Digital Photography For Dummies
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Have you ever looked through the photos you shot during a vacation or important family get-together and wished you had better pictures to frame, share online, or use in a photo book? For example, that really cool picture you took of your husband in front of the Eiffel Tower? Not so cool after all. You can’t really see him; he’s way too small in the frame. And in another shot, he has horns sticking out of his head because of some strange, unidentifiable object in the background.

It's frustrating when you end up with less-than-ideal pictures. But you can improve your photo-taking skills by incorporating a few simple techniques. Give the following tips a try.

Pay attention to the whole frame

As illustrated above (the horns), it’s important to pay attention to the entire frame of your photo when you’re getting ready to click the shutter button. Whether you’re using a smartphone or something fancier, what’s around your main subject and in the background matters. You might have to change your position, your camera angle, or wait a few seconds, but it will be worth the trouble.

Fill the frame

This tip is related to the first one because it’s also about paying attention to the entire frame of your photo. One of the best pieces of advice for better photos is to get closer to your subject and fill the frame with it, or them. The photo below shows an example of this. The photographer moved up close to the woman and filled the frame with her and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

woman posing in front of the Arc de Triomphe ©Ryanking 999 / Adobe Stock
The photographer filled the entire frame with the two subjects, the woman and the Arc de Triomphe.

Identify your focal point and compose around it

Before you snap a picture, first, identify your focal point, or main subject. It could be a person, a fountain, a tree, a building , or anything you’re interested in. Then, compose your shot with that focal point in mind. Even in scenes where a main subject isn’t obvious, try to identify something. For example, in a busy outdoor market, is there an interesting person or eye-catching tapestry you could use as your focal point?

In the photo below, the photographer noticed the wacky shaped, bright-colored peppers and chose them as the focal point. If the photographer had stood way back and shot more of an overview of the scene, with nothing in particular as the main subject, the result would have been a much less interesting picture.

In this shot, the photographer also chose a fairly shallow depth of field to blur the background. This further emphasizes the focal point, while also showing the environment.

colorful vegetables at a street market ©Katy_89 / Adobe Stock
In this image, the photographer chose the colorful peppers as the focal point.

Dummies.com has many articles and books on photography, including lots of books on specific cameras.

Use the rule of thirds

Often, if we don’t take a moment to consider composition, we end up placing our main subject right in the center of the frame. The result, most of the time , is a boring photo. You can significantly improve your photos by using the rule of thirds when you compose your shot.

The rule of thirds is a method of composition. Imagine a grid (see image below) over your viewfinder (on many cameras and smartphones, this is an option you can actually turn on) and place your subject along one of the lines or at a point where the lines intersect.

As you can see in the image of the golden retriever below, the dog’s head is near one of these intersecting points, and it results in a beautifully balanced shot. This photo would be far less dramatic if the dog was placed right in the center of the frame.

dog image with rule-of-thirds grid superimposed ©Kevin Noble / Unsplash.com
This photo demonstrates the rule of thirds. The photographer composed the shot so the main subject (the dog) is along one of the lines of the grid, and the dog's head is positioned at an intersecting point.

Keep in mind, the rule of thirds is a guideline. There are many examples of beautiful photographs featuring the main subjects in the center of the frame (like the next photo featured in this article). This decision, like so many aspects of photography, is an artistic one.

Where is the light coming from?

Take note of where the light source is, whether you’re indoors or outdoors. For example, if you take a photo of a person with the sun coming from behind them, it’s likely their face will be darkened and they might appear silhouetted. This is because your camera’s light meter is trying to simultaneously deal with the very bright and very dark areas in the scene. That’s not to say that shooting toward the sun is wrong. Many photographers do this intentionally for artistic effect, which requires a bit of technical know-how and some experimentation.

Also, pay attention to whether there are harsh shadows falling across your main subject. Try changing the angle of the shot by moving yourself or the subject, if possible.

Meter the light on your main subject

Digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, and others, include different ways to measure light coming into the lens to ensure a good exposure — meaning the picture will not end up too dark or too light. Make sure you are measuring the amount of light on your main subject. Even smartphones allow you to do this by tapping a specific area of the image on the screen. The point on the screen you tap is where the phone’s camera will measure the light. It will then adjust the exposure for that point rather than trying to balance the exposure for the entire scene, which can result in your main subject looking too dark or light. Try playing with this on your phone, and you will soon understand how to make it work for you.

Keep your camera level and hands steady

This tip may seem obvious, but we all sometimes forget to do these two simple things when we’re shooting photos. You can easily ruin what would have been a great shot by not holding steady and making sure you have your horizon straight.

Look for leading lines and patterns

In photography, leading lines are shapes in the scene that help lead a viewer’s eyes to your focal point. These could be train tracks, a line of trees or lampposts, a fence, buildings, or even shadows. In the photo below, the planks and rails of the pier lead your eyes out to the clouds and mountains beyond.

You can also look for other elements, such as shapes and colors, that make patterns in a scene to add interest to your photo.

pier on a lake with hills in the background ©Matt Wang / Unsplash.com
The planks and rails of this pier lead your eyes out to the horizon.

Frame your subject

Many times, if you look carefully, you can find ways to frame your main subject with other elements in the scene. For example, a rowboat just offshore in a lake could be framed by the trees on the shoreline. In the photo below, the photographer saw an opportunity to frame the subject with the arched window.

Sitting woman framed by arched window ©Migrean / Adobe Stock

Try a different angle

For fun, try framing your subject with a different angle. In the photo below, a different perspective, shooting up toward the statue’s face, and using the architectural elements on the walls to frame the head, creates a much more interesting picture than it would have been just shooting this static subject from farther back and straight on.

Statue of man in a museum ©Jack Hamilton / Unsplash.com

(Photo credit: Home page image by Dylan Hargraves, Unsplash.com)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Julie Adair King is a veteran digital photography author and educator whose books are industry bestsellers. Along with Digital Photography For Dummies, she is the author of bestselling guides to many Canon dSLR cameras. Her books have sold more than a million copies.

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