1. Get the Proper Exposure. This is not always as easy as it sounds. There are times when your digital camera’s built-in lightmeter is fooled by an element in a scene. For example, in snow, all of the white will trick your lightmeter into underexposing your photo, and if you subject is wearing all black the camera will overexpose your photo. Some cameras have a spotmeter, which takes a meter reading from something specific instead of the whole frame. You can also find something neutral, not too dark and not too light, in the frame and take a reading from that and set your camera to Manual and use the settings from the reading.

2. Stabilize Your Camera. It’s common knowledge that you should stabilize your camera for longer exposures or macro images. But even sports photographers who shoot at fast shutter speeds will use a monopod for larger lenses. Night and landscape images will benefit from a tripod and allow you to consider your composition more carefully. Stabilizing your camera for a macro shot will improve your photographs by keeping your camera still for such a close-up shot. Consider a remote trigger, self-timer or cable release with your tripod shots, this will further eliminate the possibility of camera shake.

3. Use the Lowest ISO. As a rule of thumb, always shoot at the lowest ISO. There are exceptions, but generally you will get cleaner images at a lower ISO. The higher the ISO, the more digital noise you introduce into your photo. You can improve the photograph with software, but avoiding the noise in the original file will give you better quality enlargements. Decide what shutter speed and aperture you want to use and use the lowest ISO that you can and still maintain your settings. Sensors are improving with each generation of new cameras but it is still recommended you avoid the higher ISOs if possible.
4. Clean up Your Backgrounds.** When you look through the viewfinder, pay careful attention to anything distracting that is behind or near your subject. The cleaner the background is, the more attention the viewer will give your main subject. Trees coming straight out of someone’s head can be very distracting. Be prepared to move around to find the cleanest background. A step to the right or the left can usually solve your problem.

5. Work with the Light. Train yourself to pay attention to light and what is does when it hits things. Whether it is in or outside, light can make or break your images. Harsh midday sun is hard to work with while early morning and late afternoon light really add to a photograph. You can make the sunlight to work to your advantage, consider light falling on your subjects hair, it adds definition to the hair and can be bounced back at your subject to light up their face. The more attention you pay to the light, the more you will realize you can make it work for you instead of against you. Also don’t be afraid to use a fill flash in broad daylight especially during the middle of the day to fill in the harsh shadows.
—Melissa Macatee
Contributing Blogger