Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. No matter what activity, hobby, or business we’re working on, even if we’re considered professional, or at the very least, “know our stuff,” it’s an interesting exercise to take a step back and start from the beginning.

In this post, you’ll find 8 simple tricks and tips to help you take the best photos possible, no matter what level photographer you are. Maybe you’ve tried them before, maybe it’s been years, or maybe you’ve never even heard of them. Whatever the case, give them a go and see what transpires.

Close up of the waists of the bride and groom with the groom's hand around the bride's waist. Photograph by Austin, Texas wedding photographer Nikk Nguyen.

1. Fill the frame.

Getting closer to the subject can result in photos that tell a better story. Filling the frame by actually taking a step closer to your subject or by using the zoom lens can unveil more details, textures, and expressions. Take a few shots further away from the subject, then fill the frame and see which tells the story better. You might find that what was around and behind the subject in the first shots doesn’t add anything to the photo.

2. Examine the background.

I’m sure you’ve seen photos that were meant to be serious or romantic (i.e. a couple embracing) that turned into something you’d find on a Reddit funny thread because of the dogs doing questionable things in the background. But it’s not just nature in action you have to look out for; distracting lines or items, reflections, and ugly clutter can take a photo from yeah! to yikes!

Before you start shooting, take a look at what’s lurking behind your subject and ask yourself if it adds to the photo and helps tell the story or if it distracts and takes away from what you’re trying to capture.  

3. Get on a different level.

Photographing children or small subjects? Get on their level, positioning yourself so that you’re at the same height to capture a shot that is more personal and provides better balance between the subject’s top and bottom. And on the same note, you can try playing with different heights and angles just as an experiment. Sometimes looking at a subject from a different angle can uncover a whole new story and offer creative inspiration you didn’t know was available.

4. Don’t fear the flash.

If you haven’t used your camera’s flash outdoors, give it a try. It may seem like a strange idea, since an afternoon outdoors on a sunny day provides plenty of light, but the sunlight is often high overhead, which can result in shadows. This is particularly problematic if you’re photographing a person, as the shadows will fill the face. Instead, fill the shadows by using your camera’s flash. Take a few shots at one angle, then slightly reposition the camera for subtle differences. Using this trick will often result in brighter subjects (that aren’t too harsh) and better pictures.

Related: 5 Tips to Improve Your Golden Hour Photography

5. Use a polarizing filter.

To give your photos a boost, consider using a circular polarizing filter. This kind of filter allows your camera to use through the lens metering and not only protects your lens, but improves colors (especially beautiful in nature) and reduces reflections from water, glass, and metal. Imagine crisper photos, bluer skies, and foliage that’s rich in color.

A camera on a small tripod perched on a rock capturing the sun setting over the mountains.

6. Play with shutter speed.

Different shutter speeds create different effects. A slower shutter speed will bring movement to the photo and will produce light trails if shooting at night. A faster shutter speed will freeze the action and light trails won’t be as long or bright. Try both fast and slow speeds when shooting moving objects to capture blurred movement or sharp objects frozen in time. Both can result in beautiful photographs and tell different stories. Remember to use a tripod when using slow shutter speed to provide stability as you capture blurred motion.  

Related: Essential Wedding Photography Gear

A wedding party lined up against a building in downtown Austin, Texas. Photograph by Austin, Texas wedding photographer Nikk Nguyen.

7. Line up the feet.

If you take a lot of group shots, you may have found that everyone tends to make a U shape without realizing it. The problem this presents is that the people on the ends curl in and step out of the focal plane, resulting in those people being out of focus. A simple trick to eliminate this problem is by asking everyone to line up their toes (facing inwards towards the middle person), which straightens out the line and puts everyone on the same focal plane.

8. Conquer unattractive locations.

The phrase, “Bloom where you’re planted,” works for photographers too. Sometimes you won’t be able to scout out an area and will be presented with the challenge of capturing beautiful photos in less-than-beautiful locations. You’ll have to work with what you’ve got and create flowers from fertilizer.

Aside from trial and error, you can conquer an unattractive location by breaking it down and focusing on interesting details like lines, textures, and patterns. A park bench may prove to be the perfect prop. You can also use the power of bokeh to blur and cover up a distracting background. You can achieve this by using a telephoto lens, which allows you to zoom in on your subject and only capture a small part of the background.

All of these tips are easy to implement and may just up your photography game. Even if you’re on a professional level, don’t be afraid to get back to basics and give these tricks a go at your next photoshoot.

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