Quick Tips for Better Photos: Look at the Whole Picture

Hey friends, I think it’s safe to say that most of us like to take photos, right?  But I also realize that most people don’t actually want to learn photography, what they want is a few easy tips to take better photos.  So I’m starting this monthly series to help you with that, whether you have an SLR, a point and shoot camera, or even a smartphone.

When I was in high school, taking my first photography class, one of the photo assignments was to shoot action.  I tried all the predictable shots – cars driving by and friends attempting lame stunts. But my favorite photo, the one that I chose to print for the assignment, was my friend jumping in the air.  I had stopped the action and I was proud of the result.

When critique time rolled around, my teacher asked why I took the shot in the location that I did.  It doesn’t make any sense, he said, this girl is jumping and she’s smiling, and she’s holding a rolled up piece of paper in her hand.  She looks like she’s celebrating something, but the background is a bunch of houses, a suburban neighborhood.  She’s way too young to have purchased a house, maybe she’s celebrating a graduation or having aced a test… But if that’s the case, shouldn’t she be in front of a school?

Yeah, about that.  I didn’t think about the background (or the fact that she was holding her homework, or even that she was wearing a bulky raincoat even though it wasn’t raining). But I sure as hell do now, thanks to the advice from my high school photography teacher.

KDickinson Photography - Lake Tahoe

Are you looking at the entire frame before you shoot?  If not, here are a few tips to consider:

Pay attention to the small details: Is there a telephone pole sticking out of mom’s head?  Is there a stranger creeping onto the scene?  How about an unsightly building at the edge of the frame?  Most of the time, a slight shift can remove all of these distracting elements.

Think about the big picture: What are you trying to say with your image?  What do you want to communicate to your viewer?  Are you traveling and trying to capture the essence of where you’re visiting?

And a few more things to think about:  Look at your subjects, is everyone’s hair under control, and their clothing too? (Exposed bellies, an open fly, and panties peeking out are very distracting and can be a pain to fix in post.)  When shooting landscapes, is there debris in the foreground that can be easily and safely moved for a better composition? When photographing your meal, is there a dirty napkin in the frame that can be taken out?

You get the idea.

KDickinson Photography - Lake Tahoe

At first, it may seem overwhelming to look at the whole picture, you may even miss the shot.  Your subjects might lose interest.  But I promise you that it gets so much easier with practice.  It can make the difference between a gorgeous landscape shot that your viewers can’t help but get immersed into the image (that’s the idea, that’s what you want!) vs. their eyes locking on to that ugly outbuilding and never leaving that spot to look at the rest of the photo.  Or a beautiful family memory that everyone wants to display in their homes vs. Oh look, Dad has an antennae sticking out of his head!

KDickinson Photography - Lake Tahoe

Next time you’re about to click the shutter button, don’t forget to check for any distracting or confusing elements first.

KDickinson Photography - Lake Tahoe

These photos were taken recently on the east shore of Lake Tahoe.  It may look like we have the place to ourselves, but at a busy destination like this, I had to do quite a bit of maneuvering to keep boats, dogs, and roaming kids out of the frame.

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