Combining Adobe Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop is part of every photographer’s arsenal. But how do they have amazing photos while yours are still mediocre? We’ll look at 10 easy tips and tricks to capture that moment – extremely simple, yet rarely executed
1) Your Location and Equipment
In one of our previous posts, we looked at how we can choose the perfect location. Applying similar principles to photography, you need to have an idea in mind. For a portrait of an individual, keep the background clean. If there is a scenery or drop which isn’t plain, at least adjust your focus to the subject. Conversely, for wider shots, focus on what you want to capture. Take a few steps back, ensure there isn’t movement if you don’t want any.
The latest smartphones are all advertising their latest features, especially newer additions to the camera. Any smartphone which can capture some depth of field is sufficient. If you’re looking to get into photography, a compact mirrorless camera (with a micro four-thirds lens) is a great starting point. The MFT lens is compatible across many different brands, proving a versatile fit
2) Create Sense of Depth
Leading from the first point, photos with a sense of depth can create a surreal experience for the viewer. In technical terms, you can open the aperture to make the viewer feel they are the ones behind the lens. Simply, the lower the F-stop numbers, or the more you zoom in with an automatic camera (including most newer smartphones), the shallower your depth of field will be.
Introducing some foreground elements for the larger shots will enhance your images further. Taking a photo of a natural landscape? Hold a branch of leaves in the frame of the camera. Looking to capture some crowd movement? Get a few heads in the foreground. Viewers will blindly notice these details and subconsciously attribute the image to a certain position in the landscape. Basically, it’ll tell them where you were standing when you took the photo
3) Manipulate Light (and Shadows)
Golden Hour is used to describe the short period after sunrise and before sunset. In these moments, especially for wider, sweeping, landscape shots, you’ll find the most joy and success in capturing your scene. Naturally, you’ll only get golden hour on a clear and sunny day. Having the sun low in the sky above the horizon gives a warmer, mellower, and softer effect than what a harsher light (see point 8) would provide. This time is colloquially known as the ‘magical hour’ to photographers and the best photos tend to be taken in this period
Frontlight is used to highlight the subject you are capturing. The light source should be behind the photographer. This is the most common type of lighting used by photographers, as it evenly illuminates your subject and can bring out plenty of detail. This is a big-game player during golden hour and favoured by many worldwide
Backlight is the opposite, with the light source directly behind the subject. Use this to capture a more powerful image, whether it be a silhouette or a more dramatic image. The sun needs to be low in the sky, otherwise you’ll struggle to capture a powerful shot. Positioning the sun behind the subject or just outside the frame is recommended to avoid direct sunlight into the lens.
Sidelight is your third option when taking a photo. Although extremely rare and difficult to master, sidelight can give a powerful effect, especially when bringing out texture. It casts shadows where textures exist, and highlights it on top of the detail it can capture. It’s a distinctive and instantly identifiable look highly regarded in a portfolio for the technical skill and execution in capturing such a shot
4) Change Your Angles
How do you want to capture your subject? A lower angle gives a more impressive, powerful meaning, and a higher shot could show reduced significance or importance. Getting to the level of your subject is a surreal experience for the viewer, especially for flora and fauna
If you want to take a photo of your dog, for example, get down to their level and shoot. You can even go from even lower, giving them a more majestic impression. After all, doggos are the best, right?
Similarly, drones give higher shots for places you might not think of too often. Rock pools at beaches are a great example of what a drone can achieve. Buildings with a view are a great option – but look at the streets instead of into the distance! Those vertically-looking-down shots (they’re called a bird’s-eye view) are one of the best urban photography techniques you can easily capture with narrow margins of error
5) Check Your Framing
Understand and be aware of the edges in the image you are trying to capture. This helps you align your photo, especially for landscape or urban shots where elements are vertical or horizontal. The last thing you want to deal with is capturing an elegant image only to realise it’s a tiny bit slanted
See what you can place in your foreground and background. Are there any small details you want to include? Having this in your photography arsenal will elevate your versatility and adaptability to situations, especially those with motion. Many beginner photographers will adjust their lens to what they perceive as the ‘highlight’ of the image in the centre, disregarding the importance of the full canvas. Check your edges, understand how perspective changes angles, and use this to your advantage
6) The Rule of Thirds
Leading on from the previous point, one of the many ways a photographer can configure their viewfinder is using the rule of thirds. Contrary to its name, this is more of a guide – it’s there to lead you, but can often be broken for the sake of it
Most images which follow this rule are well-composed as the main subject is in one-third of the image, leaving the other two-thirds more open and free. A common misconception though – don’t focus your image in each of the rectangles. You want to place the focus where they intersect: Imagine you’ve been given four crosshairs to aim your camera at. If in doubt, take multiple images. You can always edit them later
There are several ways to move away from the rule of thirds in photography. For portraits, you can try filling the frame with a person well-centred. Wider, sweeping shots may also be centred, possibly at the top or bottom. Various composition styles, like the letter Z, imitates how we read from left to right, top to bottom, in English
7) Adjust Shutter Speeds
Motion plays an integral role in many photography shots. Almost every natural landscape will include some form of movement. Playing with your shutter speed will help capture this moment, whether it be fast or slow
A faster shutter speed will ensure your image will be clear and crisp. It will encapsulate high detail, at the exact moment in time. High-octane moments requiring clarity and texture, such as sports, will suit a fast shutter speed
Slower shutter speeds capture an image over a set period of time, and can enhance detail if the camera is held still on a tripod. Celestial photography at night, such as tracking star movements, will use a slower shutter speed to record the sky over a period of time, simultaneously highlighting the bright(ish) stars against the contrasting night sky. Anything involving motion where a photographer may want to highlight the speed of the subject also suits a slower shutter speed. Focussing on the subject and following it at the same speed using the camera will add a motion blur to the surrounding areas, and keeping the camera still in position will blur the subject as it moves past
8) The Importance of Colours (or the absence of)
Complementary colours help blend a scene into a warmer or colder image. Another significant reason for shooting images during golden hour is the orange and yellow haze the sunrise or sunset adds to the frame. Similar colours help soften the blur between a subject and its background, or ensuring a background is free of clutter and distraction when focussing on the foreground is emphasised
Selective colour highlights certain features which may potentially otherwise go unnoticed. It adds splashes of colour to images which may have too much detail or movement, diminishing the importance of a certain aspect or detail. If a background is too complex in an urban scene, for example, utilising selective colour to reduce focus could be an option to refocus on the subject
In harsh light, such as direct sunlight, using black and white (grayscale) will help mitigate the flare into the lens. The absence of colour introduces contrast to detail highlights and shadows. Conversely, increasing saturation or vibrance of an image can take away the clarity of edges and small details in the full-colour image
9) Focussing on Features
As humans, we look into each others’ eyes when we communicate. Reflecting this in photography, portraits should almost always focus on the eyes. It adds an element of surrealism and inclusiveness into the image for the viewer
Applying the same rule into other aspects of photography, we take photos because there is something we want to capture and share. Focus on this feature in your frame when you capture. Align this with the intersections of the grid in your rule of thirds framing, apply the right focus to your lens, and you’ll have a shot which can’t really go wrong
10) Image Salience
Visual saliency is the concept that a feature will always stand out in a frame – as applied above. Our eyes analyse the full frame all at once. There will almost always be a detail or feature on the page which grabs our attention immediately – but what is this feature?
Understanding how you can apply photography theory to your image is hard to excel at. The subject of your image may not always be what stands out to a viewer. Each individual percepts a scene differently and may not necessarily look at the same feature first in an identical image
There is no right and wrong on how you compose your visual saliency. When applying the 9 tips above, this one brings everything together; it’s the string that finally ties the package together. Arguably one of the most important and least mentioned tips, salience is what the first impression of your shot will be to someone – so you’ll need to make it count