See what the camera sees
The most important thing to remember is to look carefully through the viewfinder before you shoot. Learn to see what the camera sees. Don’t just see what you want to see; look at what’s really there. Instead of focusing on the part of the picture you like, consciously look for anything that you wouldn’t want to be in the scene. Are there telephone wires in the top of the frame? Do the elements of the picture collide in confusing ways? (Tree branches growing out of a person’s head in a careless portrait is a classic example.)
Many of these composition problems are easy to fix. Stepping a few inches to the left or right, tilting the camera up or down, or lowering your point of view closer to the ground can eliminate unwanted elements. Once you’ve made adjustments, examine the frame again, from edge to edge and corner to corner. You can crop distracting details out of the print later, but you should rely on cropping only as a last resort.
Digital cameras provide instant feedback, which can help you capture just the photo you want. Instead of waiting for the pictures to come back from the lab, you can see them full-size as soon as you upload them to your computer. Even professional photographers who still prefer film for their final product often rely on digital cameras to preview their images.
If you find it hard to resist shooting on the run, put your camera on a tripod. Besides steadying the camera for long exposures, a tripod will force you to compose more carefully and make it easier to examine the frame thoughtfully before you shoot.
Obviously, taking pictures isn’t just a question of getting rid of unwanted details. By carefully arranging the elements in a picture, you can make sure people see exactly what you want them to see. The eye tends to follow converging lines, and it is drawn to the brightest colors and lightest elements in a photo. A small spot of light on a flower in the shade of a tree will draw attention to the flower; a bright red watering can in the background or a little flash of bright sky in the corner of the image will draw the eye away.