Last Updated: April 18, 2019
Taking photos is now more accessible than ever before. Point and shoot cameras have progressed tremendously, DSLR cameras are available for a wide range of skill sets, and smartphone cameras have made the most progress of all.
But the camera doesn’t make the picture great—you do. If you are ready to dip your toes into the basics of photography, you’ll need to learn the essentials of photo composition.
This guide sets the foundation of photography for beginners. Let’s go over our top six photo tips that will teach you how to take good pictures:
1. The Rule of Thirds
Many people will pick up their camera, bring their eye to the viewfinder and frame their subject smack dab in the middle of the scene. That’s fine, of course, but most photographers recommended the rule of thirds. That is, if you place a grid of three rows and columns over the photo, to place your focal point at one of the four intersections of those lines.
In most cases, the off-center photo composition creates a more interesting and visually pleasing photograph.
Practice it: Most cameras have a setting called Grid or Grid Display. Turn it on and the grid will overlay the viewfinder so you can practice this photography tip as you shoot.
A balanced photo doesn’t have to be symmetrical, it just needs to have shared weight across the left and right, or top and bottom. In photography, balance can come from an object, a reflection, or another visual element such as color or texture.
For example: A portrait of your friend posing in a flat rural landscape – positioned off-center to the right – will look more balanced, professional and well composed if you frame it so that the tree or cabin in the background comes into the frame on the left.
For vertical balance, ensure that the sky or ground occupies at minimum a quarter of the vertical space.
3. Leading Lines
Leading lines are any linear elements in a scene that draw the viewer’s eye in a certain direction. Photographers will often use leading lines to guide the eye towards a focal point, or to enhance a sense of movement or flow. A leading line that connects two subjects can also be an artistic technique to show a relationship between them.
Practice it: You’ll be surprised how many leading lines are around you – the horizon, fences, roads, railways, paths, streams, telephone wires – so start exploring what you can do with them.
4. Horizons and Perspective
Much like an unbalanced composition, a slightly slanted photo will give the viewer that same uneasy feeling. Make a conscious effort to move and angle yourself to the position in which your scene has straight horizons.
If you want to photograph something from straight on, get directly in front of it, not slightly off to one side or the other. This is the horizontal perspective, and it’s difficult to correct in the editing stage. Then, hold your camera so that the horizontal lines in your photograph – like the windows or stairs of a building are exactly horizontal. This is really key for photos that you will enlarge into wall décor, like canvas prints.
5. Mind the Background
Experienced photographers are always careful about something that beginners might miss – what’s going on in the background. If you’re photographing portraits of your kids at home for example, take 30 seconds to clear away the clutter. Without excess toys or snack wrappers bringing unwanted color clash or messiness to your photo, you’ll be left with portraits worthy of printing and displaying proudly.
Finally, let’s talk about framing. This photo composition technique is the art of finding a vantage point that causes secondary elements of the fore, middle or background to visually frame – or, outline – your primary focal point.
Practice it: Doorways, arches and tree-lined streets are obvious and effective frames, but observe your surroundings and get creative with what you’ve got. Parallel buildings, chains on a swingset, other people – almost anything can be a frame depending on how you use it.
Developing your understanding of photography basics will vastly improve the quality of every photo you take. Now grab your camera and see what you can do!
Try applying just one of these photography tips at a time as you capture your everyday life. Once you’re comfortable with one, layer on the next. You’ll see the difference as you shuffle through your next prints order, or flip through the pages of your annual family photo book.
Before you know it, you’ll be employing all of these essential photography guidelines without even thinking about it. Let the ones you truly love shine in your home as metal prints – the photo itself will make you smile, and the quality of the composition will make you proud.