What Makes a Photograph Timeless?

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Taking a good photo is harder than you think. After all, there’s a reason your latest camera phone snap hasn’t landed in any museum yet. Take your camera off “Auto,” put away the fuzzy filters, and follow these instructions to take photos that turn heads.

Know the Rule of Thirds

If you want something to be the center of attention, don’t make it the center of your photo. The focal point should be a little off to the side. Imagine if your shot was divided by a 3x3 grid of squares (like a tic-tac-toe board). The centerpiece should be at an intersection, near a corner.

Use the Space

Moving the subject off-center can make your photo more interesting, but it can also leave awkward space on the opposite side. Good photos tend to balance the photo with a second, less eye-grabbing focal point on the opposite side.

Find a moment

Your photo will only look as good as the moment it captures. The best photos are rarely staged or posed.

Color is your friend—and your enemy

Don’t underestimate color. It can emphasize important details or highlight distracting objects in the background. Our eyes love contrast, and they’ll be drawn toward any surprising colors, for better or for worse. (That’s why so many wedding photos are made black and white. A monochrome color scheme helps you focus on the happy couple.)

Aim to frame

Look for natural borders that isolate the subject. A natural edge (like a ring of trees around a lake) will create symmetry and direct your viewer’s attention to the focal point. While you’re at it, keep fine details away from the corners. You don’t want anyone’s eyes to drift off the photo. You may also want to darken the corners a little—it’s an effect called “falloff.”

Quiet all that background noise

Purge your pics of any clutter. A busy background or foreground can distract your viewers from the subject and change the mood you’re going for. No matter how much editing you do later, if you don’t get it right while the camera is in hand, the photo won’t work.

Look for lines

For whatever reason, our eyes love lines. We look for them in every image. Find some!