Take Photos That Don’t Suck

Photography & Video — By on January 18, 2013 at 11:52 am

By Adria Saracino
Contributor

One of the coolest things about rapid tech advances of the past decade is the new technologies mean that we are all documentarians. We can take beautiful shots of our trips, our vacations, our friends, and we can easily share them. It’s awesome. It’s like getting to live the best part of peoples’ lives through artful photographs and videos. But you know what one of the worst things about it is? We’re all documentarians. Every last one of us.

Sometimes when I open up Facebook, it’s like someone waged a photo war all over it and the results aren’t pretty. I love my friends, I do!, but sometimes I’m left wondering why in the world they thought I’d be interested in the hundreds out-of-focus photos of a meal they had or a statue they saw. These are folks I love, but for the love of all good things, sometimes I wish someone would take their iPhones and digital cameras away from them and firmly tell them, “No more!”

We’re all guilty of participating in this sensory overload we call “social networking,” and besides, there’s more good news. You don’t have to take photos that suck. In fact, there are some easy ways to make certain that the photos you share with the world are the not-sucky, aka “good.”

Work With What You’ve Got

You don’t have to have the world’s best SLR camera to take good, solid photographs. Many smart phones these days have cameras that are perfectly capable of taking beautiful shots. The trick is to work with what you have.

If you have invested in a high quality digital camera, please sit down and read the manual. I know that that sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how often people aren’t making the most of their expensive gear.

You’ll also want to practice with your camera in a controlled setting. Set it up and practice taking shots in both the auto and manual modes under all kinds of conditions: backlight, lowlight, moving subject, flash, no flash, etc.

If you spend some time really understanding the capabilities of your camera, you’ll have a much better shot of capturing a perfect candid in real world conditions.

If you’re going to stick to taking shots with your phone camera, you’re a bit more limited in the functionality of your camera. But, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be stuck with ugly photographs. In fact, some of the best photographers I know routinely deliver up eye-catching shots that they took with their camera phones.

The trick is to utilize some of the cool apps that are available for smart phone cameras. Of course, there’s Instagram, if you like funky, old school looking shots. It’s easy-to-use and a lot of the filters can help mitigate flaws in the original photo like overexposure or poor lighting. But it’s not the only one.

Apps like VSCO Cam, Camera+, and Camera Timer! can also be useful tools in taking your photos from blah to gorgeous. Spend some time exploring them and find one or two that best compliment your photo taking style.

Finally, if you’re not going to use a tripod, you still need to take steady shots. Nothing’s worse than an otherwise beautiful photograph that’s ruined by a shaky hand. Learn how to use your body as a tripod. Hold your arms tight against your sides and use your free hand to grasp your wrist to keep it steady. Or, take advantage of anything around you that will let you rest your camera or phone on it.

Put Some Thought into Your Photos

Beautiful photographs are photos that make the eye move around the entire image. They
have depth. Take a look at this landscape photo on Shutterstock, for instance.

 

To my eye, it’s stunning. Yet, there’s hardly anything happening in it. You have some trees, a rolling meadow, and some fluffy clouds, big deal, right? But still, it is a successful, beautiful shot. That’s because this photograph has depth. There are elements in the background (the clouds), the midfield (the trees), and in the foreground (the rolling hills) that force the viewer’s eye to move about the photograph. What’s more, this photo makes great use of a little trick that photographers call “The Rule of Thirds.”

Basically, The Rule of Thirds means you imagine that your shot’s frame is broken down into 9-pane segmented frames that form 9 equally sized rectangles in three rows. Instead of putting the subject of your shot smack dab in the middle of the frame, move it off to one of the gridlines to the left or right. This will help give your photograph balance.

 

For example, in the landscape photo, you’ll notice that the trees are positioned off to the right of the frame. It makes the viewer’s eye move around the photograph and ultimately helps make something as run-of-the-mill as a copse of trees on a hillside a lot more interesting to look at.

Get Down on Your Knees

Another secret to taking beautiful photos is to incorporate some of the unexpected into them. Instead of always taking photographs from right in front of your subject, try moving around a bit. Get down on your knees or up on a chair or move off to the side.

Take a few snaps from all kinds of angles so that you can find one that really works. Your goal is to capture photographs that are dynamic, that have action and are unexpected, so don’t be afraid to look a little foolish when you’re taking your shots.

Also, remember that human subjects oftentimes look their best when the camera is angled down a bit from above, as opposed to straight on or angled up.

Don’t be Afraid to Crop Your Photos

Or the delete button. Basically, edit yourself. Not every shot is going to be perfect, so you’ll first want to spend some time editing your photos before you post them online for everyone else to see. Choose your favorites and delete the rest.

That’s right. Delete them. Sharing photographs with your friends, family, or the larger world of moments that mean a lot to you should be like taking them on a nice little canoe ride through your memories. If you just upload all 234 mediocre shots that you took of something, you’re going to end up drowning your audience in those memories rather than engaging them.

Really be mindful of what you’re presenting to your audience. Look at your photos with a keen eye. Crop photos that have extraneous details in them like some stranger’s arm or an unsightly garbage can or a stranger mugging it up in the background or what have you. Think of each photograph as an individual composition, as a piece of art, and pay attention to the elements that really add to the beauty. Don’t be afraid to throw out the rest of it.

Though we’re not all going to be the next Ansel Adams or Annie Liebovitz, it’s really not that difficult to take photos that you can be proud of. It just takes a bit of thought and an objective eye. Now get out there and fill up your Facebook feeds and Tumblrs with some amazing imagery, I’m hungry for some eye candy.

    8 Comments

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  • Travel Blog says:

    Wow, great photography advice. I’m always looking to improve my skills as a blogger and these are great tips. I’ll put them to good use :)

  • James Ward says:

    Hi Adria,

    Very Interesting post. Never ever thought of these. Would be very helpful for me.

    Thanks for sharing it.

  • Good, simple advice! These are things I’ve slowly been learning throughout the years, but it’s always good to hear them again!

  • Angela says:

    Great post. I agree with it all.

    Another good tip when editing is to make sure your horizon is even. Too many times I have seen friend’s pictures with a flat horizon but tilted. This plays tricks on your eyes.

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