Tag Archives: Composition

How to Take Better Photos (Beginner)

Did you just get a new camera?  Have you been looking at your images and wondering how they could be better?  Something just not right?  Well, read on.

In this post, I’ll give a few tips on how to take better photos right away, and you don’t even have to know any technical stuff about your camera, how it works or any of that!

The most important thing about making better photos is composition.  Composition is just arranging the objects in the rectangular frame in a pleasing way.  Composition is a deep topic that even masters never stop learning and improving, but for now, I’ll just try explain these few simple compositional rules to follow:

  • Don’t photograph a thing, tell a story
  • Zoom for portraits
  • The rule of thirds
  • Keep the background clean

Please note, none of these images are especially good, but they’re pictures where I left some room to explain these simple, but important concepts.

First off, you’ll probably want to take a lot of photos, that’s ok!  That’s a benefit of digital cameras.  Delete the bad ones and keep only the best.

Delete.  The.  Bad.  Ones.
If you keep your memory card full of every image you take, you’ll never be able to find and enjoy the good ones!  So shoot a lot, experiment with angles and keep moving around and practicing these concepts that I explain here.

The first rule that I tell every new photographer is don’t try to photograph a thing, try to tell a story.  One of the ways to do this is to not put the person or thing you want to photograph in the middle of the image.  Use the “rule of thirds.”

I’ll say this very clearly: do not put your subject in the middle of the frame, not the thing, not a person’s head, nothing!

There are reasons to break this rule, but it’s an advanced topic.

Consider this simple, pleasant image:

Beginner Photography Rule of Thirds

The bee is obviously my subject.  Do you see how the bee is both about a third of the way down from the top, as well as a third of the way from the right edge of the frame?  That’s because I used the Rule of Thirds. The rest of the image is clean except for the yellow flower in the background which helps to tell a simple story: It’s spring and there are lots of flowers.

Every part of the frame is purposefully used, and there are no distractions.

Here is an example if I had put the bee in the middle of the frame:


Yuck! In this crop, there is way too much empty space at the top of the frame.  The background is ugly, useless and there is no balance to the photograph: an important concept and one benefit of using the rule of thirds.  It’s a more advanced topic that you get almost automatically by using the rule of thirds!

I’ll tell you a secret: I got these two nearly identical images  with a different framing because I cropped it.  You should always try to get it right the first time, which is why some of these images aren’t especially good – I didn’t. You can crop it in the camera or use a program like Adobe Lightroom or even your iPad.

Use the rule of thirds!
For example, if you want to take your kids picture in front of the Statue of Liberty,  by all means don’t put your kid in front of the statue of liberty.  Put him on one side and fill the other two-thirds of the picture with the story about being at the statue of liberty!

Here is another example of the rule of thirds.  See how I’ve placed the gentleman on the right side of the frame, and used the rest of the image?

Man in an Ally

Other than telling a story, and showing some interesting lines, the background is clean: just enough, not too much.

This story is simple: it’s a man in an alley that has something to do with bicycles.  The best stories are simple.  Leave the complex stories for when you’ve advanced more.  Take a look Joe McNally if you want to see examples of a master who tells interesting and complex stories using simple frames.

The concept of a clean background is an important concept of photography.  Keep the clutter to a minimum, and most importantly, don’t have a object, like pole jutting out of the subject.

Clean Background!

Last is another example that illustrates a tip that every new photographer should know: step back and zoom in for nice portraits.

The first reason to do this is because nearly everyone (except small babies) looks best when you step back and zoom.  Everybody.  I zoomed as far as my lens would go for this simple portrait:

Zoom for Portraits

The second reason is because the farther you zoom, the less in focus the background will be.  This is the same image as the one above, again just cropped differently.  It still follows the rule of thirds, but illustrates that zooming can make what would normally be a very distracting, ugly background (it was!) blur out into something kind of nice:

Zoom for Portraits II

As with any subject, don’t focus on photographing the thing, in this case, the girl, but tell a story.  They say that the eyes are the window of the soul, that’s why her eyes, in both cases are a third from one edge of the image, and they are the focus point.  You have to focus on the eyes to tell a story about the person’s soul.

If you follow these basic, simple practices, your photography will improve dramatically, and as I hope you’ve seen, these rules fit together:

  • The rule of thirds
  • Don’t photograph a thing, tell a story
  • Zoom for nice portraits
  • Keep the background clean

I hope you’ve learned enough to help you start making better photos right away!

These are just some basic tips.  If you want to dig deeper, I can recommend the following resource:

Digital Photography Composition Tips from Digital Photography School: