You can take better photos without a big fancy camera

I’ve been doing freelance photography for about four years now, and it has changed the way I see the world. I’ve always been an imaginative and visual person, and photography has heightened that.  When I travel, and explore beautiful places at home, I notice detail I might’ve passed by years ago.

Watching movies even seems different. I say things like, “Wow, great cinematography!” or place my own ‘somehow merited evaluation’ on America’s Next Top Models’ best photo based on the angles they give the art director.

I am ALWAYS learning don’t get me wrong, but I thought I would share with you a few things that can make a better photo, whether you have a fancy DSLR or your slick iPhone (I JUST joined the iPhone world yesterday, so am very excited to explore its possibilities!)

Here are a few simple tips anyone can use to capture a better photo:

1)  A model looking up is always better than a model looking down.
A couple years ago I started shooting down on my clients, whether it meant I climbed stairs to get higher than the adults, or had the children squat down in front of me. I quickly fell in love with these shots as people’s eyes were always open, there was no double chin, and generally, the lighting on the face was always better. It adds a twinkle 😉

If you are shooting up at someone while they look down on you, generally there will be a double chin (even on the most chiselled jawline!) or the face will appear shadowed.


2)  Get angles and curves!  
This is where my America’s Next Top Model analogy comes in, and something I am working to become stronger at in my own shoots.  If you lean someone up against a wall rigidly or have them stand facing you straight on, there is no emotion and it looks far from natural. People generally need something to do with their hands.

If you have someone face left for example, and slightly turn towards you with their hand on their hip, you get more curves in your shot and likely more attitude, ‘er, emotion  😉  Think Vogue with this one.  For guys, try getting them to put a leg up, or put their hands in their pockets, or folded in front of them. Guys don’t generally know what to do with getting their picture taken, so they need a bit more help (that’s ok, that’s what us ladies are here for! 😉 ) If you have to add in multiple props like chairs, an old car or boxes, you want body angles angles angles!

3) Find some depth.
A shot taken on a road, railroad track, down a hallway, by a fenceline or pier will always give you far greater depth than against a wall. I still do the wall (looking for new locations always!), but add different elements that I will talk about later on. The further your eye can see, the better the location.

4)  As much as possible, use the law of 2/3 and don’t centre your subject.
Dramatic movies capture this well and I learned this while volunteering as camerawoman at my church. “You want the camera to be one step ahead of your subject” the director would say.  Some good white space never hurt anyone! 😉

5)  Get natural emotion, ask questions while you shoot.
This is one thing I need to do more of, but have tested it a few times. One thing I love (even outside of photography) is to hear how couples met – their love story. I find that when I ask, “How did you two meet?” they look at each other with smiles, then laugh, then look away awkwardly wondering who will tell their story …. This all makes for great raw emotion, and a chance for more candid shots that feel natural.

In working with kids, sometimes I try things like “what was your faaaaavourite thing you did this summer?” Then after they are done talking I am snapping snapping snapping as they are telling stories and smiling, and generally looking at the one they are answering!

6) Talk to your clients as you shoot.
I will admit, I still get nervous before every shoot. I SO want things to be beautiful and I don’t always know how kids will react, or who the natural posers will be. But one thing I realized lately that helped me is to tell myself, “Lani, this isn’t about you. It’s about capturing their memories and making them look and FEEL beautiful.” As I take shots, I will shout out “Beautiful!” “Work it!” “That’s the money shot!” “You’re doing awesome!” so that my clients (whether adult or child) know we are getting what they are wanting. I don’t know about you but if someone shouted out at me “Beautiful!” as I walked down the street I would walk a little taller. Aaaand probably sway my hips. Just sayin’.  The picture below is of some awesome kids that had a few minutes to just be kids. Mom and Dad were behind me and for 30 seconds we just had fun, and we were able to get different expressions and eye glances because of the talking back and forth.

6)  Dawn or dusk.
The best times to take photos are when the sun is coming up, or about 1-2 hours before it goes down. It is warmer and shines more horizontally than overhead. Overhead light (as in noon time sun) is usually more harsh and a lot harder to work with creatively. If you find yourself taking a photo in midday sun, find a shady spot as this will help capture skin tone much better.

I know that mobile photography has completely changed the landscape of our visual world, but no matter what you are shooting with, technicality doesn’t help if you can’t frame or develop a creative shot. So there is a “Readers Digest” version of some tips for taking better photos with whatever tool you have in your hand!

Because it’s not about what you have, but what you DO with what you have 😉


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