The sunrise is breaking over a gorgeous mountain peak. You whip out your camera, ready to capture the moment…and end up with a dull photo that doesn’t come close to what you saw. Sound familiar? You can make better images by following a short set of creative rules—and by knowing when to break them for creative effect.
Shoot at the Edges
What It Means: Above everything, photography is about lighting. To achieve good light, shoot at the edges. Knowledgeable photographers shoot during “golden hour” at the edges of the day: sunrise and sunset. Also, you can find “edges” when rays of light bend around objects like branches or stormy clouds.
When to Break the Rules: If you can’t avoid shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is high, casting harsh shadows across subjects, create your own good light. Shoot toward the sun to create backlit silhouettes and sun stars.
Expose for the Highlights
What it Means: The human eye sees a broader range of light than cameras, so ensure you expose for the highlights. Even with many basic point-and-shoot cameras, you can expose properly for highlights. To achieve this trick, point the camera at highlights, like a bright sky, hold the button partway down, then recompose to frame your shot.
When To Break the Rules: Sometimes you want brilliant or luminescent highlights; snow and water both achieve this look.
Process for the Shadows
What it Means: Know that shadows are easier than highlights to adjust in post-processing. When shooting in a high-contrast setting, exposing for the shadows can give you dark, inky shadows, giving images a dramatic look. You can lighten up shadows to restore detail and texture using imaging software like Photoshop or even just Instagram filters.
When to Break the Rules: Too much manipulation makes your images look fake, so be sure to lighten shadows with intent.
Don’t Shoot from Eye Level
What it Means: Shots taken from eye level can be boring. Move your body and the camera to get a new perspective.
When to Break the Rules: Shooting from eye level can work when the camera makes direct eye contact with your subject and want a confrontational, raw energy.
Lead the Eye Into the Frame
What it Means: Achieve this framing technique using lines, curves, and colors that draw the eye toward your subject.
When to Break the Rules: To create tension or energy, frame your subject so it appears they are going to move out of the image.
Make the Eye Work
What it Means: To make an image more dynamic, frame several elements–subjects, curving lines, areas of contrast, colors, textures—into a carefully composed image that keeps the eye dancing.
When to Break the Rules: When you have a strong subject, consider isolating it—remove visual distractions like colors or complex backgrounds.