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by VonSchnauzer

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Over time, I've found there are a handful of really simple things that anyone can do to take better pictures.

What are your favorites?

  • Understand the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

  • Take your camera everywhere, including when you don't intend to use it.

  • Take a lot of pictures. If you find what you could perceive as an interesting subject or image, take many images varying angle, height, framing, working distance, aperture, focal length, etc.

  • When reviewing your own pictures, think about what you like and don't like for each one. What could be done to improve it (not just in post process, but when you were taking it, or even stuff like if that tree wasn't there, the clouds were better, a certain facial expression, etc).

  • Also look at photos and photogs that you like and try to understand why you like the work and how to do that.

  • Submit your good ones to critique forums and websites.

  • Critique other people's photos, it will help you see and take better pictures.

  • Participate in photo challenges. Once you spend a week agonizing over a good concept for a theme, you can look at what other people did. The pains of your own creative process combined with great ideas that others have executed will give you new insight.

  • Forget about gear.

  • For a day, limit yourself to one focal length.

  • Limit yourself to a certain number of pictures (once you have started to develop a photographic eye from taking and looking at many pictures), it will teach you to be careful and deliberate about creating a photograph.

  • Have fun.

  • "check your edges" -- think about everything that's inside the frame, and make sure you want it there. ("check your edges" meaning to look around the edges of the frame -- often things that straddle the edge of the frame are good candidates for either bringing further in (tops of heads, say, or feet sometimes) or excluding (random objects, a transition that doesn't need to be there, etc.)).

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Should be a community wiki –  txwikinger Jul 15 '10 at 20:40
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This is a rhetorical question used solely to start a discussion, but this is not a discussion board and discussion lists aren't really what we want. –  Roger Pate Jul 16 '10 at 3:50
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This is a good question (provided that it's a community wiki which it is) and has already provided a bunch of excellent answers so it definitely shouldn't be closed. –  gabr Jul 17 '10 at 21:53
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@Roger Pate - the second link you have says a key question is "can an average user learn something from this question?" and for this question the answer is definitely Yes. –  Hamish Downer Jul 24 '10 at 13:47
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Excellent question! –  Jarrod Dixon Aug 5 '10 at 6:28

42 Answers 42

Actually look through the viewfinder. What you see in there (at least with an SLR) is what you're going to get. Check for telephone poles sticking out of the top of people's heads. Check for litter on the ground in front of your subject. After you take the photo, check to see if somebody blinked or looks like an idiot (taking a sequence of three or so frames helps there).

Check for distracting items at the edge of the frame particularly - either reframe to omit them, or actually include the object in the photograph.

Plenty of folks have already suggested using photos you don't like as learning experiences. That is really good advice; figure out why you do/don't like examples of your work. Something that's helped me in this is to use software in which I can rate and tag photos so that I actually think about how pleased I am with a particular image. I use a rating scheme like this:

  1. made a technical mistake (e.g. subject is out of focus), the photo failed in its intent
  2. competent but boring
  3. LI had an emotional reaction to the content of the image
  4. I think this is among my best work
  5. I haven't used this rating yet!
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Look up. Look down. Lean on something. Crouch. Be creative!

Also: be critical of your photos. When looking at each one, try to find something that you could have done better. This will help you improve your photos when taking them.

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I've been asked this by readers of my photography blog and my students many times. I've found that formula that has resulted in the fastest results has been to start with these quick and easy books to read (even if you aren't a book person - they aren't theory books), and then get out and shoot.

You can learn a lot by looking at your bad shots afterwards and see what went wrong by looking at the EXIF metadata (viewable in Bridge, Lightroom, and Windows Explorer). It's also good to have someone (for me it's my wife) who has a more creative eye than your own give you compositional feedback as that super sharp shot of the bolt on your furnace might look awesome to you, but that person will generally give you good realistic feedback (i.e., "what's interesting about a dimly lit bolt in the dead center of your picture?").

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Learn to use a tripod (or other support) -- compare handheld shots with tripod-mounted shots in different lighting conditions to learn when the extra stability is important.

A useful rule of thumb is the one over focal length rule: for handheld shots, the shutter speed should be faster than one over the focal length (for 35mm cameras). A DSLR's sensor size and any image stabilization features will influence the results, but it's a good starting point.

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Learn all the rules of composition, then break them.

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For people who are not interested in photography:

  • Framing, composition and background


If they intent to be photography enthusiasts:

  • Shutter speed, aperture and exposure


Either way:

  • Get inspiration by looking at professional (and good amateur) pictures
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Heck, go one step farther and be inspired by bad pictures. A photo doesn't have to be good to have a part of it you like. –  chills42 Jul 28 '10 at 2:38

Don't just look where you're going, look either side, up, down and behind you too. You may spot something that most people miss.

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I think the best way to learn to take good picture is to look at all the professional pictures first, then start learning how to frame a picture by taking a lot of pictures. After that, you learn the technical side. Practice is the only way to become better.

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One of the best ways to learn anything is to teach others. Teach your immediate family to shoot based on what you yourself have learnt.

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Imagine the photo you're about to take... Imagine it being used in a Newspaper article, a magazine story, or hanging at an art exhibition. What story does it tell?

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A tip for learning composition from other's pictures: Read magazines upside down.

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Shutter speed should target the inverse of your focal length. (The inverse holds true as well.)

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I'm not really sure the inverse holds true. You should be free to use whatever focal length you wish, regardless of what your shutter speed is. The general rule of thumb is that to avoid hand-held camera shake, you need to use a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length. –  jrista Aug 8 '10 at 20:33

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