Zenfolio | Timothy Bury Photography | 7 Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Shots Immediately

7 Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Shots Immediately

Learning to use your digital camera can be fun. It gets more fun (and rewarding) when you see improvements in your results. These seven things have become second nature to me when I shoot. Whenever I’m getting ready to take a picture, these are the things that most often come to mind. There certainly are plenty more things to consider, but these 7 quick and easy ways will improve your shots immediately.

Please leave comments at the end and let me know how these tips have helped you (or if you have questions). Note: There is a gallery of images with notes relating to this post.

In no certain order:
  • Rule of Thirds
  • Lead Room
  • Simplicity (Background Choices)
  • Move In
  • Action Shots
  • Blurry shots
  • Fill-Flash

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a compositional rule of thumb used in painting, design, photography and other visual arts. It's use dates back as early as 1797.

The rule states that images should be divided into nine equal parts. The important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Placing a subject along these points creates more energy and interest in the composition than putting the subject in the center would.

The photograph to the right demonstrates the application of the rule of thirds. The horizon sits at the horizontal line dividing the lower third of the photo from the upper two-thirds. The tree sits at the intersection of two lines, sometimes called a power point. Points of interest in the photo don't have to actually touch one of these lines to take advantage of the rule of thirds. For example, the brightest part of the sky near the horizon where the sun recently set does not fall directly on one of the lines, but does fall near the intersection of two of the lines, close enough to take advantage of the rule.


The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section. The main reason for observing the rule of thirds is to discourage placement of the subject at the center, or prevent a horizon from appearing to divide the picture in half.

When photographing or filming people, it is common to line the body up with a vertical line, and having the person's eyes in line with a horizontal one. If filming a moving subject, the same pattern is often followed, with the majority of the extra room being in front of the person (the way they are moving).


This rule is a only a guide, and there will be times to deviate from it. Through experience you will learn when to use it, and when it is best not to.

Lead Room
In photography, lead room is the space in front, and in the direction, of moving or stationary subjects.
Well-composed shots leave space in the direction the subject is moving (or looking). When the human eye scans a photograph for the first time it will expect to see a bit of space in front of the subject. Photos often look odd if your subject is racing out of the frame, or looking out of the frame.
For example, moving objects such as cars require lead room. If extra space is allowed in front of a moving car, the viewer can see that it has someplace to go; without this visual padding, the car's forward progress will seem impeded.
As with all rules, there will be exceptions. For example, if you are taking picture of tracks being left in fresh snow, you may not want any lead room in front of the subject.

Simplicity (Background Choices)
The technique of simplicity is used to achieve the effect of singling out an item or items from their surrounding.
Simplicity is one of the underlying photographic techniques; a cluttered picture distracts the eye and takes away from the subject. A simple picture can be achieved by getting closer to the subject, which is also one of the main rules of photography.
Simplicity is one of the main components of most good photographs. The simpler the picture, the easier it is for the viewer to comprehend the subject and appreciate it. Cluttered images and backgrounds are less visually pleasing and more likely to cause the subject and lesser objects to confuse each other visually.
Achieving Simplicity
There are several ways to achieve simplicity in a photograph. The most obvious (and easiest) form is to place the subject against a neutral background like a backdrop or the sky. Backgrounds can be entirely neutral, like a solid backdrop or a cloudless sky; or they can compliment the image, like a starfish on the sand.


Move In


Even images that possesses many qualities of a great photo (sharp focus, accurate colors, correct lighting) can be compromised by lacking an obvious focal point or main subject.

When you shoot your subject against a busy or competing background or foreground and try to fit everything in, or take a photo from far away, making your subject tiny, then the image can lack a central point of interest, or other items in the picture can detract from your main subject.
To prevent this, simply move closer to your subject, or use the zoom feature on your camera. Then ask yourself these questions before you snap the shutter:
  • “What or who is the main subject of this photo?”
  • “Are there elements in the shot frame that don't add to the image?”
  • “Does my subject fill the frame?”



Action shots are fun and engaging, but they can be a challenge to take without the main subject being blurry. However, with proper camera settings and technique you can take great action shots.
Some things you can do: 
  • If you camera has a sport or action setting, use that. Not just for sports! It works great for toddlers on the move.

  • Avoid shutter lag by focusing on your subject and pressing the shutter button half way down, wait and anticipate the movement, then when the subject makes their move press the button the rest of the way. NOTE: You won't want to follow the subject for very long, if their distance from the camera changes the focus will be off (half press on most cameras locks the focus). Also note, this is a tip for point and shoot cameras. DSLR's reuire different procedures.

  • Turn the flash on. In automatic modes the camera may not turn the flash on. By forcing it on, the flash will help to freeze the subject.

Blurry images can ruin a great photo. Although, some might argue it's better to have a blurry image than none at all. There are many simple things you can do to combat blurry photos:
  • Slow down! Snapping quickly with your camera pointing it at everything around you will guarantee some blurry shots. Stop, hold the camera steady, and gently press the shutter button down. Don't jab, push, strike or hit it, gently press it down.
  • Hold the camera closer to your body with your elbows at your side. There are times when you can get away with holding your camera at arms length in front of you. But if your shots are blurry, try this instead.
  • Observe and anticipate what is going to happen around you. This will give you time to get the camera up and ready so you are gently pressing the shutter button and not shooting in a panic (we've all shot in a panic and gotten blurry shots before).
Update: To learn more about this, read "How to take Sharp Pictures"


Fill Flash

Fill flash is a photographic technique used to brighten deep shadow areas, typically outdoors on sunny days, though the technique is useful any time the background is significantly brighter than the subject of the photograph.
To use fill flash, the aperture and shutter speed are adjusted to correctly expose the background, and the flash is fired to lighten the foreground.
Most point and shoot cameras include a fill flash mode that forces the flash to fire, even in bright light.

What are your favorite shooting tips?
How have these tips helped you?
Do you have examples to share?
(Provide your answers and a link in your comments below)

Portions of this article were created from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Photographic_techniques and their use is approved under the creative commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/. Therefore, all text of this article is under the creative commons, for use of it, please refer to http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/. Rule of thirds tree image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. All other images are under copyright of their owner, and may not be used without written permission of the author.



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