As an amateur-amateur photographer (as in, not even close to being a professional), I’ve learned a few things over the years on how to make my pictures look good, and I thought I’d share them with you:
1. USE THE MACRO FUNCTION FOR UP CLOSE SHOTS
On most digital cameras there should be a function that looks like a flower icon. If you select this icon, you will be able to take sharp, close-up shots.
Your pictures should now be able to look sharp up close (depending on your camera’s capability). For instance with my Canon cameras, I can be super close, about 1 cm away from the subject, but my Sony RX100 has to be 6 cm away.
This macaron was taken with my Canon S95:
If you were to try this without the Macro function enabled, then it would be fuzzy and not sharp at all.
2. TAKE MULTIPLE SHOTS
Don’t just take one shot of something, take multiple shots, you never know when one will turn out fuzzy or sharp, or something amazing happens by accident.
The days of having to develop each costly shot is over! Digital cameras have now allowed us to snap hundreds of photos and delete the ones we don’t want without having to pay the price to see whether it turned out or not.
3. USE THE MINIATURE FUNCTION IF YOU HAVE IT
On the Canon cameras, there’s a miniature function for the camera that you can set under Scenes.
It makes pictures look more vivid, and it makes landscapes look like miniature models.
Surprisingly, it works well on food shots too.
4. SET VIVID SETTING ON YOUR CAMERA IF YOU HAVE IT
I don’t do this for every shot because I find it makes the reds, blues and purples in flowers far too strong, but a lot of people like the look.
I did have it on in this shot however of The Bund in Shanghai:
And on these mushrooms too, and you can see just how purple / blue the middle ones are:
You can check out the difference between normal and vivid here.
5. ADJUST THE EXPOSURE
Exposure refers to the amount of light being let into your lens.
The higher the exposure, the more light. The lower, the less light.
If you are in a dim, dark place, adjust the exposure up so that more light is let in. If you are somewhere bright and sunny, lower the exposure for a shot that doesn’t look washed out.
On your camera, it should look something like this on a dial somewhere or on your screen in a menu:
.. -2 .. -1 .. 0 .. +1 .. +2
In the negative numbers (below 0 which is status quo or ‘normal’ exposure), you are letting in LESS light.
In the positive numbers (above 0), you are letting in MORE light.
6. DON’T USE FLASH
I have never found an occasion where flash is required except for night shots of drunken friends or to scare away otherwise scary people or animals, in which case, it is more of a way to blind someone than to take their photo.
Honestly, all kidding aside, flash just washes out everything you take a picture of unless you have proper lighting, a studio, light reflectors and a professional taking your shot with a flash diffuser so that you don’t get this full on blast of light.
Adjust the exposure instead and let in more light. This will not work for nighttime shots unless you have a special filter, camera, etc.
7. USE DIFFERENT ANGLES
Everyone always takes a shot of someone head-on. Try going from the side, squatting down, leaning over them, just focusing on their eyes and letting the rest of the shot blur out.
Don’t just stand there in front of the subject and snap the shot. Try different ways of looking at it.
Take for instance this map. I could have just taken a straight-on shot of it, but I went into macro mode and took it at an angle, which makes it more interesting than just a map.
Or this leaf.
It was just a HUGE leaf but what I liked was the geometric patterns of the spines on the leaf, so I zoomed in slightly and took a shot of the spines with the base of the leaf anchored in the middle of the shot:
8. FIND WAYS TO FRAME THE SHOT
Ask yourself what you want to take a picture of, then look around that subject to see what could frame the shot.
Maybe it’s leaves hanging off a tree, or a window behind them.
Whatever it is, find a way to anchor the background around the subject.
This is not the best example but I have half sky, and half ground. Not too much of one or the other.
If I had someone in the shot, they’d be taking up a third of the photo, perhaps standing to the right or the left.
You can also use the rule of thirds to find a balance in the shot: A third of the photo should be the background, another third the subject, and the last third the bottom or something like that.
Think of it this way: Too much sky, and you don’t get a nice balance of the ground and the sky.
Too much of the subject and there’s no artistry to taking the photo because it’s just the subject.
Take for instance this gold fish. I could have taken a shot of it in the middle but it was more visually interesting to have the fish go slightly out of the frame and show just a flash of its gold tail.
Compose the shot in your mind and take risks before you take it.
9. USE A FILTER IN PICASA
One of the greatest tricks I have (and it’s free) is to download Picasa, use it as your photo manager (I am on a Mac and iPhoto sucks), and use their built-in filters.
A filter called Cross Process was used here:
You can get different looks to your photos just by throwing a different filter on it such as Glow in this one:
10. TAKE A PANORAMA
If you don’t have a Sony RX100 (see below photo) that already has a built-in panorama function, you can cheat by taking a panorama in 4-6 different shots.
The idea is to keep a running track of different points or landmarks in your photos so that when you go to join the pictures up manually in a Photo Editor, you can overlay each shot against another quite easily without trying to figure out where it should go.
This is kind of how it works:
You start by planting your feet on the ground.
Then swivel to your far left, and take a shot, then make a note of a landmark or something distinctive in the right-hand shot of your frame.
Keep your hands steady, and pan over slightly to the right until that landmark you have made a note of in the previous photo shows up in the corner of your next photo.
Snap the shot, and make a note of something distinctive like a landmark or an inanimate object in the right-hand shot of your frame.
Now move slightly more to your right until that landmark or inanimate object is now in the left-hand shot of your frame.
Continue until you can swivel no more to your right.
Then when you get home, piece those photos together using those landmarks like a puzzle.
That’s about it. All my 10 best amateur photography tips in a post.
If you want to get even fancier, check out these photography cheat sheets.