Looking to be a better photographer? Five tips for instant improvement
Whether it’s shooting nature, travel, street scenes or landscapes, we all want to get shots that really stand out and impress. While it all ultimately hangs on your subject matter, if you keep these five key elements in the back of your mind, you’ll be able to maximise your chances of capturing the perfect shot – the one where everything comes together.
Time of day
Photographers are always going on about the ‘golden hour’, with good reason: it’s the perfect time of day to get your shot. The ‘golden hour’ is the time just before sunset (or just after sunrise) when the sky is golden and shadows are long. It’s not always an hour – in the winter it will last longer than an hour – but this is the period when the light is soft. The worst time of day to shoot is midday when the sun is directly overhead, and the light is strong with harsh shadows.
Once the sun has disappeared below the horizon (and most photographers have gone home), there’s a period known as the ‘blue hour’, when the sky darkens and slowly changes from blue to black. This can also be a great time to shoot, although you’ll need a tripod to do it properly. During the ‘blue hour’, street and office lighting shows up, while the sky still provides enough light to illuminate the background. Long exposure shots of car light trails work particularly well in the blue hour.
Angle of shot
It’s easy to shoot everything from eye-level – – that’s the angle we see everything from in the first place. But that’s also what makes it boring. It’s much more interesting to reveal your subject from an angle that people won’t have seen before. Shoot low to the ground, climb up somewhere high, or find a way of framing your subject so it’s shown from a different angle. Even just getting into the habit of getting down on one knee to take your shot will make a big difference.
As tempting as it may be, don’t centre your subject. The ‘rule of thirds’ says that the perfect composition is achieved by splitting the frame into thirds and placing the most important bits of your shot at the intersections. You don’t have to stick religiously to the rule, but it makes a good starting point.
An original take
Finding a way of making your shot different from the rest is never more important than when shooting familiar landmarks. It’s okay to get the traditional shot that all the tourists come back with, but then find a way of making your shot different. There are lots of ways you can do this. Finding a different angle works, but even just using a tripod to get long exposure shots will greatly expand your options. Alternatively, try a different lens. A telephoto lens gets you much closer to the action than a normal lens, while a fisheye provides its own unique view of the world.
Another way to make your shot original is to take advantage of the weather. Try shooting in the rain. If it’s a big rainstorm, then tourist hotspots, usually teeming with people, will suddenly empty out and give you the perfect shot. Even if it’s only a light shower, it will still leave puddles on the ground, which are great because they create reflections. By using the reflections in your composition, you can immediately find a different take on a scene. Even just making the rain into a feature in your image will help to make it original – a sea of umbrellas can add a splash of colour or repetition that can become the unique feature. There’s another reason that rain shots are more original – just like most people with any sense, photographers would rather be indoors, out of the dismal weather. It means you instantly have less competition. Instagram is overflowing with sunrises and sunsets, but when was the last time you saw a photo taken in the rain?
It’s easily done, but you can be so busy finding the perfect angle from which to shoot your centre-attraction that you don’t notice what’s happening on the sidelines. This applies to any type of photography, from nature to portrait to travel photography. If there’s a person in the background or signage that spoils your message, you can always find a better angle or sit it out while you’re there – but once you get back, there’s only Photoshop to fix your mistakes. Try to get into the habit of looking through the viewfinder and assessing what’s going on in the background before you set up your shot.
If you can’t do that, make sure you’re doing it when you review your images on the screen immediately afterwards. If you spot something in the background that shouldn’t be there, see if you can get it out of the frame with a slightly different angle or by moving closer in. Bear in mind as well that changing the aperture affects how much of the background is in focus. With a small f/stop value and a background that’s a long way from the foreground, the background may be so blurred that your problem obstacle disappears from view anyway – although it’s rare to be so lucky.