How to take (and make) better photos

There’s something about digital cameras that makes people want to take pictures of everything – and most of those are really bad pictures. Here are some shooting and editing tips that will save you time and maybe even keep you from that horrible moment where you realize you have a memory card entirely full of useless photos.


Rule of two-thirds

Anyone with even the most rudimentary photography skills has heard of this rule. It means don’t center the object of attention. It might feel unnatural at first, but it’s called a rule for a reason and makes a photo far more visually interesting. If you forget during your shooting, use “crop” later to accomplish this.

Rule of two-thirds

If it’s an option, shoot in manual

Even the best editors can’t save some pictures from under and overexposure, so save yourself some time and if possible, shoot in manual. If you have an SLR camera but have been relying on automatic settings, stop. Set it to “M” and use the exposure gauge. It’s a simple process, but here are the steps for beginners:

Hold down but don’t click your shoot button. Look inside the camera while doing so. You should see the small lines in a row with a large line in the middle – you want to get the top line to meet that middle line. Pointing at your subject, move the dial next to the shutter button until both lines meet in the middle. Those are the simplest steps to using manual without words like “ISO” and “f stop.”


Avoid the typical Facebook photo angles. Primarily, this one:

Under no circumstances is a self-taken photo from your arm’s length away acceptable. Also, dead on is boring and people lined up in a perfect row looks like a class picture. Dynamic angles from extreme perspectives capture way more attention. And candids are always, always, always better.



Be stingy with brightness/contrast options

The most basic photo editors are able to alter the brightness and contrast of photos…and people rely on them too much. As a rule of thumb, be conservative when using these. You’ll start out thinking a little increase in brightness can’t hurt those circles under your eyes or upping the contrast makes your hair shinier – and when all’s said and done you’ve got no facial features save the whites of your eyes, and everything else looks like it’s been sculpted from melting clay. Overuse of brightness and contras

If you have Photoshop…

Photoshop really isn’t that difficult to use, but it can be overwhelming for beginners. There are a myriad of very effective free,  online tutorials that can teach novices quickly. But if you want to edit photos before investing too much of your time with more in-depth guides, here are the tools and subjects you should look for short and specific tutorials on:

  • Levels – This tool is most applicable for black-and-white photos. Use it to get your whitest whites and blackest blacks. Too much gray just leaves an image looking flat.
  • Curves – You want to create a subtle “S” shape.
  • Filters – If you’re looking to do something creative or weird, open the filter gallery. There’s everything from adding a simple light flash in the corner of a photo for a grainy, Polaroid-like effect, to transforming a family picture into a watercolor.
  • Adjustments –The adjustment tools are key to editing your photos. Look for a quick tutorial that can take you through what’s in here.

Most free photo editors have comparable tools as well, they just might not be quite as user-friendly or effective – but they do exist.

B&W is more flattering than sepia

If you’re going for an old-timey look or just have a photo that would have been perfect if you had better skin (or hair, or teeth, etc.), B&W is the way to go. (In Photoshop, use “desaturation” instead of B&W).  Right around your editor’s B&W option, you’ll probably see sepia too. Now, this filter definitely has a time and a place, but when it comes to just making your subjects look better, this isn’t it. It’s yellow-hued, doesn’t disguise flaws as well as, and fails to give off as much contrast.Overuse of brightness and contrast

Take advantage of anything free

This one’s easy: use free stuff. Not just the various free photo editors out there (of which there are plenty), but other devices that easily set your photos apart. CleVR Stitcher is a free service that will take however many photos you can drag and drop into it and stitch them together – so you can either create that panorama you’ve been wanting to or act like Dr. Frankenstein of photos and mesh profiles of two different friends together. OnOne Software regularly releases free plugins for PhotoShop Lightroom that are ideal for quick editing and FlauntR is perfect if you are looking for filters or frames.

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