Graphics is Not My Thing: Part 1: Take Better Photos

Rule of Thirds Gridlines in action. Notice how you’re drawn to her eyes and the glass on the gridlines.

Consider yourself hopeless as a photographer? Great photos are an absolute requirement for a good blog, particularly if you work with brands, but while you don’t necessarily have to be a great photographer, there are a few simple tips and steps that you can take to improve your photography and make your posts more appealing. In addition, using your own your photos gives you full creative control and removes all the headaches that comes with using other people’s work.

In part one of this series, I’m going to give you advice on how to take better photos as an amateur.

Use a good quality camera.

If your camera doesn’t take clear shots, it’s time to get another one – or upgrade your phone. Google reviews for your desired camera and pay close attention to whether or not there are things that cannot be adjusted properly.

In 2012, I won a phone. Published reviews about it said that the camera never took a clear shot – and it was true. Instead, I used my Nikon digital whenever I went to events I wanted to shoot. When seeking out a new smartphone or digital camera, be sure it has plenty of megapixels. I’m currently using a Samsung Note 3, which has a stunning 13MP rear facing camera resolution, and the clarity is almost TOO good – I can spot every crumb on my counter, even if I couldn’t see it. Other considerations include the ability to add lens, optional photo settings, and of course, budget.

In addition to looking for in-store sales, check out deal sites like for shopping.

Know how to use the options on your camera.

You can read the manual, but the best way to get to know what and how all those options do is to use them! Don’t just use “auto mode.”

Experiment first on those things that you’ll be photographing most: Outdoor shots? Kids in motion? Food or product shots? Don’t just play with the settings on the cameras dial (landscape, portrait, night shot). Open your camera’s menu and adjust different setting to compare what the various options do.

You’ll be surprised at what you discover.

Shoot without flash.

Every camera comes with flash and most are set to the default auto-flash. Early on, my photos just seemed oddly lit, but when I stopped using flash altogether, my shots got a lot better. The harsh, nonadjustable internal flash is just not a good light source. That said, lighting is critical to a clear shot so remember to always…

Light your subject well.

You can fix lighting with software, but you should take the best photo possible – and that means making sure that your subject is well lit. You can buy a light kit or make a makeshift one taking strategically positioning a small lamp near your subject. Use natural daylight when possible, because this kind of soft light can really make an image look wonderful. When considering light, something you’ll have to look out for as well is the menu option for “White Balance.”

This can be adjusted for daylight, incandescent light (light bulbs), fluorescent light, flash and more, such as cloudy, depending on your camera. Don’t use the auto option but set it to match your main light source. You’ll see notice that incandescent gives your photo bluer or “cooler” lighting while daylight is yellower or warmer. One word of warning when lighting a subject…

Watch out for glare.

This is an especially big consideration when shooting packaged products, books, plastic or any subject that does not have a matte finish. You can work around this issue without any devices by moving your light source, covering it, pulling down a light shade, rearranging your subject and angling your camera. Finally, you can buy or create a light box.

Here is a simple tutorial from One Creative Mommy for making a light box that is ideal for photographing food.

Use a plain background and base.

Make sure that your subject is in front of a plain wall in a contrasting shade (black or white works best). Also take care when placing it on a table or counter. Glass tables, granite tops and anything with peculiar grains will distract from your image or product. Remember that a high res camera will pick up stains and imperfections too. If you can’t find a surface that works for you, I recommend buying a solid light-colored tablecloth. White or yellow works very well. In addition, you can buy a cheap white cardboard backdrop at any store that sells craft and school items.

Use the “rule of thirds.”

In photography, there is a concept known as the “rule of thirds.”

This is a way to break your screen into 9 symetrical squares, like a grid. The lines are then the focal point of the photo. Try aligning interesting parts of your subject to those line intersection where possible, for example, the eyes of a subject, or placing your entire subject on a line. If your camera is not set with the gridlines on, the display or monitors settings should have a grid option.

Image by Dennis Jarvis.
Image by Dennis Jarvis.
Image by muskva.
Image by muskva.
Image by Prem Anandh.
Image by Prem Anandh.

Take way too many photos.

If you were around back in the “film” camera days, you have an appreciation for what a great gift digital cameras are. You can never take too many pictures! That means you can try all kinds of lighting options, settings, backgrounds, flash vs. no flash, object arrangements, etc. Simply keep shooting and you’ll not only discover all the options in your camera, you’ll find what works best for your different subject types. Make sure, however, to know your camera’s memory limitations, and off load (and back up) your photos regularly so you’ll have enough room for new shots.

Adjust the ISO for high motion shots.

“ISO,” is a setting for your camera’s sensitivity to light and most cameras are preset to the standard of 100. However, you may want to increase ISO for high action shots (think running child). Again, experimentation is your best way to find the optimal setting. Keep in mind, though, it may be hard to determine graininess through your small camera screen – and poor resolution cannot be easily fixed in the edit, so proceed with caution.

Use a “tripod.”

If you are mainly shooting products or stills in your home, anything stable can act as a tripod, depending on the kind of shot you are setting up. I’ve used books, boxes and tables. However, small (table top sized) tripods can be very affordable (starting around $10) and flexible ones are available to let you do things like wrap your camera around a bannister or railing to take interesting angle shots. It all depends on your need. Before investing in a tripod, make sure you have gotten the hang of taking a good shot. However, if your shots are usually shaky and it’s not your camera, a tripod will be a wise investment for you.

Becoming a better photographer, I believe, is within everyone’s grasp.

If you want to go beyond the basics and learn more, I recommend checking out Digital Photography School. If you’re more of a book learner, Photography for the Web served me well. However, if you already have a camera or a phone, learning to shoot well is something you start to do right this moment – so what are you waiting for? Get that camera out and start clicking!