Today I thought I'd share five quick tips that will improve your photography immediately. These are things you can do right now, as you are shooting, that will produce better photos right out of the camera. Beginners, you will find these tips very helpful, and for you not-so-beginners, it never hurts to remind ourselves of some basics.
Quick Tip 1: Maybe you've heard this many times before, but if there is a horizon in your photo, you must get it straight (level). This awareness may be all you need, and you may be able to "eyeball" it and get your horizon straight. But if you need a little more help, use your camera's grid lines on the display or through the viewfinder. You should be able to turn them on in one of your menu settings. (Even my 15-year-old point-and-shoot camera has grid lines, so your current camera probably has them too.) Your camera may also have a level icon you can see through the lens, or you can even get a bubble level to physically mount on the camera. (If all else fails, you can always straighten your photo with your editing software, but today's tip are about trying to get it right as you shoot.)
Quick Tip 2: Watch out for background distractions. I think most of us know to avoid trees or light poles growing out of our subject's head, but there are other, more subtle distractions to be avoided. These are easy to miss, and include stray objects in the frame, out of focus objects in the foreground, bright spots in otherwise dark areas (such as foliage), etc. Train yourself to look critically at the scene and be sure to check every area in the frame, including the edges and corners, before you snap.
Quick Tip 3: Pay attention to light. The bright harsh light of midday will make people squint, will wash out colors, and cast hard, unattractive shadows. If you must shoot in midday light, try to place your subjects in shadow, for example, you may have your human subjects stand in the shade of a tree or under a building overhang. For smaller subjects such as flowers, you may be able to cast your own shadow on them. For "good" light, try shooting in the indirect rosy light of morning or the blueish light near sunset. You may be surprised at how much difference you will see in your images.
Quick Tip 4: Resist the tendency to place the main subject dead center in the frame. You may have heard of the "rule of thirds" where you imagine intersecting lines that divide the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically. Placing your main subject at or near one of the intersections will make your photo more visually dynamic. When you set your grid lines (see Quick Tip 1), your camera may give you the option to set a rule of thirds grid.
Quick Tip 5: Get closer. For more visual impact, get in closer to your subject. It's a common tendency to leave too much empty space in the frame, making the main subject seem less important. You will need some '"breathing" room around the edges for most subjects, but for some, you can even fill the frame completely.
For the image above, I employed Quick Tips 2 (uncluttered background), 3 (soft morning light), 4 (off-center placement), and 5 (getting in close).
Of course these tips are guidelines, and every rule is meant to be broken. But if you are a beginner, or are having trouble with an image, give these tips a try, and I think you will be happy with the improvement you see.
Please feel free to leave comments, and as always, I wish you happy shooting and a satisfying photographic journey!