How to take great photographs

Learning how to take great photographs can be a very bewildering experience for the beginner.

Some photos becomes good and others "not so good" but what distinguish good photographs from those that are not so good?

Let's take a look at how to create great photographs.

1. Unclutter your photographs

Have you ever heard yourself saying "I didn't remember seeing that lamp pole" or "The dog was so much bigger" when you study your photographs?

There's a reason for that. The human brain scans the scene and focus on what it finds interesting and eliminates the rest. This is all done subconsciously so you won't even notice it.

The brain also brings out what it finds interesting, such as for instance objects, colors, patterns, shapes or forms.

But the camera can't selectively filter out information as your brain can so you end up with everything that was in the view finder, not just what you thought you saw.

The result is often a jumbled unstructured mess...

Force yourself to study the area surrounding your subject when you look through the camera viewfinder and remember the final photograph will be rendered in only two dimensions.

So to take great photographs you need to unclutter the photograph and make sure the background is nice and clean to ensure no horns are growing from aunt Mollys head.

Example of distracting background

Example of a photograph with a background (pole) distracting the photograph.
Example of a photograph with a background (pole) distracting the photograph.

2. Discover the quality of light

Believe it or not but the quality of light changes between seasons and time of day.

The first hour after the sunrise and the last hour before the sunset is called the golden hour for a good reason. The light is soft and has a very low contrast during the golden hour so it's easy to take pleasant photographs this time of day.

At midday on the other hand is the light very strong so you often get a washed out sky and nearly black shadows. The human eye can easily handle a huge range of light intensity from dark to very bright light. The camera on the other hand have a very limited range.

Many photographers take a well needed nap this time of day so they can get up early next morning.

But it's not always impossible to take great photographs in the middle of the day. Overcast days is suitable when you photograph flowers and other small objects because of the reduced contrast. Also black and white photography can be done successfully on an overcast day.

You can also use filters to create a slightly warmer tone to the photograph.

Avoid including the sky on an overcast day because the sky will be washed out resulting in boring photographs.

Example of photograph with overcast sky

This photograph of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is taken on a day with overcast sky. Notice the washed out sky and how boring the photograph becomes.
This photograph of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is taken on a day with overcast sky. Notice the washed out sky and how boring the photograph becomes.

Golden hour

Photo is taken from a mountain looking down over a forest in northern Sweden just before sunset. The golden rays from the sun is caught by the mist and the trees.
Photo is taken from a mountain looking down over a forest in northern Sweden just before sunset. The golden rays from the sun is caught by the mist and the trees.

3. Place the subject off-center

Be honest, how many photographs to you have of your children were they are centered smack in the middle of the photograph?

Did you ever wonder why those photographs are so boring even though you had so much fun when you took the photographs?

Photographs becomes boring when you place the subject in the center of the frame. By placing the subject off-center in the frame you will on the other hand get much more interesting and dynamic photographs.

Imagine two lines dividing the photograph in three equal parts from left to right. Also imagine two lines dividing the photograph in three equal parts from top to bottom part of the photograph. You should now have divided the photograph in nine squares.

Place the subject matter along these lines and especially in the intersections between the lines and you have just used "the rule of thirds".

Just by following this simple rule you will be admired by your friends for being a great photographer. I promise.

Example of "Rule of thirds"

In this photo I've placed the girl on the left 1/3 line in the frame to create a more interesting photograph. Also notice that the harsh midday light is creating strong and unpleasant shadows.
In this photo I've placed the girl on the left 1/3 line in the frame to create a more interesting photograph. Also notice that the harsh midday light is creating strong and unpleasant shadows.

Example "Rule of thirds"

Here i have placed the flower in focus on the lower left third (well almost) of the photograph. Notice how the two other flowers that are out of focus balance the photograph.
Here i have placed the flower in focus on the lower left third (well almost) of the photograph. Notice how the two other flowers that are out of focus balance the photograph.

4. Move closer to the subject

A well-known photographer once said, “If your photographs are not good enough you are not CLOSE enough”.

This is very true...

Your images will have so much more impact and be so much more interesting if you move in closer to the subject. You can see freckles and wrinkles and the photograph will convey the emotions of the subject.

One way to make sure you are closer enough is the make sure you “fill the frame” with the subject matter. If the subject matter only occupies a small part of the frame you need to consider moving in closer.

While you can move in closer by using the zoom on your lens it’s usually better to actually “zoom with your feet’s” instead.

If you zoom with your lens it means you use a longer focal length so the objects in the photograph will be compressed and appear to be much closer to each other than they are in reality giving a very flat flat photograph. This is not always bad however and is for instance useful when you want the sun to appear closer in a silhouette (see photo below).

If you on the other hand zoom by waling in closer to the subject you can use a shorter focal length and still fill the frame. A short focal length will expand the distances between the objects in the photograph and give an almost 3D like feeling.

Silhouette taken too far away from the man

In this photograph i didn't get close enough. This result in a photograph with no impact and you can see litter on the ground. Another problem with this photograph is that the horizon is leaning slightly.
In this photograph i didn't get close enough. This result in a photograph with no impact and you can see litter on the ground. Another problem with this photograph is that the horizon is leaning slightly.

Same silhouette but closer

In this photograph i have moved in closer to the man. The photograph is still far from perfect but most of the litter on the ground is removed and the photograph now have more impact. Also notice how compressed the scene is because of the longer foca
In this photograph i have moved in closer to the man. The photograph is still far from perfect but most of the litter on the ground is removed and the photograph now have more impact. Also notice how compressed the scene is because of the longer foca

Move closer - Fill the frame

5. Less is more...

Less is usually more in photography...

This is perhaps the most important tips to remember when you learn how to take great photographs..

It's so tempting to include all the nice things you see in the same photograph.

Why not include the mountain in the photo, and the creek over there is also very nice, and why not include the old oak tree as well?

The problem with this is that the photograph becomes very "busy".

Instead of asking yourself "what more you can include" you should ask yourself "what else can i exclude" from the photograph.

Less is more video

6. Know when to use the flash

A flash is useful not only when it’s dark but can also be used on a day with strong sunlight

Bright sun creates unattractive deep facial shadows but by using the flash on your camera you can eliminate the worst shadows. Be careful though to make sure the flash is not too strong because the photograph will look very unnatural.

Many cameras are equipped with something called fill-flash for these situations. A fill-flash only gives a little “kiss” of light just about strong enough to remove the worst shadows.

My aunt once taking a photograph of the moon using her flash.

I asked her, "Why did you use the flash?"

She answered, it’s dark outside so I need the flash.

The problem is that the flash has a very limited range. The flash on many cameras may not reach more than 10-15 feet from the camera and definitely not to the moon.

If you exceed the range of your flash you will get very dark photographs. The flash might however in some cases be too strong if you are very close to the subject, in this case you can set your camera to fill-flash mode if it’s available.

7. Experiment

The rules are there to help you but there is nothing saying you can't break them.

Quite the opposite, when you get more confident with your camera it's time to experiment and break the rules.

The learning curve is very short with a digital camera because you can at no cost try different techniques and you can quickly see the result.

Just try to you quickly see what works and what doesn't work

Good luck!

Experimental photograph

In this photograph from China i used a long shutter-time and panned (followed) the guy with the camera as he moved. This enabled me to get him sharp but blur the background.
In this photograph from China i used a long shutter-time and panned (followed) the guy with the camera as he moved. This enabled me to get him sharp but blur the background.

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Comments 5 comments

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area

These are some great tips nrjberg. I especially appreciated the section "know when to use flash." I think the flash is one of the hardest things for amateur photographers (such as myself) to get a handle on.

Oh, and I'll try to not take any more flash photos of the moon! haha


QuirkyPearl profile image

QuirkyPearl 7 years ago from England - UK

Still wearing my 'L' plates so I found your hub very helpful, thankyou.


TK 7 years ago

Another great hub nrjberg. Well done and again some great advice for everyone to use and improve their own work.


brucet 3 years ago

Great tips. Thanks


trusouldj profile image

trusouldj 3 years ago from Indiana

Very, very nice.

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