Four easy tricks for better photos

Dave Johnson, TechHive
9 April, 2012
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There are about a million books about photography on the shelf of your local bookstore. I should know, because mine is one of them. But you don’t need to remember a book’s worth of tips and tricks to improve your photography; for the highlights, you might want to play with an online camera simulator. And when you get right down to it, there are just a handful of easy things you can do to make a dramatic improvement to your photos.

Remember the rule of thirds

Want to improve your photographic composition? Stop putting your subject in the centre of the frame. The “rule of thirds” tells us that photos (and video – watch TV and movies for proof) look better when the subject is off-centre, aligned about a third of the way from the right or left side. Here, you can see that the wolf’s face is positioned on the line of thirds on the right side of the photo and his eyes are almost exactly a third of the way from the top as well.

There are actually a slew of rules that can help you compose eye-catching and engaging photos, but this one rule is perhaps the single most important one. To be precise, draw two lines through a photo, dividing it into nine squares that looks something like a tic-tac-toe board. The rule of thirds says that the most visually interesting parts are along any one of the lines or at any of the points at which the lines intersect. That gives you a lot of ways to arrange your subject, so experiment.

Minimise the depth of field

This is one of those rules that begs to be broken (try some hyperfocal photography, for example), but if you’re just starting out, you’ll get some great results by following it to the letter, at least to start with. Shoot your photos so the subject is sharply in focus, but the depth of field is shallow enough that the background is blurry. This creates visual separation and emphasizes the importance of your subject. It also looks really cool.

Depth of field is a measure of how much of the picture is in sharp focus and you control that with your camera’s aperture setting. A small f/number will give you a relatively small depth of field – you can dial in a small f-number directly in Aperture Priority mode or you can set your camera to a scene setting like Portrait mode, which will do the same thing.

Use a fast shutter to get a sharp photo

One of the easiest ways to ruin a photo is by shooting with a shutter speed that’s too slow, so you get dreaded camera shake. The antidote is pretty simple: Shoot with a faster shutter speed. But how fast is fast enough? There’s actually a handy rule of thumb that has served photographers for 75 years: The shutter speed should be no slower than the inverse of the lens’s focal length.


That’s not as complicated as it might sound. Suppose you are shooting with a camera that has a 50mm lens. You can safely capture a sharp photo if the shutter speed is 1/50 second or faster. If you have a 200mm lens, the shutter speed should be 1/200 second or faster. And remember that for this guideline to work, you should refer to the lens’s 35 mm equivalent focal length.

Eliminate red eye by avoiding the flash

Do you get a lot of red-eyed people in your photos? That happens when the light from your flash reflects off the retina in the back of your subject’s eyes, giving them that tell-tale demonic glow.

Now that you know why it happens, you can avoid it. You can avoid shooting in dark situations, you can turn off your flash and rely on ambient light. Increase your camera’s ISO to make the most of the available light. Or (if you have a digital SLR), you can mount an external flash on a bracket to get it further from the lens.


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