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Six Photography Tricks for Beginners

A man shooting landscape photos on a camera.

Taking pictures has become a regular part of life. Nowadays, phones are just as much camera as they are phone. It’s become a part of how people express themselves and keep memories.

Chances are, you’ve taken a picture before. Maybe you just want to take good pictures to store memories. Or, maybe you’re a budding artist who wants to create unique pictures that convey a lot of meaning.

Signing up for a photography course will give you hands-on experience with the medium and give you an opportunity for critique. The REDC at Yavapai College offers a Secrets to Better Photography course that is a great starting point for taking great photos.

Whatever your intention behind photography, here are some tricks you can try to start taking more interesting and better-looking photos.

List of the six photography tricks.

1. Use the Rule of Thirds

You might not have the most expensive gear or the fanciest camera, but you can still create impact images. Composition might be one of the most important aspects of good photography. Even with a good camera, photographers need to be able to find compelling compositions.

One trick to make your photography look clean and intentional is to shoot using the rule of thirds. Most cameras will have a thirds overlay that makes it much easier, but if that is not available, imagine the image you’re shooting is split into three vertical and horizontal quadrants. This will act as your guide.

While shooting (or editing), place focal points on the intersections of the quadrants. This will create balance within your composition, but if you mess around with subject placement you can create images that feel intentionally unbalanced.

The rule of thirds is a great starting point for understanding how to compose great photos.

A woman editing photos on a laptop.

2. Experiment with Framing

There’s a reason the first three tips are all about composition — it’s important, and employable by anyone.

Framing is everything that surrounds your subject. If you’re shooting a portrait, it’s everything but the person. When utilized well, framing can completely change the mood of a portrait shot and even create a sense of immersion.

Messing around with framing is a great way to get your creative ideas cooking. Here are some ways you can experiment with framing:

  • Place your subject between pillars

  • Use tree branches or leaves to obscure parts of your frame

  • Use the shapes in the background to frame your subject

  • Be aware of streetlights in the background

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the works of Gregory Crewdson. His work features interesting framing that works almost like a picture frame to a smaller photo within his work.

3. Don’t Forget About Angles

Photography is an iterative process. Meaning, you shouldn’t stop shooting just because you think you got the shot. Don’t settle for a specific look. Keep shooting and looking for ways to change up your angles.

Moving subjects around is a great way to get fresh ideas while shooting. Instead of shooting at a specific location, go for a walk, look for interesting ideas, and try them out!

You should try messing around with vertical placement as well. Shoot your subject from above, or below, get every angle, and find out what worked later. Don’t be afraid to iterate and try something that might not work.

A man with a phone, laptop, and a camera around his neck.

4. Play with Editing Software

We’ve all been there. You snap the perfect picture at the perfect moment, at least you thought you did. Turns out you were moving too quickly and the whole thing is blurry, or the photo is just too dark. Don’t worry, we have the technology to (almost) go back in time!

Photo editing software is available for anyone with a smartphone. Adjustments like brightness, saturation, and cropping can change the whole look of a picture. Sometimes the natural light isn’t enough; take whatever creative liberties you want to produce images that are creative and compelling.

5. Adjust Your Aspect Ratio

Remember when DVDs had fullscreen or widescreen options? This is the aspect ratio of the video, and it’s a very intentional part of photography.

Most phones will have a setting for changing the aspect ratio so you can change it on the fly. When shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you’re often stuck with whatever ratio is built into the camera, but if you shoot in RAW you’ll be able to crop the image to any aspect ratio without losing any quality.

The reason you’re shooting your photos is an important part of choosing aspect ratio. If you’re shooting photos for Instagram, stick to a 1:1 ratio, but if you’re taking pictures to hang in a hallway, 2:3 is a very common printing size.

A smartphone taking a photo of a breakfast table.

6. Adjust Your Shutter Speed and Aperture

When getting started in photography it’s easy to get confused by all the settings available on your professional camera. Two of the most important settings on your camera are shutter speed and aperture.

Aperture is how wide your lens shutter opens when taking a picture. Your aperture will be dependent on your camera lens and is depicted with f-stops. The bigger the number, the smaller the aperture.

The smaller the shutter the more things will be in focus, but it won’t let in a lot of light. This is great for taking landscape photos reminiscent of Ansel Adams. However, if you want to get close to a subject, bring down your f-stop to widen your aperture. This lets in a lot of light and creates a greater sense of depth.

Shutter speed is the speed at which the photo is taken. It also affects the amount of light that is allowed to hit the sensor. A faster shutter speed will be able to take photos quicker, but won’t let in as much light. This is what you want for taking pictures of moving subjects. A slow shutter speed will let more light in.

A slow shutter speed is how people take photos at night. Because there is not a lot of light at night, if you increase your shutter speed your camera will take a longer time letting light in. If you move the camera around, the picture will be blurry.

A cool camera trick is to go out at night and take long exposure pictures while moving lights around. The lights will become streaks that you can use to spell things, draw pictures, or just create movement.

When getting started in photography, certain shots might seem impossible, but they’re not. It takes practice and time to understand what your settings need to be and how to best set up a shot. So practice! Try something new and iterate on the creative processes.

Let Photography Take You Further

Photography can be a great hobby. You can use it to capture great moments of your family and friends, but it can also become a solid side hustle. Let your photography take you further by enrolling in online courses and connecting with local businesses.

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