Photography Series: How to take a better photo

 

Last week we kicked off the photography series with some thoughts and helpful tips on what to look for in a camera, as well as a rundown of our favorite lenses we use on the reg.(if you missed it - that post HERE!)

Now we are getting into my second favorite topic: HOW to take a better photo (my #1 favorite is Lightroom and post processing!... more on that next week!)

 I wanted to write this from a different point of view than something you would see in a typical photography course. I'm assuming if you are reading this, you are not interested in becoming a professional photographer, (and if so, my tips probably won't help you!) but rather just looking to take better photos - whether you are just an Instagram fanatic, a blogger, or someone who just wants to take good photos of your family and life around you. I personally have learned all I have learned by just the act of doing, experimenting, and lots and lots of studying others for inspiration. Here are all my favorite tips and tricks!

 

What to consider in order to take a better photo

 

Light:

Light is the number one factor in taking a good photograph. The hour after the sun comes up, and the hour before it goes back down again (these times are known as the “golden hour”) are our ideal times to shoot, as daylight is warmer and softer than in other times of day. Some of our favorite photos have come out of Golden Hour, and although it's such a small fraction of the day, and sometimes hard to schedule around, it has always produced outstanding shots.With that being said, we all know that life also happens in the other 22 hours of the day, and so this never stops us from shooting in other lighting circumstances as well. I believe you still can take a good photo at any time of day as long as you know how to battle whatever it is that is going working against you. If you aren’t able to catch golden hour, don’t fret - work with what you got!:

ways to make the most of your lighting circumstance:

midday - harsh direct lighting

Mid-day is the hardest time to capture a good photo as the sun is directly above you and creates harsh and sometimes unflattering shadows and angles. If you are going to shoot midday- shooting IN shaded areas can make shadows your friend. Shooting in a shadowed area such as the side of a building - allows the sunlight to be diffused from above, and evens everything out a little bit. Watch out for partial shadows though - having your subject half in and half out of a shadow causes body parts to disappear and is overall just unflattering! Quick note on using a flash on your camera - there are times when a flash is called for if you absolutely need to shoot something that is in the dark but try to stay away! Don’t have that flash on outside OR inside if there is decent lighting.

Above is a set of photos we took when Jett was just 6 weeks old! On the left was shot midday -in direct sunlight. On the right we moved into the shadow of a tree (see on the left that little patch of shade?). The light is smoother and more flattering. Once I put the photo into Lightroom, I was able to brighten it up and the photo really popped.

inside-day

Try to move close to a window or near natural light as much as possible. We can get great shots inside our house when all the windows are open and the sunlight is pouring in. When light is scarce, you can bump up the ISO on your camera settings to increase your camera's light sensitivity. Just be aware that the higher the ISO, the poorer quality of photo, so if you are in a very low-lit area, your photos may turn out more grainy and less crisp.

levis high rise jean and striped top

Early mornings and evenings (golden hour)

 During golden hour I have two favorite ways to work the light

The first is backlit. This can give your photo a warm and moody ambiance. Here you (or whatever the subject) want to be between the sun and the camera- with your back to the sun- (which CAN create dark and underexposed faces, however as long as it's not TOO dark, I usually am able to adjust the shadows in post processing within Lightroom)

The photo on the left is straight off the camera- during golden hour with backlighting as you can see the sun is directly behind my head. Because the light source is behind us, our faces and bodies are too dark. Pulling out the shadows and bumping up the exposure a bit in Lightroom ensures you can see our faces!

The second is when the sun is low enough (toward the very end of golden hour) that the light is soft, glowy... and won’t be directly in your eyes so you don’t have to worry about squinting. This sliver of time is very short so when we have it we try and take advantage and just snap away!

pinstriped summer dress

If you are shooting closer toward the beginning of Golden Hour, (if the light is in your eyes) try shooting with the sun coming from one side while your subject is slightly angled toward the sun.

meg cusick photography series

Angles

Some of my favorite shots are the unexpected ones - A different angle or point of view. - something that just makes you think "that is interesting!" Instead of just shooting the same boring shot - straight on, with the person or thing right in the middle of the frame - don't be afraid to get on the ground - get on a stool to shoot from above, or get in close to get some detailed shots. Use a high aperture (high aperture = LOW F stop. so on the settings of your camera decrease the F stop to a 1.4 or 2.8) to capture a very small focal point - the "bokeh" effect is what happens when the background (whatever isn't apart of your focus) is soft and blurry, and is an easy way to create an interesting photo. (The iphone camera's "portrait mode" is artificially creating this affect when you use this function.)

Composition

Composition is one of those things I feel comes with time. The more I shoot, the more I am better able to "compose" a good photo. I learned about the rule of two-thirds and the fundamentals of framing way back when I first started with photography but until I had the camera in my hands and kept shooting, shooting, shooting - it didn't really come together for me. (Honestly, it STILL is a work in progress!) However, there are a few important pieces to talk to that can help from the get go that are pretty easy to remember.

Watch out for awkwardly placed objects

Be on the lookout for anything around you that could distract you from your main subject. A distracting street sign, trash on the ground, or a tree placed right behind you that makes it look like its coming out of your head!

On the left you can see that the bar on the building behind me looks to be coming right out of my shoulder and although its still a good photo, that bar can be a little distracting. The photo on the right, I moved over a little bit and now the bars are helping to frame the photo rather than distract your eye.

try framing

Framing is done by using the objects around you to create more aesthetically pleasing shot. Leading lines from the sidewalk, the skyline, the edge of a building, etc can help draw the eye to you as the subject of the photo. This is one of those things that when I am shooting others I don't seek out intentionally, but its something I land on because it "feels good" to the eye.

On the left both the chairs and the railing do a great job leading your eye to me in the middle of the photos. On the right the bench and edge of the building do the same.

Posing

If you are out taking planned photos, and you weren't a model in your past life - posing can be difficult, awkward and scary! I am by no means a Gisele Bündchen, but I have come a longgg way in becoming more comfortable in front of the camera. A few things that have helped me feel more at ease: 

have fun with it!

Bring a bluetooth speaker and play music to loosen up a bit! If I go out to shoot with friends, we always are playing music to lighten the mood and it always helps produce the most natural photos.

Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself, and STOP worrying about what others think. When I first started blogging in 2014, we lived in Boston, and we were frequently taking street style shots in busy places where everyone around me would be watching in. It terrified me. So much so that it was one of the reasons I stopped for so many years and now I regret it everyday! Now I finally feel (MOST of the time) completely comfortable if others are watching in. They probably will look at you for a few minutes and go on with their busy lives. It's not worth the worry!

sometimes the most awkward poses turn out the best

If it feels weird, there's a good chance it might look totally natural and normal - you never know! This is the great thing about digital cameras is that you can afford to have A LOT of bad shots mixed in with a handful of good ones. We will shoot anywhere between 75-150 photos for a blog post and most of the time I have a hard time whittling it down to 4 or 5. That's like 2-4% of the total! So just keep snapping and experimenting with your poses, you are bound to find a few that turn out.

 

get posing inspiration via Pinterest

I have a few boards that I keep private on my Pinterest account with all the photos I have saved that have given me posing inspiration. If I am feeling totally uninspired while we are out shooting, I pull up these boards on the app on my phone (I also have some poses I have saved on the bookmark function of Instagram) just to get me started and flow from there. If I get stuck, I pull it out again.

Thoughts on shooting by a wall

Walls are a big thing these days with bloggers and instagrammers. A wall can be a good blank canvas if you want to make YOURSELF (or your family, or your child, or whatever is your subject) the center of attention with no distractions. I am always torn on the way shots against a wall turn out. It CAN really flatten the photo as it takes away some depth by having just a single plane of objects. If the lighting is good - not too harsh or directly above you, I have really loved some of the "wall photos" that we have shot. However there also are a lot that I was disappointed in how flat and boring they turned out. If we DO shoot by a wall, I PREFER to shoot at an angle - giving you more depth while breathing a little more life into it. All in all, I think if you like shooting against a wall - shoot against a wall! Again, just know how to make it work for you by knowing how to work with the lighting circumstance you are in.

The left photo was taken when the lighting was lower in the sky and coming from the opposite side of the building. We also shot it at an angle to create angled leading lines which is more inviting to the eye. The photo on the right- you can see the shadow that was cast, and me squinting as a result of the harsh lighting. In addition, the wall just looks a bit dingy and blown out due to the direct mid-day sun.

Here you can see the same outfit - one shot up against a wall, and the other just in the open air. The open air photo allows for some bokeh effect, while you kind of remove that element up against a wall.

 

JUST BE NATURAL!

Yes, we do quite a bit of scheduled and posed photoshoots, and I have enjoyed that challenge of planning out all the details - how I want to pose, what exactly I want to capture, and where. And during those planned shoots it has helped me learn A LOT about photography - light, composition, etc. that shooting freely may have not have. But honestly, the best photos are ones that you capture REAL LIFE in. I am notorious for always feeling like if its not planned - that it won't turn out good. But MOST of the time, I am happily surprised at how great a totally unscripted photo is. Take your camera with you everywhere and just snap away. Years down the road when you have look back on those memories frozen in time, you will never regret it!

Meg & Brandon Positano

 

And last but not least…. Learn to love the process!

I am my own biggest critic. When I first started Alexander-Alexandra, I wanted to shoot photos like my favorite fashion bloggers from the get-go. I would get frustrated if they didn’t turn out the way I had imagined. Even now, I will look back at photos I shot a month ago that at the time I thought they were good, but when I see them again, think "oh they could be so much better". I am constantly reminding myself to enjoy the process and that the only way I will get better is to continue to shoot. Everyone starts somewhere, and it can only get better with time!

Next week we are talking EDITING! Lightroom & my favorite mobile apps! Sign up for my newsletter to get all the photography series blog posts straight to your inbox!