By Jim Hamel
Seems like every time someone gives tips about improving photography, they start with something technical. That is understandable; there is a lot of technical stuff to learn in photography. At the same time, it seems like there should be some non-technical things that could be done today — right now — to improve.
Turns out, there are. Here are seven non-technical tips you can use right now to make your photographs better. Try them out next time you are photographing. I guarantee instant improvement in your outdoor photography.
1. Fill the frame
This cannot be overstated enough. We all tend to put some background elements in our picture so that our viewers will recognize the location or context of the picture. The trouble is, beginners always put way too much context in the picture and it dilutes the subject. In any event, we humans are amazingly perceptive and can place context of the photo with only the tiniest of clues.
Next time, try to include just the subject.
Keeping the exposure dark adds drama to this photo of an old barn. Photo by James Hamel
2. Make it darker
Different levels of exposure create different moods. This is especially true of underexposure. It creates a sense of drama and sometimes mystery. Another benefit of slightly underexposing your images is that it makes your colors appear more saturated. Don’t overdo it, but next time try to knock the exposure level down a touch.
3. Get close
A close cousin to the “fill the frame” tip (it bears repeating) is to get close to your subject. Now get closer. Now get closer still. You actually still might not be close enough. Keep at it.
A nice photo of the Rock of Cashel made more interesting by a bird flying across the frame. Photo by James Hamel
4. Wait for action
So, you’ve got a great scene lined up. Maybe it is a landscape, maybe an urban scene. Go ahead and take the shot, but then recognize that you probably just got the same shot as
The scene isn’t going anywhere. Wait for an interesting development. That might be a person walking through the scene. It might be a flock of birds. It can be anything, so keep your eyes open. That extra something can be the thing that sets your picture apart from countless pictures of the same thing.
You don’t need to wait around all day, but another minute or two might make all the
Using tree branches to frame in two sides of a photo of a windmill at sunset. Photo by James Hamel
5. Frame the subject
Oftentimes you will find yourself before an interesting subject, but with no interesting
background. A great solution to this problem is to use a frame within your frame. It can be a complete frame, or a partial. The most obvious examples are doorways, windows, and tree branches, but almost anything can be used.
6. Fortify yourself
Right before you go out to take pictures, look at the best photography you can find. If you don’t already have your favorite place(s), start with the Popular page at 500px. Doing this right before you head out seems to always lead to better pictures being taken.
I know you don’t believe me, but it makes a BIG difference. Try it and your will be a believer.
7. Take multiple exposures
Don’t just take one picture and walk off, assuming you’ve nailed it. Take pictures from
different angles. Get low, then get higher. Get behind your subject and then in front of it.
Pros call this “working the scene” and it is not uncommon for them to take dozens of pictures of the same thing from slightly different perspectives.
Remember that with digital photography it costs nothing to take pictures — so take advantage of this and take a lot of them.
Do it today
These are all tips you can put into action today. You don’t need any special equipment.
The total cost of all extra gear needed to put these tips into action is $0. So give them a try and you should see immediate improvement.
Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article (with three more tips) and even more images.