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10 photography tips for taking better photos

By Ryan Shaw

Learning new photography techniques can open up new possibilities - our expert advice will get help you get the most from your camera.

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‘How can I take better photos?’ is a common question we’re asked at Which?, but there’s no simple answer. It’s typically a combination of a number of factors.

The best way to know what to do with your camera is to read the manual - so many people miss this important step on their photographic journey. Every camera is different, so by reading the manual you’ll get to know everything it’s capable of. Then, with practice and experience, you’ll find your confidence growing with each shot.

Regular practice is essential for honing your skills. The more you shoot the better - spend as many hours as you can behind the lens. As your technical experience grows, you’ll find that you’re spending less and less time second guessing yourself on the specifics, and more time taking great images.

We’ve also put together our surefire photography tips and techniques to increase your chances of capturing that perfect shot.

To choose your perfect model and take the photos you want, read our in-depth compact camera reviews.

1. Avoid camera shake

Camera shake or blur is the bane of any photographer, but here are some simple steps to avoid this. First, you need to learn how to hold your camera correctly and this can depend on the type of camera you're using. If you have a point-and-shoot (compact) camera, use both hands on either side and hold it close to your body for support. 

If you're shooting with a larger camera, such as a CSC or DSLR, use one hand to hold the camera body, with the other hand holding the lens. Similar to a compact camera, hold it close to your body for extra support. For best results, especially when shooting with slow shutter speeds, use a tripod or monopod. Alternatively, you can use a tree or wall for additional stabilisation.

2. Experiment with the 'rule of thirds'

Photographers often compose shots using the ‘rule of thirds’. When you look through the viewfinder or at the LCD screen, mentally divide up the image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Rather than putting your main subject dead centre, try positioning it where the lines would intersect. 

Most camera displays can even do this for you by adding a grid overlay onto the LCD screen (check you camera’s manual for the specific settings) - this way there will be a pleasing symmetry to your photo with plenty in the foreground and background. It also helps to lead the viewer’s eye to the subject matter that is most important in the shot.

3. Use autofocus lock

To help keep your subject in focus, even if they’re not standing in the middle of the shot, try depressing your shutter halfway while pointing the camera at the subject. You should see an indication on your camera’s viewfinder or LCD screen that it has ‘found’ or ‘locked in on’ your subject. Now move the camera or change the angle (while keeping the rule of thirds in mind) - your composition will change, but your subject should still be in focus.

4. Get close to your subjects

The temptation when taking a photograph is to rely on your camera’s zoom to frame a shot, however, this can result in less detailed shots and cause blurring. You’ll get far better results by sticking close to your subjects, although moving too close when taking portraits can make your subject’s features look distorted. 

For close-ups of really small objects, such as flowers or insects, look to see if your camera or lens has a macro mode (refer to your camera manual for specific settings). These are designed to help you get a good focus on the subject so that you pack as much detail as possible into the final photo.

5. Shoot in 'Raw' mode if possible

If your camera supports it, always use your camera in Raw format. This is an uncompressed file format that delivers higher image quality and gives you far greater flexibility to process your images on your computer using photo-editing software, correcting any deficiencies in the original shot.

The downside is that Raw files are much larger than Jpegs, so the storage capacity of your memory card will be reduced and you may have to invest in an extra card. Furthermore, the images will require some processing using photo-editing software before they can be used or shared online.

6. Use the correct ISO setting

In cameras, the ISO setting allows you to control how sensitive your camera is to light, and how fine the grain of your image is. The ISO you choose depends on the situation - when it’s dark, you can set the ISO level from 400 to 3,200, to get better levels of brightness and contrast without using flash. However, tread carefully. Using a high ISO setting can introduce small coloured speckles (known as grain or noise) into the image, detracting from its quality.

When it’s sunny, use ISO 100 or auto mode, so you have more light to work with. Most people tend to keep their digital camera in auto mode, where the camera selects the ISO setting it feels is most appropriate, but many cameras also give you the opportunity to select your own ISO in the settings menu.

For more on the meaning of ISO and other terms used in photography visit our digital camera jargon buster.

7. Limit your use of flash

Sometimes flash is a necessity to fill in shadows and dark areas, such as those under a hat. However, it can be unflattering or make your subject shine in all the wrong places. Try to avoid using flash where possible, and think about buying a small portable reflector (usually £10 or less) to bounce the available light off your subject to remove distracting shadows. Positioning one to one side of the face can work wonders, and your subject might even be able to hold it for you.

On the other hand, using the flash will brighten up an image and it’s often the only way to achieve a decent indoor shot. Beware, the effective range of the flash is limited, though - a point-and-shoot camera’s flash runs out of steam after about three metres from the camera, so don’t expect the flash to work miracles, and keep the shooting distance between yourself and the subject to a minimum.

8. Play with shutter speed

Experimenting with shutter speed will allow you to create different and interesting effects. For example, setting a high shutter speed, such as 1/500 of a second, will freeze the action, giving you a sharp shot of a passing cyclist or a ball in motion. 

Setting a low shutter speed, such as 1/30 of a second, will add a blurring effect to the cyclist or the ball, giving your photo a sense of speed. Alternatively, try panning. Here, you move the camera to match the path of the fast-moving object, meaning it stays sharp while the background blurs.

9. Using aperture to add depth 

When capturing different scenes, it really helps to add an extra level of dimension to make the viewer feel that they are there. You can do this by controlling the depth of field. Using the aperture (f-stop) of your lens is the simplest way to control depth of field in any photograph.

By controlling the aperture, you’re determining how much light you let into the camera. For example, a large aperture = a small f-number = a shallow (small) depth of field. A small aperture = a larger f-number = a deeper (larger) depth of field. Capturing a portrait at f/5.0 will result in a sharp subject and foreground, with a blurred background, maintaining the focus on the person’s face.

10. Choose simple backgrounds

Watch out for busy backgrounds, or backgrounds that might distract from your subject. It’s often best to shoot against a plain background, or blur the background by opening the camera’s aperture (f-stop). 

Many compact cameras do this automatically when you switch to portrait mode (the mode is normally signposted by a person’s head), while others let you change it manually. Try a setting of f/2 to f/3.5 for best results.

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