I always found it hard to figure out how to take a good photo when I first started out, but I always found it easier when I had a mental checklist of things I should consider.
This list below will give you the fundamentals that can apply to pretty much every type of photography.
Use and consider the checklist in any photo you take and you will be well on your way to becoming a magnificent photographer.
Here’s a quick graphic summarizing what makes a good photograph:
Use Color Theory
The best photographers and cinematographers all know their way around color theory.
Using color theory doesn’t just make your photo more aesthetically pleasing, but you can use it to to represent different feelings or emotions.
This is why you’ll see movies have such consistent color theory throughout scenes or when certain characters show up.
Learn about color theory to get a leg up on other photographers who don’t know their complementary colors from their analogous colors.
Story And Emotion
A photo that can evoke a strong emotion or tell a story just from that one frame is powerful.
Try to incorporate this where you can and you’ll instantly level up your photography.
For example, if it is a staged shot of a scene try to think about all the little things such as the colors or the props you could use to tell the story of the scene.
If it is a city scene, try to think of what would make the best subject to tell the best story…
Is it a worn-out taxi driver on a cigarette break?
Or is it the toddler bouncing along after some pigeons on their little adventure of the day?
It’s your choice, but choose wisely.
A photographer is a story teller after all. We just do it in pictures rather than words.
Every photo will have a specific point of interest for the viewer to look at. The subject will be this point of interest and they will be the reason for looking at the scene.
A subject can be a living thing or an object, but usually they’ll be in clear focus and well lit. There can be exceptions, for example if you are using silhouettes.
Common subjects are people, animals or landmarks.
A subject does not have to be a singular thing either, it can be a group of objects or living things.
Sometimes subjects are more obvious to pick out, for example in a portrait the subject is clearly going to be the person.
However in a city scene you might need to pick out who or what is the main subject; will it be a passing vehicle or a person going about their business?
It’s up to you, but this is where your creativity shines through.
How you frame an image has a massive effect on the overall look of a photo and how visually appealing it turns out.
This is all composition and it is basically how everything in the photo is arranged.
This means everything from the colors, the lighting and the subjects themselves – basically anything that can influence where your eye looks.
With composition the aim is to control or influence where the viewer looks and make it visually appealing (or unappealing if you want to evoke an uncomfortable feeling).
There are some easy to follow general rules and techniques when it comes to composition which can improve the look of your photographs.
The article below goes over framing which is a small part of composition.
Exposure is all to do with lighting and how you control or work with it.
Where does the light fall?
Where are the shadows?
Is the subject lit accordingly?
Do I need to diffuse any harsh light?
These are all questions you would ask when considering the exposure.
Exposure is important in both setting an emotion or mood to a scene, but also in making things look visibly appealing.
Whenever you take a photograph you will need to consider the light around you, whether it is natural or artificial light.
You can compose the best photo ever taken, but if your settings are all wrong and all you get is a blank white exposure then you would have wasted your time.
Exposure is important to consider when taking the photo to ensure the final photo is as close as possible to what you want.
Sometimes you can’t control lighting completely (e.g. if you are using natural light), but you can also alter exposure in the edit as you can manipulate things like highlights and shadows
Focus is important!
Whatever you want to be the main subject will pretty much always have to be in focus as this will make sure it is as clear as possible.
This helps to signify its importance, but also drives people to look at it.
Even the subject itself might have a specific point where focus should be directed.
For example, in a portrait the most important place to focus is the eyes as this would produce the most striking picture that can form a connection with a viewer.
The background is an important aspect of any picture. In some cases it can be completely empty.
Think of product photography for websites where it could simply just be an empty white background.
In other cases, it can be to add a story or context to a scene.
You could be taking a portrait of a couple at a romantic location and you may want to show elements of the background to set the scene.
It is important to make sure that you don’t distract the viewer too much from the subject when deciding on your background.
You could do this using the depth of field and composition to arrange the photo accordingly.
Try to focus on one of the above at a time and incorporate them into your photography.
Eventually you will do it without even thinking.
There will clearly be times when you are meant to break the rules for creative effect, but as a beginner it is beneficial to focus on fundamentals.