How to Improve the Quality of Your Photos
Are you satisfied with the photos you take and place, or would you like to know how to take better photos, and place them more effectively in your photo book? I like my photos to be more than just “pretty pictures.” I like them to speak, to say something significant about the subject. The message can be enhanced or missed because of a range of aesthetic elements. For instance, some objects go well together, adding to their completeness and aesthetics, and some don’t. The juxtaposition of objects in a photo and photos on a page can produce effective synergy, but the wrong combination can spoil the effectiveness of each individual photo. I have put together the following tips that address some of these elements, in the hope that they will help you to improve the quality of your photos and their placement.
First of all your photo will say something about the subject, but what is it you want to say or show in your photo? Archaeological photography for instance should include some tools, or part of the site, so that when someone looks at the photo they immediately think, “archaeology.” Care needs to be taken not to lose your subject in a context, because there is no clear focal point or centre of interest. To avoid this, make sure the focal point you want is in focus, and the sharpest area.
The subject can also be “lost” by the way you arrange the elements in your photo. These create directional lines that are instrumental in directing the flow of your eyes. I like to use the triangle or diagonal line in my compositions, as they tend to make the photo more dramatic, and can lead the viewer’s eye into the photo. Check that your eyes are not led off the page by a strong line, or bright colour, but back to the centre of interest you have chosen. Your eyes can also be led off the page by the direction your subject is looking, so try and get your subject looking back into the photo and not off the photo.
To improve your composition, try dividing your image into thirds and placing your subject or focal point on or around that line. This is known as the “Rule of Thirds,” and can also be used to emphasise your subject.
You can also make your subject noticed by contrasting its texture or colour with the foreground or background elements. Complementary colours like blue and orange are contrasting colours, and can be used to highlight your subject. But too many different elements can distract the eye from your subject as well. Repetition can be used to create unity within the image. Look for repetition of shape, colour or idea.
Before pressing the camera button check the borders of the photo you are about to take, making sure you haven’t cut someone’s feet off or part of a shadow. If an object is too close to the edge, it can draw your eyes off the photo, and possibly give your viewer a feeling similar to annoyance. Are there any other distractions that will lead your eye off the photo or away from your subject? What should be there? Do you need to take a step right or left, squat, or reach up to place your object on a thirds line, or remove distractions from the edges of your frame?
Last of all, when is the best time to take a photo? A cloudy day after rain is a good time to get clear photos without the glare of the sun, which can cause areas of your photo to lose detail. Sheeting can be used to reduce patchy sunlight. Usually if the sun or light source is behind you, more of the details of your subject will be seen and there will be fewer shadows. If the light source is in front of you, your subject may end up silhouetted. If you don’t want a silhouette, try using the flash, which will have an equalizing effect on the light. If the light is high above your subject, you will need to watch the shadows it produces. The shadows produced by side light can be used effectively to show the texture of your subject, but check the colour of the sky. A horizontal gradient in the sky can spoil a photo.
Sometimes you don’t have time to do anything other than point and shoot. It is better to get the shot and edit it later, than to miss it altogether. Don’t be discouraged if you miss the best shot. All photographers have times when, like fishing, the best one got away! Some of the best photos are missed because no camera was on hand. Other great photos are missed because the camera features are not known. Get to know your camera, and take it with you even if you are not planning to use it.