1. Find the Light
Light is the big kahuna of photography, and we simply can’t write an article about improving photography without mentioning light. There is no faking great light or fixing it after the fact.
Light (or the lack thereof) will play a big role in whether your shot comes out as you intended (or hoped). And when you’re photographing people, light makes a huge difference in just how flattering your images are!
So how do we recognise lovely, pretty light and how do we use it without researching and studying and googling and practicing for months?
These are the essentials to get us started…
Soft Light for Portraits
The best way to start understanding light is to learn to recognise the difference between hard and soft light. Hard light is just that! Harsh, bright and causes you to squint! Middle of the day sunshine is harsh direct light and you’ll notice the strong lines it creates between light and shadow. Its strong direct quality is generally unflattering to faces…
Notice in this image she’s in the hot pocket of sun…. she’s squinting, has harsh shadows under her eyes, and patchy light with some areas bright and others unevenly in shadow!
BUT… it can be as simple as moving into or finding areas of shadow to take immediately more flattering portraits!
Soft light is found in shaded areas such as open porches, gazebos, open doorways, under trees, inside city laneways that are shaded by building walls on either side.
It’s recognisable by the gentle graduation between the light and shadow (yes, the opposite of the hard light effect), and it’s much more flattering to faces.
Once you locate soft light in open shade, be mindful that your shaded area isn’t so shady as to produce an underexposed image. When shooting under trees try to avoid dappled sunlight on faces.
See the difference in our portrait taken in the shade… easy to make a big difference!
2. Change up your Perspectives
When you take photos do you always take them from a standing position? If so every photo you ever take will be taken from exactly the same perspective regardless of the subject (unless you’re still growing!).
Shake things up… get down low, lie on your belly, lie under your subject and shoot up, stand over it and shoot down, shoot portraits at eye level, stand on a chair, walk around your subject and look for more interesting angles.
You can create some beautiful and unique compositions by seeing things from a different angle!
3. Control Your Focus
This one will change your life!
If you’re shooting in manual mode already, do you find yourself fighting with your camera to focus on your subject? It wants to focus on something just behind, in front or beside it… anything but your subject.
It can be so frustrating!
If this is happening, you’re in auto focus point selection mode. You can change it to manual selection mode which will allow you to choose the focus point the camera uses.
Check your user guide for your specific camera to discover how to change to manual focus point selection to manual, then choose the focus point that sits over the spot you want to focus on.
Related: How to Master Your Focus Points
4. Clear the Clutter
I say this a lot! But once you know this one you’ll start to see clutter everywhere!
Anything in the background of your shot is going to compete for attention with your subject.
One key factor of professional photos is a good separation of subject from background.
Look through the viewfinder and identify things that don’t need to be there that are causing a distraction.
I’m talking stray toys, that basket of laundry, those knick knacks collecting dust on the bookshelf in the corner, a pile of yesterday’s newspapers, parked cars or passing cars, a tree branch that appears to be growing out of your subject’s head.
How can you clear the clutter?
- Jump in and move the clutter
- Change your angle or move yourself so the offending items/distractions are no longer in the shot
- Find a new location that’s clutter free… OR
- Get a little creative and create your own backdrop!
Related: Create Your Own Backdrop
Check out the photo below… I found my beautiful light, set-up baby… but look at everything going on in the background, aghhh!
So enter helpful husband and a blue blanket… voila! Hello cute baby!
5. Get in Close
This is an extension of our clearing the clutter! Such a simple change but so effective – just get in closer, and we have enhanced compositions that can be much more interesting and striking.
You’ll make it clear who or what your subject is. You don’t need to include the entire of your subject in the frame. It’s also an easy way to cut out clutter you can’t work around.
A couple of pro tips when getting in for a close up portrait:
- Yes you can crop off part of the forehead but for balance, ensure you leave room under their chin
- Don’t cut limbs off at the joint (ie. wrists, ankles, fingers)
- Ensure you focus on your subject’s eyes, unless you’re deliberately intending to focus on eyelashes or lips or a baby button nose
- When getting in close, unless you’re aiming for distortion, don’t shoot wide angle. Try to zoom in to at least 50mm. (Head here to discover what wide angle lenses do to faces!)
6. Join a Community
There is no better and more social way to learn and develop and be inspired than be hooking up with like minded women online. Somewhere to ask questions, share your photos, celebrate your wins and bemoan your frustrations! There are lots of fantastic groups you can join either in your community, such as camera clubs, or you can join our FREE ‘Loving Photography’ Facebook Group HERE
7. Enter a Photo Challenge or Competition
Nothing gets the creative juices flowing more than a challenge, especially when you’re in a photo rut.
You can enter local show competitions or camera club challenges… you can google challenge themes and set one up yourself and invite friends.
Our CLG Grads Communities hold themes every few weeks and they’re a great excuse to pick up the camera and put your skills to practice.
Join our free 7 day challenge to get you inspired AND get a pro tip delivered to your inbox every day for a week!
8. Shoot in Manual Mode and Take Control
Ok, so perhaps this one won’t happen in a day, but you can take steps to improve your mastery of your camera and start taking control of your settings! Switch that dial over to M and familiarise yourself with the dials or buttons which allow you to adjust the three elements of exposure – aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
Take a shot, and note whether the image is too dark or too light. Make an adjustment of one element. Take another shot. Note how it changes the image. Rinse and repeat!
It’s a start, it’s fun, and I guarantee you’ll rediscover that excitement you felt when you first brought home that shiny new DSLR!
Related: Manual Mode for Beginners
If you prefer to be supported through the process of learning manual mode, step-by-step, with fun challenges to practice on and feedback on your images… pop your name on the waitlist for our next Enthusiast Photography Course.
If you’re already confident in manual mode, check out our Advanced Photography Course and let us help you elevate your photography skills to the next level!