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8 Great Principles to Help You Shoot Winning Photographs

Luuk Lijten

Looking to take your photography to the next level? While improving photography is often about compositional techniques – and mastering camera settings, it’s a little-known fact that the purpose and inspiration behind the photo can also have a significant impact on the resulting image.

The best photos don’t simply look good; they have a deeper meaning, they convey a message, and they tell a story. Great photos make you think, and look again. They make you feel something.

Take Your Camera with You Everywhere

You can’t improve your photography if you don’t have your camera with you! It’s easy to fantasize about capturing award-winning images, but unless you have your camera, this is (very!) unlikely to happen. Whenever I leave my camera behind, that’s when a tremendous photo opportunity presents itself. Don’t miss out – make a point to bring your camera with you when you head out and watch as you find yourself being in the right place at the right time a lot more often.

Ask Yourself “Why”

It sounds simplistic, but asking yourself “why” is a great way to improve your photography. Before you release the shutter, pause for a second and ask yourself what aspect of the image you are drawn to. Instead of simply pointing and shooting, this will force you to direct your focus, and will result in a more purposeful composition.

For example, instead of simply photographing some people in the park – ask yourself why they grabbed your attention. Maybe it’s their carefree attitude, or something about their interactions with each other. If so, look for ways to convey that in your image. Instead of snapping a photo of a dog in the grass, maybe what you really want to capture is how he was frantically chasing his ball. Identify what you’re drawn to, and use that focus to create your image.

Be Open to Criticism

Criticism can be tough, but often it can be helpful. Always be on the lookout for honest, constructive feedback on your images. Far from being discouraging, helpful feedback can actually be inspiring. It shows you which areas you can improve, and can motivate you to get back out there and try again. Try to become a member of a photography forum, group, or club. Running your work by others in the field is a great way to get helpful feedback. Being willing to swallow your pride and take in criticism objectively allows you to soak up advice, and will help you in your quest for inspirational shots.

Don’t be Afraid to Make Mistakes

That old saying, “If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t trying hard enough” rings true. Making mistakes, and learning what works – and what doesn’t, is the only way to improve. Unlike the days of film, digital photos are free – so there’s no reason not to practice!

View Photography as an Art

Viewing photography as art allows you to see it differently. Think of yourself as an artist, and use the compositional elements to create your masterpiece. Pay attention to texture, color, light, and form, and draw attention to the main point of interest through contrast and leading lines. Finally, remember: like any work of art, the very best photos are ones that tell a story – so look out for special moments that you can capture.

Be Creative

Get creative with your compositions. Being creative is all about injecting your own personal style and flair into your images. Many professional photographers have embraced their creativity, and it shows. Look through their portfolios and you’ll see that their images reflect their signature style. Creative photos are much more powerful than images that are technically perfect, but lack inspiration.

So push the envelope, and capture some daring images – you won’t regret it!

Find Your Inspiration

What inspires you? What are you passionate about? Maybe it’s the way the golden evening sunlight can transform even the most drab, uninspiring objects into beautiful pieces of art. Maybe it’s the sense of happiness that people feel when they’re in their element. Or maybe it’s the way macro imagery allows you to capture a world within a world. Whatever it is, find your inspiration and own it. Make your images truly yours.

Slow Down

While anyone can take a photo, exceptional photography requires patience – and lots of it! Before releasing the shutter, take the time to double check your composition. Could it be improved with a simple adjustment in camera angle or focal length? Are there any distracting elements in the background? Slowing down for a moment and thinking about the composition can often yield better results.

Another great photography exercise is to find a location – and then sit down and pause for ten minutes before taking any photos. This allows you to soak up the setting, take note of the available natural light and elements, and think about your composition. Simply taking the time to carefully compose your images is a simple, yet effective way to improve your photography.

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