Quick Guide to Taking Better Photos
by Marilyn Lyons
In my business I see a lot of snapshots taken by
ordinary people. They aren't professional photographers.
The "Average Joe" is usually just trying to record a
moment or subject, not win a prize in a photo contest
for technical excellence. However, here is something
very important to remember before taking that
spare-of-the-moment picture. You won't be able to take
that exact image again. That moment in time will be
gone. So, it's best if you record that image the best
you can at the time you hear the click of the shutter.
Call it an insurance policy. Better to do it correct
when taking the photo now than years later saying
..."what if" or "I wish I had..."
These tips are very simple things to do and to make a
habit of when taking pictures. If you are already doing
them...great. You probably will have fewer "second
thoughts" years from now. However, if you think your
photos are lacking "something", these tips could be the
key to saying "wow" today and tomorrow. I guarantee you
will see major improvement in your photography, if you
follow these steps.
---Move in as close to the subject(s) as possible.
Unless you're taking a scenic shot, a lot of background
in the picture is not important. (more about that later)
We want to see the person/subject, not the trees or
grass in the background. When looking at the printed
photo later, we want the eyes to be drawn to the
subject(s). The subject should be the focus of the
picture. Also, unless what the person is wearing is
important, it it not necessary to include the subject
from head to toe in the picture. You'll be able to get
much closer if you take the picture with the subject(s)
shown, at most, from the waist-up.
---How you hold the camera, vertical (up & down) or
horizontal (left to right), will help in framing the
subject. This will also help you to get as close as
possible. Can you get the subjects in the camera's
viewfinder when holding it vertically. If so, that's how
you should take the photo. If not, switch to horizontal.
Usually, in general, 1 or 2 people should be taken
vertically. Three or more people should probably be
taken horizontally. This is probably the most common,
but easily correctable, problem with snapshots that I
see. If there is one person in the photo, rarely should
the picture be taken horizontally. Yet, I see it a lot.
It's understandable if the person is standing in the
Grand Canyon. That's a wide scenic view and one that you
want to include in the image. But, that is rare. Here is
another important tip concerning positioning of the
camera. Move the camera before you move yourself. If you
are the photographer, stand 5-10 feet from the subject(s)
and position the camera in the vertical or horizontal
position following the guidelines stated above. If you
can't fit everyone in the frame, then take a step(s)
backward. Remember, we're trying to be as close as
possible to the subject(s). Experiment with
repositioning the camera before repositioning yourself!
---Too much needless background in a photo is a common
problem with snapshots. Moving in closer and positioning
the camera correctly can eliminate needless background.
But, how do you decide when to curb it and when to
expand it? Ask yourself these questions. Is the
background unique or interesting? Does the background
help in telling a story about the subject or what was
happening at the time the picture was taken? If you are
taking a picture of a clown in front of a building or in
front of trees and bushes, the background is not unique,
nor is it telling a story about the clown. So, move in
close and take the picture vertically. However, if the
clown is standing in the middle of the midway of a
carnival or circus, that is very appropriate to show in
the background. It helps to tell a story about the clown
and it's interesting. It also tells a story about the
photographer. It lets us know that the photographer was
at a carnival or circus. This would be an ideal
situation to step back and allow more of the background
to be seen in the viewfinder. Use this tip when
considering where to take your picture and how to
position the camera.
---By following the tips above, you will not only see
more appealing photos but it will also be a major
benefit if you should decide you want any of your photos
enlarged in the future. You might even find it more cost
effective. Here's how. A top reason why a lot of people
have a photo enlarged, is because they want to see the
subject(s) bigger and have needless background
eliminated. An issue that wouldn't be an issue if the
steps outlined above were followed. If when taking your
photos you move in closer and position the camera
correctly, vertical vs horizontal, (A) The
image/subjects will be closer and easier to see,
therefore enlarging may not be necessary. (B) If you
want a photo enlarged, you probably will find it will
not have to be enlarged as much to get the size of
image/subject you desire.
---Let's debunk a myth! The best pictures are those
taken in bright sunlight. Right? That's WRONG! The best
lighting conditions in which to snap an outdoor photo
is...overcast skies. Bright sunlight, especially from an
afternoon summer sun, washes out color on the subject
and causes upheaval with your camera's eye or lens. For
more appealing skin tone and color saturation, take your
outdoor photos on an overcast day or in the shade. A
trick that professional photographers use when shooting
in these conditions is to use flash on a low setting.
The flash adds a little light to brighten the scene
(highlights) and add "catch lights" (those little white
dots) to the eyes. A yellow filter can be attached to
the front of the flash to add a bit of yellow light,
mimicking the sun. The flash will also be very
beneficial if the subject is wearing a hat or cap with a
brim. The hat can overshadow the eyes and top of the
face. By using flash, you'll reduce the shadow by
throwing light under the brim.
Speaking of the sun...don't pose your subject(s) facing
the sun (causes eye squinting and wrinkles) or with
their back to the sun (causes lighting issues) .
Position the subject with the sun to their side.
A GOOD sun in which to photograph outdoor pictures, is a
late afternoon autumn sun. The deeper yellow lighting
adds warmth to a photo. Done correctly, the lighting
alone can make a photo extraordinary.
---Want to eliminate "red eye"? The scary, glowing "red
eye" affect is caused when the flash is reflected in the
eye and bounces back to the camera's lens. I won't bore
you with a physics lesson, but that reflection bounces
back in an almost straight and level line from the eyes.
So, if your flash is attached to the camera, do not take
the picture on the same level as your subject's eyes.
(A) Have the person look towards the camera but not
directly at it. (B) The photographer should move the
camera slightly above or below the subject's eye level.
If your camera has a detachable flash, hold the flash
above or to the side of the camera when snapping the
Photographing animals without "red eye" is more
difficult because you can't control where they look and
usually have to snap it quick. Suggestions
include...photographing them in action and not in a
posed position, therefore their eyes more than likely
won't be directed towards the camera. Secondly, you can
try quickly moving away from the animal's eye level a
split second before snapping the shutter. But, that is
dangerous because you may have "camera shake" when
clicking the shutter, which will lead to a fuzzy image.
About the Author
Marilyn Lyons is an awarding winning photographer with a
Photographic Technology degree from the Ohio Institute
of Photography & Technology. She has worked with a
variety of photographers and owned her own studio. She
currently is a veteran of the photo sculpture industry,
working with photographers and the general public to
produce stand-up 3-d statues of their photography. You
can check-out a gallery of her creations at