With billions of images uploaded to the web every day, more people are taking pictures than ever before. But with more pictures, it's harder to stand-out. Set your images apart from the cell phone selfies clogging up your news feed and resolve to make your images above average this year. Here are 15 simple ways to improve your photography this year.
1. Start a 365 Day Photo Project.
Practice makes perfect, right? Take photos every day this year. You'll get to know your camera better, but there will be days when you can't think of anything to take a picture of—and you'll end up taking interesting pictures of something that didn't seem interesting at all.
2. Don't stop at just one photo.
The perk of shooting digital—or at least one of them anyway—is that it doesn't cost you more to take multiple pictures. Take one picture, and then take another one. Adjust your settings, refocus or get a different perspective.
3. Welcome criticism.
One of the best ways to improve your photography is to figure out what you are doing wrong and what you are doing right. Ask for constructive criticism. Chances are, others will see things you didn't notice, things you can use next time you shoot. Share images on your social networks and ask for comments or submit them to photography communities.
4. Get to know the camera you have.
Chances are, there's a feature on your camera you didn't know about. Flip through the manual, read the reviews online, scroll through the menu or look through YouTube. Does your camera have back button focusing? Can your camera shoot in RAW? Sometimes getting acquainted with your camera can be more beneficial than an upgrade.
5. Upgrade to a faster lens.
Have a DSLR or mirrorless and just a kit lens? Lenses can make a huge difference in image quality. Look for something that's around an f1.8 aperture—that will let in a lot more light than most kit lenses, leaving you with a nice depth of field and better low light images. If you pick up a fixed lens (i.e. one that doesn't zoom), fast lenses are not very expensive. A Nikon 50mm f1.8, for example, costs around $200.
6. Change up your perspective.
Most people take pictures at eye level. Don't be most people. Try kneeling, especially if you are taking pictures of young kids—getting down to their level can make a huge difference in the composition. Look for ways to get taller (safely!) like climbing on top of a ladder or chair, particularly when shooting large items or whenever the perspective needs freshening up.
Work on getting the focus just right. When taking pictures of people, that means getting the eyes in focus. Try adding an out-of-focus element to the foreground of your landscape shots to add some interest. Place your in focus subject off center. Always remember the focal point of the image is what people will see first when they look at the final photo—and focus can't be edited later.
8. Master white balance.
Typically, white balance is used so that what is white in real life is white in the picture--but creating true-to-life colors isn't the only thing white balance should be used for. Using the "wrong" white balance can create more color in a sunset photo, for example. Keeping a slightly yellow tint to the photo adds a warm feel, while a cool blue color can often add a neat effect as well.
9. Edit your photos (and use RAW).
If you don't already, shoot in RAW and edit your photos. You don't have to get an advanced program like Photoshop or Lightroom (though it's recommended for professionals) and there's even some free editing programs that work well. A bit of sharpening and color adjustment can go a long way.
10. Shoot in manual.
If you have a camera with manual modes but aren't using them, you aren't getting the most out of the camera. Look into how to use manual modes (we have a handy guide here) and head out with your camera and just shoot. Manual gives you the most control over your images; shutter priority and aperture priority modes are also nice for when the lighting is continuously changing and you don't have the time to continually adjust the settings.
11. Forget the flash and use ambient light.
Sure, sometimes the flash can be helpful, like when used as a fill flash on a sunny day. But more often than not, you'll get more visually interesting results if you use the ambient, or available, light. Taking a picture of a flower at sunset will have a nice orange hue when left alone, adding flash eliminates that nice effect. Particularly in situations with unique lighting, like candlelight or a spot light, the flash will eliminate the effect.
12. Pay attention to the light source.
Photography is all about light. Before you shoot, note where your main light source is coming from. If the light source is behind the subject, you'll end up with a silhouette if you don't use a fill flash. Sometimes, a silhouette makes a great picture, but in many cases, you'll want to change your set-up so the light is coming from a side or in front. The best lighting set-up also depends on what you are shooting. In portraits, for instance, having them face directly into the sun will cause them to squint.
13. Try long exposures.
Most of the time, motion blur can wreck a perfectly good photo, but sometimes blur can be a good thing. Invest in a good tripod and use a slow shutter speed (or “bulb” mode) to make anything in motion blur while the rest of the image stays sharp. Long exposure photography is great for low light images, such as the popular landscape images where the moving traffic appears as one long line of light. But don't limit it to just dim lighting, it's also great for waterfalls and other steadily moving objects.
14. Brush up on the vocab and the basics.
If you are new or even a mid-level enthusiast, knowing your way around photography terms can go a long way. Knowing what an f-stop is, for example, will help when using manual or aperture priority modes. Knowing what ISO is will help prevent images from looking grainy while boosting your low light shots.
15. Print some pictures.
It's amazing how many people call their pictures done when they've simply been shared online. Don't waste all that hard work, print your favorite shots. Pick up some large prints, like an 8x10 or 11x17; seeing your images enlarged will also help you to notice things you didn't pick up on your computer screen.