and strive to capture those genuine moments that everyone wants to remember for a lifetime.
The Background is Important, Too
A key mistake that beginner photographers make is that they get so dialed in on the subject of the photo that they forget that there's a background to worry about as well.
This is actually a two-pronged mistake.
First, if you don't pay attention to the background, you run the risk of having something distracting back there that diminishes the visual appeal of the image.
To use portraiture as an example, that might be a tree branch that appears to be sticking out of the model's head.
That's why it's common for photographers to blur the background in a portrait - to minimize the distractibility of it, as seen in the image above.
Secondly, backgrounds can be boring, too.
By that, I mean that regardless of whether you're taking a portrait or a landscape, the background needs to have some sort of connection to the subject and enhance the shot.
For example, in landscape photography, it's common to have a large depth of field such that everything from the foreground to the background is in focus, as seen in the image above.
That means that if you have a boring background, it'll be on full display and ruin the shot.
But if the background has some substance to it - the shape and texture of the mountain peak in the image above, for example - your image will be all the more successful.
Think About the Subject
You can develop an understanding of lighting, know how to use your camera's settings to improve the exposure, and study all the rules of composition that you want, but ultimately, if the subject of the photo is boring, your photo will be boring, too.
That's assuming that you even have a strong subject in the shot to begin with...
As obvious as it seems, many photographers struggle early on with incorporating a subject into their shots that is both strong and interesting.
But by striving to have a strong, interesting subject, your image will be more likely to catch the viewer's eye and tell a more engaging story at the same time.
This is especially true in landscape photography, where beginners tend to try to incorporate the entirety of the scene into the shot.
More often than not, this results in an image that offers a wide view of the landscape but has nothing that draws people into the image.
Instead, find ways to incorporate a strong subject, like the couple in the image above, which adds another dimension of interest to the photograph and helps you create an interesting narrative to tell with your photo at the same time.
Work Constantly to Improve the Shot
It never ceases to amaze me how many times I see photographers simply standing there, taking a thousand pictures from their own eye level from the same spot for every shot.
It drives me crazy, and it should drive you crazy as well.
Capturing a photo from your own eye level is boring. If you're an adult, pretty much all adults see the scene from the same eye level anyway.
What will help you improve your photos is if you work constantly to find new ways to capture the same scene.
That means that if you're photographing your kids, get down on their level - even if it means laying on the floor to get the shot.
The resulting image, like the one above, not only offers a more interesting perspective into your kid's world, but it's also more unique and authentic.
But kids aren't the only subjects that benefit from you finding a unique shooting position...
Do the same with adult portraits, macro photography, street scenes, landscapes, and so forth.
Here's a great exercise that's easy but will help you understand the value of working to improve the shot...
The next time you're out shooting, no matter what the subject matter is, challenge yourself to photograph the subject from at least five completely different viewpoints.
You might take a photo from above it and then another from a worm's eye view. You might photograph it from up close and then from far away.
The point is to take your time, investigate different possibilities for composing the shot, and finding unique angles that help you create a more compelling image.
Get more beginner photography tips for improving your photos in the video above by Peter McKinnon.
Learn What "Good Light" Means
If you've ever taken a picture in the early afternoon under intense sunlight on a cloudless day, you understand that some light just isn't pleasing to the eye.
At that time of day, the sun is intense, tends to wash out the scene, and causes harsh shadows that can be distracting in the shot.
Conversely, if you've ever taken a photo in the hour or so before sunset, you know that light at that time of day is incredibly rich, warm, and beautiful.
As you can see in the image above, that kind of light can really elevate a shot and make it that much more visually appealing.
That means that you need to chase good lighting.
This applies to whether you're shooting outdoors or in...
As already noted, when you're outdoors, pursue the light at the end of the day during Golden Hour.
You can also manage "ugly" light in the daytime by seeking the cover of shade to help diffuse the harshness of the light.
When you're shooting indoors, head towards a window to take advantage of natural lighting coming through the window.
The point is that the quality of the light in the photo will go a long way in determining the quality of the photo itself.
If you truly want to become a better photographer, spend some time just looking at light - its intensity, coloring, and the shadows it creates.
By becoming adept at recognizing good and bad light, you'll be much better equipped to create breathtaking photos.
Look for Details
Another way you can elevate the quality of your images is by looking for, and focusing on, small details that might otherwise go unnoticed as people go about their daily lives.
The advantage of doing so is that you open up a whole new world for your photography.
This could mean that you take a close-up shot of the texture of a plant's leaves or even opt to work on macro photography for a while.
This might also mean looking for interesting shadows to focus on in the images you take.
Something else that focusing on the details does is help you develop your creative eye.
Rather than seeing the large scene as one big whole, you can begin to break down even the most complex of subjects and find new ways of portraying them in your images.
What's more, working on the small details will allow you to get creative with things like depth of field to bring people's attention to the details you want to highlight.
In other words, looking for small details gives you many other opportunities to learn photography skills that can elevate the quality of your work.
Learn about other steps you can take to improve your photography skills in the video above by Jessica Kobeissi.
Pretend You're Shooting on Film
One of the great things about digital photography is that it has made photography more accessible to more people.
But the drawback of digital photography is that we have this notion that we can simply point and shoot (or spray and pray, as many people call it) without having to worry about using up all the room on our memory cards.
But as someone that remembers the good ol' days of shooting on film, there's something to be said about having that sort of a limitation.
Instead of having a virtually endless supply of shots to take, with film, we had 24 shots or so per roll with which to work.
If you want to improve the quality of your photos, try pretending that you're shooting with film and limit the number of frames you can shoot.
That'll do a couple of things...
First, it will teach you to be selective in terms of what you photograph. Being selective means that you'll think twice about firing the shutter in favor of thinking about things like lighting, framing, and composition before you fire away.
Secondly, by slowing down and thinking more about each shot, you'll minimize your mistakes.
Even taking just five extra seconds per image to check the corners, make sure the exposure settings are spot on, that the image is focused properly, and so forth, will help improve your images more than just about any other tip on this list!