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A few tips on basic photography can help improve your photographs immeasurably. Learning to be a good photographer isn't hard. Good habits, a keen eye and a camera are all you need.

This page offers an introduction to some of the keys of taking better photographs. Obviously, the other sections within the course deal with each topic in far more detail.

© Beren Patterson. All Rights Reserved. A great, quick introduction to travel photography. Tips, hints and superb examples. The introduction is the starting point for many of the more advanced areas.

Light, Camera, Action!

Light is obviously essential for any photograph, but, also obviously the quality of light varies throughout the day. The best times of day to photograph are usually early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Be careful of the midday sun as it is often too harsh and you will end up with washed-out colours and dark, black shadows.

Observe carefully the position of the sun. You will often find that the best results are when the sun is behind you, fully lighting your subject.

Fill the Frame

Get up close and personal with your subjects. Your subject should fill the image. Don't have vast areas of nothing when, by moving closer or zooming in you could get a much more interesting result.

Keep an eye on what is behind your subject. If it is too 'busy' it will detract from the subject.

Hold It

Get the camera as still and steady as possible. Lock your elbows in by your side and watch your breathing. If you have a tripod use it. If not find something to brace yourself against. You will find your photographs come out crisp and sharp. This is especially true if you have a camera with a long (powerful) zoom lens.


Composition of an image is how you balance the important elements that make up the photograph. Generally you shouldn't put your main subject in the middle of the image unless you are looking for symmetry, but rather move it off centre.

The 'Rule of Thirds' (sometimes referred to as the Golden Rule) is where the image is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically (as the picture on the right illustrates). Where these lines intersect is often a good place to put key elements of your image.

Spend a little bit of time moving around your subject, try different lenses or zoom lengths. Is it better to be closer and use a wider lens or further away and more zoomed in? Try it.

Rule of thirds or golden rule. Halong Bay, Vietnam. © Beren Patterson. All Rights Reserved.

Old Chinese town, Dali, South-West China. © Beren Patterson. All Rights Reserved.


Take more pictures. The relatively small amount of extra money you spend will result in a lot more results. There is little point in spending large sums of money on a camera only to avoid putting film through it. This is one of the great things about digital. You can take thousands of photos and it won't cost a thing.

Try different angles and see what you like. Try something really off-beat. Did it work?

You may only have one chance to visit a place, experience and see something. Be ready. Make sure that you get it right and don't come away disappointed.

Quality & Quantity

Always buy good quality film and always buy 36 (40 if APS) exposures. This will almost always save you money both when you buy the film and when you get it developed.

Stick to the major film brands. One main reason to choose these brands is that every lab in the world has their machines calibrated for these films so you will get the best possible results. Picking a lab can be difficult. Some professional labs are awful and some mini-labs are just great. Try one film first and see how they go. Never put all your films through one lab without first testing them.

When buying digital media always buy as high capacity storage as you can afford. The cards that come with most cameras are almost useless and will usually only give you a handful of shots. Keep this as back-up media for when you fill you main card up and need a few more shots. Batteries are also very important with digital as most cameras drain them in a few hours of use.

Cool & Dry

Keep your film cool and dry at all times and process your film promptly. This ensures that the colours remain as true as possible. A hot place like a car glove compartment can turn your film bright pink in hours.

If you are travelling for a while don't wait to get all your film done when you get home. Always process a roll or two along the way just to make sure that your camera is working. When you find a good lab process all your film and send the prints home and keep the negs with you. Many labs will now make a CDROM of your negs as they print them. This is another excellent back-up.

Digital media has some distinct advantages for travellers. You can back them up at Internet cafes and send the CD-R home. They don't get damaged by x-rays and normal heat. I now shoot only digital when I travel and don't miss the hassles of film.


Don't offend people. Taking someone's photograph should not upset them. If it does, don't take it. Taking someone's picture can and should be a great excuse to meet them properly, not offend them by intruding. You are very unlikely to enjoy looking back at pictures of your trip that include offended locals frowning or trying to cover their faces. If in doubt, ask.


Taking photographs should help you appreciate what you have around you, make you a better observer and give you an excuse to do things you might not otherwise do.

Want more? Read the Getting Started section for tips on buying cameras, film and accessories and putting them all together, or go to the menu at the top and choose another section.

Common photographic terms explainedLinks to useful and interesting websites, books and DVDs
Girl carrying her baby sibling, Chichicastenango, Guatemala. © Beren Patterson. All Rights Reserved.