Ten Ways to Take Better Photos
Okay friends, I’m excited to finally be writing this post. After nearly ten years of practicing (and seriously struggling at times!) with photography, I feel more confident in my ability to write a blog post on this topic: my ten tips for taking better photos. And, I’ll show you guys examples using my own photos, too—including my own mistakes! Let’s jump right in.
Learn & Use the Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is a compositional theory in which you take your frame for your image and divide it into nine equal parts—much like the grid feature on many dslrs and smartphones—and compose your photograph along these lines or their intersections rather than simply centering your subject. In doing so, you create a more visually interesting photograph.
Stop and think for a second about Instagram: do you realize that a full grid on Instagram is composed of nine equal parts? Every instagram account you adore is utilizing the Rule of Thirds and you are being drawn in, friend! Whether or not we realize it, there is something foundational and influential about this theory, so turn on your grid feature and start thinking in thirds.
Remove or limit distractions
This is my go-to tip every time I begin taking a photo, regardless of the session, and regardless if it’s “professional” or not. For example, when I’m taking photos of bridesmaids getting ready in the bridal suite, I first move all luggage, shoes, and water bottles to one corner of the room so distracting elements within potential photos are limited. To me, there’s nothing worse than a photo of the bride putting on her dress and four half-empty water bottles on the table next to her. I incorporate this outside of professional sessions, too, by removing any trash or keeping the general area clean and simple. It takes little work but will go a long way when you take the time to do it!
Choose only one: a loud foreground or a loud background
Okay so what does ‘loud’ even mean when it comes to photography? It means bold, attention grabbing, often full of color or content. And the opposite would be simple or flat: very bland, often neutral in color or utilizes few colors, and does not often grab your attention.
Let’s first look at a loud foreground and a loud background:
Neither of these photos are awful—but it’s incredibly difficult to distinguish between the focal point and the background in terms of visual interest because both full of color and fight for your attention. They aren’t particularly bad photos, but the first things I notice are the man shopping for flowers and the salt and pepper shakers…and as a photographer, that’s not what I want.
Next, let’s see a simple or flat foreground and a simple or flat background:
Unfortunately, we run into a similar problem as before: either everything is grabbing your attention, or really, nothing is. In this photo, both the background and the foreground are simple and flat because they utilize the same colors, thus neither of them stand out. Nothing is grabbing your attention. Personally, I tend to look at the girl in the navy shirt first in this photo, and not at the focal point (the flowers). Thus, simple and simple is a no-go, friends.
Now, let’s choose only a loud foreground or focal point:
This photo is simple in nature (not simple in the term & definition I gave earlier), but it makes so much more sense visually than the previous photos—because your attention goes straight to the couple. This is because your attention is not being directed to conflicting areas.
Let’s look at a couple more like it:
In both of these photos, the foreground is the focal point and easily grabs your attention because the background is kept simple while the foreground is kept loud.
Make sense? This is what we want. Or at least, it’s one way we can improve our photos!
What about only a loud background? Let’s look:
This background is definitely loud! It has numerous colors and shapes! And although the foreground could be considered simple (because of it’s few colors), I think we can all admit that it doesn't look as good as our simple background and loud foreground combination. Thus, my advice on this one is this—you must practice this combination, and you’ll get it wrong plenty of times before you ever get it right—and that’s okay! Push your creative boundaries, here.
Learn & Use good lighting
You’ve done it, we all have—pulled out your camera or phone in the complete dark just to get the worst picture of all time. Well friend, stop doing that! Learn some tips to great lighting right freaking now.
First, stop taking pictures with the sun directly in front of your subject. You’ll end up with squinty eyes and overexposed faces.
Instead, try moving your subject’s back to the light for a more dreamy look:
You can also use shade to get great lighting on a way too sunny day! Shade makes everything softer—making both your highlights and your shadows less harsh.
Finally, filter the light you have. This goes hand in hand with shade (most of the time), but in short, take your lighting, and attempt to filter it through something to make it softer—like foliage. Let’s look:
First, I placed this bride in shade to reduce harsh highlights and shadows, but I also made sure to filter the light to portray some of softest glows in the background. See how pretty it can be?
What about the dark? Well, there’s a post coming on that all for itself, but for now—find some freaking lighting! If you can see in the dark—it’s likely because light is coming from somewhere! Avoid using the flash on your phone or camera, friend. Personally, I hate that phone flash.
Here are some photos I took in low lighting:
And guess what? I didn’t pull out my flash. I didn’t need to! Instead, I knew the basics of exposure and proper focusing techniques. Read on below!
Speaking of flash—stop using it!
I think flash is severely overused and used at the wronggggg time! And, I can teach you ways to get good photos without it, so keep reading and put that freaking flash away.
Learn to focus
Whatever camera or phone you’re using, learn how to focus it. Stop simply taking photos—it’s a bad habit if you’re really hoping to improve. That little square on your phone or camera? You can move it, friend!
Also, stand still! It’s crazy how often we take photos when moving. Stop doing that, and your photos will come out a heck of a lot sharper!
Finally, briefly hold your breath when you take a photo. Breathing keeps us moving at all times, and even the slightest movement can result in blurry photos. I’ve learned to hold my breath when snapping photos—especially for particular (do not miss) moments. It’s been a game changer!
If you utilize these tips on focusing, you can snap some pretty great photos even in poor lighting and without your flash!
I have to admit that this tip is not easy to learn at first, at least it wasn’t for me. Exposure is similar to lighting, except that it is configured within your camera and adjusted by you. In bright lighting, you can adjust the exposure to make the photo darker prior to taking the photo—this is for both dslrs and smartphones. Or, you can adjust the exposure in dark lighting to brighten the photo.
However, there are always risks to adjusting exposure: including the potential for a photo to be either too dark or too bright, or having severe graininess. But in the right conditions, exposure can significantly help you capture the photo you want—without flash.
If you want to learn the ins and outs of exposure and focusing, check out my Photography 101 Course for Beginners! There, I’ll teach you all about them in a heck of a lot more detail!
Editing your photos
Everyone today edits their photos (well, just about everyone!). And I love that editing is available for the beginner and professional photographer. If you’re interested in editing your photos, you have some great options to do so:
Adobe Lightroom CC (starting at $9.99/mo): considered a professional photo editing software
Afterlight 2 ($2.99): mobile app & used for smartphone photo editing
VSCO (free): mobile app & used for smartphone photo editing
And there are plenty more options out there—these are simply some of the more popular! I utilize Adobe Lightroom to edit all of my photos, but I am a professional and I upload tens of thousands of photos to it every year. Many people simply choose to utilize a mobile app such as VSCO or Afterlight!
There are some great things you can do with an editing app or software such as:
1. Adjust exposure
2. Alter brightness and contrast
3. Enhance saturation
4. Increase sharpness
5. Crop and rotate
6. Apply filters or presets
In the future, I hope to share some ways that I personally edit my photos with you guys!
Your photos can only get better with practice. There were plenty of days that I wouldn’t take photos because I believed I wasn’t talented enough to do so, or that I would never improve. But truly, hours and hours of practice is what helped me improve in my photography, and I encourage you to do just that: practice.
Experience over photos, any day
More than any of your photo taking abilities (good or bad), I believe in experience over photos. To this day, some of my favorite photos are taken on my broken iPhone from years ago and are blurry—but they are of my husband and I when we when on a date to the lake, and I’m smiling and crying at the same time.
And few photos I’ve ever taken can replace that experience. Now, I make it a point to remember that all these years later when I’m out with my camera. It doesn’t have to be a perfect photo—and yours doesn't either.
Want to really learn the basics of photography? Head over to my free course Photography 101 For Beginners to save your seat!