5 Tips to Improve Your Photos

This week I did a presentation at the Comox Valley Business Network on photography, so I thought it would make a great blog post as well. We live in such a beautiful part of the country that it is a given that we will come across scenes that we will want to remember. It is easy to take average, everyday photos, but with a few tips and tricks you can get photos that make people say, "Wow! Did you take that?!". (Can you guess that maybe this has happened to me? So annoying)...Anyways moving on...

I entitled this talk "How to get Compliments on Your Photos (Without Hardly Even Trying)".

royston wrecks

1. You need great light

Below there's a photo without great light. It was taken in the middle of a bright, sunny day so the light is harsh (there are other problems with this photo too but I won't go into them right now). 

kye bay

To the rescue: the "Golden Hour". If you have a choice in when you are going to take landscape photos, it is generally best to go during the "golden hour". This is (loosely) the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. At these times the sun is lower on the horizon and the light is much warmer. The shadows are less harsh and the sky has a golden glow. This next shot was taken at the same location (Kye Bay), but it was about 6am. I am normally not a morning person but this light was definitely worth dragging my butt out of bed for!

kye bay sunrise

2. Focal Point

A general rule of composition is the focal point. Without it, the eye tends to gloss over an image quickly, as it has no place to "rest". In this next photo I quickly popped out the focal point. Although it has great light (golden hour!) there is nothing to draw the viewer in.

courtenay photo

Here is the same photo with the subject added back in. Notice how the bee adds interest and impact to the picture. That's the beauty of a focal point! (off topic: bees are very difficult to photograph! Even at 1/2000 of a second it was  really hard to get it in focus!). But I digress...

3. Rule of Thirds

This is another general rule of composition. Pictures with the subject smack dab in the middle tend to look boring and uninspired: 

kye bay heron

Now, imagine your image has a tic-tac-toe board over it, so that there are intersecting gridlines at 1/3 intervals both vertically and horizontally. Studies have show that our eyes tend to be drawn to the 4 points where the lines intersect, and this adds to the impact and the strength of the image.

kye bay comox

Here is the same photo with the blue heron 2/3s to the right. The horizon is on the top  1/3. It is more interesting than having the bird right in the middle. (off topic: also try to have your subject facing into the picture, as it is above. If the heron were facing the other way it would draw your eye off the page, which isn't ideal).

4. Leading Lines

Leading lines give a visual cue that leads the eye into the subject of the picture. Roads and paths are often used as leading lines, but in the photo below I used logs:

bridal falls chilliwack

The subjects are the boys, so on both sides of the image the logs draw your eyes to them. Again, it adds interest and impact.

5. Patterns

Last but not least, looks for patterns. They tend to been viewed as aesthetically pleasing to the viewer. But also look for patterns that are disrupted. In the image below the boat and sheds make a pattern. But the fact that there is one boat missing makes the photo a little more interesting. 

malpeque harbour PEI

Here's one more pattern: The RCAF Snowbirds. Who does patterns better that them? (Betcha noticed the leading lines too, didn't you?!). 

RCAF Snowbirds

So there you go! I hope you find these tips helpful the next time you are out with your camera. There are lots of other elements and rules of composition, but that might be too much to digest all at once. Just keep practicing and having fun! And don't worry, it is still ok to break the rules! Until next time...