When You Take Your Own Photos, Think Before You Shoot

July 10, 2013

Digital cameras are giving people a false sense of security.

They create the illusion that all you have to do to produce photos for your Web site, your newsletter and other communications is to point and click.

Point and click and you’ll produce a photo, but it’s unlikely to be very good.  Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to improve the quality of your photos.

You’re still better off hiring a professional photographer, but not everyone can afford one – at least not for every occasion.  So if you must do it yourself, at least do it right.  The following will help:

Cellphones are for making phone calls.  You wouldn’t use your camera to make phone calls.  Don’t use your cellphone to take photos.  Cellphone optics have improved quite a bit, but photos taken with cellphones typically do not have high enough resolution for use in print.  Buy a camera.

Pay attention to lighting.  Professional photographers often spend hours setting up lighting to take a single photo.  A built-in flash is not going to produce the same results.  Reading the directions and learning to adjust the flash based on the photo you’re taking will help, but not much.

Whenever possible, take photos outdoors, using available light.  If you’re taking a portrait, never line the person up against a wall.  You’ll get dark shadows behind the person’s head.  The photo will be unflattering, to say the least.

What you see is what you get.  Take time to compose the shot.  Look carefully at what you’re shooting before you take the photo and ask yourself a few questions: Is there anything in the photo that detracts from what you’re trying to photograph?  Would it look better if you removed anything or rearranged the people in the photo?

Take time to remove any clutter, whether it’s in the foreground or the background of your photo.

Whenever possible, avoid group photos.  Most newspapers, for example, will never publish photos with more than four or five people in them.

If you must take a group photo, line everyone up in two or three rows.  While you should take multiple shots of any photo, it’s especially important to do so when you’re taking a group photo.  If you take a dozen shots of the group, if you’re lucky, you’ll get one where everyone’s eyes are open.

Check out the photos you’ve taken while everyone is still posed.  That way you can make adjustments and take more photos if necessary.  The people being photographed may be momentarily inconvenienced, but not as much as if you need to get them together again for another photo session.

Don’t say “cheese.”  Except in a group shot or a portrait, it’s usually better not to have the subject looking at the camera.  Try to get your subjects to act naturally.  If they act like stiffs, they will look like stiffs.

Follow these tips and you should be able to produce reasonable quality photos.  But if you want professional-quality photos, hire a professional.

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