How to Take Good Pictures

Here's how to take good pictures -- no matter what type of camera you have!

Whether you're new to photography or have been learning about photography for years, you can always learn something new (or remember something you forgot) to help you make better photos.

The two beginning photography tips we're about to give you will instantly make you a better photographer. In fact, professionals who have been learning photography for years instinctively use these two important principles without even thinking, because they are so important.

Ready? Let's get started.

First, some ground rules:

  • We're not going to deal with any technical camera settings for this lesson. Just set the camera on automatic mode and let it handle the exposure.
  • We're not going to discuss anything that is considered an advanced photography topic. Instead, we'll focus on two basics of photography that are so simple you'll never forget them.
  • Both tips are essential if you want to learn how to take good pictures every time.

1) Move In Closer

Many beginning photographers don't realize the importance of getting close to their subjects and often end up with far too many pictures taken from a distance.

Let's say you are taking pictures at a family gathering, such as an outdoor picnic or cookout.  What percentage of your photos should be taken from over 10 feet away? 

Probably no more than 10 percent!

The rest of your images should be small groupings of family or friends (no more than four people per shot) and with almost half of them containing only one or two people up close!

This same principle applies when capturing images of other events, such as parties, trips to the beach, theme parks, vacations, and many more.

(About the only exceptions to the suggested ratios above are landscape and architectural photography.)


Let's look at some images of a family gathering as an example. You should have only a few shots of the entire group, as in this excellent grouping:

Example of how to take good pictures, with large family group.
Image © iStockPhoto/myrrha
No more than 10 percent of your photos should include this many people.

Next, try to get in much closer for 30-40 percent of your photos, concentrating on groups of no more than 4 people, as in the next example.

Example of how to take good pictures, with smaller grouping of four people.
Image © iStockPhoto/myrrha
Get closer and make 30-40% of your pictures contain
groupings of 3-4 people interacting with each other.
Example of how to take good pictures, with close up of two people.
Image © iStockPhoto/myrrha
Half of your photos should
include just one or two people.

And finally, aim for at least half of your photos to include just one or two people. You'll get much more detail in facial expressions by moving in closer!

You'll also end up with many more memorable images that will be cherished by family and friends.

What about a zoom lens? Yes, a zoom lens can help you get those closer shots from a longer distance away, but the zoom lens on a small pocket camera can also amplify the effects of camera shake, so be careful with that. 

Generally, the simplest way to improve your event photography is to move in closer, either with a good zoom lens or with your feet!

OK, you're already one step ahead of most beginning photographers in learning how to take good pictures. Now let's move on to the second important basic photography tip.

2) Use the Rule of Thirds

Almost every book or training course on the basics of photography has a section on the Rule of Thirds.

Why?  Because it's an incredibly easy way to improve the composition of your photos and capture compelling images that make people go "Wow!"

(It's also so important that some cameras have a setting to turn on a "rule of thirds" grid in your viewfinder.)

Without getting into all the technical and mathematical explanations of the rule, let's just simplify and illustrate it.

  • Divide up your viewfinder into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. 
  • Try to position important parts of the photo at the points where the lines intersect. 
  • That's it!

People whose photos consistently show that they know how to take good pictures are probably using the Rule of Thirds effectively -- whether they realize it or not!


Let's look at a very compelling image of a little boy with a big camera, out in a field of yellow flowers.

Example of how to take good pictures, a little boy with a camera in a field of yellow flowers.
Image © iStockPhoto/bo1982
This compelling image uses the Rule of Thirds to
enhance its composition.

Here is a simple Rule of Thirds Grid to help you visualize the important intersection points of the lines -- the areas where you should try to position some of the important parts of the photo.

The Rule of Thirds Grid helps you learn how to take good pictures.
Illustration ©
The Rule of Thirds Grid intersection points (the four dots).
Position important parts of the photo near one of these points.


Now, here is the first image with the Rules of Thirds Grid over it. Notice how the little boy is off to the side of the photo, near the right third line, and the camera is at the intersection of the top and right lines.

The Rule of Thirds Grid is positioned over the original photo.
Image © iStockPhoto/bo1982
The Rule of Thirds Grid shows why the photo draws your attention.
The boy and camera are near the top and right intersection.

Using the Rule of Thirds is a fabulously easy way to learn how to take good pictures, and it didn't cost you a cent to learn it!

Just remember, however, that it's perfectly OK to break the rule if you have a creative reason to do so.  The point of this tip is to get you to try shooting with the rule in mind, which will help you think about composition more before clicking the shutter.

Ready to Learn More?

To learn more great photography tips, check out the other articles on this site, and also consider getting one of the reasonably priced photography courses featured here, such as Learn and Master Photography.

But no matter what else you learn about photography, please don't ever forget to:

  • Move in Closer
  • Use the Rule of Thirds

Happy shooting!

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