How to Take Photos

How to make good or even outstanding images.

1. Introduction

This introduction includes personal observations – drawing on my own experience – as well as radvice gleaned from other photographers (especially Michael Freeman, from his excellent book The Image).

Though most cameras now have automatic features that make the technical aspects of photography relatively easy, it’s not enough to rely on automation. If you want to take really good photos, you should know how to use and over-ride the automatic features. For instance, learn how to turn off your flash, or how to make sure the flash fires.

Photography is not a technical subject. Here, I only briefly cover the technical aspects, and instead mainly look at how to make good or even outstanding images.

Creating a good image depends partly on photographing the subject, and little or nothing else. If you just want to photograph a person, make sure that person is big in the photo; you don’t need to take a photo where the person is small with lots of unwanted stuff around him or her.

Composition – the way you place things in the photo – is important. It’s rarely best to place the main subject in the centre of a photo.

Also consider things like colours, textures, patterns. Ideally, a photograph will be a dynamic image: it will seem to have movement.

It’s important to look at work by great photographers.
Also, look around, all the time; look for photo possibilities, notice times when the light seems just right for making photos.

If it’s worth taking one picture, it’s worth taking two, or even three, or thirty or more. Especially if you are using a digital camera, this costs you nothing extra.

2. Equipment

Of course, you need a camera: might be a film camera, or digital.
The camera may have one lens, which might be “fixed focus” so you can’t change whether things appear near or far without moving forwards or backwards. Or – more often – might be a zoom lens, so can have a very wide field of view [field of view: how far the camera can “see” from one side to the other], or you can zoom in, magnifying.

For better photography, you need at least one filter – for changing how the light enters the camera, such as by changing the colour, Also should carry a tripod, for times when you can’t take great photos just by holding camera in your hands: often, this is because your hands shake a little, and so the photo might not be really sharp.

3. Composition

When you take a photo, you are “Editing” the world: you have to choose which part of the world to include in your photo, and put this in a rectangle or a square.

When you do this, you should also make sure you don’t have lots of unwanted stuff in the photo.
Too often in snapshots – simple photos – of people, you find a person is small, with lots of unnecessary things around them.


Many people just put the thing they’re most interested in – the subject – in the middle of the photo. But, this can be boring: it’s often best to place the subject somewhere more interesting.

There are some “rules” for composition. They are especially useful when you are learning photography – helping make your photos stand out from normal snapshots.
One of the most famous rules is the “rule of thirds”. In this, you place important things in your photos one-third of the way from the sides and/or the top or bottom.
A similar rule – the Golden Mean – has long been used in art and architecture.

shui hau

To use the rule of thirds in a simple way: if you have a flat horizon, put it a third of the way from the bottom, so show mainly sky; or a third of the way from the top, so your photo mainly shows the land (or even sea).

The lens you choose is important here.
Do you choose a wide lens: showing a broad view of the world?
Or do you choose a telephoto (do you zoom in), so show a narrower view?

4. Light

Light is extremely important in photography. Not just having enough light to take photos, but also things like which direction the light is from, and the overall colour of the light.

Daylight changes with time of day. It’s typically bright and whitish around midday, but can be too strong for great photos at this time, and coming down from the sun high above, making too many shadows.

kwun yam

Light in the early morning and late afternoon is often better. Photographers have a “golden hour” when they take many photos: look in National Geographic, and you’ll notice they often take photos at these times.
This early morning and late afternoon light can be a little yellowish, but is also softer than at midday, and comes from the side so there might be nice shadows.
(I live in Hong Kong, where there’s often smog, turning Golden Hour into Grey Hour – on smoggy days, better to take photos nearer to midday I think, if aiming for something that looks pleasant.)

But don’t just take photos on sunny days. Days with a little cloud can be good. Mists and storms can make for atmospheric shots.

When it’s dark, you will need to use flash.
Flash is also important when you take photos on bright days, and your main subject is in shadows.

5. Movement

Movement can make for really good photos.

dragon boats

You might have real movement, like a person running, a bird flying, a waterfall flowing. If you do, try to get the composition right, so it seems your subject is moving through the photo.

Longer exposures – with camera fixed in place, maybe on tripod – can help with movement, as moving objects become somewhat blurred.
Also, can try panning camera, following something that’s moving such as car or flying bird: background will blur while subject remains sharp (or reasonably so).

Sometimes, it can seem there is movement in a photo – maybe when you look at it, your eyes move in one direction.
In fact, it’s important to try to guess how someone will look at a photo. How will their eyes move when they look at it? Usually, you want someone to look around inside a photo; you can control this a little, so they look at the most important things.

6. Shapes

You can take photos of real shapes: circles, squares and more complicated shapes.

But also, you can make shapes in your photos. For example, take a shot of the sea with the sky above, and the sky will be in a rectangle.
When you look at photos, your eyes may also “make” shapes even when they are not properly there.

7. Patterns

When seeing things, we also look for patterns: maybe something repeats several times. Just like with shapes, you can take photos of real patterns, or make patterns in your photos..

8.How to Take Photos of Many Kinds


When hiking, you’ll have a chance to photograph landscapes – natural scenery. Here, you can practice with composition, and choosing types of lenses.

If you want to take more landscape shots, it’s good to learn about places with great scenery, and learn how to use maps, which can help you find great places where you can try taking photos from: hilltops, for example, might be excellent for photographing views of large areas.

mirror pool

Within landscapes, you can also choose to “shoot” things like streams, waterfalls, trees, beaches.



To photograph wild animals, you often need to know a lot about them, and have to work hard to even get a chance to take photos. For some, like birds, you usually need special equipment like telephoto lenses that magnify strongly.

But, you might come across animals while you are out, and can take unplanned photos.

Plus, you can take shots of animals including birds in places like zoos and aviaries.


You will surely want to photograph people – even if friends or family. One thing: there’s no need to make them too small in your photo.
When composing your photos of people, remember that eyes are very important. Is someone looking at the camera? If they are looking somewhere else, anyone looking at the photo may find they look in that direction too. Or, maybe the eyes are closed, or not in the frame.

People can also be important in landscape photos: may help show the size of trees, hills. Also, as humans, we are especially interested in people. So if there are one or more people in a photo, even if very small, they can make it more interesting.


If you try taking photos of plants, you will soon find they can move.
Not by themselves, but in the wind, even in light breezes.
You may have to wait a little, till the wind drops and the plant becomes still for a short time.

Villages, Towns and Cities

When you take photos of villages and urban areas, the ideas we have covered about composition and lighting still apply.

bank of china

One important thing is that vertical lines are very important, and in photos these sometimes look strange because they don’t look parallel. You can see this if you take a photo of buildings looking straight at them, then point the camera up – the vertical lines then point inwards. Some people really don’t like these non-parallel lines, some think them ok; but you should know there can be a problem here.

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