Travel Tips

10 Tips for Taking Better Photos

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Snap gorgeous pics with your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera

It’s frustrating to visit a beautiful place and not have any decent photos to show for it.The popularity of smartphones has turned every user into an amateur photographer, but not everyone knows how to get the most out of their camera. Follow these 10 tips and you’ll impress your family, friends, and followers with much-improved photos. I developed this list with the iPhone camera in mind, but the techniques will apply to most smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras.

1) Obey the rule of thirds


Putting your subject dead center can result in a boring picture. Instead, compose the photo with the subject in the left or right third of your screen. This rule also applies horizontally. For example, when taking photos of a sunset on the beach, fill the bottom third of the screen with the water and the top two-thirds with the sky. Don’t allow the horizon to break the image in half. Here’s a picture I took of the Cape Lookout lighthouse in North Carolina, with the rule of thirds applied both vertically and horizontally. This composition allows the viewer to appreciate the beauty of the clouds and feel the expanse of the shore.

2) Behold the golden hour

Brook at sunset

The best time of day to take photos is right before sunset. (The hour after sunrise also works if you’re awake!) The light during this time is soft, flattering, and gorgeous. Mid-day the sun is too bright; it will wash out your subject and cast harsh shadows. Check this site to see exactly when the golden hour occurs each day at any location.

3) Use flash sparingly

I almost never use flash. People look terrible with artificial light flashed in their face, and food photographed with flash looks unappetizing. I utilize natural light whenever possible. One exception to this rule is fill flash. If your target appears dark against a brightly lit background, you can use flash to fill in the shadows. This page explains fill flash well.

4) Get close

So many photos could be improved by just getting closer to your subject. Resist the urge to use the zoom function, which results in low-quality images. If you can physically move towards the subject, get up there!

5) Get low

When photographing a tall object, I often crouch down and angle my phone up to see if I can fit more of the object into the photo. Shooting at this angle provides a different perspective compared to shooting the object head-on.

6) Reposition your subject

If the sun is shining in your subject’s face and they’re squinting uncomfortably, move them to a different spot. I prefer taking photos with light coming into the frame from the side. You can also try moving around the target of your image to experiment with lighting and backgrounds. Read more about when to use front vs. side vs. back lighting here.

7) Remove extraneous objects

Before I take a picture I make sure there are no road signs, lampposts, tree branches, fingers, or other unwanted objects in the frame. Moving closer to the subject or moving slightly off to the side usually takes care of these problems.

8) Hold steady

If your photos tend to be blurry or grainy, you may not be shooting with enough light, or you may not be holding the camera still. I use both hands to support my phone while I use my right thumb to press the shutter. Experiment to find what hand position works best for you.

9) Adjust the focus


Sometimes the camera automatically focuses where you want it to; other times it needs help. Before you snap a photo on the iPhone, tap the screen to focus on your intended target. You’ll see a yellow square pop up around the new focus point. This technique works especially well when taking up-close or macro shots, but it can help with landscapes too. See these photos of a moth on a flower: The one on the left was taken without focus adjustment; the one on the right was taken with focus adjustment.

10) Edit

I can’t stand overprocessed or heavily edited photos, but I do use the basic editing functions on my iPhone to enhance images. From the editing screen you can crop, rotate, and straighten a photo. Or click on the magic wand icon to give your photo a quick color correction. Another way I edit is by not posting any photos that turned out badly. Only share the good ones, and everyone will think you’re a talented photographer!

Emily Randall is a writer, editor, tutor, and belly dancer. She has previously written for 52nd City Magazine and now lives in Durham, NC, with her Pekapoo dog, Louie. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @embellydance

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