How To Take Great Pictures With Any Camera

You don’t need an expensive or modern camera to take great images. Megapixels, sensor size, optic quality, dynamic range, filters—none of that can save an uninteresting image. But an interesting image can captivate viewers even when the top technical aspects aren’t met.

Many would have you believe that great images are made possible by the best equipment but the relationship outlined above proves that it is not so simple. So what is the secret to great images?

Here are some of the most important concepts and techniques for creating great images that you can start implementing right away with any camera.

1. Understand your camera
2. Prioritize what’s in front of your camera
3. Capture good light
4. Connect with your subject
5. Capture what interests you
6. Push the limits with editing

Read on to understand how you can incorporate these concepts and techniques into your photography.

1. Understand your camera

First, you must know how to use your camera. At the very least you should be well-versed in…

  • Basic operation
  • Focusing
  • Controlling exposure

With lots of practice, operating your camera will become second nature. As you become more familiar with your camera, you will spend less time fidgeting with it which allows you to focus more on your surroundings and the present moment. As a photographer, this will open you up to more opportunities and experiences to capture.

Technically speaking, it’s also useful to know the limitations of your camera…

  • Does your camera have a fixed focal length?
  • Does your camera struggle in low-light conditions?
  • Is your camera heavy and bulky?

These camera-specific limitations may force you to capture images in certain ways. For instance, one major drawback of smartphone cameras is that they will typically capture images in JPEG format. Knowing this limitation, you can take extra care to expose for the highlights and capture a true white balance.

A best practice is to do some research into the camera that you’re using even if you’re already somewhat familiar with it. Your ultimate goal should be for the camera to become an extension of you. Upon noticing, you can quickly react and capture an image before the moment has escaped you.

2. Prioritize what’s in front of your camera (composition)

At the end of the day, what lies in front of your camera is truly what matters. You can acquire the latest, greatest tech but there isn’t a single camera that can magically create a great image out of a boring or ineffective composition.

Photo by Urfan Hasanov on Unsplash

To start with, it’s useful to understand that an image is a ‘frame’ into the world around you. As the photographer, you have the power to select what makes it into that frame and, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t make it into the frame. When we talk about composition, we are discussing the arrangement of elements within an image. This can be done by physically manipulating the elements in a scene or by moving yourself to view the scene from a different perspective. The latter is a great place to start as a beginner.

Finding new perspectives

It’s common for beginners to dismiss the power of where they stand when they take an image. Often, beginners will notice something that they want to take a picture of and then halt in place, take their photo from eye-level and move on. Try to break yourself out of this habit and push yourself to find new perspectives.

Photo by Robert Murray on Unsplash

How to find new perspectives:

  • Move closer to the subject
  • Move further away from the subject
  • Shift to the left
  • Shift to the right
  • Bring your camera lower
  • Bring your camera higher

All of these movements will have a significant impact on your composition. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the subject or scene the more dramatic your movements will need to be to see a significant difference in composition.

Composition is extremely powerful in photography. It can provide necessary context, direct the attention of the viewer, create relationships between elements in a frame, and so much more. To take a deeper dive into composition read “The Simple Guide to Photography Composition—For Beginners“.

3. Capture good light (light)

Light is everything in photography. In fact, the word photography derived from the Greek words “photos” and “graphos” literally means “light drawing”. Each time that you press your camera’s shutter you are recording light onto a sensor or piece of film which results in an image.

Photo by Mike Kotsch on Unsplash

There are many different types of light and not a single type that is best in every situation. It largely depends on your subject, scene and intention for the photograph.

Light is commonly classified in terms of:

  • Quality (hard or soft)
  • Intensity (bright or dark)
  • Colour temperature (warm or cool)
  • Direction.

Different combinations of these classifications will create light with unique attributes that affect not only the brightness of your image but also the mood, tone and depth.

If this is your first time hearing of these classifications then be sure to read our comprehensive series on mastering light in photography where it’s discussed in great detail.

Find more light

As a baseline, you should strive to capture adequate light that results in a well exposed image. This seems obvious, but is so important that it has to be said: Where there isn’t enough light, find more light! Ideally there should be detail in the brightest highlights and darkest shadows. Soft light, that has a lower contrast between highlight and shadow, will make it easier to achieve this. You should always err on the side of an under-exposed image. In digital photography, highlight detail that has been exposed too bright is much harder to recover in editing than shadow detail that has gone too dark.

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

You should then consider the direction the light is hitting your subject or scene from. Side light is a good go-to since it illuminates the part of your subject or scene that is facing the camera while still creating shadow that works to create depth in your image. Light without shadow is considered flat lighting and generally not advised. This type of light is great for technical photography but will create undesirable results in most other circumstances.

Shoot at the right time of day

Photo by Petr Vyšohlíd on Unsplash

Shooting at the right time of day and in the right weather can make all the difference in your lighting. The hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset is known as Golden Hour and is a favourite shooting time among photographers. Midday is one of the least desired times of day to shoot since the sun is at its brightest and illuminates the subject or scene from a top-down position which can create long and dark shadows. However, shooting at midday when the sky is overcast or in open shade can result in beautiful soft light images.

4. Connect with your subject (Subject)

This tip is the least technical aspect of photography but one that viewers can pick up on quite readily.

Take portrait photography for instance. When you capture someone’s portrait you are tasked with capturing not only the likeness of that person but also their essence. Even the most open people may feel uncomfortable when they step in front of a camera and so they put up metaphorical walls to protect themselves.

In order to break down those walls your subject needs to develop a certain amount of trust in you as the photographer.

Photo by mohammad alashri on Unsplash

Some easy ways to connect with your subject:

  • Light-hearted conversation
  • Positive affirmations
  • Humour
  • Showing them photos
  • Etc

The best thing that you can do in this situation is to be present with your subject and connect with them on a human level. Slowly those walls will come down and allow them to be vulnerable and open for the camera.

Compose with your eye—then with your camera

Beyond people, this presence and connection goes a long way when capturing photos of any subject. It’s somewhat impulsive to look at the world through your camera when you’re out taking photos. While this can be a great exercise, there is so much more power in looking at the world and, to a certain extent, even composing your images with your plain eye. Then simply raise your camera, make final adjustments and capture the light. This keeps you in the present moment and aware of what exactly it is that you’re capturing. Otherwise, the camera can act as a sort of barrier.

When you’re connected to what you’re capturing you have the power to create more nuanced relationships or simply show that subject in the most honest or flattering way.

Photo by Shawnn Tan on Unsplash

5. Capture what interests you

If you’re going to connect with your subject, it’s important that you are interested in it. This leads you to create deeper connections which will strengthen the subject matter of the image. It could even lead you to capture that subject in a unique or unconventional way.

Consider these 3 things:

  • What is it that interests you?
  • What do you consider to be effective photography?
  • What is an interesting photograph to you?

While this path may not be as quick as copying what trending photographers are shooting, it will be more fruitful in the long run.

Photo by SIMON LEE on Unsplash

For myself, long road trips are some of my earliest visual epiphanies. I remember looking out the window at the rural landscape and noticing the pavement just outside the car that whizzed by the long crop field that led to farms and windmills in the distance. When you look long enough at this parallax effect, you start to notice pockets or moments in time where the vast planes seem to align harmoniously. In essence, I was noticing and practicing composition with the naked eye. Naturally, I have pursued landscape photography for much of my career and regard composition as the strongest aspect of my work.

All of that to say that it’s worthwhile to dig into what events led you to photography and see if there’s any connections that can be developed into your practice.

6. Push the limits with editing

Lastly, if the image isn’t quite what you intended, not only is there no shame in editing— it’s actually an integral part of the photographic process!

  • Framing isn’t quite right? Try cropping your image for a tighter composition.
  • Subjects in your image don’t stand out enough? Try adding more contrast by darkening shadows and brightening highlights.
  • Lost detail in your image due to high contrast light? Try brightening the shadows and darkening the highlights to increase the dynamic range.

This is just chipping the surface of how editing can transform an okay image into a great one.

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

There are many editing softwares that are accessible and intuitive for beginners available on a wide range of platforms—both desktop and mobile. You likely have photo-editing tools built into the device that you’re reading this article on.

It’s best to start out slow and resist the urge to use every tool at its maximum setting. Doing that will certainly transform your image but it may not be in the way that you think. If your software allows it, check in on a “before” view of your image throughout your editing process to make sure that you haven’t gone too far with your edit. If you need to, you can dial back the edit so that your image looks natural.

If you edit pictures with your iPhone then I recommend you check out our online course: [The Beginner’s Guide to Editing iPhone Photos]() where we discuss this topic in great detail.

Now It’s Time to Go Take Great Pictures!

You can take great pictures with any camera. The key is to understand the importance of all the elements that are in front of your camera and to approach the process with intention.

What do you think makes a great photograph? Let us know in the comments below.

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