Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Here are my top three tips to improve ANY photo as you’re taking it. I’m thinking here of the times when you have your camera or phone to hand, something grabs your attention and you feel you want to capture the moment. It might be the light beaming through the trees when you’re walking the dog; your toddler giggling away on the swings in the park; a bunch of flowers in a vase on your coffee table; a colourful parade through the town centre; that wonderfully presented food in a posh restaurant. Anything that grabs your attention to make you grab your camera or phone to photograph it.
I’m not talking here about those occasions when something happens so fast you don’t have time to react. For example, if you are setting up your camera on a tripod for a still life shoot when the Red Arrows fly past your window in their classic diamond formation and by the time you’ve picked up the camera they’re gone. Yes, that really did happen to me in Scotland a few years ago. I even glared at my still life object with a “that was your fault I missed that shot” look!
Instead, this is about three things which will help to improve your photographs in those everyday situations. So here goes with my top three tips.
1. Ask yourself ‘why am I taking this photo?’
Now that might sound like a daft question. You’re taking the photo because you like what you see, right? You’re enjoying a moment that you want to remember. Obvious. But just think for a moment about what first attracted you to the scene. Is it the light on the side of the tree for example, and if so, has it changed in the time it took to turn the camera on, adjust the settings, and lift it to your eye? Maybe the sun is temporarily obscured by a cloud and that light effect will return in a few moments if you just wait. Maybe you can see a pleasing arrangement of the flowers in the vase, but when you move away to get your camera or phone it seems to be not so good. Just spend a few seconds more moving around and re imagining the composition before you start firing off a load of shots you’re only going to delete. Take your time. Enjoy the process, and keep asking not ‘what am I photographing?’ but ‘why am I photographing it?’
2. Ask yourself ‘am I posing properly?’
Anyone who knows me will be shocked by this advise, because you’ll know that I am naturally shy and anything but a poser. What I mean by ‘posing’ is this - think about how you are standing before you take that photo. Get your posture right. So many times I’ve seen people stand with their cameras to their eyes, elbows out and leaning back, looking like a drunk praying mantis! That kind of posture increases the chances of camera shake and blurry images. Rather than lean back to get all you want in the scene, just take a step or two back if possible. The best way to hold your camera or phone is with your elbows tucked in against your sides, and lean forward slightly. Keep your legs shoulder length apart, or, better still, one leg in front of the other, knee bent. Cradle the lens in your left hand. It’s a little like firing a gun. Hold your breath, and exhale slowly as you s q u e e z e the shutter button.
A few more things to watch out for that will help you with positioning.
When taking pictures of your toddler, rather than stand right over them and have them looking up at the camera, get down on their eye level. This will give you a much more flattering result. Unless of course you want them to look like they have a massive head, no body and tiny, out of proportion feet!
Watch out for your own shadow in the picture if the sun is behind you. Change your position by crouching down, or just a step or two to either side might fix it. Or you can use your shadow to take the glare off a your subject, maybe to prevent your child screwing their eyes up, which again can give an unflattering image.
Check there isn’t a lamppost or tree growing out of someone’s head before pressing the shutter button. If there is and you’re not able to change position, then consider using a wider aperture to throw the background out of focus. Oh, and look out for the potential photobomber. Yes, it does happen occasionally. If you’ve ever seen a live news report on t.v. you’ll will know what I mean!
3. Ask yourself ‘how could I improve on this photo if I took it again?’
Take a few moments to look carefully at the photo on the back of the camera or phone screen. Is there something you don’t like about it? Is something distracting you? Think about how you can remove those distractions by changing your angle for example.
There is a very helpful video by Chris Sale on this subject. Chris and I have not met each other yet, although we have talked about meeting up for coffee and a chat and have exchanged a few comments on line about photography. He seems like a thoroughly decent fella, and I love watching his videos as I find them so relaxing. He has kindly allowed me to share a link to his video “Change just one thing to improve your landscape photography” You can watch it here Chris comes from a slightly different angle on this subject, but it’s the same principle I’ve outlined. Have a look and see for yourself.
Just spend time reviewing your image on the screen, and if you’re not entirely happy, have another go.
Try to remember these three basic questions when you reach for your camera, and you will see a significant improvement in your photography.
What do you think? Are these tips helpful? We’d love to know your thoughts on this.
Feel free to comment below with how you get on, or if you have any of your own tips you’d like to share with us.