Ten Basic Tips

You don’t have to be a professional to capture a good shot. Try these ten easy suggestions to improve your photography skills.

1. Hold It Steady
A problem with many photographs is that they're blurry. Avoid “camera shake” by holding the camera steady. Use both hands, resting your elbows on your chest, or use a wall for support. Relax, don't tense up.

2. Put the Sun Behind You
A photograph is all about light so always think of how the light is striking your subject. The best bet is to move around so that the sun is behind you and to one side. This front lighting brings out color and shades, and the slight angle (side lighting) produces some shadow to indicate texture and form.

3. Get Closer
The best shots are simple so move closer and remove any clutter from the picture. If you look at most “people” shots they don't show the whole body so you don't need to either. Move close, fill the frame with just the face, or even overflow it. Give your shot some impact. Use a zoom to crop the image tighter.

4. Choose a Format
Which way you hold the camera affects what is emphasized in your shot. For tall things (redwoods, Half Dome), a vertical format will emphasize height. Use a horizontal format to show the dramatic sweep of the mountains.

5. Include People
Photographs solely of landscape and rocks are enjoyable to take, but often dull to look at. This is because your eye needs some reference point to judge scale. Add a person, car, or something of known size to indicate the magnitude of the scenery. Include some of your friends, companions, family, or even people passing by, to add human interest. If there's no one around, include yourself by using the self-timer.

6. Consider Variety
You may take the greatest shots, but if they're all the same type or style, they may be dull to look at. Spice up your collection by adding variety. Include landscapes and people shots, close ups and wide angles, good weather and bad weather. Take personal shots that remember the “being there”—friends that you meet, your hotel/campsite, transportation, establishments you visited, and street or hiking signposts.

7. Add Depth
Depth is an important quality of good photographs. We want the viewer to think that they're not looking at a flat picture, but through a window into a three-dimensional world. Add pointers to assist the eye. If your subject is a distant mountain, add a person or a tree in the foreground. A wide-angle lens can exaggerate this perspective.

8. Use Proportion
The beauty of an image is often in its proportions. A popular technique with artists is called the Rule of Thirds. Imagine the frame divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, like a Tic-Tac-Toe board. Now place your subject on one of the lines or intersections. Always centering your subject can get dull. Use the Rule of Thirds to add variety and interest.

9. Search for Details
It's always tempting to use a wide-angle lens and get everything in the picture. However, this can be too much, and you may loose the impact of the photograph. Instead, zoom in with a longer lens and find some representative detail. A shot of an entire sequoia tree just looks like a tree. But a shot of just the tree's wide base, with a person for scale, is more powerful.

10. Position the Horizon
Where you place the horizon in your shot affects what is emphasized. To show the land, use a high horizon. To show the sky, use a low horizon. Be creative.

Published: 5 Dec 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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