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3 Easy ways to Improve your Photos
  • Michelle Harris

3 Easy ways to Improve your Photos

Today everyone has a camera of some sort within reach at all times. It can be frustrating trying to get that one special photo and when you get home it isn't as good as we would like. There are some simple things you can do that will immediately improve the photos you are taking. I want to share these 3 tips with you that only require practice and good eye.

Capturing life's special moments are priceless treasures. Don't risk missing a single one.

"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still." Dorthea Lang

Do you ever wonder how you could improve the family vacation photos or Christmas photos? There are little things you can do that will instantly improve your photos. No, it isn't buying more expensive camera equipment. These are thing you can do with a very basic camera and even your cell phone. I am going to share 3 tips and tricks you can start doing now and not spend a dime on more expensive equipment. #betterphotos #photographytips

3 Tips to Improve Your Photos

I want to start with 3 basic principals of photography that are easy to learn and make the biggest difference in your photos. The first is lighting, the second is composition and last is changing your position. These three things are also things I wish someone would have taught me when I was younger and carried a film camera every where I went. I sure would have saved a ton on film and had much better pictures recording my memories.


Lighting is one of the most important aspects of photography. It can make or break a photo or it can make in artsy or dramatic. There are a few basic rules of thumb you can use in your day to day snapshots to make your photos better and are extremely simple.

First is to have even lighting. What I mean by even lighting is there should be no sun splotches or uneven shadows. Splotches occur when the sun or light comes through something else before getting to your subject, such as the sun shining through the tree limbs. If you are taking a landscape photo the sun coming through the limbs can make the photo more interesting, but if you are taking a picture of a person the sun patches can create splotchy lighting on your subject which is not flattering and detracts from the photo. If you are taking a photo of a person or group of people make sure the lighting that is over the subject(s) is even from head to toe. (see senior portrait above) In the senior photo above the light she is standing in is even with no splotches of light shining on her.

Secondly, be careful when shooting in the bright overhead sun. Here the sun can be your enemy. In these cases you have to watch shooting into the sun, which causes sunspots to show in your photo. Don't get me wrong, I have done this for artistic effect. You need to be mindful of where the sunspots fall and that the sun isn't shining directly into the lens of your camera. If you are using a DSLR camera make sure to use a lens hood to shield the lens of your camera. If you are using a point and shoot camera or your phone you can use your hand or have someone shield your lens for you. Another consideration is you want to make sure your subject isn't looking directly into the sun. This will cause your subject to squint and have an odd smile (if they smile at all). In the cases where it is unavoidable in shooting during this time of day try to find open shade for your subject to stand in. Open shade is created by an object that is projecting a shadow. Have your subject stand at the edge of the open shade where the light is even and the sun isn't shining in their eyes or your lens. If you look at the senior photo above she is in open shade and the bright sun is behind her.

Thirdly, if you are shooting during a bright time of day your subject is standing in even light or open shade, but the background is very bright there is an easy way to light your subject and still get the background and it not be blown out. This is the perfect time to use your flash. Your flash will give light to your subject and help keep the background from being blown out and looking like a white blob of light. As in the senior photo above. The senior is in open shade and you can make out the details behind her even though it is very bright.

Let's look at the Three photos below. The first one shows a trumpet player that is in almost complete darkness, but the light behind him is very bright. This was taken during an event in which we weren't allowed to use flash. Instead of giving up on this shot we used the light we had and created a silhouette. This created a nice dramatic photo. The next photo shows a couple on the beach. They wanted their photo taken with the ocean behind them which meant breaking the rule of not having your subject looking into the sun. These two were somewhat fashionistas and had their sunglasses and popped them on. For them this reflects who they are and is a win win for them and me as the photographer. Lastly is a gentleman conducting a band. During this event we were limited as to where we could shoot from and no flash was allowed. The stage lighting was only on the conductor's right side leaving his left in complete shadows. The piece he was conducting was very moving and emotional so it was a matter of waiting for the right moment to take the shot. By switching it to black and white it made it more dramatic and showed the emotion of the conductor.


Composition is what makes a photo aesthetically appealing. It leads a viewer's eye to the main point of the photo. Composition is a bit harder to master, but it isn't difficult once you learn what to look for. I am going to talk about a few of these. These basics include the rule of thirds, leading lines, patterns and symmetry, framing and cropping.

Rule of thirds

This is a very simple way to compose your photos. When looking at the scene divide it into thirds horizontally and vertically. Your main subject of the photos should be in one of the thirds. Example would be a couple just off to the side with a beautiful landscape behind them or a sunset in the top third of a landscape.

Take a look at the photo below. The fisherman has him off the the left, but his fishing rod is leading you to the ocean. Both of these are important aspects of this photo.

Leading Lines

Leading lines allow the viewers eye to be lead to the main subject of the photo. An example would be a road leading to a mountain range or a person walking down a path and they are pictured further from the camera.

Let's look at the three photos below. The first of the lighthouse has the fence the leads the viewer to the lighthouse, which tells them this is the main subject of the photo. The second one is of a father and daughter walking up the stairs. By having them off to the side (rule of thirds) and showing where they are walking it helps the viewer not only see the two, but allows the viewer to know where they are going. It creates a story the viewer can picture in their mind and draw conclusions about the ending. The last one has leading lines in a different way and could be better. This is a quick snapshot my husband took of me while I was shooting a sunset. I cropped this one for demonstration purposes. The fence serves as a leading line from me to the sunset. By cropping it with me almost in the center it just looks odd. You really don't know what I am taking a picture of. Had I left it as he took it I would be off to the left side of the photo and you would see the fence leading to the sunset.


This is one I like to use when photographing families. This isn't putting a picture in a frame. This is using the surroundings to frame the subject of your photos. An example would be a couple standing in an archway or a family walking along a path with trees along the sides.


Cropping is done for sizing and for creative effect. It can be done in camera (be careful if you are wanting to print the photo at a larger size) or with software. When taking a photo have a plan for how you want the final image to be viewed and what you are going to use it for.

Let's take a look at some examples of framing and cropping. The photos below show framing and cropping. The first was taken while on vacation. I saw this little boy standing just on the other side of the archway. He was naturally framed by the doorway and I loved how it looked with him shadowed and the light behind him. When I saw the moment I was pulled in. The archway framing the young man lead me straight to him and with the bright sun behind him created a perfect silhouette.

The next two photos show cropping. The photo in the middle shows the handy work of the athletic trainer I was working with. You get a glimpse of the trainers hand and you see the athletes head turned to the trainer showing their interactions with one another. The purpose of the photo her is to show the type of work of the athletic trainer and the connection between the athlete and the trainer. The last photo is a simple flat lay. With the sole purpose of being used on social media it needed to be cropped to a square and show the purpose of the flat lay to get people to stop scrolling and take a closer look and hopefully ready the copy under it. So rather than showing all of the keyboard and computer it made a bigger impact by cropping to see only a portion of the keyboard and all of the book and glasses.

Change your position

Lastly, change your position and see the scene or subject from a different point of view. Simply change the angle or height you are looking at something makes the biggest difference. An example would be getting down on the level of a child or animal or shoot a building from laying on your back to show its height.

Take at look at the photos below. The first photo with the little boy I got down on his level so we were eye to eye. Had I stood to take this shot I would have been looking down at him and would have lost the effect and also he would have appeared much smaller. The second photo of the lighthouse I laid on my back at an angle that made it look taller, but also captured the sun shining on the glass of the lighthouse. By laying on the ground I made the lighthouse look much bigger than it really is. This lighthouse is only 75 feet tall! The last shot of the Moravian Star I laid directly under the point at the bottom of the star and that point was my focal point. By shooting it from the bottom it looks a bit bigger, but it really shows the points of the star.

Just the smallest attention to details can make the biggest difference in the photos you are taking. There are other things you can do to make your photos better, but these are the ones I feel make the biggest impact and with the least amount of training. Also, these are things you can do and not have to spend money on expensive equipment. In my photography classes I was told many times to learn everything you can about what you have and get as much out of it as you can before buying more equipment. If you haven't pushed the limits of the equipment you have, how are you going to know what to do with more expensive equipment. Yes DSLR cameras are great and the more expensive the camera the better the quality the image produced. But here's the thing. Just because the equipment is capable of producing great images it doesn't mean that you are ready for the next step. You need to master the simple details to create great images. Once you master these simple tips and rules of basic photography more expensive equipment may very well be in your future.

"Don't shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like." David Alan Harvey

Capture a moment in time

To really make the biggest impact in your photography journey you need practice. Practice makes better. The more you work on something you will start to see the little things that make images stand out. You will start to form your own style of photography. The best way to get better is to take photos of anything and everything from the simple to the complex. If you are ready for the next challenge, there are many community colleges that offer photography classes and some offer degrees. It just matters what you want to do with your images. The rules and tips that I gave above are guidelines to get you going. All rules are meant to be challenged and even broken from time to time. If you are wanting to take portrait style photos and don't have anyone willing to let you take their photography find an object to use; grab a large stuffed animal to use. The stuffed animal will never complain!

Now, go out and take pictures! Get creative and have fun!

        Winston-Salem, North Carolina                 336-408-0804       



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