Since I started taking photography seriously, I’ve gotten questions from friends and family on how they can take better pictures. A lot of people think they key to better pictures lies in a pro quality dslr, but that’s not necessarily true. My interest in photography started out with a $150 Canon point and shoot that was scratched up like crazy. It was John’s favorite thing, but it had seen better days. With that camera I learned some basic things about photography that served me well when I finally upgraded to a DSLR. I thought it would be fun to share a few things anyone can apply to photography of any sort (iPhone, point and shoot, DSLR, etc)!
Make sure there is a lot of light! Preferably natural light. – There are lots of “rules” to lighting, but the main one, is that there should be lots of it! Have you ever taken a picture with your camera or phone and noticed it was blurry? That’s probably because it was too dark and your subjects were moving, or there was camera shake (happens when shooting handheld, especially in low light). It’s always best to have lots of light! When I’m shooting weddings (and I can control the lighting situation at least somewhat) I will open curtains, move items near windows, etc to ensure that I have enough lighting for pictures. Phone pictures are no different! If I really want to Instagram a meal I cooked or take a phone snapshot of a craft project I’m working on, I will use a space near one of our windows and make sure the subject of the photo is evenly lit. Natural light is best because it’s the cleanest source of light there is.
Speaking of natural light…there are better times to photograph outside than others. The BEST time of day? Right near sunrise or sunset before or after the light is incredibly harsh. Most of mid-day, the conditions are NOT favorable for photos. When the sun is high in the sky, it tends to create harsh shadows. In these situations, I look for a way to diffuse the light…either by shooting backlit (which we’ll cover a little bit more below…) or in open shade. Open shade is really just a large patch of shade that’s not completely dark looking. Shade is the BEST light and one you see utilized in my wedding work a ton. It’s flattering and even. Seeing light is a skill you’ll develop over time. But just moving your subject to a shady area if you’re shooting in the daytime will make a huge difference. For phone cameras and other cameras that allow you to chose where the camera meters, make sure you “meter” off of the subjects face. With an iPhone, you simply tap the person’s face and it will meter for them rather than the bright background.
Utilize Natural Reflectors
Reflectors are tools that professional photographers will sometimes use to direct and diffuse light. I don’t often use a traditional reflector, especially when I’m out shooting photos for fun or taking quick iPhone snapshots…can you imagine how that would look if I busted out a big round reflector before taking an iPhone snapshot in a theme park?? Ha! I do, however, utilize natural reflectors whenever I can, especially when I am shooting backlit (meaning the sun is behind the subjects). What’s a natural reflector? It can really be anything white or light in color that’s going to reflect light back up onto the subject’s face. Sidewalks, sand, and even light colored gravel roads can be great examples of this. Look at these two iPhone snapshots taken at the beach over the weekend…one of the images is a lot darker than the other one. Nothing changed except for the white foamy water around my feet. The white foam acts as a reflector, bouncing light back onto my face. The one without the foam is dark because the ground in front of me is dark and there’s nothing for the sun to bounce off of to light me from the front.
Pay attention to your composition.
When I’m shooting a wedding, I’m constantly thinking about what the best light for the image is going to be, as well as what the most interesting and visually appealing composition might be. I don’t stop thinking about those things when I’m taking snapshots with my iPhone or other “just for fun” camera. One of the biggest things that sets your photos apart and elevates them from plain old snapshot to something special, is composition. Take the time to think about how you want to compose your image before you take it. Is there a trash can in the background? Is there clutter or other visually distracting elements you can move out of the way before snapping the shot? These are all things to consider before taking a photo…and if you think of them before each shot, before long it’ll be second nature!
Shooting Kids and Fur People
Lots of people who want to take better pictures want to take pictures of their kids or their pets…which are admittedly, two of the most challenging subjects to photograph! Mostly because they are so much less likely to do what you ask them to do, or sit still enough to make getting the shot super easy. For photographing kids, I always suggest making sure they are well fed and not too tired before trying to bring them to a session…that’s also a great rule of thumb for parents who want to photograph their kids! For pets, same thing, but it actually works out better in your favor if they ARE more tired. So if you’re planning a photoshoot of your pet, try tiring them out by playing with them and then stuff them full of food or treats! It’s best to try to shoot kids or pets in very well lit situations when you can, because 1. Your camera is going to have a more difficult time focusing in low light, and focusing on moving targets is already a challenge. and 2. Your camera’s shutter speed will be a lot slower when it’s dark (this applies to any camera…even ones that only shoot in auto mode) and a slower shutter speed means the image may be a lot more blurry.
Edit your pictures
For phone photos, I use the VSCO app. There are tons of great iPhone apps for editing, but I love VSCO. It’s really easy to use, and I like the VSCO filters a lot. I personally don’t really love the Instagram filters…but that’s another story. Within the VSCO app, I can change exposure, contrast, etc and also play with highlights and shadows if an image needs it. For me, I think the brighter an image, the better, so the exposure is what I tweak most often. For simple editing of non phone photos, I suggest Picasa. I actually use Lightroom 5 for all of my editing, but if you’re not a pro and you just want something to make simple edits to your photos (exposure, temperature, zit removal, etc) Picasa is great! I used it before I was a professional and it’s definitely user friendly! And it’s free! The best editing tip I can share, is LESS IS MORE. As an amateur photog, one of my biggest mistakes was thinking splashy edits made my pictures look more “professional”. The truth is, over the top edits take away from images by causing the focus to be on the editing technique and not the photo itself. Definitely something to keep in mind! I also don’t suggest newb photogs run out and buy Photoshop. Photoshop is an incredibly powerful tool if you know what you’re doing with it, but for the most part, you aren’t going to need it for much of what you’d want to do, and it can be somewhat difficult to learn. As a professional photographer, I actually only use Photoshop a few times a month!
I really believe that it’s the photographer that makes the image and not the camera, but there’s no denying that having better gear makes things easier. I get asked a few times a month what the best starter DSLRs are and what I recommend for people who want to take better pictures, so I created this Amazon list of the things I suggest for anyone who’s interested in getting into photography as their hobby. I’m a Canon girl, through and through, so everything on the list is Canon. If you’re interested in going Nikon, I’m happy to ask a few of my Nikon friends what they’d suggest, so feel free to shoot me an email to ask!
All photos in this post iPhone photos.