It goes without saying that the vast majority of people who own a camera (phone, point-and-shoot, mirrorless ICL [interchangeable lens], or DSLR) are not professionals. And probably don’t have aspirations to become a professional, but they can still take better snapshots.
Falling within that group doesn’t mean you can’t make good images with better snapshots —regardless of the quality/size of your camera.
First, a quick reality check. If you typically use your phone’s camera or a compact point-and-shoot for taking photos, you can get good results, but bear in mind that these cameras are just not capable of the speed (lens “speed” and shutter speed), light-gathering ability, or depth-of-field control of even the cheapest thrift-shop vintage 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) camera.
Why? Because technology can’t (yet) conquer simple optics/physics. Just look at the physical difference between a typical point-and-shoot lens and a normal 35mm SLR/DSLR lens. Which one do you think captures more light? With that in mind, which one do you think will perform better in a less-than-bright indoor situation? The 35mm DSLR lens will always win because it simply has bigger glass, and bigger glass always wins.
So now that you know that basic fact, don’t panic if your iPhone photos don’t look like images made by a professional on pro gear with pro lighting and a pro retouching artist.
I’ve got three simple tips that are guaranteed to improve your photos.
Learn The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds has been around for a very long time. It’s probably existed as long as people have made visual art, but it’s been known by this particular name only since the late 18th century (in regards to painting). Broken down, it’s easy:
- Pretend your photo is divided into nine equal areas (3×3)
- Try to guide the viewer’s eye to the intersections of those areas
- Avoid placing the point of most interest in the middle
BOOM. You’re done and on your way to taking better snapshots.
Can you break this rule? Of course. But on the whole, your images will have more visual interest and look more “pro” if you tend to follow it.
The quickest way to apply the rule is in the quintessential “mom shot.” Mom has everyone line up for a group photo. Everybody stands next to one another, smiles, and mom takes the picture. When you see it, all the heads are smack in the middle of the frame, with a ton of space between the top of the heads and the top of the frame. And just a little neck/shoulder/chest toward the bottom. Sorry, mom—it’s ugly.
All mom (or you) has to do is learn to frame/compose your photo with the rule of thirds in mind. Aim the camera just a little bit lower so there’s not so much “air space” above the subjects’ heads .
The next way to apply it would be with a picture of an object—a flower, your cat, a baby, motorcycle, a scanning electron microscope, etc. The natural impulse is to stick that thing right in the middle of the frame (that means it’s important, right?). But wait! Try moving the viewfinder/LCD screen around a little… start visualizing the 3×3 grid (and some cameras even have a grid function!), and place the cat’s eye or the bloom on the intersections.
The best thing about the rule of thirds is that it’s completely platform-agnostic—the rule doesn’t care what kind of camera you use. From pinhole to Arca-Swiss, you’ll have better shots the more you use it.
P.S.—you can practice the rule of thirds by cropping and recomposing photos you’ve already taken in a basic photo editing app like iPhoto.
Andy McRory is a San Diego photographer and an alliance partner for Parallel Interactive. He specializes in portrait, interior/exterior design, and commercial photography.