The Essential Photography Effects You Really Need to Know

Photography students and enthusiasts must educate themselves with many technical terms such as aperture, shutter speed, focus and exposure.

You’ve probably read enough about that elsewhere, so how about a few photography effects?

1. Bokeh

Bokeh refers to the aesthetic quality of blur, the out of focus area of the image. It’s how the light renders lighted areas that are out of focus. The difference in lens aberrations and aperture shape causes the area to blur, creating the look that’s aesthetically pleasing. Many photographers deliberately use the shallow-focus technique to create images with prominent bokeh areas. The term comes from Japanese ‘boke’, which literally means haze or blur.

There’s good bokeh, but there’s also bad bokeh when the blur is so distracting or harsh that it takes the focus away from the subject. Thus, good bokeh can enhance an image while bad bokeh can ruin it.

Example of bad bokeh.

Use of Creative Bokeh

by Jean Fan

You can also create other shapes of bokeh, such as the heart and star bokeh photos shown below. This can be done by using a filter with the desired shape. You can even create your own. Tutorial can be found here.

by CT Pham

Photo by Astig

2. Panning

Panning refers to the horizontal, vertical or rotational movement of an image still or video. It’s an age-old technique. To achieve panning, you must have a moving subject that you must ‘stay with’ whilst framing the shot before and after you press the shutter.

This will create an interesting effect, with your subject being sharp amid a blurred background. Great for shooting moving subjects or racing and sports events.

by Sofia Duarte

Panning will take a lot of practice, but you’ll get used to it and the effort is all worth it. Of course, it is easier to ‘follow’ a human subject than faster subjects like a dog, a motorcycle or a car.

by Statesman

3. Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most basic principles of composition. It has been used for many centuries by artists, painters and now, photographers.

With the Rule of Thirds, the photographer breaks down the photo into thirds, horizontally & vertically so that you have nine equal parts. The main subject is not placed in the middle of the frame, thus it looks dynamic, moving and interesting.

When you are taking a picture you must mentally divide your viewfinder or LCD display into three to frame your shot. With the grid in mind, identify the important points of interest and frame. For some photographers, this comes naturally but for others, it will require practice.

by Rachel Arandilla

Effective use of the rule of thirds create movement and interest in any photograph.

Photo by Majoy Chua

Keep in mind the rule of thirds for post production. If you find an image’s composition boring, you can always post process it by using the cropping and reframing tools of Photoshop. Experiment with the tools at hand to improve your photos.

4. The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour, also referred to as the Magic Hour, refers to the first hour the sun rises and the last hour the sun sets. It creates a different quality of light; it adds interest and drama to the scene. It’s the perfect time of the day for creating magnificent photos–but be quick, because lighting quickly changes and fades away.

by Torontoist

What really happens during the golden hour? During sunrise and sunset, the sun is near the horizon so the daylight is of the indirect light from the sky, reducing intensity of the sun’s bright light.

There is softer lighting, warmer hues and longer shadows. In other times of the day, the sun’s light can be too bright and harsh. The sun’s harsh light is particularly a problem in portrait photography, for the light can create unwanted strong shadows around the face and body.

by David Giral

With landscape photography, photographing landscape during the golden hours enhances the colors of the scene.

by Karen Bangcot

5. Golden Rectangle

The Golden Rectangle, (also the Golden Mean or the Golden Ratio) is another guideline for composition and a variation of the Rule of Thirds, but more intricate.

The Golden Rectangle is the mean of the ratio of numbers on the Fibonacci Sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and so on). The ratio creates a golden rectangle, which is comprised of a square and half of the square in the same dimension.

Again, the concept goes back to several centuries. The Golden Rectangle is even used to frame Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Paintings, artworks and photos following the Golden Rectangle tend to be stunning and pleasing to the eye. It’s because it’s an aesthetic proportion that can be found naturally: flowers, shells, butterflies and even the human body.

Photo by Rachel Arandilla

It is very hard to frame the image to the Golden Rectangle means directly from the LCD or viewfinder. Thankfully, there are now several programs that you can use to crop your photos to the Golden Rectangle dimensions during post-production.

by Chris Ganes

6. Fill Flash

Fill Flash is a technique in photography where the photographer uses flash to ‘fill in’ dark areas of the image. It’s perfect for backlit environments. The background is usually a lot brighter than the subject. To create fill flash, adjust the aperture and shutter speed correctly to expose the background, use flash to lighten the foreground but still retain the qualities of the background.

You can use flash when: the subject is in a shadow, when there is more light on the background than on the foreground, and when you are close enough to the subject for flash. Remember that your built-in flash is only powerful enough to reach up to 9 feet only. Fill Flash can brighten deeply shadowed areas, improving the image without overexposing the other areas of the image.

by Mike Baird

Fill Flash is great for illuminating the eyes, especially on bright days and the subject is wearing a cap.

by Don Giannatti

by Adrian Biondi

by Eduardo Muriedas

7. Long Exposure

Long exposure is another interesting photography effect which entails a narrow aperture and long duration shutter speed. This is done in order to create dreamy landscapes, capturing the stationary elements while blurring the moving elements of the image.

Long exposure can be tricky. It should be taken in low light situations, most often photos will be overexposed because having long exposure on sunny days can be a problem, as too much light will enter the lens.

It is often referred to as ‘night photography’. Interesting subjects to shoot are stars, moving cars and lights.

by Cretique

by Matthew Fang

by Tyler Westcott

However, there are many beautiful long exposure photographs taken during low light daytime. Shooting fog and water on long exposure is popular in photography.

by Dene Miles

by Stan Mason

8. Contre-jour

Contre-jour is a popular photography effect. It is French for ‘against daylight’, the camera is directly pointing towards the light source. Countre-jour is, basically, is the fancy speak of ‘silhouette photography’. The light source is located directly behind the subject.

The contre-jour effect produces high contrast photos between light and dark. It hides details yet emphasizes contour of the subject and shapes. Contre-jour is more popular in nature & landscape photography. The effect is often used to add a more dramatic mood and intense ambiance to the scene.


by Karlos Portillo

Ironically though, contre-jour can enhance or reduce the quality of detail in the photo. Some recommend using a lens hood to enhance the effect of contre-jour in photographs, significantly reducing the glare coming into the lens. If too much light enters the lens, it will cause overexposure, causing the photo to lose definition.


You don’t need to follow these terms to the dot in order to create a beautiful and interesting image. In fact, rules are made to be broken! Art is about exploring yourself and your medium, after all. But to be an artist of your own you have to learn the basics first before you break them. That’s what Pablo Picasso and Van Gogh did.

Of course, these are not the only effects in photography. There are dozens more, and you can even create a photography effect through your own experimentation. Photography’s only limits is the photographer’s creativity.

Editorial Team

Written by Editorial Team


  1. This isnt beautiful photography…. This is shit. Why dont you got to MagnumPhoto and look at what good photography is. It is this shit that is ruining photography as a career for people like me.


    1. Dainis Graveris April 30, 2012 at 04:10

      These are tutorials, don’t get why you are so offended? My inspirational fav site is – 500px where you can see which settings are using to take that photo, pretty cool.


    2. Shoal Creek May 3, 2012 at 13:01

      I don’t think that sitting in your mom’s basement and surfing the net qualifies you as a judge of quality photography. No photographer that is also a true artist would ever pass this sort of judgment on the photography of amateurs.


      1. Dainis Graveris May 13, 2012 at 15:57

        Well said, Shoal.


  2. Of course it helps if you have no experience, so my case, thanks, great article.


  3. Really good post! Thx for sharing the HowTo use.


  4. Yes, it’s true. And for the newbies, it’s also important for you to know the most basic and effective ways of photograpy.


  5. Very useful collection of effects. This is really very handy for the new photographers.
    Thanks for this and keep posting same type of articles.


  6. Trying to shoot some skyscrapers and landscapes, will share them when i’m done :)


  7. Thanks for posting this. It is very well written and thought out.
    I love the shaped bokeh, I will be trying this one out this xmas. I have a few shoots in mind for it.


  8. THank you for sharing. It was a great help! I just started learning photography.


  9. only a handful of people stick with it? really?


  10. I love the article, however I think the headline is somewhat of the scale.

    I’d rather use the headline “8 Effects You Must Know About If You Want To Be An Photographer!”.


  11. Loved the article Rachel, thanks a lot.


  12. These are awesome! Thanks for sharing! I agree that there should be some manuals or tutorials on the effects! Maybe you could put one together or make a video! Dave


  13. Great tips that all photographers should know. I like them as they are simply yet create powerful photographs. The exposure control works wonderfully for waterfalls, so you can get that silky water look that so many photos have.


  14. the golden rectangle supercedes the rule of 1/3s (rule of thirds is a bastardized golden rectangle), so it’s really only 7 effects. but, otherwise a good article.


  15. I am really enjoying this post, I am not a photographer but do try to improve what skill I do have. These tips are very helpful and I thank you for posting.


  16. I think I tried at least 2 of these effects without even knowing they existed


  17. Good article. Some basic ideas that not everyone knows.


  18. Wonderful picture, it is very cool.
    Thank you for sharing this collection. I really liked it.


  19. Ajith Nanayakkara March 12, 2011 at 05:07

    ITS SO GOOD.Simply explained and creative photos included.
    Good lesson for beginner to seek the path of success.


  20. That is really an interesting article about photography,I didnt knew about the term THE GOLDEN HOUR and here i got to find also explanation of that so thanks for sharing these tips.


  21. I agree with xDee…you’ve showed me these great effects and now I need to figure out how to learn/practice them! Great post, loved the examples.


    1. Dainis Graveris March 9, 2011 at 10:25

      huh..maybe follow up article explaining these techniques would work? :)


  22. Great information on photographic effects! I’m just getting into to photography and these tips will certainly come in handy – I’m going to keep these ideas in the back of my mind the next time I head outdoors with my camera. Thanks! ;)


  23. A very well written and informative article – many thanks for sharing. Other advantages of shooting contre-jour include rim lighting your subject and the creative use of flare.


  24. Actually, panning shot would be very clear and it could be very nice. And, that panned shot could be came out very well with the great support.


  25. Nice collection of photos and tips for that matter. I’m more of a web designer than a photographer but I like the rule of thirds. Will definitely use the tips in the future.


  26. Really interesting article but it would be really nice to have some tutorials on how to create those effects!


  27. Amazing post thank you so much for sharing!


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