3 Easy Tips to Take Your Photography to the Next Level

These days there are so many photos online that it’s easy to get discouraged as a new photographer.

It can be so difficult not to compare ourselves to other photographers - especially when so many hobbyist photographers are creating such amazing images!

It’s important to understand two things:

First, it’s ok to take tips from other photographers’ work and even to try and imitate their style.

Developing a style takes time - and lots and lots of practice. Why not look for inspiration in the work of photographers you admire? Even trying to reproduce or copy the work of others can be inspiring and educational (just give credit where credit is due).

Second, understand that nobody creates consistently stunning content when they first pick up a camera - everybody you admire today started as an amateur.

For every 10 photos they share on social media there are probably 50 photos they don’t want you to see. Be encouraged that photography isn’t a destination - it’s a journey!

If you feel like your photography needs a boost and you’re ready to take the next step toward success, here are three easy things you can start doing right now to take your photography to a whole new level:

Isolate Your Subject

Pumpkin Patch

One question many photographers fail to ask themselves is this: “What is this a photograph of?”

In other words, when I put my camera up to my eye what is the one thing I am trying to capture with my lens?

For example, I am often struck by the beauty of the sunsets when I visit northern California. Before I lift my camera to my eye, though, I ask myself, ‘What about the sunset am I trying to highlight?’ Is it the colors? Is it the sun itself? Is it the cloud formations?

If I decide that the clouds are my subject (which is often the case with beautiful coastal forest sunsets) I will want to compose my shot to give the most attention to the clouds in my sunset by taking up the most space in my frame with the cloud formations.

Alternatively, if I want to highlight the rays of sunlight poking through the treetops during a sunset I might want to compose my frame lower in the sky to fill it with the trees rather than the sky.

Pay Attention to Composition (Centering and Rule of Thirds)

Composition Photography

Once we’ve isolated our subject we have another factor to consider: Where in the frame should my subject be placed?

There are many, many ways to compose a photograph (and many of them are extremely complicated) but I think you’ll find that two simple methods can keep most photographers busy for their entire careers:

Centering and the Rule of Thirds.

First: Centering.

Centering a subject is often frowned upon in many photographic circles. Many professional photographers believe that centering a subject in a photograph is “amateur” or “uninteresting”. But if Instagram has taught us anything as a photographic community it’s that rules can (and often should) be broken.

Centering a subject is not only striking and bold - people love it. Some of the most compelling photographs ever created have centered subjects. It demands the attention of the viewer and draws them into the photograph - especially if the centered subject is a human face. There’s something guttural and captivating about a head-on, centered portrait. Give it a shot and see what you think.

An alternative to centering is the Rule of Thirds.

Imagine dividing your frame into thirds horizontally and then vertically. You’re left with two pairs of intersecting lines across your frame in an orientation quite like a pound sign (#).

Placing your subject (or key elements of a subject, i.e. a subject’s eye) along these lines or at the points where these lines intersect will create a very pleasing effect in your photograph. Try placing horizontal lines (horizons, window sills, etc…) and vertical lines (buildings, sign posts, etc…) in your photograph on the lines dividing your frame to help compose and level your images to give them a nice, clean look.

Use Leading Lines

Leading lines

Last, but not least, look for lines in your scene which could be used to lead the eyes of a viewer to your subject.

For example, horses can be wonderful subjects for some very dramatic photography - but where there are horses there are often fences.

Try positioning a fence line between yourself and your equine subject to help draw your viewers into your scene and toward your subject with a diagonal leading line. Almost anything reasonably straight can be used as leading lines - it all depends on the elements in your scene: curbs, painted lines on roads, tree lines, power lines, repetitive items, etc…

Leading lines also don’t have to be straight. Sometimes a gently curving river or a hilly road can be a beautifully engaging photographic element.

Use your imagination and take the time to look in your scene for leading lines before you hit that shutter button!

Alex Lawson is a full-time portrait, commercial, and real estate photographer based in Bakersfield, CA. When he's not behind the camera he spends his time with his wife, his two young sons, and the best dang dog in the whole wide world: Mattis the Wonder Dog.


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