Over the last ten years of my photography journey I have picked up a lot of techniques, tips and tricks which have improved my images no end.  If you’re interested in stepping up from casual snaps to producing gorgeous scenes that turn heads, then these 5 tips are for you.

1. Unleash the full potential of your camera

Read the manual, look through all the settings and above all take the camera off auto.

Get familiar with words like iso, aperture and shutter speed. These are three settings you (or your camera) has control over to capture a picture. All three work together to produce a picture and each of them has properties which influence the look and feel of the final image.

If you have an idea of what you want to capture then tell your camera by using the manual settings, otherwise your camera will have to take a guess at what you’re trying to achieve. Cameras are getting better at this with scene detection built in but that will only get you so far.

Elephants in Namibia – the backlighting of the elephants with the sun setting behind would have been very difficult to capture without using manual settings on the camera to get the correct exposure. Check out more photos at www.markhannahphotography.com

2. Composition

Composition is the act of positioning your subject in the scene and certain locations are more effective than others. There is one simple rule that I often resort back to when I take a photo and you should too. It’s known as the rule of thirds.

Basically look through your viewfinder or your preview screen and divide the screen into thirds both horizontally and vertically by overlaying an imaginary grid. Take the main subject of your image and position it at one of the intersections of the gridlines. It’s that simple. Don’t ask me why it works but it often does. Play around with positioning the subject at each intersection and see which one works best.

Another simple technique is to look for lines or curves in the scene which might direct the eye to the main subject of the image. Put the two techniques together for increased effectiveness.

Mt Cook during twilight – using the rule of thirds. Check out more photos at www.markhannahphotography.com

3. Look around

Whenever I’m shooting at a tourist hotspot I see the same thing every time. Tourist A looks at the marvellous scene, grabs the camera snaps and moves on, Tourist B comes by and does the exact same thing from the exact same spot. Yes they may have captured the view but it will be the same view that every other tourist gets at the location.

If you really want your photo to stand out, take a minute to look around you. Is where you are standing the best place to capture the view? Is there a post in the way, telephone wires other tourists? Look for other viewpoints and before pressing the shutter have a look through the viewfinder or preview screen and check if you’re happy with the scene.

Personally what I like to do when photographing landscapes which are off in the distance, is to take a look around at the ground close by. I look for anything that might make the foreground of the scene more interesting or something that might draw the eye towards the subject of the photo (tip 2, leading lines). I drop the focal length right down to produce a very wide field of view and often I crouch or lie on the ground to get the object in the foreground whilst still capturing the mountain or whatever it is I’m photographing in the distance. Just be careful when you’re looking around and never move while looking through your viewfinder, at best you’re going to break your gear, worst you’ll break yourself.

Volcano National Park, Hawaii – An example of adding a subject to the foreground to add interest to the otherwise empty lava. Also a key example of why you need to be aware of your surroundings. Check out more photos at www.markhannahphotography.com

4. Be prepared / do your research

If you have an idea of what you want to photograph then have a look online, see what other people have captured. See where they captured it from, what the lighting was like, what time of day they might have been there, etc. The more you know about your shooting location before you get there the easier it will be to capture the perfect moment. You don’t want to be running around looking for a vantage point while the sunsets behind you. It’s always good to know when the sun is going to set or rise too and what the weather will be doing, so have a look online for those too.

Kata Tjuta – it pays to know when the sun is going to set if you plan on capturing it. Check out more photos at www.markhannahphotography.com

5. Step up from filters

Personally I’m a big advocate for the use of Photoshop as it allows me to put an artistic flare on my images.

Most of the time I’m not trying to reproduce the scene exactly as I saw it as a journalist might. I see myself more like a painter using a template which I have captured through my camera and digital brushes. Instagram has made photo-editing mainstream and inbuilt filters can quickly allow the photographer to portray the image with a bit of personality. If you’re still shooting on your phone then by all means continue to use Instagram, but step away from the pre-built filters and start playing with the individual settings, or better yet download the free Photoshop app. Once you have a grasp of what each setting does you’ll actually have a fairly simple transition to Photoshop or Lightroom on a computer if you choose to head in that direction as a lot of the settings are similar.

Milky-way – A shot like this would not be possible without photo editing to bring out the stars with contrast adjustments. Check out more photos at www.markhannahphotography.com

Learn what your camera is capable of and its limitations.  Always have your batteries charged and camera on hand, but above all else just get out and shoot.  Experience and learning from trial and error is the best teacher I have had.

Check out more of my photos at www.markhannahphotography.com or on my Facebook page.