A father walking towards a waterfall with his son on his shoulders

Practical Tips for Brilliant Photos

Tips for Better Photos

Above all, a good photo is characterised by a good structure. An out-of-the-ordinary perspective, an especially harmonious overall mood, or an exciting interaction of colours, light, and shadows can be the difference between a brilliant photo and something more run-of-the-mill. Though it is possible to improve / remove flaws by using an image-editing program, this won’t enable you to turn a bad photo into a good one. Here we’ll show you how you can take brilliant photos that you can use to create a wall decoration for your home or showcase in a photo calendar.

Focus on the Main Motif

Many things can be retouched in digital photos. However, only rarely is it possible to completely conceal prominent details from the background. Thus, you should look for possible disturbances in the background when taking the photo. Should there be, for instance, something especially overbearing in the background, it will draw the attention away from the actual motif you’re photographing. In other words: when photographing, make sure that the focus is on the main motif and that the viewer won’t be distracted by too many bright colours or large objects. Here, objects with an especially eye-catching colour tend to be the biggest problem. Other noticeable objects that don’t stand out due to their colours can be hidden a bit more in the background by adjusting sharpness and blur.

In order to focus in on the main motif and make the background appear blurry, you should open the aperture wide in order to limit the amount of area that will appear sharp in the photo. Basically, the faster your lens is, the more distinct this sharp-blur effect will appear when using smaller f-numbers.

Making a Person the Main Motif of a Photo

When on most trips, the goal while photographing is to capture beautiful landscapes and impressive sights to fondly look back upon later. However, pictures of nature and extraordinary buildings aren’t everything. When viewing the photos it should also be apparent that you yourself were actually at the particular destination. Thus, it’s a good idea to photograph yourself or your travel companion together with the specific sight or breath-taking landscape. Here we’ll tell you the most important things to keep in mind for positioning your main motif in your picture.

A woman with a trekking backpack in the mountains

The Golden Ratio as a Rule of Proportions

It’s a basic rule of thumb to adhere to the golden ratio when positioning your main motif in your photo. The golden ratio is the division of a section at a ratio of 61.8% to 38.2%. These proportions are seen as being especially aesthetic since they can be found in nature as well as in humans.

If this rule of proportions is applied to both the long as well as short sides of the image section in both directions left/right and top/bottom, a grid of four lines is created. These four lines produce four points of intersection that serve as reference points for correct placement. The main motif should therefore either cover or at least touch at least one or two of these points of intersection.

A simplified variant of this division is the rule of thirds. As the name already suggests, here the line segments are divided into three equal sections, which also produces a grid. A big advantage of the rule of thirds is that this grid can be shown on most digital cameras in the finder and/or on the display in the live view.

Central Positioning for a Change of Pace

Sometimes the centre can be just the right position. At times, some paths that lead through a city or landscape, as well as bridges, temples, and other historical pieces of architecture exhibit a certain symmetry in which a person can perfectly be placed.

A woman photographed in the middle of a bridge

Photographing from the Right Perspective

Photographing an object from a completely different perspective can make your picture especially eye-catching. A worm’s-eye view, for instance, is especially well suited for places with tall buildings or in forests. The opposite of this is a bird’s-eye view, where an object is photographed from high above. The advent of drone photography has brought along with it many new possibilities for implementing the bird’s-eye view.

Tall buildings photographed from a worm’s-eye view

However, using either of these perspectives when photographing buildings can cause pitched lines to appear. These lines could cause the building to appear as if it were leaning either forward or backward. This effect, on the other hand, could be purposely implemented. You can prevent such lines from appearing by photographing the object from eye level. If you’re unable to photograph from such a position, you can later correct pitched lines while editing your photos to a certain degree.

The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing which perspective to photograph from is not to be afraid of trying out new and out-of-the-ordinary perspectives. Very often, photographing from a somewhat uncomfortable position will lead to some of the best results and will give your photos that certain something.

Bring Your Photos to Life

If you’d like to end up with photos that are livelier, the motif shouldn't appear too artificially staged. Try to take the picture at just the right time. When taking pictures of people, it’s especially important that the situation doesn’t appear too staged or fake. Thus, simply keep your desired background and the person you’d like to photograph in view. It’s not too uncommon that your travel companion will happen to be in just the right spot to photograph while they’re marvelling at the surroundings. This is exactly the perfect time to take the picture. This will make your photo appear more natural, spontaneous, and lively. Only rarely does a direct look into the camera appear natural and authentic.

In order to be able to react fast enough to take such photos, using a somewhat shorter exposure time is necessary. This should be set at 1/125 of a second or less. A shorter exposure time, however, requires sufficient ambient light. If your goal is to focus in on the person anyway, you can shoot with the aperture wide open. This will produce the sharp-blur effect already mentioned above. Make sure that your camera is focused in on the motif you’re photographing to ensure that it will also appear sharp in the photo and that only the background will appear blurry.

Should the amount of ambient light not suffice despite having the aperture wide open, it’s possible to use a higher ISO value. Modern cameras in particular are capable of taking pictures without image noise when using a higher ISO value. However, always be careful when raising the ISO value and check the first photo you take afterwards in a zoomed-in view before taking further photos.

When photographing stagnant motifs such as landscapes and buildings, the factor of ambient light is not as problematic. By using the aid of a tripod or stand, you can take your time while photographing to try out various settings until you end up with the perfect shot. Thanks to the tripod, using a longer exposure time in order to do something like shoot with a closed aperture so you’ll end up with a uniformly sharp photo is no problem at all. When photographing landscapes, certain lighting conditions such as the blue or golden hour can help bring more life to your photos. Making use of backlight or lens flare can help put the finishing touches on your photos.

The Correct Use of Flash

Another common mistake that is often made is the incorrect use of the integrated flash. Buildings don’t need to be photographed using the flash since the built-in flash of the camera isn’t even capable of illuminating them. Instead, it’s better to use a tripod/stand in combination with a longer exposure time.

On the other hand, you should always use a flash when photographing people against the light in order to later be able to recognise them. For this, you should use one of the semi-automatic camera modes such as Program (P), Shutter Priority (S or Tv), Aperture Priority (A or Av), or the Manual Mode. When shooting in these modes, the camera does not automatically use the flash and you’ll have to manually activate the integrated flash. Most SLR and system cameras have a separate button on the camera body to manually activate the flash. Here, the flash serves as a fill-in flash / auxiliary light which should help mollify harsh shadows on the face.

A family photographed against a sunset

Automatic Modes Are Not Always the Best Solution

Besides the flash, the full automatic mode and other automatic modes integrated in many cameras can make photographing easy and convenient. Especially when starting out with photography, these modes can be a good way to get acquainted with using a system or SLR camera. Automatic camera modes may usually deliver good results, but the results may not always be what you were expecting since your camera might incorrectly use the flash or the depth of field might not be correctly adjusted. Thus, try to progress from using semi-automatic modes to the full manual mode to be able to get the most optimal result capable of being produced by your camera equipment.

In order to successfully use the manual mode, it’s important to be acquainted with and understand how individual parameters such as aperture, exposure time, and ISO value interact with one another. Thus, try to get more and more acquainted with the various semi-automatic modes and manually set one of these parameters while the camera adjusts the other parameters accordingly. When reviewing your photos later, take a look at the metadata in order to analyse how your camera adjusted certain parameters in a given situation.

Read and learn more about this in our compact glossary:

Conclusion

Using a high-quality camera will not guarantee you end up with good photos. Just as in many other areas of life, the same holds true here: practice makes perfect.

Start small. In the beginning, feel free to use your camera’s automatic modes, review your images’ metadata, and familiarise yourself with the most important terms. Take your time while shooting and don’t be afraid to play around with your camera’s various settings and functions. Even if something goes completely awry, these are important experiences you can learn from. Once you’ve successfully made the transition to using semi-automatic modes, it won’t be that much longer until you’ll be capable of comfortably utilising the manual mode and you’ll be able to perfectly capture breath-taking moments with your camera.

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