1. Get closer to your main subject
Your photograph will be better if you make it about one main thing. Don’t try to get three people, the boat, the lake, the castle and the mountains all in the same shot. If you love all of those things make separate images for each subject. But if the subject of the photograph is people at a location, use the location as a backdrop for the people, instead of making the people tiny dark objects in front of a beautiful backdrop.
2. Turn your flash off when shooting landscapes, but on for people
If you are using a small on-camera flash, its effective range is about 12-15 feet. If you are shooting the Rocky Mountains, standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or photographing a basketball or baseball game, turn the flash off if possible. Leaving it on will cause the foreground of the photograph to be bright, and the background to be dark and underexposed.
However, if you are photographing people 12-15 feet from you standing in front of a large scenic area, leave the flash on in bright, sunny weather. The people are the main subject, and the flash will fill the shadows on their faces.
3. Look for good light
The word photography comes from the Greek and means, literally, “light writing.” Since you are painting with light, it is important to understand light and appreciate its beauty. Overcast and cloudy days are good for photographing people, because the light is soft and flattering, and your subject is not squinting in the harsh sunlight. Beautiful portraits can be made late in the afternoon with the sun low in the sky, and your subject facing into the warm sunlight. Scenics are often best when the sun is near the horizon, early morning or late afternoon.
Placing someone under an overhanging roof or just at the edge of the shadow of a tree can create a beautiful portrait. Place your subject just inside the shadow, and turn their face so that one side of the face is lit by skylight, and one side is in shadow. Try moving them closer and further from the edge of the overhang / tree shadow until you get the effect you want.
4. Carry or find a reflector
A white wall or fence can often be used as a reflector, bouncing light into your subject’s face. Place your subject next to the wall so that the shadowed side of their face is lit by the light reflecting off the wall. Snow, white sand and other light colored surfaces can be used in the same way.
I often carry portable reflectors with me for outdoor photo shoots, made of fabric stretched on a collapsible frame. I have several with white fabric on one side, and silver or gold fabric on the other. These photography reflectors are very similar to the collapsible shades that people put in their car windshields to keep their car cool in hot weather. I sometimes use white or silver poster board when I don’t have my regular reflectors along.
To use a reflector, you can place your subject completely in the shade, and place the reflector in the sunlight and bounce light into their face. Or you can place your subject with the sun to their back or side, and bounce light from the reflector into the shadow side of their face.
5. Give people something to do
People talking to each other, interacting, playing with something or doing something are more interesting than posed pictures. Give children a toy or animal to play with and your pictures will become more spontaneous and fun. Capture adults hugging, kissing, working, walking, playing sports or other activities to make pictures come alive.
6. Keep your camera steady
Plant both feet firmly, about a foot apart, and hold the camera with both hands. Press the shutter button gently. Whenever possible, support the camera on a tripod, a ladder, or place both elbows on the top of a chair, a wall or anything that doesn’t move. You will end up with fewer blurry photographs.
7. If you are using a zoom or telephoto lens, use a faster shutter speed
If your camera allows you to adjust the shutter speed, always use a shutter speed at least as fast as the length of your lens when you are not on a tripod. For example, if you are using a 200mm lens, use a shutter speed of 250 th of a second, or 125 th of a second for a 120mm. longer lenses amplify your body’s movements, and the faster shutter speed cuts down on the effect of camera shake.
8. Give your subject a mirror
If you take out a pocket mirror, often your subject will see that they need to comb their hair, fix their makeup, clean the stain off of their shirt, or take off their jacket that doesn’t match their top. You can also show them their picture on your digital camera and ask them if they see a way to improve the photo. This works much better than making a rude comment about how they look, and could get you a kiss instead of a kick in the pants.
9. Place the main subject off center
Imagine the lines drawn for tic-tac-toe, or the # symbol. Imagine those lines drawn on your camera’s viewfinder. Place your main subject where one of those lines intersect, and your composition will be more interesting than if you place the subject dead center. This is only a guideline, and photographs with the subject in the center are not “bad pictures.” However, if you try this composition guideline you will like the results.
10. Look for a simple, uncluttered background
Try to keep other people, clutter, random cars or buildings out of the background of your photos. Move your subjects to a place with a simple background and good light before you take your pictures.
Some of these tips were inspired by a document from Kodak
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