Upgrading your photography skills may be easier than you think! If you're a beginner, these simple adjustments can immediately take your photos to the next level. The best part is, they actually require less work!
When I think about my first year doing photography, I remember how much I overworked myself trying to do certain things to make my photos better. It took a lot of trial and error to realize that some things I was doing weren't necessary... and at times even hurt instead of helped. It's freeing to realize that sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, you can actually get better results by doing less. With that in mind, here are a few tweaks you can make that should simplify your process and also improve your photos at the same time, YAY!
1. EDIT LESS
There is an infinite number of ways you could edit any one photo. Truly! And sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do and not do. Have you ever sat staring at the same image for minutes on end, paralyzed with "edit anxiety"? Major time-suck! My advice is to get it right in-camera to your best ability - get your focus and composition correct. Then use your editing tools to make subtle adjustments if you want. Editing adjustments should be used with restraint, and should be thought of as the finishing touch. When I edit, my goal is to have a photo that looks natural and close to real life. So really heavy overlays, heavily colored filters, unnaturally airbrushed skin, and glowing eyes are out! Over-edited photos often look amateurish, as if editing techniques were used to compensate for a mediocre photo. This is a really common thing to do, it's nothing to be embarrassed about - it's kind of like an awkward stage of growth most photographers must progress through - sort of like adolescence! So forget about the pressure to create something brand new during the editing process. You don't need to do that. Adjust the exposure and the white balance if needed, straighten up your crop a tad if needed, play around with the levels a little - and call it a day. When you get used to seeing your photos in a more natural state, it will draw your attention to other areas you want to improve, that you may not have noticed before, such as composition and getting your focus sharp.
Side note: Perhaps one reason why people over-edit is that they are wanting really vibrant, eye catching photos and aren't sure how to do that in-camera. If that's you, learning to shoot on your Manual setting is what will change all of that. Shooting manually allows you to capture light in a way that isn't possible on auto-mode. And it's easier than you may think! Stay tuned for my upcoming course that teaches this.
ISO 200, 1/1600 sec, f/3.5
2. BRING DOWN THE EXPOSURE A TAD
I love the look of light and bright photographs, don't you? It can be easy to overdo this, however, and end up with a photo that is "blown out". If you have large portions of the photo that are completely white... meaning there is no information at all in some areas - then that image is likely over-exposed. Sometimes this happens when the photo is taken, and sometimes the "exposure" is just pulled up too much during editing. Just pull it back a little. Make sure you can see some texture throughout the photo, even if it is very light. Also remember- it is MUCH better to underexpose the image when taking a photo- than to overexpose. This is because a dark image can be pulled up in editing and you have a richer well of information to work with. But if you overexpose in-camera (the image is too bright) and lose out on capturing a full spectrum of information, there is no way to get that back in editing. This minor change does not cost you any time or money, and will definitely improve the look of your photos.
A little more about exposure:
Getting a properly exposed image is not something that has to be extremely precise. There is an acceptable range when you're shooting, so don't feel like you have to hit some tiny target of perfection. You don't. Just aim to get it where it looks "about right" to you, and just don't overexpose (like we just talked about).
Overexposed= too bright
Properly exposed= just right
3. STRAIGHTEN UP YOUR LINES
Here a tilt, there a tilt. It's fun to be creative with the camera. However!! IF there is a horizontal line in the image - a table edge, the steps on a building, a fence line, or an actual horizon line... try to compose the image so that the line looks correct and horizontal. Don't tilt. Same with vertical lines - keep them vertical. I used to not pay much attention to this. But once I started noticing the lines and keeping them balanced, I noticed a huge improvement in my photos. It can be hard to get this perfect in-camera so this is something you will want to check and fix in editing if necessary. You will be amazed at how this small detail can make your photo look attractive, balanced and more professional. Try it!
4. PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THE SUBJECT AND LESS ATTENTION TO THE BACKGROUND
Choosing locations for photos can get stressful but it doesn't always have to be. I'm shaking my head as I remember stressing about barns and railroad tracks and fences while planning for a family or couples session. All those things are pretty... but not what I was there for and actually caused me to make poor decisions about composition and locations. Simple backgrounds are best when doing portraits. As in... there's nothing "back there" except boring stuff like trees and leaves and blank walls! It's also best if the background is clutter free. If you want to take awesome pics of the barn, definitely do so, but treat those as separate images. You will likely need different lenses than what you used for the portrait session anyways. What I'm saying is, KEEP IT SIMPLE. Do just one thing at a time, be clear about what you're trying to accomplish and don't try to do too much in one image. You may feel like you're not trying hard enough but trust me - the photos will turn out better!
5. USE PROPS SPARINGLY
Having many extra items added to an image can sometimes take away from the main focal point. When it comes to props and photo styling, keeping it simple almost always looks more professional. If you plan to style the photo, be thoughtful and picky about what you include. If you're doing fall portraits, for example, maybe instead of having three hay bales, a wooden sign, buckets, pumpkins and candy... you just have the family sitting in an autumn field... with their toddler possibly holding a small white pumpkin. In this way, you can suggest the idea of fall without being overt and literal. The result is a more natural and timeless photo. There's nothing wrong with simple, classic, and easy. Those are my favorite kinds of photos!
Okay, did you notice a theme? I did! "Less is More!" It's really empowering to realize that you don't have to overwork yourself to get great photos. You don't have to be an expert on editing or the latest photoshop "tricks", you don't have to have a car full of cute props, you don't have to use 7 different spots next time you do family portraits. Whew! Anyone can use these tips immediately to improve their photos, even if you're just using an iPhone. However, if you have a DSLR and want to really see the power of what you can do with your camera to achieve amazing photos in-camera, then you should absolutely learn to shoot on Manual Mode. I will be doing a fun course on this soon so stay tuned! Better yet, subscribe to my email list and I will let you know when it's available.
Now get out there and practice, I'll be doing the same!
ISO 250, 1/3200, f/2.8