11 Ways to Make Your Photos Look Professional

April 23, 2024
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Becoming a pro at photography takes a lot of practice, but some simple techniques can significantly improve your photos right away, even if you’re just starting out.

Enhancing your photos might become more challenging as you get better, requiring more subtle changes to improve them slightly.

Here are some easy steps to quickly see a boost in the quality of your photos:

Tip #1: Capture Interesting Lighting

Lighting is crucial in photography. It can truly transform your photos from average to professional-looking. Beginners often overlook the importance of lighting, but it’s something that seasoned photographers pay close attention to.

What exactly makes lighting interesting? Usually, lighting in photography differs from what we’re used to seeing daily. It should illuminate your subject in a flattering way. For portraits, try positioning someone in the shade for even lighting on their face, or have them face away from the sun to avoid harsh shadows. 

For landscapes, the time of day is key. The best landscape photos are usually taken early morning or late evening during sunrise or sunset. Middle-of-the-day lighting is often too harsh, making it a less ideal choice for capturing the best shots.

These simple changes can make a huge difference in the professional appearance of your photos.

Tip #2: Avoid Aberrations

Aberrations in photography refer to things in your photo that don’t really belong there and can distract the viewer. These often clutter the picture and prevent the viewer from focusing on the main subject. 

Common issues include unexpected items at the edges of your frame, like a piece of trash or an unsightly telephone pole, that you might overlook while focusing on your subject. It’s important to check the whole frame before taking the picture to ensure nothing unwanted is included.

Tip #3: Choose a Clear Subject by Zooming In

If your photo composition feels confusing, it might be because there are too many focal points. Pick just one main subject and zoom in closely to create a more compelling photo. 

This helps clarify what the viewer should be looking at. Surprisingly, photos are rarely taken too tightly. Focusing closely on one aspect of the scene often results in a better photograph. It can take some time to feel comfortable with zooming in tightly—how quickly you adopt this technique can vary, but it’s a powerful tool once you do.

Tip #4: Digital Styling

Digital styling is a process where you use software like Photoshop or Lightroom to creatively alter your photos. You can adjust colors, contrast, and exposure to enhance the image. While I am not a big fan of Instagram filters, there’s no denying that some photos look trendier and more creative when a filter is applied.

If you want to learn this skill, I recommend starting with Lightroom. Consider taking a beginner course like Lightroom 101 to familiarize yourself with the basics of the software. If you’re currently starting with photo retouching and feeling overwhelmed, consider getting help from freelance platforms like Fiverr, where you can hire professionals to enhance your photos at a low price.

Tip #5: Interesting Subject

Finding an interesting subject might seem like the easiest part of photography since everyone knows that some things look more captivating in photos than others. 

However, my advice might be quite unexpected: Don’t get too carried away by your subject. It’s easy to become so enamored with what you’re shooting that you overlook other important aspects of photography. 

Once you find an intriguing subject, step back a little. This detachment allows you to see the bigger picture and focus on all the other elements that contribute to a great photo, like lighting, composition, and styling.

Tip #6: Crisp Sharpness

Achieving sharpness in your photos can seem complex because so many factors affect it. However, one common issue I’ve noticed after coaching many photographers is that they often need improvement in nailing the focus correctly. For portrait photography, for example, it’s crucial to focus precisely on the person’s eye. This simple adjustment can significantly enhance the sharpness of your photos.

If you want to improve your skills in this technique, I recommend reading articles or guides on achieving sharper photos.

Tip #7: Unique Perspective

Finding a great subject is one thing, but finding the right angle to shoot from is another. Professional photos often stand out because they’re taken from unique, non-obvious viewpoints. For instance, shooting a picture of a CEO from a lower angle looking up can make the subject appear more authoritative. Or, capturing a cityscape from a high vantage point lets you get a sweeping view of the entire city, making the photo more dramatic.

Exploring different perspectives can turn an ordinary shot into something truly extraordinary.

Tip #8: Creative Composition

Composition is essential in photography and can be challenging to master quickly, but it’s incredibly impactful. If you’re preparing for an important shoot, a good starting point is to learn the rule of thirds. 

This basic composition principle suggests visualizing a tic-tac-toe board over your frame and placing the most interesting elements of your shot at the intersections of those lines. This simple technique can dramatically improve the balance and appeal of your photos.

Tip #9: Mood

Mood is another critical but often overlooked element in photography. It’s a powerful tool for making your photos more expressive and meaningful. When taking a picture, think about the mood you want to convey. 

This consideration will help you avoid capturing people with blank expressions or landscapes that don’t evoke the intended emotion. 

For example, consider the mood created by a bird silhouetted against a sunset; if the exposure is too bright, it might fail to capture the serene feeling you were aiming for. Adjusting elements like lighting and expression can significantly enhance the mood and impact of your images.

Tip #10: Proper Depth-of-Field

Depth of field is crucial for creating professional-looking photos, especially portraits. A shallow depth-of-field means the subject is in sharp focus while the background is blurred.

This effect helps the subject stand out and gives your photos a more professional look. Here’s how to achieve it:

  • Use your longest lens.
  • Set your camera to aperture priority mode.
  • Adjust the aperture to the lowest setting.
  • Move as close to the subject as your lens allows while still being able to focus.
  • Ensure there’s a good distance between the subject and the background.
  • Focus sharply on the subject.
  • Take the photo.

Tip #11: Proper Exposure

Exposure refers to how light or dark your photo is; mastering it is key to good photography. Three main settings control exposure: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Understanding how these work together is fundamental, so you should take ample time to study these basics. 

Although digital cameras are great at finding a neutral exposure, this isn’t always the best choice for every scene. For example, if you photograph someone on a sunny day, the camera might underexpose the face and overexpose the background. As a photographer, you can adjust the settings to brighten the face, even if the background becomes overexposed. Aim for the proper exposure that highlights what’s important in the scene, not just a neutral one.

The Bottom Line

If you’re starting out and can only focus on a few photography techniques, concentrate on these three: capturing interesting lighting, using creative composition, and applying digital styling to your photos afterward. As you spend more time on photography, you’ll notice that you are starting to see the world through a different lens.

Continue to challenge yourself and push the limits of what you can do with your camera. Let your photos not just be good but amazing!


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