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  • Writer's pictureAlex Rathbun

Take better photos with these 3 basic principles

even you can take better photos

I love that photography is so accessible these days. Everyone walks around with a camera in their pocket, ready to snap a pic at any moment. But what makes me sad is when I see very basic mistakes being made and sometimes I just want to tell people "just do ____ next time for a much better photo!"

So whether you have your own DSLR or are shooting from your phone, I've compiled 3 basic principles that apply to most forms of photography. If you get a good grasp on these concepts, the photos you take will greatly improve!


1. Mind the lighting

The most important thing to be aware of when taking photos is your light source. Your light source could be the sun, a window, a light, or any other form of light, really. The best light source for most photos is positioning the subject to face the light source.

For example, the photo below was taken with me standing in front of a window (so facing the window), with all other light sources turned off in the room.

Of course, you can get creative with your lighting as well. If you want a half-shaded effect, position your subject next to the light source instead of in front of it.

Or, if you are really looking to get creative and have the capability with your camera to manually brighten or darken the photo, you can take a photo like the one below, where the subject (my pretty sister) is in front of the light source.

2. Composition

In this context, composition means arranging the elements in a photo in a way that makes a great photo overall.

Something that often happens when a photographer is not thinking about basic composition is that body parts get cut off at an awkward spot.

For example, if you're taking a full-body shot, always include the feet! See how the photo on the right feels better?

If full body is not an option or not what you're aiming for, the same rule applies for hands. Don't chop someone's hands off in a photo. (see below)

The good news is, if you do accidentally take a photo where you've cut off a body part, you can always fix it by just cropping the photo more closely (more zoomed in) to create a totally different composition.

Another basic composition principle is to get that horizon line straight. Again, this can be adjusted after the photo is taken with any basic photo editing app, so please, for the love of photography, don't leave a crooked horizon line on a photo! See the example below.

The rule of thirds is another important composition tip. Sometimes you stylistically want to center a subject in a photo, but most often it is ideal to line up the focal point (the main focus of the photo) with an intersection of thirds. It's also ideal if your horizon line sits at a third, rather than a half, of the photo.

3. Positioning

Where you position both your subject(s) and yourself as the photographer is important!

Create depth, shadow, and interest in your photo by positioning your subject a step or two away from your background. In the photo below, the baby is about 1.5 feet away from the background (in this case, the background is the ground, but it is usually when standing in front of a wall where people mess this concept up).

Pay attention to background "noise" - aka anything that is visually distracting from the subject. When shooting the photo below, I wasn't aware of everything in view and accidentally took this photo with that annoying yellow thing (what even is that!?) in it. Thankfully, I could remove it in Photoshop, but that's not ideal and is not an option for most people taking basic photos.

See how much better the overall photo is without that eyesore in it?


I hope this was helpful for you!

Better photography is all about swapping basic oversights for intentional decisions. Chose your lighting based on your location and options, be aware of your composition and make sure to check everything within frame before you press the shutter button.

If anything is unclear for you, chances are someone else is thinking the same thing, so please please comment below or email me at for clarification!

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