Ten simple ways to improve your photos

Over the years I’ve seen dozens of variations of the ‘top ten things you need to know about photography’. Some have been good, some bad, some interesting, some not. I thought I’d write my own. It’s also an excuse to show off some of my photos. 🙂

As a bit of background, I’ve been taking photos with a digital camera for about ten years. I started with a tiny little 1.3Mp digital camera which had a viewfinder but no screen. It was cheap and cheerful, but was essentially a portable webcam. As time progressed, I moved up to a 2Mp Nikon Coolpix before buying into the heady world of the DSLR, with a Nikon D50 in about 2006.

Time passed, my lens collection grew, my wallet complained and the bag I used to cart it all around in got bigger. Cameras on phones got better and I started taking more photos with that. I’ve experimented with film using an SLR donated by a friend. I’ve got an old Holga 120S, with its crappy plastic lens held on with tape. I’ve tried pinhole photography (huge fun), gone to a couple of Flickr Photocamps (and ran a session at one of them). Recently I bought a cheap & cheerful little Canon Powershot for £40, which goes with me everywhere.

So. I do like my photography. I’m by no means or measure an expert, just an enthusiastic amateur, but I do enjoy taking photos.

With that firmly in mind, may I present to you my list of Ten Things You Should Know About Photography

1. It’s *not* about the camera
It really isn’t. I’ve lost count of the times that someone has seen a photo of mine online and said ‘oh, nice photo. You must have a really good camera’. The camera is not the most important thing. The bit behind the camera is the most important. You can have the best kit in the world and still take terrible photos.

Exhibit A.
sunset
This photo is was featured in Flickr’s Explore, got a ton of comments and likes and is one of my most popular photos on Flickr. I took it with the £40 point and shoot I mentioned earlier.

Exhibit B.
clock
Took that one with my phone.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy good kit. Good camera kit is very very lovely indeed, and you can spend a *lot* of money on it. It also depends what you’re going to do with the photos. That dandelion photo for example. You wouldn’t want to blow it up to A4 and put it up on the wall, for example. But to be viewed on-screen (as I do with most of my photos), it’s fine.

Similarly, if you’re taking photos in low light, or from a distance, you can’t beat a good lens.

2. It *is* all about the light
It took me a while to realise this. Photography is essentially all about light. You can have the best, most dramatic, perfectly framed shot, but if the light isn’t there, you’re stuck. You can fix some stuff in Photoshop, but getting the right light (or perhaps getting the right photo when the light is right) is where you’ll start getting great photos.

3 Get out there and take lots of photos
Can’t emphasise this enough. Especially now in these days of digital cameras and smartphones. Memory is cheap. Take lots of photos. Take photos from different angles. Get up high and look down on things:
X marks the spot
or look up:
Corn Exchange #Bettakultcha April 2011
Find the small things
Romanesco broccoli
or the big:
Rosebowl

Find something you love, and take photos of that.
Love, to the bitter end

4. Or get out there and take fewer photos
I know I’m contradicting myself somewhat (or indeed entirely). People zoom around taking millions of photos with their phones of any and everything. Once in a while, stop. Slow down. Think about the photo you’re taking. Take your time and compose the shot. Breathe. Find the perfect spot, wait for the perfect light. Then take the photo.

If you’ve got access to a film camera (and they’re dirt cheap on ebay these days), go out with a roll of film and make every shot count. Not having that LCD screen to check your shot after every click can be liberating.

5. Find photos you like and find out how they did it
Get some photography books from the library. Find and follow people on Flickr. Find photos you like the look of, and find out how they took them. I’ll bet that most people, when asked ‘how *did* you get that great shot?’ will be more than happy to tell you.

Flickr also lets you view the EXIF info on a shot (though it’s not as easy to find now they’ve monkeyed with the design!). The EXIF will basically tell you which camera they used, what aperture and exposure the photo was taken at, as well as thinks like focal length and ISO speed.

Oh, another suggestion? Find out what those things mean!

6. pay attention to what’s *behind* the thing you’re photographing
So many great photos are spoiled by having something going on in the background that you didn’t notice – a tree appearing to grow out of someone’s head, a random stranger wandering into shot, or reflections in shiny surfaces. When you’re taking your photo, take a moment to look around the frame and see if there’s anything there which shouldn’t be there.

7. keep it simple. Less is more
My favourite photos are those have a strong feature to them. Something to focus on. Too much clutter in the photo means you end up wondering what it was that the photographer was trying to do. But, that’s just me. Each to their own. But if you’re trying to take a photo, take a moment to see if there’s anything in there that doesn’t need to be. Bit like number six, above.

zen pebble is zen

8. It’s *all* about the composition
Ok, this one goes with 6 and 7. Basically, think about what you’re photographing. Try not to crop the tops of people’s heads off. Don’t just take photos with everything bang in the middle of the frame. Try new things. Look at photos you like, and see if you can write down exactly what it is you like about them. Is it the focus with the blurry background? Is it the lighting, the composition? Go and read up about the Rule of Thirds. Then work out when to ignore it!

9. Make *lots* of mistakes
But don’t just write them off. See if you can work out how the mistake happened, then find out how to fix it next time. Learn from the mistakes. Photo too blurry? Find something to rest the camera on, or tuck your elbows in. Too bright? Don’t shoot into the sunlight. Someone wandering through the background? Watch your composition. And so on.

10. Don’t listen to people who make up top 10 lists
No-one knows everything. 🙂 The main thing, as with so much in life, is to have fun doing it.
day 15 20SEP2009

So, dear reader. There you have it. My top ten list.

I’d love to know what you think – have I missed any crucial points? Do you agree, or disagree?

Author: dave

writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, bookworm and stationery geek. Doing fun things with digital.

4 thoughts on “Ten simple ways to improve your photos”

  1. Only just read this – and I love it. I’ve recently started getting more interested in photography. Specifically, still life photography, using props etc. I have no money, no camera (apart from on my phone) and precious little time. But even I can do some of the things on your list. And I’m most grateful to know that it’s not the camera that matters as much as the person behind it. I shall get better…

    1. Glad you like it! I’m already thinking of the next ten photography things post – any specific questions you want to ask or areas you want me to talk about?

      On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 9:44 PM, espresso coco

  2. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of this! It may be slightly tongue in cheek, but never a truer word said in jest. Much of what you mention are things I’ve realised as I’ve taken photos – especially the light! How I rue the miserable light of cloudy, rainy days! I will refer back here regularly I am sure (and will look at your photography for inspiration too as it’s fantastic – amateur or not!).

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