5 Practical Tips to Improve Your Images As a Casual Photographer

©Ayash Basu. A backlit scene at the Grand Canyon, Arizona. The multiple layers of the canyon are accentuated by shooting into the light, and add a sense of depth to the image.

©Ayash Basu. A backlit scene at the Grand Canyon, Arizona. The multiple layers of the canyon are accentuated by shooting into the light, and add a sense of depth to the image.

Today we bring you a guest blog post from photographer and CEO of Loculars, Ayash Basu. 

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams

Photography is a visual medium. A good image is one that connects with its viewers and communicates a story. Almost all endearing photos actually just happen, they are rarely premeditated or shot with a specific formula in mind. An observant eye sees something special through the viewfinder – be it the light, an interaction or expression – and captures that moment to tell a story about that location, scene or subject.

More often than not, what makes a moment special is somewhat ethereal. There is no checklist to tick off nor a defined criterion to satisfy. Having said that, there are some guidelines that can help improve your images, and over a period of time, develop your photographic eye into a more observant one.

This article is not meant to cover a comprehensive set of such techniques and there are many out there. It’s also not directed towards professional photographers, semi-professionals or even photo enthusiasts who would be well familiar with such concepts. But if you take photos to capture travel memories or everyday scenes, and click away hundreds of shots only to wonder why most of them don’t stand out, here are five very simple tips to help you. Whether you just got yourself a new camera or primarily use your phone, try these tips on your next guided walk with Sidewalk.

1.   Experiment with backlighting

Light is one of the most important, if not the critical, ingredient in an image. A common tendency is to shoot subjects at midday (since that is when most people are outside exploring), with light falling on them head on. The best light is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is low but most of us are not shooting then.

©Ayash Basu. Day of the Dead celebrations in Terlingua, Texas. I took this image with the sun behind the women to get even light on their faces, avoiding unpleasant shadows.

©Ayash Basu. Day of the Dead celebrations in Terlingua, Texas. I took this image with the sun behind the women to get even light on their faces, avoiding unpleasant shadows.

Once the sun is high, front-on lighting diminishes an image in two ways. First, such light flattens colors and the tonal quality of an image, rendering a rather flat palette. Second, it creates unpleasant shadows on subjects from a high angle. To get around this issue, try backlighting your subject, i.e., move the light source behind your subject. This gives an element of glow around the edges of your subject and adds depth to your photo.

2.   Use leading lines

This refers to a technique where a viewer is drawn to your main subject by lines that lead to it (pretty much like leading a horse to water). A leading line paves an easy pathway for the eye to navigate through the different elements in an image. This can be easily applied in the street, on architectural shots and urban compositions where lots of natural lines are available to exploit.

©Ayash Basu. The bicycles and the railing are used as leading lines to guide the viewer to the main subject of the images – the canal houses in the background as they light up in the evening in Amsterdam.

©Ayash Basu. The bicycles and the railing are used as leading lines to guide the viewer to the main subject of the images – the canal houses in the background as they light up in the evening in Amsterdam.

©Ayash Basu. The two columns on the side are used as leading lines to direct the user to the ceiling of this mosque in Istanbul.

©Ayash Basu. The two columns on the side are used as leading lines to direct the user to the ceiling of this mosque in Istanbul.

Images are two dimensional and static, and leading lines can help add just that marginal bit of zip and motion to your frame. The next time you are out on a walk, look for leading lines that you can use – door and window frames, lamp posts, a curb, a vehicle, a storefront, anything really!

 3.   Try the rule of thirds

There are no hard “rules” in photography yet ironically this one is called as such. The idea is pretty simple: divide your frame into three parts horizontally and vertically to end up with nine rectangles, and then try to place the most interesting or important elements of your image along the corners of these rectangles (in other words, the intersection points of the horizontal and vertical lines).

©Ayash Basu. The interaction between the lions is shown off center and the emotion amplified (even if slightly) as a result.

©Ayash Basu. The interaction between the lions is shown off center and the emotion amplified (even if slightly) as a result.

©Ayash Basu. The man’s eyes are placed roughly in the top third of the frame, with the space on the left providing context for the setting, in this case the auto repair shop where he works. Placing him in the middle of the image would not have had the same effect.

©Ayash Basu. The man’s eyes are placed roughly in the top third of the frame, with the space on the left providing context for the setting, in this case the auto repair shop where he works. Placing him in the middle of the image would not have had the same effect.

Avoid the natural tendency to place your subject right in the middle of your image – this is likely to make someone glance at the center and go away. Asymmetrical balance created with “thirds” and combined with leading lines will draw your viewer to the subject and engage them.

4.   Go low and high

A majority of photos are taken from the eye level. You see something of interest, hold your camera or phone to your eye and go trigger happy. Sometimes this is unavoidable if you are instinctively taking a photo within a fraction of a second of something happening. But at other times, try experimenting with your point of view. The same scene can hold a lot more visual interest if you bend down and take it from closer to the ground or find an elevated spot and take it from above.

©Ayash Basu. Looking straight on at eye level would not have captured the geometry of the kayak, I was standing on a bridge and waited for the kayak to pass below me to get this top-down shot.

©Ayash Basu. Looking straight on at eye level would not have captured the geometry of the kayak, I was standing on a bridge and waited for the kayak to pass below me to get this top-down shot.

© Ayash Basu. Traditional Indian wrestlers in the middle of a bout in Kolkata. A straight on photo at eye level would have been a standard shot but I took this from a height for two reasons – to get more of the wrestler’s body in the frame as opposed to just their faces or hands, and to simplify the composition by avoiding trees, buildings and other people in the background which would distract from the main subject.

© Ayash Basu. Traditional Indian wrestlers in the middle of a bout in Kolkata. A straight on photo at eye level would have been a standard shot but I took this from a height for two reasons – to get more of the wrestler’s body in the frame as opposed to just their faces or hands, and to simplify the composition by avoiding trees, buildings and other people in the background which would distract from the main subject.

Our minds are trained to see things at the eye level so both low-angle and top-down shots offer “intriguing” viewpoints with slightly unusual backgrounds. In most cases, the background is simplified as most eye-level objects get eliminated with this trick.

5.   Be patient

If there’s one “rule” that is probably more important than the others, it’s this. An image is engaging only when there is a story being told, a moment being revealed or an interaction being shared. So, wait for it to happen, try to anticipate it and be ready when it does happen.

©Ayash Basu. It’s important to look around your main subject even if it is an excellent one. Here I was shooting a beach scene in Hawaii, which was amazing in itself but just looking down the path where I was standing revealed this colorful scene of red leaves against wet volcanic rocks.

©Ayash Basu. It’s important to look around your main subject even if it is an excellent one. Here I was shooting a beach scene in Hawaii, which was amazing in itself but just looking down the path where I was standing revealed this colorful scene of red leaves against wet volcanic rocks.

©Ayash Basu. The scene in front of me was a truly spectacular sunset at Half Moon Bay. But just looking back got me this shot of the Ritz Carlton façade bathed in glorious light. Often times we get so focused on our primary scene that we forget to check what else is happening around. Be open and flexible, there could be good images where one wouldn’t think of looking.

©Ayash Basu. The scene in front of me was a truly spectacular sunset at Half Moon Bay. But just looking back got me this shot of the Ritz Carlton façade bathed in glorious light. Often times we get so focused on our primary scene that we forget to check what else is happening around. Be open and flexible, there could be good images where one wouldn’t think of looking.

Related to this is also the importance of being open and flexible. You may have a certain scene in mind – let’s say a sunset – that is spoiled by something, like a curtain of clouds. In this moment, rather than waiting to get that sunset shot, take a look around you for something else. You’d be surprised how many times the better images come from the most unexpected places.

To help put your new photo skills to use, here are three Sidewalks that will give you plenty of opportunities to snap stunning photos:


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New York City

  • Sidewalk: Recycled Railways, Frank Gehry & the Atomic Bomb: The High Line Park
  • Why? The High Line is a 1.45 mile linear park built on an elevated section of a New York Central Railroad spur. The park has a number of natural and cultural attractions and also offers amazing perspectives of the city and the Hudson River.

Get the Sidewalk -->


Ferry Building_San Francisco_Sidewalk Blog

San Francisco

  • Sidewalk: Smartphone Photowalk: Financial District & Embarcadero
  • Why? This walk will guide you from the Financial District to the Embarcadero to capture perfect shots of the Transamerica Pyramid, Sentinel Building, Ferry Building, Bay Bridge and other points. We'll also provide composition recommendations to help capture a striking photograph, whether you're using an smartphone or DSLR.

Get the Sidewalk -->


Thomas Sweet_Washington DC_Sidewalk Blog

Washington DC

  • Sidewalk: The Instagram-Worthy Tastebud-Approved Walk of Georgetown
  • Why? Georgetown is arguably one of the most charming neighborhoods in the country. With its narrow, Colonial-era streets, cobble stones, historic canal and hip eateries, Georgetown practically begs to be shared on Instagram.

Get the Sidewalk -->


Ayash Basu, Co-Founder & CEO of Loculars

Ayash Basu, Co-Founder & CEO of Loculars

Ayash Basu is a photography enthusiast and the Founder & CEO of Loculars, a platform that connects photo and travel enthusiasts with local professional photographers for highly curated and unique photo experiences. Feel free to check out the Loculars blog for authentic photo experiences, and sign up to the newsletter for key updates.


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