Roman Colosseum

get started taking great photos: 6 simple tips

Posted In: Photography

These days, everyone has access to a camera via their cell phone. And honestly, they’re pretty darn amazing. My iPhone megapixel size is almost as big as what I had on my first digital camera 20 years ago. Hard to believe. And while our cell phones are nice and very convenient, sometimes you want to do a little more. You might want to be a little more creative than just using the latest cool filter on your phone. This is where a digital camera comes in. I always carry (and use) mine when I travel. You can see what camera gear I use here. Below are 6 simple tips to get started taking great photos.

Learn your camera

Mastering photography takes time and practice. It’s much more than just having a great camera and pushing the button. You can do that with your cell phone. You really need to understand how your camera works. Take the time to actually read the manual. Learn what all of the settings on your camera does. Learn when to use them and when to not use them. A lot of cameras have special features/settings.  Figure out the different settings and just experiment.  All this learning will help you come into your own style and before long you’ll have great images.

sony a7r camera settings

Lighting

Lighting is everything! You cannot take a photo without light and if the lighting isn’t right it can throw the whole photo off. Start paying attention to which direction the light is coming from. Direct light can be harsh, too bright, and create shadows. Indirect light is exactly how it sounds: light that doesn’t directly fall onto the subject. It’s soft and more natural looking and minimizes shadows. The light on a cloudy day can create a beautiful photo. It’s actually my favorite. Experiment with shooting at different times of day. Try getting up early and shoot as the first light of the day is hitting the town square during “blue hour” or at sunset during “golden hour” when the light is warm.

The two photos below from a trip to Fez Morocco are examples of harsh lighting. The first one, although the light is harsh, is one that I like because the harsh light isn’t falling on the people but I do like the patterns on the ground that come from the awning from above.

In the second photo, I had just come from around the corner into this town square. There really wasn’t a way to capture the scene without the harsh lighting. Notice the man in the left of the photo…the sun on his face is extremely harsh. The photo isn’t really one that I would do anything with other than it staying in my folder on my hard drive.

Fez Market Merchants
Fez Town Square

Take a lot of Photos

Take multiple shots. I never regret having too many photos but many times I’ve come home wishing I had taken more.  Wishing I had moved around or taken the photo at a different angle or waited for different lighting. That’s not always possible to do if you have others with you and are waiting for you to finish up but if you do have time, take the picture from multiple angles. Even though with digital you can immediately see the photo you just took and you may be happy with it, it never hurts to get a few more. Move around, change your angle, look for something different, not just the typical shot. However, you don’t need 50 images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Once you get home, edit and trash anything that is blurry, overexposed, or just isn’t something you love.

You can see my example below. I walked into the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London and took a ton of photos of this staircase. I probably have a few dozen more. Even though there’s only a few of these that I might do something more with I’m happy that I have a lot to look through and choose from.

multiple photos of the same staircase

Composition

Have you ever looked at a picture and you really weren’t sure what to look at? Sometimes there can be so much going on that nothing really stands out. Your eye darts around the photo unsure what you should be focused on.

Composition is all about how the photo is framed. Taking the time to compose a good photo can make a big difference in whether you have a keeper or you end up deleting that image forever.  Take the time to look at what you want to photograph and focus in on the most important thing in the photo.  Move in closer and use angles to guide the eye through the photo. 

Have you heard of the rule of thirds?  This composition rule is a simple way to get started taking great photos. Imagine a 9 segment grid, kind of like a tic-tac-toe board (does anyone remember that game?). According to the rule of thirds you want to position the most important part of your photo along those lines to help balance the scene. There’s a ton of “rules” to composition: symmetry, patterns, leading lines, background, perspective, angles, it goes on and on. But I think the rule of thirds is probably the easiest to start with.

The examples below from The Louvre in Paris France is a good example of the rule of thirds. You want important things in the photo to fall somewhere on the lines or where the lines intersect. In the first photo, this doesn’t really happen and the photo just doesn’t make for a good one. In the second photo you can see the Kohei Nawa’s Throne (that yellow thing) and the building are in the intersections of the lines and makes for a better photo. 

Louvre Pyramid
Louvre Pyramid Paris France

Planning

The difference between what can be a great photo and a bad photo can sometimes come down to whether or not you did your research.  Anytime I travel to a place I’m not familiar with, I’ll spend some time researching the area.  I research what there is to see and what I want to photograph.  This involves a bit of pinterest and instagram stalking.  Once I’ve made a list of things I’m interested in, I might go to Google maps and plan a route to maximize the time that I have. This allows me to spend enough time in that area to see the sights and take the photos I want.  Time to look at the scene, wait for the right light, and compose several shots.

Practice!

Probably THE most important step to get started taking great photos is to practice, practice, and more practice.  Make sure you take photos often.  Don’t use your camera once and then wait 3 months to pick it back up.  It’s easy to forget what you learned, especially in the beginning.  You need to keep practicing and work at perfecting your craft. It doesn’t matter what you take photos of as long as you are practicing. Did I mention practice?

It doesn’t take much to get started taking great photos. And honestly, if you don’t have a digital camera yet, you can get started with all of the tips above just using your cell phone. The most important thing is to work on taking better photos with whatever you have. With lots of practice you’ll be taking great photos in no time! What kind of camera do you use when you travel? Let me know in the comments below!

London Tower Bridge and Double Decker Bus

Thanks for sharing!

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