Inspiration Photography

21 Tips for Creating a Better Photograph when You Don’t have a Clue

21 ways to chase light with your camera in 2019.

We’ve all been through this situation. You are in a place with so much going on, with a lot of people doing what they are doing. Your camera is in your hand, and you feel like there are so many things you could capture, right now. But where to start?

When you’re in a photographable situation, but you don’t have a clue, there are some go-to approaches you can use to combat cluelessness, start being creative, and have lots of fun chasing the light in 2019!

Make it abstract

The content of a photograph sometimes trips our thinking. If there is a lot going on, we are often tempted to include the whole event in the frame. Sometimes it helps to zoom in to a detail and use this abstraction to create mystery in your photo.

Abstract, Nepal 2008. Nikon D3 with 70-200mm.

Balance the composition

Look around your subject and find how something might be included in the frame to balance the composition. Often finding how to ‘cut up’ a photo and counterbalance subject with another element can add a design quality to the image.

North Vietnam, 2008. Nikon D3 with 24-70mm.

Use Color

Using color is a way to control your content. Focusing only on the colors captured in the frame helps you to simplify the composition.

Elephant Phuket
Phuket, Thailand 2018 with iPhone 7.

Capture Contrast

Contrast can be found in the content, like when you have the classic modern vs. traditional that can be found in many places. Contrast can also be between values, such as light-dark. Or, a man in traditional clothing holding a child’s bright balloon.

Bali, 2018 with Sony A7ii and 24-70mm

Use Shapes

Waiting in a hotel lobby for a business appointment, I found this image of a plant’s shadow. To make it interesting, I waited for a passerby to add a human element to the image.

Delhi, 2014 with IPhone 6.

Use Negative Space

Designers often use negative space to create balance and focus in an image. Negative space is a great way to simplify a composition and bring in balance at the same time.

Northern Vietnam, 2009 with D3 and 70-200mm.

Change Vantage Point

Moving around your subject gives you different perspectives. Often, you discover ways of photographing something that might introduce this element of discovery for the viewer, too.

Hanoi, Vietnam 2009 with D3 and 24-70mm.

Create Selective Blur

Blur can create added drama to a photograph. Setting your aperture to wide open, like in this photograph at f/2.8, can give you blur in the background and foreground, making the subject pop.

Bali, 2009 with D3 and 70-200mm.

Use One Focal Length

My brother once asked me, “Are you a photographer or a lens changer?” I am as much a gear head as anyone, and I love shiny new zoom lenses. But sometimes, when we force ourselves to use just one focal length, we are also forced into having to create not with our gear, but with choices we make about what we capture and how we capture.

Phuket, 2018 with iPhone 7.

Use the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a standard go-to approach to composition, and it never fails. Using the rule of thirds means you automatically place your subject within a frame and create an attractive composition. Combined with balance, use of color, and some environmental information, the rule of thirds can change the way you see and the way you capture what you see.

Bali, 2009 with Nikon D3 and 70-200mm.

Create Silhouettes

Usually, great light such as at sunrise or sunset keep us shooting frame after frame. At times though, all we have is the sky alight and the horizon. Creating silhouettes can create drama in a photograph without competing with the beautiful light. Instead of distracting from what may be awesome light, a silhouette can add an element to the image.

Negros Island, Philippines 2010 with Nikon D300 and 24-70mm.

Use a Reflective Surface

Mirrors, cars, windows and glass doors – these reflective surfaces can add a bit of interest to a photograph. Use these reflective surfaces, especially when they add to the story of the image. Here is the story of a barber and one of the tools of his trade – his mirror.

reflective surface
Rajasthan, India 2007 with Nikon D2xs and 24-70mm.

Capture Movement

Learn a technique called panning, and you could spice up your photography. A simple technique but which requires practice, panning can allow you to capture motion.

motion copy

Make it a Portrait

People really change a photograph. Even when you want to tell the story of a place or things in a place, putting a human element in the image can add a new dimension to a story.

Bali 2007 with Nikon D2xs and 24-70mm.

Make a Monochrome

Many cameras have a monochrome setting, and with a button you could easily set your camera to capture everything in black and white. The beauty of capturing the monochrome image straight onto camera is that if you are shooting RAW + JPEG, the JPEG file is in black and white, but the RAW file still holds all the color information, in case you want to work with it later. The real value of shooting in monochrome is to help you see light.

Mandalay, Myanmar 2009 with Nikon D3 and 70-200mm.

Hit the Streets

Take a walk and see what you find. Street photography can help you hone all the skills you need, whether in compositions that evoke harmony, rehearsing technical skills, or combining what you know to tell stories of what you see.

Luang Prabang, Laos 2009 with D3 and 70-200mm.

Find a Great Background, and Wait

When you find a wall or something that might make a great background, buy yourself a cup of coffee or a cold drink and wait in front of it while enjoying your beverage. You never know who might walk in front of your background.

vantagepoint copy
Saigon, 2009 with D3 and 70-200mm.

Study a Master and Use What You Learn

The Masters of our craft have a lot to teach us. Spend some time studying the work of photographers whose work makes you gasp with awe. Think about how the master might create an image you love. And try to use what you learn to create a tribute to that photography master.

Rajasthan, 2007 with Nikon D2xs and 24-70mm.

Create Tension

Images that evoke questions can be interesting. What happened next? What happened before? Why? When you make an image that creates these questions in the viewer’s mind, the tension in the photograph can be a source of endless interest. (Looking for and capturing these type of images also trains your reflexes for pressing that shutter button at just the right moment.)

Rajasthan, 2007 with Nikon D2xs and 24-70mm.

Do a Project

Projects have a way of inspiring your creativity. Spend some time on a project. Some of the most inspiring photography can result from the thought and time you spend thinking about and creating images that express a concept.

Bangkok, 2006 with Nikon D200 and 50mm.

Chase the Light

The time of day makes a big difference. Waking up a little early to catch a sunrise and keeping your camera out a bit longer to catch the sunset and the afterglow can give you added inspiration.

Sunset at Huntington Beach, 2010 with D3 and 24-70mm.

Having these 21 approaches to pull out of your camera bag makes it easier to create when you feel like you’re clueless. Inspiration for your images can come from any thing at all—all you have to do is give yourself an opportunity to see in a different way each time you reach for your camera.


This post first appeared in and has been modified for this blog.

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