Photography Tips – Better Composition and Lighting Tips

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I know y’all have your favorite blogs. If you think about one of them now, can you tell me what it is you love about the blog? Okay, maybe the subject matter or the writing. But, how does the site look? Is the design appealing? How about the photos? I know I am personally drawn to blogs that have beautiful images. One of my favorite blogs to read is Centsational Girl. Her photos are true candy for the eyes!

Sea Inspired Living Room by Centsational Girl

Tutorial for Anthropology Inspired Table Cloth – Centsational Girl

See what I mean? Kate’s photos are simply beautiful!

She had a post a while ago offering some tips for better photography and how she uses Picasa to edit her photos. After reading that post I really began to push myself to create more attractive photos.

In the spirit of paying it forward, I want to share with you a few secrets for taking better photographs for your blog or just for yourself.

A good picture starts with a good composition. Here are some examples of photos I took and how I made them better:

Two bottles on a pretty coffee table. {cue the crickets}

The above image is suffering from a busy background (the pillows, chairs, and railing) that is competing for attention with the bottles. Plus, there are multiple straight horizontal lines crossing the photo. Horizontal lines are not very interesting. Take a look:

Now, let me show you interesting:

Much better, wouldn’t you agree? Do you see all the angled visual lines?

Here is what I did:

  1. I staggered the bottles to give them more visual interest and to create a diagonal line between the bottles.
  2. Next, I moved my camera around so I was shooting diagonally across the table. See the back edge of the table, now that is an appealing visual line.
  3. Finally, I moved the bottles into a beam of light which gave them more drama, and darkened the background so it wasn’t competing for attention.

Okay, let’s try another one. Here is another example of a “ho-hum” photo. I can just hear Rodin sighing at this unexciting photo.

As a rule of thumb you should try to never let your horizon line be in the middle of the photo. Try to use the rule of thirds and have it be at 1/3 or 2/3 vertically on the photo. And you want to avoid putting your main object centered into the middle of the picture.

Mr. Rodin was a fabulous sculptor. I “think” his Thinker deserves better! How do you like this?

Look at all the triangle shapes that are created when I brought my subject in closer:

  1. To create more drama, I got up closer to the sculpture and filled the frame with the subject.
  2. I put Mr. Thinker off center in the frame, not smack dab in the middle. By doing this it broke up the symmetry in the photo.
  3. Once again, look at the nice diagonal line running up the man’s back and on his thigh. Diagonals force the viewers eye to move around the photo.

Let’s look at an indoor photo now. Here is a photo of a star light. Excuse me as I yawn. Bored to tears here.

The star is centered almost perfectly up and down and side to side. This make for a perfectly blah photo.

But, look what happens in the next photo.

Suddenly there is excitement. The diagonal lines and triangular negative spaces really make your eyes move around and draw attention to the details in the star.

You too can create drama in your photos.

  1. Change the perspective. (Climb up on a chair, get down low, or swing around to the side.)
  2. Fill the frame with the subject.
  3. Focus on creating diagonal lines when looking through your viewfinder.

Here is another photo I took on my porch. Okay, not too bad. The plant is off center. The railings form a slight diagonal.

But, look what happens when I tilt the camera to a vertical presentation.

  1. Suddenly the focus is on the plant and the light bouncing off the leaves.
  2. The treehouse is no longer competing for attention in the background .
  3. And, I’ve filled the frame with the plant.
  4. Can you see the different diagonals? Hint: basket handle and pedestal

Always think about how your photo will look in a horizontal or vertical presentation.

Let’s talk about lighting. Your goal is to use natural light as much as possible. Avoid photographing at night, indoors (away from windows) or using a flash. If you are a blogger, sometimes you finish a project at midnight and can’t wait to photograph it. Below, you can see my sad little puppy bookend. The colors are flat and the whole picture lacks any contrast or excitement.

If you have no choice and absolutely have to photograph is less than optimal conditions, read this post to learn how to deal with poor lighting situations.

Otherwise, wait and take that photo in the morning. You can thank me later.

Look at the natural light bathing the puppy and books. Suddenly the light plays on the still life and creates moody highlights and shadows. Now that puppy looks a lot happier.

Okay, this tip goes out to all you lucky ducks that own an SLR (single lens reflex) camera. Do you know how to set the light source in your camera? If you don’t, your photos may end up like this:

Hey, who smurfed my gift bag? Time to look in your manual and take that baby off the auto setting. In the Canon Rebel (and most SLR cameras), you can choose the lighting source like this:

With all these choices, I choose the one most appropriate to my light source. Sometimes I have to try one or another one to see which gives me the best color representation.

By programming the correct light source as shade in my camera menu, the photo suddenly loses its bluish cast and displays the correct colorful richness of the gift bag.

I hope some of these tips help you.

Here are some photography blogs that will help improve your photography skills:

My3Boybarians –  In addition to many tutorials and tips, Darcy has put together a months worth of lessons in: 31 days to better photographs. In addition, she occasionally hosts a Twitter photo chat. Follow her on Twitter for more information.

i heart photos – Amy & Angie may love faces, but they share the love by posting tutorials and tips to help improve portraiture photography (and more.)

And Susan from Between Naps on the Porch has a great list of free photo editing sites.

Now get snapping and send me some photos you are proud of! I’d love to see them.

If you liked this post, you will surely love some photography secrets for shooting indoor photos.

secrets to shooting photography indoors

46 replies
  1. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    Thank you. Those tips were all very helpful! I hope to have an slr someday but beautiful photos can be taken with my point and shoot for now! Thanks again.

    • Kimberly Cabral
      Kimberly Cabral says:

      Hi Jeannie, You have a very nice blog and great tips! I’m finding some interest in blogging but just unsure about doing it right now. I started out about 20 years ago; when digital photography was just coming out and loved it! It has been a hobby and I have also earned money for a few years doing photos’ for a log cabin business. Which was great and I learned so much more. The past four years I had unexpected family issues arise and I had no choice but to put it away for a while. Now I have the opportunity to get back to enjoying what I love and I’m feeling dusty. Just trying to play catch up on new stuff, software, and upgraded equipment. And being on such a tight budget, your ideas are so helpful! Thank you so much for sharing! I have booked marked you so I can continue to read your awesome blog!

  2. ColleenwithMurals&More
    ColleenwithMurals&More says:

    This is great, Brittany! I think I need to set my photos the same way I do painting composition, right?

    One other question: when choosing lighting, do you set the camera for what light you’re currently in, i.e. I’m in sunny spot, set camera to Sun? (I just found a lighting menu on my point n shoot 🙂

    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      Colleen, most of the time I do set my lighting in the camera to match the conditions I’m shooting in. But, sometimes it is tricky and I’ll either choose AWB (auto white balance) or play around. Reds are tricky and I often have to play with different settings to get it right.

  3. Janet
    Janet says:

    YAY!!! great info.. just got an SLR and , to say the least, I’m a bit lost….. thanks , Ill be referring to this quite often!!

  4. Jessica @ Decor Adventures
    Jessica @ Decor Adventures says:

    Such a fabulous and useful post! I love how you put together all of these tips for us. I’ve been working on the photography a bit now that we have a Rebel. The lighting has vastly improved and so I’m trying to make the compositions interesting.

    I like the idea of the angles too, I’m going to try that.

  5. Michelle@Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust
    [email protected], Trust & Pixie Dust says:

    Hi, Just popping over from Vintage Revivals where you were listed as someone’s favorite blog. I can see why. What an awesome photography tutorial. I am really going to try to incorporate these great tips – especially the “off center” subject. AND that’s the cutest book end I’ve ever seen. Great to “meet” you!

    Warmly, Michelle

  6. DebZorn
    DebZorn says:

    Thank you for these tips. I read a lot on photography but have never read anything about “angles.” This was very easy to understand. I will be visiting your blog often!

  7. Kristen Reiner
    Kristen Reiner says:

    Great job! I have a minor in photography, and you explained so clearly and succinctly what we spent a whole semester trying to learn. Brilliant job with the before/after examples. Excellent!

  8. Becky
    Becky says:

    Great tips and explanation. And I loved the “Here comes the sun” sign above the star / window (even though it didn’t make the best shots of the star)

  9. Kristen@PinkToesAndPowerTools
    [email protected] says:

    Thanks for the photo tips! Taking better photos is one of my blogging goals right now and your post is a huge help. I am so much a blogger who is so excited to be done and type up the post that!!! And I’m trying REALLY hard not to want a DSLR 🙂

  10. Jen Beggs
    Jen Beggs says:

    thanks for sharing the “Blah” and the “wow” pics! I keep trying to change the angles of my photos to get better results, and what you shared about the angles and lighting really makes sense. Yippee!

  11. Gleeful
    Gleeful says:

    This was such a great tutorial for a beginner like me. I was definitely guilty of taking pictures with the subject sitting smack-dab in the middle of the frame and never realized until I saw your comparisons just how boring that was. Thank you!

  12. Glenda
    Glenda says:

    Thank you Brittany for sharing your photo tips with us. I was using a point and shoot camera. I purchased a new Nikon Coolpix P500. I just need to continue working with all the awesome features and pictures yet to capture with my new camera. Love tips!

  13. Toni
    Toni says:

    Thank you so so so much for these tips… I am a beginner not even a novice so much so I dont even have my camera yet so maybe novice is a wrong term. However I am in the process of getting a DSLR camera any day now. So I wanted to start reading up and getting as many tips as I can ahead of time. Of course my next step might be an actual class like Camera’s 101!! Then Photography 101. Again Thanks Bunches for this blog

  14. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    Whoa, this is pretty cool, I learned quite a bit on composition. I like the example you used with the two bottles, I believe it’s the first photo you took. Keep this up, I like it.

    I will use this website as reference when I start doing little fun project on my Cannon T4i 🙂


  15. Inglesa
    Inglesa says:

    Blimey, what a great tutorial! I’ve spent two days trawling photography sites for tips on how best to do my current client’s food photography for his restaurant. This is the first blog post that has given me genuinely new and fresh information. I love the examples of how to change and shift perspective to create new angles and lines. Really well done!


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