As an amateur photographer, there are three simple things you can do to dramatically improve your photos.
The first two relate to the most important aspect of photography—composition. No matter how good your camera is, poor composition will result in poor photographs. The third step relates to post-processing, usually done in whichever app your photos end up (in my case, Aperture.)
- The rule of thirds. It’s usually not a good idea to center your subject. Instead, imagine the camera viewport divided into thirds—horizontally and vertically—and place your subject on one of those lines, so that they are off-center. If you’re taking a shot of nature, you can perhaps align the horizon on a one-third line.
- Get closer. The second common mistake is standing too far away from the subject. A close-up of a face is usually much more interesting than a photo of someone’s full body. Think in terms of “signal-to-noise” ratio. The camera viewport has a certain number of pixels. Mentally estimate the number of pixels representing the subject and divide that by the number of pixels not representing the subject. Generally, it’s better if that ratio is high. Start by getting to what you feel is too close. You might be surprised by how much you’ll like the resulting photos! (A corollary to this rule: You can always crop your photos later, to simulate having gotten closer in the first place. I crop almost all the photos I take!)
- Auto-enhance. If you have access to a tool that can “auto-enhance” your photos, that’s usually a good idea. Before auto-enhance was commonly available in tools like Aperture, I would apply two simple post-processing steps that worked wonders on photos—auto-level and unsharp-mask.
And that’s it. The first two are by far the most important, and the third is great if you have time.