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5 Tips to Fix Your Bad Photos

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Digital photography has democratized the medium, and more people are taking more photos than ever before, and they’re sharing them online with friends and family in record numbers. Keep these easy tips in mind next time you head out to capture the world around you.

1. Get Basic Composition Down

The heart of a photograph is its composition—the position of different elements within a frame. The easiest rule of thumb to learn and remember is the Rule of Thirds. Basically, you’ll want to break your frame into nine squares of roughly equal size. Try and align the subject of your photo along these lines and intersections and imagine the main image divided over these nine boxes. This gives you a more dramatic, visually interesting shot than one where you subject is located dead center. Many cameras have a rule of thirds grid overlay that you can activate when shooting.

2. Select the Right Mode

Your camera is likely to have scores of shooting modes, ranging from fully automatic operation to very specific scene modes. In case you are shooting fast action you can put the camera into Shutter Priority (“S”) mode and increase the speed at which a photo is taken—setting it to 1/125 second or faster will help to freeze action, and for really quick subjects (like the hummingbird below), use as short a speed as possible to freeze motion.

In lower light you can use Aperture Priority (“A”) mode to make sure as much light is entering the lens as possible, or if you’re shooting landscapes on a tripod you can close the lens’s iris to increase depth of field, keeping everything in sharp focus from the foreground to the horizon.

If you’re a D-SLR shooter, you’re more likely to use the A or S modes, while point-and-shoot cameras will often feature more specific modes that cater to activities like sports, low-light use, or landscape shooting.

Think About Lighting. Pay attention to how much light you have and where it’s coming from when taking your photos. If you’re shooting outdoors, be careful not to take photos of a person when the sun is at their back. If you’re grabbing a photo in front of a monument or landmark and don’t have the flexibility to adjust your position you can use the camera’s flash to fill in shadows. You may have to manually activate the flash, as there’s a likely chance that the camera will think that it’s unnecessary on a bright day.

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3. Use Your Flash Wisely

Many a photo has been foiled by a flash firing too close to a subject. If your friends and family appear as if Casper the Friendly Ghost when you photograph them, chances are that you’re too close when snapping your photos.

If you need to activate the flash, back up a bit and zoom in to get the proper framing. If things are still to bright—or too dark—check and see if flash compensation is an option. Many cameras allow you to adjust the power of the flash, which can help to add better balance to your flash-assisted photos.

Adding just a little bit of light makes it possible to fill in shadows, resulting in a more natural-looking photo.

4. Be Selective

You could easily take hundreds of photos in a few hours when shooting digitally. But don’t just dump your memory card and upload all of the images to Facebook.

You should spend some time going through your photos so you can eliminate redundant shots and discard photos that may be out of focus or poorly composed. It’s better to post a few dozen great photos by themselves rather than the same good photos hiding among hundreds of not-so-good ones.

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5. Don’t Forget to Post-Process

Consider using a program like Picasa or iPhoto to organize your photos. Either will allow you to crop, color-correct, adjust exposure, remove red-eye, and perform other basic editing tasks.

Performing some very basic editing on a photo can help improve its quality drastically. Cropping a bit can help with composition, and you can also rotate a photo so that horizon lines are straight. Getting your photos right in-camera is the larger goal, but there’s no harm in a bit of retouching.

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