Learning how to take good pictures can feel like a complicated process. Thousands of blogs, videos, and websites are dedicated to discussing photography tips for beginners and advanced shooters alike, and they all seem to offer an endless supply of new tools and techniques for better image composition and quality.

Photo by Skillshare Original Teacher Andre D. Wagner
Photo by Skillshare Original Teacher Andre D. Wagner

But there are a few simple, easy ways to immediately improve your artistic output. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on new equipment or scan hundreds of blogs to figure out which photography tips for beginners really work. Incorporate the following tips into your routine of shooting and editing, and you’ll figure out ways to take good pictures faster than ever before.

What Makes a Photograph Great?

There are endless different ideas about what makes a successful image. After all, judgments about art and beauty are notoriously subjective. But if your image tells a story, communicates an idea, provides intrigue, or evokes an emotional response from your viewer, you have taken a “good” photograph—at least according to the standards of most photography professionals. It doesn’t matter if you’re photographing a landscape, a formal portrait, a candid shot, an action scene, or a single moment of history. As long as you create an emotionally or intellectually stimulating image, you’re doing good artistic work.

You can’t reach an audience, though, if you don’t have the technical proficiency to create images that are clear and visually engaging. If your composition doesn’t capture your audience’s eye, no one will pay close enough attention to your work to feel emotions about it. If your lighting is so dark that viewers can’t make out the subject, no one will understand what you’re trying to portray. And if your image quality is too blurry, viewers will write your work off as amateurish, underdeveloped, and ignorable.

Photos by Skillshare teacher Brandon Woelfel
Photos by Skillshare teacher Brandon Woelfel

The very best photographers are constantly expanding their toolkits and technical expertise. They regularly practice with new equipment and techniques to ensure that they’re prepared to capture any moment of inspiration with a high-quality shot.

Below, you’ll find eight simple steps you can take to immediately improve your shooting and editing techniques. Everyone can benefit from brushing up on the basics, so consider these ideas a starting point for beginners as well as a valuable refresher for more experienced shooters. 

1. Get to Know Your Gear

We’ve all been there: You get a new piece of equipment, and you’re so excited that you open the box and try it right away—without reading any of the instructions first. Ignoring manuals is very common, but skipping this introductory phase can have long-term repercussions on your ability to use your equipment (especially DSLR cameras) to the fullest advantage. When you fully understand the technical capacity of your camera, you’ll gain a greater handle on the ways that it can enhance your photographs. So if you haven’t already read the little booklets that come with your equipment, start there. As you read them, keep your camera, lenses, and other equipment nearby. 

Once you have a better grasp of your equipment’s capabilities, experiment and practice with it every day. Learn how to quickly adjust focus, use ISO exposures, set up a flash, or change lenses. Understanding how to use your gear on a day-to-day basis will help you identify your blind spots, too. From there, you can zero in on what tools you may still need to buy (or skills you may want to acquire) to create top-notch images. 

Introduction to DSLR Photography

Get to know your camera’s manual settings and features with photographer Justin Bridges.

2. Know the Rules of Composition

In photography, good composition is a vitally important part of making an image dynamic, engaging, and emotionally expressive. 

“Shot composition is the make it or break it between professionalism and amateur hour,” says Dale McManus, who jokingly refers to composition as “the yellow brick road out of mediocrity” in his class iPhone Photography: How to Take Pro Photos On Your iPhone. “A shot [is] just a frame with objects and shapes. Shot composition is arranging these objects and shapes with purpose.”

Photo by Skillshare student Bill A.
Photo by Skillshare student Bill A.

To create great compositions, there are a few basic rules that will help you quickly, easily improve your photographs. They make a great starting point for beginners, but returning to these fundamentals can help even the most advanced photographers get a great shot, especially if they feel stuck or pressed for time. 

The Rule of Thirds

Based on the Golden Ratio, the Rule of Thirds is a simple way to add visual interest to your photo. It states that you should divide your photograph into nine equal segments by adding two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. Your subject or most visually interesting detail should be placed on one of the lines or intersections.

Balance and Symmetry

Balance and symmetry make a photo visually engaging by guiding the viewer’s eye. To shift your perspective and incorporate visual elements that will balance each other out, consider cropping your image. That way, your work will stay more focused and appealing.

Scale and Proportion

Space and proportion address the relationship between visual elements. Considering the way items in your photograph interact can add interest to your images. If you make your subject seem smaller or larger than it appears in real life, you’ll be able to communicate a message—and create an appealing photograph in the process.

From Amelie Satzger's Skillshare Staff Pick, "iPhone Photography: How to Shoot & Edit Conceptual Photos on Your Phone"
From Amelie Satzger’s Skillshare Staff Pick, “iPhone Photography: How to Shoot & Edit Conceptual Photos on Your Phone”

Diagonals

Using diagonal lines throughout a photograph can be useful when you want to create a sense of depth or dynamism. Search out visual elements that are placed on an angle to more effectively engage your audience.

Once you’ve committed these rules of good composition to memory, try the following exercises to make them second nature.

  • Practice different ways of creating images with the rule of thirds, balance, symmetry, scale, proportion, and diagonals.
  • Analyze compositions in other people’s art, on television, in print ads, or any other visual that you find appealing.
  • Make a note when you spot visual arrangements that work well. Before long, you’ll start to instinctively capture better compositions, even when they spontaneously occur in the environment around you.

3. Look for Light

One of the most important aspects of photography is the art of finding the right lighting. If you can learn to use natural and artificial lighting to your advantage, you’ll almost instantaneously improve your photographs.

Natural light is any light that is produced by the sun or reflected by the moon, even if you’re indoors. It is free, easy to find, and is often very flattering to subjects—particularly if you use a diffuser or reflector to mitigate harsh lighting. But because natural light changes with the weather and time of day, it can be challenging to try to exert complete artistic control when using it.

Artificial light is any light source that isn’t natural. Photographers frequently rely on artificial lighting sources such as light bulbs, street lights, amps, and camera flashes. If you want complete artistic control over your lighting, learn how to use artificial light sources in your work. 

Take time to notice how light acts in your home, your workplace, and your yard. How does it behave differently in rural, urban, and indoor environments? If you want to work with natural light, practice taking photos at sunrise, at sunset, at noon, and on sunny and cloudy days. Then you can compare how the images differ.

Shooting in Natural Light

Learn how to use natural light to your advantage with photographer Desdemona Dallas.

4. Move and Shift Perspectives

Sometimes, the only thing a photographer needs to do to improve their artistic output is to reposition themselves while shooting. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to create better, more interesting shots by simply changing your viewpoint, especially if it’s a different perspective than your audience might expect.

Try capturing your subjects from below or climbing onto a ladder to get a shot from above. Tilt your camera so that you’re shooting diagonally, or place it at your waist to “shoot blind.” The more you’re able to reposition yourself, your camera, and your perspective, the more chances you’ll have to find interesting compositions that will enhance your work.

5. Use a Tripod

Whether you’re going after a completely steady shot or hoping to capture a landscape in low light, your work will benefit instantly from using a tripod. Tripods support your camera by allowing maximum artistic control with less risk of the camera shake that can ruin otherwise lovely photographs.

Try using a tripod when:

  • You want to pan smoothly.
  • You’re taking close-up photographs, images with low shutter speeds, or action shots.
  • You’re using long, heavy telephoto lenses.

You may find that this basic tool is just the thing you need to take your photographs to the next level. It doesn’t have to be costly, either: Many models retail for less than $20.

6. Take Your Camera Everywhere

The best way to become a better photographer is to practice shooting as much as you can. Bring your camera everywhere and you’ll never miss a moment of inspiration. You may even find that keeping a camera handy will trigger you to see your environment in a new way.

Photo by Skillshare Original teacher Steve Sweatpants
Photo by Skillshare Original teacher Steve Sweatpants

“I like to compare photography a lot to basketball,” says Steven Irby (also known as Steve Sweatpants), the photographer behind Skillshare Original Street Shots: Photographing Scale, Light, and Colors. “The more you practice, the better you become. You can shoot a million jump shots outside all day and you eventually become a better jump shooter. In the same way, with photography, if you take a million photos of certain things that you’re looking for, you adapt your eye to look for these things better. It becomes like instinct.”

Train your eye to find interesting details, compositions, and images in the scenes that spontaneously shift in front of you. Don’t see anything to shoot right away? That’s okay—patience is a photographer’s virtue. Keep your eyes peeled and more interesting visuals will unfold before you know it.

Embark on a Photography Scavenger Hunt

Steve Sweatpants guides students on finding photography inspiration even in ordinary places.

7. Edit and Critique

Capturing an image with your camera is only the first step in your artistic practice. To make your photographs look polished and professional, you’ll need to get acquainted with digital editing tools at a fundamental level, whether they’re part of Adobe Suite or another toolkit. 

Once you understand how to use your editing program of choice, take a moment to critically examine your photographs. Start by analyzing your work and asking yourself why specific images are stronger than others. Once you’ve selected your favorite images, start editing them in subtle or overt ways.

While you edit them, consider correcting:

  • Slanted horizon lines
  • Blemishes
  • Red eyes due to camera flashes
  • The image’s color, contrast, and exposure
  • Adjusting white balances

Even slightly tweaking your photographs during the editing process can be the very thing that takes your artistic practice from good to sublime. “Editing is for anybody who takes a photo, whether you just want an amazing looking Instagram page, or you want to take your hobby or your career to the next level by giving your photos that professional look and feel,” says Justin Bridges in the Skillshare Original Fundamentals of Photo Editing. “Think about editing as a taste level, as an approach, as a mental process in order to make your photo feel and convey the message that you felt when you took the picture in the first place.”

Learn the Basics of Photo Editing

Justin Bridges shares how to make technical fixes, tips on adjusting color or shadow, and other post-production advice.

8. Analyze Other People’s Work

Inspiration is everywhere, from advertisements to art history. Take some time to study the early pioneers of photography. Find artists—both living and dead—whose personal styles inspire you. Whether you’re interested in landscape photography, street scenes, or portraiture, ask yourself what makes your favorite images so effective, and try to figure out why certain professionals are so critically acclaimed. The more you look at well-composed or interesting images, the more likely you’ll be to understand what creates strong visuals—and create your own.

One Final Tip

Have fun! The more you enjoy viewing, composing, lighting, shooting, selecting, and editing photographs, the more you’ll develop your skills and improve your output. Enroll in classes on photo composition, shooting with natural light, or editing with Adobe programs, and always be looking for new ways to advance your craft. Stick with it, practice, and pay attention to the world around you, and you’ll be a better photographer in no time.