13 Ways to Make Your Photos Look Professional - Improve Photography (2023)

There is no silver bullet to making a professional picture. It often takes years of practice; however, as a newer photographer you'll find that there are some things that will dramatically improve your photography without much effort.

But after you apply the tips on this page and get to the point of being a competent photographer, you'll find that your progress will be slower and you'll have to work harder to make your photo just 1 or 2% better.

But here are the simplest things you can do to quickly see an improvement in your photos.

Tip #1: Capture Interesting Lighting

Lighting is number one on this list for a reason. It's easily the most overlooked aspect of photography for beginning photographers, but professional photographers obsess aboutit. Lighting is the most important thing to making a photo look professional.

Now what makes lighting look interesting? First of all, it's different from what we normally see. Second, it highlights the subject and presents it in a good way.

There are many ways to make a portrait photo have more interesting lighting. You could simply place the person in the shade in order to put even lighting on their face, or you could turn their back to the sun so that hard shadows don't rake across the face.

With landscape photography, time of day is absolutely imperative. 95% of the landscape photos in my portfolio of the best shots I've ever taken were photographed in the very early morning at sunrise or late in the evening at sunset. Beginning photographers often overlook this important tip and try to make a photo in the middle of the day. That's rarely a recipe for success.

13 Ways to Make Your Photos Look Professional - Improve Photography (2)

No Aberrations

An aberration in photography is something that is left in the picture that doesn't belong in the picture. It makes the photo feel cluttered with distractions that keep the viewer from enjoying the subject.

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I most commonly see aberrations around the edges of the frame. It can be easy for the photographer to pay close attention to the person they are photographing, and forget about a piece of trash in the background, an ugly telephone pole in the distance, etc.

Chose a Clear Subject By Zooming In Tight

If you're having a difficult time getting a composition to make sense, the problem is most likely that you've chosen too many subjects at once. Decide on what one subject will be the center of attention, and you'll have a much more interesting picture.

It's incredibly rare that I see a photo that is photographed TOO tight. Zooming in on one part of the scene is almost always the right answer for new photographers. It takes most of my students a year of learning photography before they finally dare to zoom in tight. How long will it take you?

Digital Styling

Digital styling is applied in Photoshop and Lightroom and allows the photographer to creatively change the colors, contrast, and exposure.

While I personally am not much of a fan of the filters on Instagram, we have all seen a photo that looks much more trendy and creative when a filter is applied to it.

If you feel like you're ready to learn this part of photography, I highly recommend getting Lightroom and taking my Lightroom 101 course to help you get started with the software.

If you just learning photo retouching basics, you can outsource you post processing to freelancer marketplaces like Fiverr that can perform any photo enhancement at a very attractive cost!

Interesting Subject

Capturing an interesting subject is usually the simplest part of photography. Even non-photographers know that some things are more interesting in a photo than others.

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My advice here is actually the opposite of what you may think I'm going to say. It's not that you should find something interesting to shoot (though you certainly should).

My advice is that you should be careful not to be TOO taken by the subject. If you are too excited about the subject, it can be easy to forget about all the of the other things on this page. Capture an interesting subject, but once you've found it, remove yourself a bit from the excitement, look at the shoot from a 30,000 foot view and pay attention to everything else you need to do.

Crisp Sharpness

There are so many factors that impact the sharpness of a photo that it can be difficult to know what is causing a reduction in sharpness in your photos. But I have found after coaching thousands and thousands of photographers that the problem is usually that the photographer did not get the focus quite right.

When taking a picture of a person, it's essential to put the focus point exactly on the eye of the person you are photographing.

If you want to learn to focus properly, I highly recommend reading my article with 10 tips on getting sharper photos.


Sometimes I find an interesting subject, but just not an interesting place to photograph it from. If you look at professional photos, they are very often taken from non-obvious spots. For example, a photo of a CEO will be photographed from down low, looking up at the person to make him or her look more powerful. Or, in the case of photographing a city, we often want to get to a very high perspective to shoot down and see the whole city.

Such was the case a few months ago while I was speaking at a conference in Chicago and photographed the skyline from the top of one of the tallest buildings so that I could see the whole city at once.

Creative Composition

Composition is probably the most difficult thing on this list to teach in a short amount of time, but it makes a tremendous difference.

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If you have an important upcoming shoot, I highly recommend that you start learning composition by at least learning the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is the most basic rule of composition that basically tells the photographer to imagine a tic-tac-toe board on the frame of the picture, and to put the most interesting part of the photo on the intersection of those lines.


Mood is an oft-overlooked aspect of photography, but I find that it's an excellent way to learn to make a photo more impactful. As you take pictures, ask yourself “What mood will this photo convey?”

By asking yourself that question, you will avoid taking a photo of a person with a blank expression. You'll recognize that the person's expression isn't conveying a mood and you'll change it. This can also happen in a landscape. Look at the photo below of the bird in front of the sunset and you'll see that the exposure which was too bright did not convey a serene mood.

Proper Depth-of-Field

Depth-of-field is a hallmark of professional photography–especially professional pictures of people. Shallow depth-of-field means that the subject of the photo is sharp, and the background is blurry. Learning this technique can instantly transform your photography to something much more professional looking.

To take a picture with shallow depth of field, follow ALL of the steps in this recipe:

  1. Put on your longest lens
  2. Set the camera to aperture priority
  3. Set the aperture as low as it will go
  4. Step as close to the subject as you can while still allowing the lens to focus
  5. Place the subject far away from anything in the background.
  6. Put the focus point on the subject
  7. Take the picture
13 Ways to Make Your Photos Look Professional - Improve Photography (7)

Proper Exposure

Exposure means the brightness or darkness of a photo. It's probably the thing that beginning photographers put the most work into learning.

There are three ways to control the exposure of a photo: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. If you're not sure how they work together and how to set them, take some time to read my free photography basics series.

Digital cameras are very good at coming to a neutral exposure, but the truth is that the neutral exposure is not always the best exposure. For example, suppose you are taking a picture of a person on a bright sunny day. The camera will likely make the face of the person dark and the background too bright. The “neutral” exposure is mid-way between exposing for the face and the background.

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But as the photographer, you know that the face is far more important than the background, so you will brighten the exposure for the face and let the background go bright. Go for the proper exposure, not the neutral one.

Viewing the Photo Large

After you apply all of the other tips on this page, the way you present the photo will also make a major difference in how it is viewed by those who see it. Don't you dare put a tremendous amount of work into a photo and then print it out at 8×10. Show your photo large to have a bigger impact!

Have you ever walked through a photography gallery? Notice how HUGE the photos are? It's because almost any photo looks better and more captivating when it is viewed full screen or on a very large print.

Printing photos on Canvas has become increasingly popular. I've fallen in love with CanvasPop! They make it so easy to print your beautiful photos on Canvas. They also offer framed prints, pet portraits, photo collages, and Triptych canvases (I absolutely LOVE these).

Learn Photography!

If you're ready to sink your teeth into photography and learn to master it, I highly recommend you read my free photography basics article series. I poured hours into that tutorial to make it the very best way to learn photography, and thousands of people read it every month. I'm sure you'll love it.


If you can only do a few of these things in your photo, make it these: capture interesting lighting, use a creative composition, and remember to digitally style the photo afterward.

Do you have any tips to add? We would LOVE it if you posted them in the Improve Your Photography Community on Facebook! Click here to join!

Disclaimer: Improve Photography is a participant affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to other websites. We may earn a commission if you purchase through any of the links on this page.

(Video) 8 IMPORTANT Composition Tips for Better Photos

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How do you make your photos look like a professional? ›

  1. Develop a personal style. There is no “right” way of editing photos like a professional. ...
  2. Choose a photo editing program. ...
  3. Use filters and presets. ...
  4. Take advantage of automatic modes. ...
  5. Crop the scene. ...
  6. Straighten lines. ...
  7. Bring colors to life. ...
  8. Adjust the white balance.
1 Apr 2020

What are the 10 ways to make good photographs? ›

10 Tips for Taking Great Photos
  1. Invest in quality equipment.
  2. Pick your focal point.
  3. Use the rule of thirds.
  4. Change your angles.
  5. Pay attention to framing.
  6. Use ideal lighting.
  7. Use filters and settings.
  8. Take lots of shots.

How do I make my photos better quality professionally? ›

How To Take Professional Photos: A Beginner's Guide
  1. Master the Fundamentals of Composition. Choose a Strong Focal Point. ...
  2. Make Sure You Have Good Lighting. ...
  3. Get Some Lighting Equipment. ...
  4. Learn How to Edit Photos Like a Professional. ...
  5. Learn Your Camera's Settings. ...
  6. Pick Up a Tripod. ...
  7. Upgrade Your Gear. ...
  8. Show Off Your Shots Like a Pro.
26 Feb 2019

What are the ways to improve photography? ›

10 easy ways to improve your photography skills
  1. Know your stuff. know your stuff. ...
  2. Understand your camera. understand your camera. ...
  3. Use your camera every day. use your camera every day. ...
  4. Focus on movement. focus on movement. ...
  5. Start a project. ...
  6. Imitate an icon. ...
  7. Find your inspiration. ...
  8. Get comfortable with your equipment.

What are the 7 tips for taking good photographs? ›

7 Tips For Taking Better Photos
  • How To Compose Great Photos. Great photos start with great composition: how you frame the shot and where you position different elements within the scene. ...
  • Keep It Simple. ...
  • Change Your Perspective. ...
  • Add Depth To Your Images. ...
  • Use The Sun To Create A Silhouette. ...
  • Look For Reflections. ...
  • Find Symmetry.

What are 4 things you can do to create a professional image? ›

How to develop your professional image
  1. Be mindful of first impressions. ...
  2. Assess your communication style. ...
  3. Consider what your clothes reflect about you. ...
  4. Use social media thoughtfully. ...
  5. Increase your time management skills. ...
  6. Find a mentor. ...
  7. Remain positive. ...
  8. Be accountable.

What are the 12 elements of photography? ›

The 12 Elements of a Merit Image
  • Impact. Compelling images evoke emotion—laughter, sadness, anger, pride.
  • Technical Excellence. The quality of the actual image as presented for viewing. ...
  • Creativity. ...
  • Style. ...
  • Composition. ...
  • Presentation. ...
  • Color Balance. ...
  • Center of Interest.
27 Jul 2022

What are the 11 elements of photography? ›

Elements of composition are: patterns, texture, symmetry, asymmetry, depth of field, lines, curves, frames, contrast, color, viewpoint, depth, negative space, filled space, foreground, background, visual tension, shapes.

What makes a good quality photo? ›

There are many elements in photography that come together to make an image be considered “good”. Elements like lighting, the rule of thirds, lines, shapes, texture, patterns, and color all work well together to add interest and a great deal of composition in photographs.

What do you need to take professional pictures? ›

Photography equipment list for professionals
  1. Filters.
  2. Tripod.
  3. Camera straps.
  4. Color correction card.
  5. Flash.
  6. Reflectors.
  7. Light kit.
  8. Studio backdrop.
28 Jan 2022

How can I make my pictures look professional for free? ›

What is the best free online photo editor?
  1. Taler.
  2. GIMP.
  3. Canva.
  4. Fotor.
  5. Photo POS Pro.
  6. Pixlr X.
  7. Photoshop Express.
17 May 2022

What are the 7 elements of photography? ›

There are seven basic elements of photographic art: line, shape, form, texture, color, size, and depth. As a photographic artist, your knowledge and awareness of these different elements can be vital to the success of your composition and help convey the meaning of your photograph.

What are the 4 things that a good photograph should have? ›

In this article we will look at the five Fundamental Elements of Photography. Basically, there are five common elements that great images typically have; Good use of light, color, a captivating moment, correct composition for the given situation, and the photographer's choice of distance to their subject.

What are the 3 most important things in photography? ›

The three variables that matter the most in photography are simple: light, subject, and composition.

What are the 9 rules of photography? ›

9 Essential Photo Composition Rules
  • Rule of Thirds. Chances are you are already familiar with this Rule of Thirds. ...
  • Golden Ratio. ...
  • Golden Spiral. ...
  • Simple and Clean Background. ...
  • Frame Your Subject. ...
  • Leading Lines & Straight Horizon. ...
  • Fill Your Frame. ...
  • Center Position.
17 Oct 2022

What are the 8 principles of photography? ›

While these apply to any media in art, I will be using them specifically for photography.
  • Balance.
  • Harmony.
  • Pattern/Rhythm.
  • Unity.
  • Contrast.
  • Proportion.
  • Variety.
  • Movement.
16 Aug 2012

What are the 8 things that complete a professional image? ›

8 Ways To Build An Unbeatable Professional Image
  • Keep your personal life and personal opinions to yourself. ...
  • Be with right people. ...
  • Talk positively and respond constructively. ...
  • Make your work speak and take credit when necessary. ...
  • Be respectful. ...
  • Be a troubleshooter and helpful. ...
  • Under promise and over deliver. ...
  • Have a pitch ready.
9 Apr 2014

What are 3 important aspects of the professional image? ›

The 3 Key Elements to a Professional Image
  • The 3 Key Elements of a Professional Image. Appearance What you wear and how you look matters, appearance is the first thing that people will judge you on. ...
  • Communication. Being clear, concise, and responsive is critical for success. ...
  • Reputation. ...
  • Overall Presentation.
13 Jun 2020

What is professional appearance? ›

Professional appearance is the specific appearance and behavior that an individual displays in a professional environment such as their place of employment.

What are the 13 design principles? ›

Understanding the basics

The elements, or principles, of visual design include Contrast, Balance, Emphasis, Movement, White Space, Proportion, Hierarchy, Repetition, Rhythm, Pattern, Unity, and Variety.

What are the 13 principles of art? ›

The principles of art are scale, proportion, unity, variety, rhythm, mass, shape, space, balance, volume, perspective, and depth.

What is the 400 rule in photography? ›

Capturing stars as points instead of trails. 400 / focal length x LMF = Max number of seconds before stars blur due to earths rotation. Example: Full frame camera, focal length 28mm. 400 / 28 = 14.3 seconds is the longest acceptable shutter speed.

What are the 4 main types of photography? ›

4 Styles of Photography Explained
  • Lifestyle – Lifestyle photography is exactly what it says it is. ...
  • Documentary – Documentary style photography is usually associated with a chronological series of events. ...
  • Traditional or Posed – Traditional or posed photography is a common portrait style. ...
  • Artistic –
12 Jan 2017

What are the 7 principles of art and design? ›

The seven principles of art and design are balance, rhythm, pattern, emphasis, contrast, unity, and movement. The elements of art and design are line, shape/form, space, value, color, and texture. The elements of art and design are the tools of visual artists.

What makes a photograph beautiful? ›

They capture a personality through just the eyes. They capture (or evoke) emotion. They use leading lines, the Rule of Thirds and other framing techniques to create a compositionally strong image. Beautiful photography has the right timing, the perfect color and many are bursting with creativity.

What is the best quality of photo? ›

Raw image formats are the highest quality but have unreasonably large file sizes of up to hundreds of megabytes. For web images, the WebP file format offers 25-35% smaller file sizes than JPEG for the same quality photos, meaning you can upload higher quality images for the same disk space and speed up your site.

What should a professional photo look like? ›

Typically, this means a dress shirt for men; a dress, blazer, or nice blouse for women; or a suit for either gender. Choose solid dark colors like blue or black, and don't pick anything with a pattern that's too busy. Avoid wearing a strapless dress, top, or anything else too revealing that will make you appear naked.

What do most professional photographers use? ›

63% of professional photographers use a mirrorless camera, while 36% of them use a DSLR camera. Only 1% use both. 2. Mirrorless cameras are more popular than DSLR cameras for amateur photographers too (but not by much).

What is the rule of 1 3 in photography? ›

What is the rule of thirds? The rule of thirds is a composition guideline that places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open.

How do you take good photos? ›

Want to Take Better Smartphone Photos? Try These 10 Tips From Pro Photographers
  1. First, start with a clean slate.
  2. A little framing goes a long way.
  3. Ditch the digital zoom.
  4. Look for light before making your own.
  5. Watch out for cloud storage shenanigans.
  6. Steady yourself — or use a tripod.
  7. Go remote with a shutter button.
26 Aug 2019

What are the 3 steps in photography? ›

The Three Steps To Better Photography
  1. 1 – Know the subject. Think about what it is you are taking a picture of and make sure you have a clear understanding of the main subject of the photo. ...
  2. 2 – Focus attention. Choose what is going to be the focus of the attention of this photograph. ...
  3. 3 – Simplify.
9 Jun 2022

What is the most important thing when taking a photo? ›

1) Emotion

Hands down the most important aspect of any photograph is it's ability to invoke an emotional response. This response is what gets you to look longer at some photos than others, maybe even decide to buy a print and hang that photo on your wall.

What app can I use to make my pictures look professional? ›

Google Snapseed

Among the best photo editing apps, suited for both experienced and amateur photographers. Snapseed is a professional photo editing app developed by Google. If you're looking for the best Android Photoshop-like photography app, then Snapseed is the app to download.

What 3 things make a good photo? ›

The three variables that matter the most in photography are simple: light, subject, and composition.

What makes a good photograph? ›

There are many elements in photography that come together to make an image be considered “good”. Elements like lighting, the rule of thirds, lines, shapes, texture, patterns, and color all work well together to add interest and a great deal of composition in photographs.


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