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young man taking a photo with a smartphone camera
Photo 145701302 © Vladimirs Poplavskis |

How to take great photos with a cheap camera or smartphone

Just how money can’t buy happiness, expensive cameras can’t always capture good images.

Good photography has never really been about the equipment. Cheaper cameras are less durable, which makes them less reliable. That’s why professionals are willing to invest in nicer gear. But the secret to capturing amazing shots is actually all about techniques and perspective.

Whether you have a DSLR camera, a point-and-shoot or a smartphone, the following techniques can help you snap better pictures.

1. Subject

You never know when inspiration might hit, so stay alert and be ready to shoot at all times. Try going for a walk, skim through a magazine or just start snapping away until you feel that flutter of creativity. Keeping a camera on hand is easier now than ever since we all have capable cameras on our smartphones. Remember, it isn’t about the expensive gear — it’s about the techniques you use.

Compared to the cameras in our phones 10 years ago, the latest smartphones have amazing capabilities. They can shoot sharp, crisp images in low light, produce HDR images with a simple touch and come with countless editing options.

You can also shoot, send your photo to an agency or stock photography company, sell it and see it published in only a few minutes. Tap or click for tips on selling your photos for extra cash.

But before anyone wants to buy your work, you need to find your muse. What inspires you and how can you capture it in an interesting, beautiful or even grotesque way? Which leads us to our next point.

2. Composition

If you want to take better photos, it helps to know some of the basic rules. You don’t need to take a course — just keep reading.

  • Rule of Thirds — The most important composition rule. Divide the frame into nine equal rectangles, three across and three down, then place the subject along or at the intersections.
  • Symmetry — Center the subject if you can create a symmetry between the right and left, or between the upper side and the lower side of the frame. This works well with reflections, where you can combine it with the Rule of Thirds.
  • Frame Within the Frame — The name says it all. Look for natural frames to compose the subject, like windows, mirrors, arches and passages.
  • Leading Lines — Draw attention to the image by using real or imaginary lines that lead to the subject.
  • Rule of Odds — Photos are more pleasing to the eye if there are an odd number of subjects in it.
  • Foreground Interest — Include elements in the foreground to add depth and a 3D feel for the subject. The elements in the foreground shouldn’t cover too much of the frame or they will either become the subject or serve as a distraction.

Remember, when people look at your pictures, the subject should be obvious at first glance. Use the rules listed above to make it happen.

If you need high-quality photos or motivation for creating your own, visit Dreamstime and get inspired!

3. Lighting

Even if you have a good subject and amazing composition, lighting can make or break a photograph. After all, light is what photography is all about.

To talk about lighting would take way too long to cover in a single article, so let’s just stick to a few basic principles.

  • Light can only travel in straight lines.
  • As the distance to the light source increases, the subject receives less light.
  • Light on the subject is softer when the light source is larger.

Keeping these principles in mind, you should study and play with light as much as possible. Start by taking pictures with natural or artificial light coming from the side of your subject. Between you, the subject and the light source, you should create an angle of about 45 degrees. Have fun and see what you can create.

When in doubt remember this: Natural light is your friend.

4. Soul

Regardless of other techniques, it can be argued that putting your soul into your photography is the most important method to capture something amazing.

The truth is you probably won’t be able to shoot good pictures if you don’t love what you’re doing. You have to immerse yourself in the subject. You’ll produce something memorable if you can empathize with the subject or understand it fully before taking the shot.

Observation helps. If your subject is a city, wander around a bit and try to catch its essence. If it’s a person, talk to them and analyze their personality.

If you feel inspired by an object, ask who made it, who uses it, when and for what purpose? Good photos take work, they don’t come as easy as simple snapshots of random people, places and things.

A few more quick tips

  • If you use a low-quality camera or whip out your smartphone, you may encounter weak lighting or auto enhancements. Play with the camera settings on your device or try using a tripod and the flash options.
  • Play with perspective, too. Try shooting from your waist instead of eye level.
  • If the subject is moving and you can’t increase the speed of your shutter, move your camera in the same direction at the same speed as the subject. You can also try burst mode on a smartphone. Just hold down the shutter button to capture several photos in quick succession.

There are many other photography hacks you can try, but remember the main techniques outlined above. Your camera is just a tool, but your creativity is what makes pictures really stand out.

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