Photographs evoke a range of feelings. They can transport you to other countries and offer different perspectives. But how do you take a perfect pic? While the answer to this question is very subjective, anyone can take a better picture provided the right tools and tips.

Some photographers seem to be innately blessed with the ability to capture beautiful photographs. But a “good eye” for photography isn’t required in order to improve your image capturing abilities. Professional and aspiring photographers have most likely taken classes and honed their skills by practicing for years. However, anyone with a smartphone, point-and-shoot, or Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera can up their photography game and maybe even stop relying on those automatic settings. Here are some photography tips that will help you take a perfect picture.

The Basics

woman taking photo of food with mobile phone in restaurant sunglasses on table

Clean Your Lens

Tantamount to taking the lens cap off of your camera, cleaning the lens should be step one. So many mobile phone pics would really benefit from a quick lens swipe!

Modes

When using a smartphone, there are some basic things to adjust in your camera settings. Pro mode acts like a DSLR. It lets the user control aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Portrait mode blurs the background, which makes your BFF or doggo the focus of the photo. Food mode will make your homemade pies and cookies look profesh. Just be sure to tap on the smartphone screen to focus.

Nice and Steady

Keeping a steady hand while taking a photo will lessen the likelihood of a blurry image. You can always use your elbows as a bipod. Set your elbows on a flat surface angled outward and hold your phone horizontally. Find a comfortable position and shoot away. Another way to use your ‘bows when taking a picture is to keep them close to your body, resting on your stomach. Another way to get less camera shake and therefore clearer pics is to take a deep breath and shoot after you exhale.

Subject and Setting

Always be aware of your surroundings and keep your subject in focus. Indoor photos with a lot of clutter can look messy. Move your subject or yourself to crop out the competing clutter. Get closer, or zoom in tight. Heads up though: zoom can make a photo appear less clear. Outdoor photographs can have less than ideal surroundings too. The same tips apply here. As the photographer, you can always change your angle and perspective to get a photo with one subject as the focal point.

The Rule of Thirds

Most people have a great camera in their possession at all times. But a great camera can only do so much. Composition is key. However, composing a good shot doesn’t have to be complicated.

As tempting as it may be, please, do not center your photograph. Make the composition more compelling by placing the subject in the left or right of the frame. Use the grid on your DSLR, or go turn on the grid in your smartphone camera settings. Put the subject in the upper left or right crosshairs. The negative space in the photo enhances the design and draws focus to the subject.

Good Lighting

Squinty eyes, squishy faces, and dark shadows can ruin a photo. Good lighting is fundamental to a well-exposed photograph. “Blown out” refers to a photo being overexposed, making it look white and washed out. Low lighting can make a photo look grainy. Getting a good shot in different types of lighting is sometimes difficult to manage, but it’s not impossible.

Taking photos on a cloudy day can actually be really great. Clouds help diffuse the sunshine, which makes for better photos. Backlit and front-lit photographs of people are usually not ideal. If you can find or create shade your photos will likely turn out better.

Your best bet for great lighting is to photograph during the golden hour. Somewhat of a misnomer, it refers to the times after dawn and before dusk. Like happy hour, it can last longer or shorter than an hour (depending on the season). Taking pics during the golden hour will give them a warmer look and beautiful tone.

DSLR

woman with hat on in sunflower field taking photo with canon dslr camera

Switch to manual, adjust as you go, and learn by trial and error. Nikon and Canon are the two top brands of DSLR cameras that have dominated the photography world for decades. Most models in either brand will take great photos, even when shot in automatic and set to auto-focus. However, if you want to stray a bit from the safe world of automatic, here are some basic DSLR photography tips to help you along.

Exposure

Getting an in-focus, perfectly exposed photograph can take practice, patience, and a lot of tweaking. Switching your settings to manual can be scary at first. However, having your aperture, ISO, and shutter speed in balance will create a perfectly exposed photo.

Aperture

Aperture settings are expressed as f-stop numbers. These ratios control how much light is allowed into the lens. The “f” stands for focal length, and manipulating these numbers can affect your depth of field (DOF). A shallow DOF (represented as a smaller f-stop number) will let more light in and have a snazzy effect. It will either blur the fore- or background and keep the subject in focus, which is known as bokeh. Deep DOF (represented by a larger ratio) will focus on a larger area. Keep in mind when you change the aperture, other settings will need to change too.

ISO

Along with aperture and shutter speed, ISO is one of the three pillars of photography. The acronym ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization,” but it just means that it changes your camera’s sensitivity to light. ISO generally ranges from 100 to 6400, sometimes higher.

Setting your ISO correctly is essential in getting a photo with just the right brightness. Ideally, set the ISO as low as possible if there is enough light. In low lighting (indoors or after dusk), increase your ISO. Noise in digital photography refers to visual distortion, similar to graininess in film photography. Setting a high ISO might increase graininess, but sometimes it’s needed.

Shutter Speed

Adjusting your shutter speed can help you freeze or blur motion. Getting unique effects like light trails in night photos calls for using a slower shutter speed. If you’re into chasing waterfalls, and want to capture the moving water, you will definitely need extra gear. Use a tripod, set your shutter speed and aperture low, and set a high f-stop to get a sense of motion in the water. To freeze motion at your kid’s soccer game, use a faster shutter speed.

Practice, Practice, Practice

woman with long dark hair taking picture of baby

Capturing a meaningful photograph can help keep a memory that otherwise could be lost, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Whether you want to take better pictures of your loved ones or just want to pick up a new hobby (or profession), practice will greatly improve your skills. Making mistakes can do wonders for your photography; it’s how we learn.

Grab your phone or camera, try these tips, switch up some settings, and take several photos of the same person or object. Change your settings, try again, and adjust until you get a photo that you like. Some people prefer light, airy photographs, but others may enjoy a moody, darker photo. Once you are comfortable adjusting your settings, the sky's the limit! Have fun!

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