So you say, you need to take better photos? Of course, you don't need to. But you really want to. Here are 5 quick, usable pro-tips.
1. Remove extraneous objects in your frame
I often use writing analogies to make a point about photography and this is a perfect time for one. When writing a piece, you don't want to [banana] add irrelevant or unnecessary details into [memory foam] your final work. The same is [alternate-side parking] true of photography. These elements will only distract your audience and take away from the visual impact of the photo. Just as in my previous sentences, extraneous elements in a photo, don't fit in and can destroy a good composition.
So, be proactive! Tell everyone to hold on, remove that stray shoe/shopping bag/cat/stranger-who-shouldn't-be-in-the-photo and take those extra two seconds to make the photo that much better. Keep in mind that you're accountable for everything within the viewfinder. Scan the edges of the frame and make sure there's nothing there that you don't want. If you need to, crouch down a little or tilt the camera angle away, such that it improves your composition.
2. Turn OFF the flash right now
And don't turn it back on unless you absolutely have to. 90% of the time, flashes on compact cameras will destroy an image because they will shoot out a bright flash of light, that will harm many elements of a good photo. Flash lighting is a different color temperature than most ambient light that we're used to looking at. The result is that undesirable paleness that gets added to skin tones by the flash.
Flash will also tend to destroy any "mood" in a scene, inspired by the lighting. Consider, for example, you're out on a date with your loved one and between you, are a few candles that are providing light in the dimly-lit restaurant. In between glances, coy smiles are exchanged and you decide you want to save this moment. You take out your camera/iPhone/DSLR and two things can happen right now. You can turn off your flash and take a beautiful image where the candles are providing romantic lighting, enhancing the mood of the photo; or you can leave it on, resulting in an image that looks like an officer showed up 2 seconds before the photo, decided you look suspicious and shone a powerful high-beam flashlight at your date. Totally romantic, right?
Okay, "but what if it's too dark?" Get creative! If you can't rearrange the ambient lighting, move your subject around to accommodate for the lighting. Find a window, stand next to the wall light- there are usually more sources of light than you would consider at first. I've even been known to take out my phone to provide an additional source of light for a friend's photo. Which brings me to my last point about flash. There is a right way to use flash, but it involves diffusers, knowledge of lighting, and an understanding of exposure. As all rules in photo, there are no rules (but keep the flash off, for now).
3. Mix up the angles
This pro-tip is more situation-oriented than the others, but something great to keep in mind. A majority of photos are taken from the default position. You're standing up straight, your subject is in front of you, and you're holding the camera at eye level. There's nothing wrong with this, it's just that there are many more possibilities left unexplored. Oftentimes, a small change in camera angle can create a dramatic effect that may enhance the feel of the photo.
So, how do we do it? There's a number of ways to go about it. Crouch down, get on a chair, JUMP, go upstairs, or just lay down. Once you're in your new position, don't be afraid to tilt the camera any which-way. This doesn't mean go crazy and take the most random photo ever, but just use positioning to your advantage and keep in mind everything else you know about photography.
After experimenting with this for some time, you may find that you have a preferred shooting angle. I would always advise to get out of your comfort zone when shooting, but it's certainly a sign of growth when you begin to develop your eye and style. Some people I know, love to shoot from the crouched position. It affords for cleaner backgrounds because the camera is usually tilted a little more up, towards the subject. Now, a lot of the extraneous objects in the frame, are gone from the photo and you have a much more interesting background. Experiment, experiment, experiment!
4. Get in close
This pro-tip works hand-in-hand with the first tip, remove extraneous objects, and goes a little further to help the mood of your image.
The farther away you are from your subject, the more things in your frame, working to distract the eye. So the closer you get, there's less to look at, and you can't help but look at your subject. This works well, especially for beginners. On the other hand, If you are skilled in your craft, you can use the various items in the frame to pull the viewer's attention to your subject. These would just be basic principles of composition: framing, leading lines, patterns, and lighting. But for now, the closer you are, the easier the composition.
On a more advanced note, composition in general can provide help in narrating a photo and dictating the mood. Whenever I think of "getting in close," I find that it always applies best to more intimate and private (or quiet) moments. Close-ups of children or a private moment between a bride and his groom, in the midst of wedding chaos, can evoke powerful emotions because you feel like you're being let in- on someone else's a little secret.
5. Have fun
Probably the most important tip of them all. At the end of the day, we do this because we enjoy it. Many people lose that over time and it becomes a race for better gear and better images. As in with many things in life, enjoying the journey is as important as the destination. I would argue that this is certainly the case with photography, since there really is no destination. Ideally, we'd like to always be improving; we should never stop developing our eye and craft.
It's so important to treasure the journey. Keep every image you shoot and come back to them years later. Even if this is work for some of you, don't let it stop being a hobby. If you're not having fun along the way, you'll wear yourself out and photography will lose its magic. And once the magic is gone, it will no longer be a hobby- but strictly work. You'll become content with what you can do and then the journey to improve will come to a standstill. And folks, the moment we stop growing- we may as well stop altogether.