The famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said your first 10 000 photographs are your worst. A depressing thought for the new photographer, especially when you're about to travel. To help you along, we've collected the best photography tips, from the obvious (i.e take off your lens cap) to the more technical. These tips will turn you into a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer - ok, maybe just make your Facebook photos presentable.
Focus on your subject.
The difference between a stunning photo and an average photo is often focus. Ask yourself what you intend the focus of your image to be and don't be afraid to move in closer. Your intended focus should be the most interesting thing in the photo, even if it is not literally at the centre of the image (see next tip).
Photos with lots of things going on can work as well, as long the intent is to show how busy your intended subject is (i.e like an aerial shot of a busy city) - but an unintentionally busy photo detracts from the subject.
Apply the Rule of Thirds when composing your photo.
If you split your photo into an imaginary grid of nine squares, the best place to put your subject is at the intersection of the lines of the grid (i.e the corners of the middle square). This rule predates cameras and was widely used by painters and artists before the daguerrotype (the first commercial cameras - bore your fellow lensmen with that random tidbit of knowledge).
Use lines to draw attention.
Use lines to draw the eyes of the viewer towards your subject. The classic example of this technique is the end-of-the-pier picture that no matter how many times you've seen, never fails to be interesting. Other lines you can use include railway tracks, roads, corridors, steps (looking up or down), elevators and tall buildings.
Use the lines of your subject as well to make interesting pics. Instead of a straight on picture, have people lie down in diagonals or face you from the side leading with their shoulders.
Be patient when dealing with children and shoot at their level.
Actors are always warned to never work with children and animals, because they are so unpredictable, but photographers know that quality snaps are there for the taking if you're patient. To get the best pictures with children, make eye contact with them and go down to their level.
Frame your subject.
Use your surroundings to frame your subject: shrubbery, branches, arches, doorways, windows, fun cardboard cut-outs and peepholes make great frames.
Be aware of your light sources.
Light is to photographers what paint is to the artist - use it wisely to create stunning scenes. The hard light of a glorious summer's day makes for poor photos when not properly manipulated. Keep your subject in the shade to avoid overexposed images with harsh shadows. The soft light of a cloudy day is great: better yet is the warm soft light of sunrise and sunset.
Play around with manual settings.
The manual settings give you access to the more technical aspects of photography. Experimenting with them opens up a world of interesting effects. The three main settings to consider are: aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. An easy way to understand these settings is to think of your lens as a window.
(measured by an f-number - like f/1.4) would be the size of your window. The lower the f-number, the shallower the depth of field - good for portraits that isolate the subject by blurring the background.
(measured in fractions of a second - like 1/250) is how long you keep the window open - if the windows are open for a short time you can only see snaps, but if they're open for a while, you see movement. In photos, this movement comes through as blurred images and works well for action shots of sports events and traffic shots.
(measured by ISO) would be the tint of the window - in bright sunlight a tinted window will filter out the brightness, whereas a clear window would allow all the brightness through. In the case of ISO, the higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera sensor becomes - good for low light situations where a flash is inappropriate. But using a high ISO in a sunny scene causes glare like opening a large window on a bright day.
And lastly... Break all the rules. Rules are made to be broken, especially ones about photography. The beauty of modern photography is that you don't have to be perfect - take a hundred photos and at least one will be redeemable.
Don't Forget to make sure that you have enough memory, to charge your batteries and remove your lens cover.
These points may seem obvious, but we've all at some point overestimated the amount of memory we have, run out of batteries or looked like idiots taking photos with a lens cap on. Generally, as a rule of thumb, events involving people are a lot less predictable than landscape images - so double up on memory for them. Remember to pack a plug adapter if you're travelling abroad. We can't help you with the last point about your lens cap - you could always smile and pretend its a gag you use to loosen up your models.
Don't Be afraid to go old-school.
'What's old is new again' goes the saying and in photography the authentic feel of film has seen it make a mini resurgance. Anybody who's been around bearded professional photographers will know that they get a romantic glazed look in their eyes when they recall the glory days of film. Part of the appeal is waiting for film to develop and seeing what comes out - the excitement is like unwrapping a gift. Film also lets you develop your photographic instincts by denying you the immediate feedback of digital media.
Don't Be afraid to go black and white.
Black and white effects bring artistic flair to photos. Peel away colour and an interesting world emerges. Tone, texture and contrast come to the fore and give even mundane images a dramatic feel. Keep a close eye on lighting; without colour it becomes very important.
Last Updated: September 2011