Wednesday, March 4, 2009

3 Quick Tips to Help You Take Better Photos Today

People constantly ask me what they can do to take better photos. While it's true that you will be able to be more creative with a good DSLR and wide-aperture lenses, neither of those are required to improve the quality of your photos today. With your current camera - whether it's a vintage Holga or a brand new Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 - using these three tips will dramatically improve your photos.

I'm going to use edible subjects to illustrate these tips; you can click on each photo to go to its individual recipe from my wife's wonderful blog of cupcake recipes.

1) Take advantage of light.

You need light to take pictures (that's what your film or camera sensor records, after all), so give some thought to the kind and quality of light you want to use. While direct flash tends to yield harsh, unnatural shadows, the sun at noon is equally harsh and unpleasant. The best conditions for shooting with natural light occur late or early in the day or on overcast days when shadows are soft. If you want to be more creative, think about how light should fall on your subjects and make that happen with lamps, reflections from turkey roasting pans, or any other do-it-yourself solution.

The glass of almond custard seen on the right is lit from the upper left of the frame by bouncing a flash unit off the ceiling.

2) Don't center your subject.

It may be tempting to press the shutter button as soon as you have your target in the middle of the frame, but more often than not, that will yield a photo that's uninteresting and lacking context. Why is your son's head right in the middle, and what's going on above him? Try taking a photo with your kids playing on one side and all of their toys strewn about on the other. Stand back and capture the whole room as Aunt Helga walks through the door to her surprise party. Putting your subject(s) elsewhere in the frame can create tension and release and set the mood for a photo (see the Wikipedia article on the rule of thirds for some good starting points).

I decided that moving the delicious chocolate cupcake pictured here to the left side of the frame would create some good negative space on the right, which helps to draw the viewer to the dessert.

3) Focus and recompose.

If you plan on using the tip above, recomposing your shot should become part of how you shoot. Assuming that your camera is set to focus on the center of the frame, don't press the shutter all the way as soon as it registers focus. Instead, press the shutter halfway to lock focus, keep it held there, and pivot the camera to give you the composition you want; the camera should remember the focal distance as long as you keep the shutter held halfway. When you have the composition you want, finish pressing the shutter completely to take the picture.

I focused on the orange cupcake itself, then pivoted the camera to the right to include the fork and some more atmosphere.

Did you find these tips helpful? Do you want to see more? Please let me know in the comments!


  1. Excellent!! Yes yes! I love this! I had asked you before for some tips and you gave me a great site. But I have to tell you... number 3 up there NEVER EVER crossed my mind! Thank you so so much!!! :)

  2. I have to agree with Maegan. I haven't tried #3. Thanks for the tips! I'm really enjoying your blog. I stumbled upon it after reading an article of yours from the Digital Photography Tips website. Great work here!