How to Compose Great Digital Photos

By TopTenReviews Contributor
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Remember taking photos with your 35mm? Like me, you probably conserved photos to not waste film. But with digital cameras, particularly professionally DSLR cameras, we take photos left and right—it’s no waste to shoot a do-over. But quantity isn’t quality. At parties, family gatherings or on vacation, most people take photos on the fly with no thought to lighting or composition. But by taking a second to notice your surroundings, you can turn a mediocre picture into a great digital photo every time.

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Here’s how:

The Ease of Automatic
Most digital cameras, such as professional DSLR cameras, come with customizable features. Generally speaking, setting these options on “auto” eliminates the hassle of adjusting them with every photo.

  • Red-eye reduction eliminates the glare of the flash reflecting off your retinas, keeping eyes looking natural.
  • Image stabilization digitally counteracts the subtle movements you make when shooting, making digital photos cleaner and sharper.
  • Auto flash uses a sensor to detect lighting and determine if a flash is needed for proper exposure.
  • Auto focus focuses on the subject of the photo when you push the shutter button halfway down, eliminating the time it takes to focus manually.

Back to the Light
Light makes a photo—literally. But backlighting is a common problem. If a light source (a window or the sun) is behind the subject, the subject appears as a silhouette. For a great digital photo, shoot with the light source facing the subject, not behind him. And if possible, avoid direct light in the eyes so your subject doesn’t squint.

Shadow Shifting
We often don’t notice shadows—especially when shooting outside. The shadow from a hat’s brim goes unnoticed but will blot out someone’s face. Place your subject so splotchy shadows from surrounding objects (like trees and leaves) don’t fall on her body or, especially, her face.

Don’t Forego the Foreground . . .
Sometimes we’re so focused on our subject, we don’t notice what’s in front of him. At a party, someone’s head or arm might block the corner of the photo, but we don’t notice until after we’ve taken the shot. Look at the edges of your viewfinder and notice what’s in front of your subject.

. . . or the Background
Notice what’s behind your subject, too. Sometimes you want to see the background, but a pole, tree or awkward building angle can distract from the subject of the photo. Just take a step to the side—enough to change your viewing angle between the subject and the obtrusive object.

Avoid Center Stage
Shooting the subject in the center of the photo makes your photo look contrived. If you shoot the subject in front of an impressive background, it cuts the background in half. So shoot your subject off-center. The photo will feel more natural, and look more artistic, to the human eye.

The Rule of Three
On that note, imagine your photo. Divide it into nine equal sections with two horizontal and vertical lines. Now, when you shoot, line the subject along one of these lines, ie. the horizon on a horizontal line or a tree on a vertical line. Like avoiding center stage, this rule of thumb helps the photo look natural to the human eye.

Step Back, Jack
Take a step back. We often stand so close to our subject that they take up the entire photo. For face shots, that’s fine. But at a party or on vacation, taking a step back reduces the subject’s size and lets you see your surroundings—creating an atmosphere for the photo.

In Conclusion
Photos are often taken quickly. After all, that’s why you bought a point-and-shoot digital camera. But by noticing your surroundings, paying attention to lighting, and taking a moment to compose your shot, you can turn mediocre pictures into great digital photos that will capture your memories for years to come.

To see which digital cameras will help you best capture those memories, visit our side-by-side comparison charts. Choose from standard digital cameras, compact digital cameras and professional DSLR cameras, or compare all three types.

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Electronics » Digital Cameras » Professional DSLR » How to Compose Great Digital Photos