Someone once said that the best camera is the one you have with you.

Whether you’re shooting with an old school point-and-shoot camera or a fancy new dSLR though, there are some universal techniques to keep in mind that will help you create more interesting and visually pleasing photographs.

1. Identify your focal point

What element do you want the viewer to focus on in the frame? Once you identify your focal point, you can use depth of field and selective focus to isolate the main subject.

Another point to consider is the subject’s placement within the frame. Which placement will create the most impact on the viewer? Subject placement within the frame, whether it be the rule of thirds or otherwise, is an important first step to successfully conveying your story and message.

girl pouting photo by Allison McSorley
toddler toes picture by Allison McSorley

2. Consider orientation

It’s not uncommon to have a preference when it comes to the way we hold our cameras. What’s your bias? Do you prefer to shoot in landscape mode (horizontal) or portrait mode (vertical)? Did you know that choosing which orientation to shoot in is as much about composition as it is about personal preference?

Depending upon what you are photographing, some scenes are well suited for a landscape orientation while others will require a portrait mode approach.

A horizontal orientation works well when the subject is horizontal or there are horizontal lines in the frame that help direct the eye from left to right. A vertical orientation is a good choice when the scene before you includes strong vertical elements that encourage the eye to move in a top to bottom or bottom to top fashion.

black and white self portrait by Allison McSorley

baseball field photo by Allison McSorley

3. Fill the frame

Filling the frame with your subject is a quick and easy way to emphasize the visual impact an image has on a viewer. Whether your subject is human or otherwise, the ultimate goal of filling the frame is to emphasize details that would otherwise be lost by photographing the subject at a significant distance.

Think about the facial features, quirky expressions or fine details that aren’t nearly as noticeable from a distance as they would be if you were to photograph your subject up close. In addition, filling the frame can eliminate distracting background elements and help create a strong emotional connection between the subject and viewer.

macro photo of whisk by Allison McSorley
portrait of young girl by Allison McSorley

4. Keep lines straight

One of the easiest ways to ruin an otherwise great photo is to shoot straight lines crooked. Straight lines typically provide a sense of stability and order to an image.

Crooked lines, on the other hand, communicate a sense of instability and often leave the viewer feeling uneasy and confused. Have you ever seen an image with a crooked horizon? Crooked horizons tend to create a distraction that is difficult for the viewer to overlook.

Keeping horizons and other strong lines straight is an important step to creating a pleasing visual experience.

girl playing on playground by Allison McSorley
toddler laughing in her crib by Allison McSorley

5. Consider different angles

Nothing adds a little variety to your images like shooting from different angles, such as eye level, from above and from below. You’ll always want to take your standard, safe shots first before challenging yourself to shoot from different angles and perspectives.

Shooting from a variety of angles not only adds interest to your images but it can also emphasize a certain mood and/or avoid distractions.

girl lying down by Allison McSorley

6. Clear clutter

Before you click your shutter, check the foreground and background of your scene for possible distractions. Elements that may pull the viewer’s attention away from the main focal point.

Scanning your scene ahead of time and changing your angle or shooting position will prevent you from having to do a lot of extra work in post processing to remove these distractions.

Related: How to take photos around the clutter in your home

kid opening a box by Allison McSorley
girl standing by front door by Allison McSorley

These are just a handful of tips that will help you create compelling photographs. Even if you begin by using just one technique at a time, practicing these guidelines will put you on the path to stronger and more visually appealing images.