Five Ways to Make Better Photos Now

Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA (Notice the Rule of Thirds)

Photography is both so easy and so hard.  It’s easy because we all do it and with the proliferation of cell phone cameras and digital cameras and photo-sharing software, we have way too many photos AND too few good ones.  Here are five easy ways to make better photos without going to class or reading a book or even practicing for that matter.

#1 Use the Rule of Thirds for Composition

For almost all compositions and subjects, composing using the rule of thirds will yield a better and more pleasing image (see my blog for a longer explanation).  Many cameras now even have a grid screen on the LCD so you can use it to compose.  My Canon G12 has one, as well as Mary’s Canon s90.  Remember to put the main subject on one of the four power spots toward the middle.  The rule of thirds works both for landscape and portrait orientation as well for landscape/nature shots, portraits, sports, and other action shots.  Use it, and most of the time you will get a better outcome.

Rule of Thirds Grid
Carneros, Napa Valley, CA – see the grid?

#2 Shoot During the Golden Hours for the Best Lighting

Morning Glow at Totem Pole, Monument Valley, UT

The Golden Hours refers to the best times to shoot outdoors, which is one hour before and after sunrise and one hour before and after sunset to get tha beautiful yellow or golden light (see my blog on the golden hours).  This is especially true for landscape photography.  You want to avoid the bright, harsh, white light of mid-day.  If you do have to shoot mid-day with bright sunlight, think black and white and convert your color photos.  You will be pleased.

Dead Vineyard in Temecula, CA (shot in the middle of the day)

Lastly, create situations where you can imitate good light.  For example, shooting portraits in the middle of the day in shade can create nice flat even light.  So, try to photograph during the golden hours; think black and white for the rest of the day; and make outdoors portraits in the shade.

Sunrise and Moonset at the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO

#3  Make Better Portraits by Using All Your Tools

Mary in front of a mural in Monrovia, CA

If you have a point and shoot or a DLSR with “scene settings”, use the Portrait setting.  It will use the largest aperture available, which makes the lens opening the widest to create bokeh which is the blurry background every one loves so much in portraits.  It will also use the flash even in daylight, which I always recommend.  If you are more experienced, set your aperture to the largest you can, f/2.8-f/4.0.  Make sure you always use your subjects nearest eye to you as your focus point.

Notice the nice blur (bokeh) beyond Mary’s eyes?

Also, get a basic posing app for your phone.  There are several out there.  We like Posing App.  Lastly, really pay attention to composition here.  Do not have anything coming out of or going into your subject.  With more than one person, think of threes and triangle poses.  Think about all of the great portraits you have seen by Rembrandt, da Vinci, and Rockwell.  They all use triangle poses.

At home in our make-shift studio

#4 Crop your Photo

I have seen many average-to-terrible photos that would turn out good or even great with just a basic crop.  You want to crop for two reasons – to take out extraneous material, especially along the edges, and to concentrate the focus of your photo on the main subject.  If you did not use the rule of thirds for your out-of-the-camera photo, you can easily crop it afterward to take advantage of the rule of thirds.  Cropping also magnifies the subject, so if you want a telephoto of the subject, crop it.

Detail from a building in Old Town Pasadena, CA
What I really wanted

#5 Use Software

Father’s Day Wine
Father’s Day Wine with some pizzazz from Snapseed

I think every PC in the world now comes with Microsoft Picture Manager.  It is not a great tool but you can make basic adjustments like adjusting the crop, brightness, contrast, and color.  Processing a photo in Picture Manager takes just a few minutes and can create dramatically better results.  If you are willing to spend a little money, we have been using Snapseed a lot for fun snapshots.  I use it for all of my wine photos.  Lastly, if you want to spend just a little more money and not deal with Photoshop, you should get Nik’s Viveza, Color Effects Pro, and Silver Effects Pro.

Botanical Building in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Processed in Nik Viveza and Color Effects Pro

Not everyone wants to be serious about photography.  Who has the time?  I do know everyone wants to have nice memories of their lives and likes to share them with friends and family.  Taking just a few minutes to plan, compose, and process your photos will give you much better results; make more of an impact;  and make you proud of your photo work.  To see more of our photos, please go to

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