One of my favourite things is taking photos. I have been doing this for over 30 years now, still love it, and have leant a lot along the way.
So here are 15 really useful tips to help you to take better photos. These are practical things that you and I can do every time we take a picture. Just stopping and thinking will help to make our photos better. These are some of the things that I have learned with over 30 years of experience as a photographer.
Who am I?
I am Rick McEvoy ABIPP. I am a professionally qualified photographer, freelance photography writer and website creator. I write about photography stuff on my weekly blog, which you are on now.
So hi from me and thank you for joining me here.
You will find a little more about me at the end of this post, but let’s get into those 11 tips right now
1 Think about the subject matter
What are you taking a photo of?
Why are you taking this photo?
What is the intent behind the photo?
What are you trying to capture?
Who is the image for?
What are you going to do with the image?
Now this might all sound a bit high level and artsy, but this is wholly relevant when taking a photo.
I find it helps to ask these questions. It gets me more quickly to have my camera pointing where I want it to. I hate taking photos for the sake of it hoping that when I get back to my office I have a great shot in the bag!
And I had been doing that for years by the way. Many years, getting back, looking at the hundreds of photos that I have taken looking for that gem.
And do you know what – they were seldom there!
These days I can go out on a sunrise shoot and only take three different photos, one a before the sunrise shot, one of the sunrise itself and one after the sunrise.
I choose a composition and stick with it.
Talking of which
2 Composition is king
What is the single most important thing in photography?
What you include in a photo and how you include it. And also what you do not include.
As I said above on a sunrise shoot I will choose a composition for the sunrise. Sure I will take more than one photo, but they will be from the same composition. I might take 30 photos of the sunrise, recording the rising of the sun, but my composition will be fixed. These 30 photos will record the rising of the sun and give me options with the one thing that I cannot control – the light and how it is interacting with the scene.
But still one composition.
When I am photographing a sunrise I will decide what my composition will be and that is that. I will take a test shot to make sure I am happy with my composition and change it if I am not.
But that will be that.
My aim is to get the best composition I can, and if I get one shot from a shoot that is worthy of going in my portfolio I am happy.
One composition, one shot. That is all I aim for.
I take photos before and after as there is still great light to be had, but as I said sometimes there will be just three separate images.
On an architectural shoot I only get one chance for each shot. I know that I will probably be shooting at 17mm for interior shots and know what I want to include in a scene, from not only the client brief but also my experience and knowledge of what works and what does not work.
Once I have assessed a scene and worked out what I want to photograph I place my camera, on a tripod where I think I will get the best shot.
I use both the live view LCD screen and the optical viewfinder to come up with my composition, going from one to the other until I am happy.
I take time doing this and will check the first couple of images to make sure I am nailing the shots. Once I am in the groove I don’t bother checking the image captures to be honest – I know that they will be ok.
I judge the success of an architectural shoot by checking how many images I took against how many I issue to the client.
My aim is 20 photos, 20 client shots – 100% success rate with composition and everything else.
Take your time with the composition – I have never got back from a shoot wishing I had spent less time coming up the compositions that I did!
3 Background, middle ground, foreground
These are three elements that, if used thoughtfully, can add depth to an image and make it more compelling.
Whilst you might think that I am talking here about the components of an image, which of course I am, there is also another thing to consider.
The depth of the light.
Yes there is nothing better than lovely gradations in the light from front to rear adding further depth to an image.
The convention is to have a foreground element, the main subject in the mid ground and a complimentary background.
Nothing wrong with that but always make sure that these three elements are correctly arranged to complement each other and naturally give depth to the composition.
And check the background. Much time can be saved in Photoshop by a quick check of the background and a quick change of composition.
When people say get it right in camera they are of course correct.
4 Rules of photography
There are many rules of photography.
My favourite is the rule of thirds. Once I have taken a photo using the rule of thirds I might take another photo breaking the same rule to see what I get. Not every shot but the ones where there are possibilities.
I need consistency of composition as well as image capture and processing, which I will talk about later.
I use the rule of thirds a lot as it works for architectural photography – it puts the elements into a logical and structured place within an image, which helps my clients as they get sets of images that are consistent and fit together.
For my personal work I will use the rules then break them as much as I can to see what I can come up with.
5 - Check the edges
Very important. Don’t rely on Photoshop for this.
Are there any distractions around the edges of the composition?
If there are things that I will have to remove in Photoshop I will try to eliminate them by slightly changing my composition.
Bits of trees
Bright leaves on the front edges
You get the idea
6 – Light
What is the light doing?
What direction is the light coming from?
Where is the sun?
How does the light interact with the subject?
Do you need to add light, or indeed remove light from a scene?
Light is what we are recording, so look at it, study it and understand how it adds to the composition.
And let’s not forget the first thing a person sees in a photo is the brightest part – make sure that the brightest element is the one that you want to be the most prominent and seen first.
7 - Timing
This follows on nicely from the point above.
Work out when the best time is to take a photo of a particular scene. For a sunrise and sunset this will be a known time. But do not forget the time before and after these events.
If I am going to photograph a sunrise I will always try to be there at least an hour before actual sunrise. The light before sunrise can be spectacular.
Check what the light is doing, and when. I use the Photographers Ephemeris to do this – it is a great app that gives me lines on a map showing all the relevant events of a day.
On architectural shoots I will ask my client to send me a plan of the building being photographed with a north arrow on it so I can work out when is the best time of day to photograph each part of the building, both internal and external.
Exposure has to be nailed. There really is no excuse to not do.
How do I do this?
Well the purists will tell me that my technique should not be promoted, I am not doing things how they should be done.
I take three photos. I auto-bracket my image capture.
I take three images
The correct exposure
Two stops under exposed
Two stops over exposed
I merge these images together in Lightroom later.
This is called HDR photography.
Why do I do this?
At the start of a shoot I set up my camera so the only things I need to think about are
Changing the aperture from F8
The focus point
Apart from that I do not give my camera settings a second thought. Everything else stays as it is.
This leaves me to concentrate on taking photos. For my commercial work I only have one chance to get each photo – once I have left a site there is no opportunity to return.
So I have to cover all the angles, and not worry about camera settings.
It works for me.
Check out my blog post explaining the exposure triangle for more info on this subject - The exposure triangle explained in plain English.
Choose the correct aperture for the image. I typically use F8 for exterior architectural photography shots, and typically F16 for interior shots. I only vary from these when there is a specific need to.
Choose the aperture for the shot - simple
10 Shutter speed
For most of my photography work the shutter speed is irrelevant. This is why I shoot in AV mode.
When is shutter speed important?
When I am photographing moving water.
When I am shooting externally and the wind is moving clouds, trees, vegetation etc.
Apart from that I do not need to worry about the shutter speed too much, but you might depending on what you are photographing.
In general terms the lower the ISO the higher the quality of image capture. I use ISO 100 most of the time, only changing it when I need to.
But remember this – choose the ISO that will allow you to get a sharp image capture. Higher ISOs introduce the chance of more noise.
The general public do not know what noise is though. But they do know what a blurry photo is.
Given the choice go for tack sharp and take noise as a necessary evil of getting the tack sharp image.
12 Use a good tripod
It might sound a bit odd but when I use a tripod I take better photos.
On an architectural shoot I will only take photos hand-held when
I cannot physically take a photo using my tripod due to space constraints, which are normally me having to get as far back into a corner as I can to get the composition I want. That or I am hanging over a scaffold handrail, on a roof or being suspended from a crane!
The other time is when I need a very high or very low viewpoint. High means holding my camera above my head or stuck on the end of my painters’ pole. Low means on the floor, using either my Platypod or Manfrotto Pixi tripod.
I think that the deliberate act of composing using a tripod makes my compositions more considered.
And possibly even more surprising is that I have gone back to a bigger tripod and even bigger, older Manfrotto tripod head. This is for my commercial architectural photography work.
This kind of work tends not to be in a single location, with not too much moving around. I like the feeling of the heavier tripod ensuring I get tack sharp photos.
For travel photography I use lighter gear but still use a tripod a lot of the time.
Obviously there are times when a tripod is not appropriate but my default these days is to use my tripod.
I use ball heads and geared heads depending on where I am and what I am photographing.
And my compositions have improved since I made this change.
Processing of digital images is a complete separate subject.
Here I am going to talk about my architectural photography work and my travel photography and landscape work.
There are some similarities in these two different workflows, but different needs and priorities.
Architectural photography processing
For my commercial architectural work there are things that are critical to me
Technical correctness of
I have to reproduce these accurately. This makes this photographic work technically challenging, especially when I am photographing in mixed light.
The starting point is technical correctness - only once this is achieved can I look at the more creative side of things from this very firm base.
Processing of my architectural photography images has to also be consistent – I do multiple shoots for clients on different locations, in different conditions on different days.
They all have to look similar, have that same look and feel. I can do this.
Landscape and travel photography processing
For my landscape and travel photography I start with technical correctness but allow myself more freedom on the creative side of image processing.
I only process images in Lightroom, using Photoshop to remove bits that I do not want in images.
14 – Time
Allow yourself the time you need to get the images you want. I used to stop and take a photo quickly and then carry on where I was going.
I was always disappointed with the results.
I still do this but the act of having to get my tripod out makes me stop and think. The very fact that I have to get my tripod out has stopped from taking images of subjects which were not that great as it turns out. If I see something that I have to photograph I will take the time.
More than that I will make the time.
And if I can’t make the time to take the photo properly I will take a photo with my iPhone, so I have the location recorded and make a note of the location for another time.
15 - Practise, practise, practise
The number one tip for taking better photos is to practise!
I hope that you have found these 15 practical tips helpful, which I use on a daily basis to help me to take the best photos that I can. There is an accompanying video to this post which you can view on my You Tube channel.
And that is what photography is all about – taking the best photos that we can. Thanks for reading this, and before I go
A bit more about me
I am a photographer based in lovely Dorset on the south coast of England. I specialise in architectural, landscape and travel photography.
I am also a freelance writer, and have two other websites
You can subscribe to my YouTube Channel
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