A friend recently shot me a message asking for some tips on how to take “amazing” photos. Another time we can debate the definition of “amazing photos,” but here’s what I told her:
I think the biggest misconception is your picture is only as good as you like it.
As an example, while I was traveling through the Middle East, a woman staying on the same boat showed me her favorite picture from all of Egypt. It was a blurry picture of her sister dancing. And her sister was half-missing from the image. But it was her favorite picture, and that’s what’s important. Never mind the pyramids of Giza, the sphinx, Luxor or any of that, it was her sister dancing. Point being: Any picture is only as good as long as you like it. A few of my favorite shots barely move the meter for other people, and then some shots I totally blow off as crap seem to get the biggest responses. I haven’t figured out “the masses” yet, but I plan on working on them as soon as I figure out “what women want.”
That being said, I have picked up a few photographically-based things which may help on your journey:
Shoot with the sun over your shoulder. A camera, like the human eye, usually grabs on to the brightest thing it sees and exposes for that. If you shoot into the sun your camera will freak out over the giant ball of light and may underexpose what you actually want to take a picture of. If the sun is behind you everything will be bathed in light.
Try to stick with the rule of thirds. Somewhere, a group of people much smarter than you and I realized the eye thinks things shot with the rule of thirds is sexier. Divide the screen of your camera into three equal parts and frame the shot accordingly. If you don’t have an easy “three” things to frame up in the shot, keep the subject to the left and right thirds or “use” two of the three.
The early-morning and late-afternoon sunlight are your friend. It’s called “Golden Hour” because the sun is lower in the sky and everything it touches has a sexy, golden look to it.
Before you go, check out other pictures of where you’re going on Flickr, Instagram, Google Images, etc.; not to the point of “stealing” other people’s shots, but at least having an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Before Ireland I was able to find enough pictures of the Cliffs of Moher to discern which direction the famous shoreline faced, and from that what time of day to visit. (Fun fact: to not shoot into the sun I knew to visit in the afternoon.)
Finally, break all of the above tips as often as possible, as rules were meant to be broken. Some of the best pictures you’ve seen are crazy silhouettes taken directly into the sun, pictures that put the subject in the center of the shot, and pictures taken while the sun is blasting the most light it can onto something.
Those are probably the most basic things I can try to give you tips on. Most is based off of what I’ve read and been told along the way. What I really do know and can tell you about photography is bring at least one more memory card than you think you need, keep your batteries charged and send home a couple of postcards. Everyone loves postcards.