When you get a new camera and pull it out of the box, the last thing anyone wants to do is read the instruction manual. For most of us whose passion is photography, that part is no fun at all. We want to start taking awesome photographs! I love it when there is a “Quick Start Guide,” so I can get started right away and worry about the details later. In the same way, sometimes we need a starting point for creativity that is simple and easy to implement in photography.
Focus on the eyes
Use these tips as your Quick Start Guide to getting better photos — right now.
1. Focus on eyes
Every photograph needs a focal point, something that draws our attention to a certain point in the composition. Eyes are a natural focal point. It’s natural for us to look into people’s eyes when they have our attention. And eyes can communicate a lot of expression. Choosing to place your focus on someone’s eyes makes a lot of sense. You can compose the frame such that your subject’s eyes are on one of the camera’s focus points, or you can lock focus on another point (by pressing the shutter halfway down) and then recomposing the frame. Everything else in the photo can be out of focus, but if the eye is in focus it will make for a compelling image.
The same image, divided into thirds. My focal point is at the intersection of thirds.
2. Rule of thirds
I’m not sure where this one came from, but it is generally agreed upon in visual media that it is more pleasing to the viewer to have focal points at thirds, vertically and horizontally, in an image. To have a focal point at the intersection of your thirds is even better. This is not to say that you can’t have a compelling image with a focal point in the very center or near an edge, but following this rule will give you consistently pleasing results. If you are photographing a person, try to have their body on one of your (imaginary) vertical lines and their eyes level with one of your horizontal lines.
This bride was positioned facing a window.
3. Point subjects toward the light
When in doubt about where to place your subject, look for the brightest spot in the room and point their face toward that spot. In most cases, the more light you have the, the better. Also, the viewer of your photograph will have their eye drawn to the brightest spot in your composition, so if that spot is on the face of your subject you have done a good job composing.
Tell your subject what you want them to do or the look you are trying to achieve. Many new photographers spend their time taking photos that they don’t really like while waiting for their subject to do something interesting or to magically look the right way. Do yourself and your subjects a favor and use words to communicate the kind of photograph you want to make. You’ll save yourself time and make your subject more comfortable, knowing that you are confident in what you are doing.
5. Move your feet
It’s difficult to get a great shot while standing still. Take some time to explore the space while looking through your viewfinder. Move to the left and to the right, forward and backward, stand tall and crouch down. Find the angles that are most interesting and are flattering to your subject. Don’t let a zoom lens keep you from moving either. A wide lens from close and a long lens from far have a totally different feel. Try both to see what works best for your photo.
I hope these tips help you to take better photos right away. To dive in deeper, taking a photography class or reading a book on composition and art theory is very helpful and studying the work of your favorite photographers will be invaluable.
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