How to take a good photo

Updated: Apr 28, 2019

People often say to me - “man, why can’t I take a photo like that… I suck at taking photos”

The truth of the matter, it is not really so much about my eye for taking great photos as much as it is about the basics of general photography. One of the first rules of thumb, or things to focus on, ( see what I did there?) is going to be your composition. Composition. Exactly because not everyone has an eye for photography, however, everyone can create a decent composition if they simply spend a few more seconds on it. Composition is merely that. Taking the time to plan out a photo and “make it look pretty”. An easy way to get used to this, is to use the grid. The basic rule of thirds. Now a days, this is even easier because every smartphone with a camera has this feature digitally built in for you. That’s right. Back in ancient times, (Pre-Millenial) we had to actually use our brain to imagine a grid and visualize what we wanted to take a photo of and then imagine a grid and actually compose a photo out of it. However, now you can (and I do) have an actual digital grid placed on your smartphone screen for you, to help you take even better photos. The default has it set to off. Step 1. Go into your camera settings and turn it on. Step 2. Use it. Why use the grid? One of the first and basic rules of photography, is called “the rule of thirds” The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the first things that beginner photographers learn about in classes on photography. It is actually because of this rule that will allow anyone to create a well balanced and interesting shot. There are many composition techniques, however I have found that for beginners, this seems to be the easiest to comprehend and produce quick results. We all know when people see fast results, it inspires them to keep going.

“Rule of Thirds”

Clearly, by now you are thinking ok so what is the rule of thirds? The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to visualize an image into thirds (the grid) so that you have 9 equal parts.If you did not have an actual grid on your screen, you would need to have done this in your mind through your viewfinder or in the LCD display that you use to frame your shot. Which is why it is very helpful to put the actual grid setting on when first trying this technique out. With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image. Not only this – but it also gives you four ‘lines’ that are also useful positions for elements in your photo. The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally. People’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot when viewing images. – using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.

In a similar way a good technique for landscape shots is to position horizons along one of the horizontal lines also as I’ve done with the following shot (I’ll let you imagine the lines).

Using the Rule of Thirds comes naturally to some photographers but for many of us takes a little time and practice for it to become second nature. In learning how to use the rule of thirds (and then to break it) the most important questions to be asking of yourself are: • What are the points of interest in this shot? • Where am I intentionally placing them? Once again – remember that breaking the rule can result in some striking shots – so once you’ve learnt it experiment with purposely breaking it to see what you discover. Lastly – keep the rule of thirds in mind as you edit your photos later on. Post production editing tools today have good tools for cropping and reframing images so that they fit within the rules. Experiment with some of your old shots to see what impact it might have on your photos.

Thank you for reading!

- Elise Margolin

Elise Margolin Photography


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