Episode 22 – Take Better Photos

Hello All! So I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get to this episode, I mean it seems like a logical starting point being that I am a PHOTOGRAPHER, but whatever, here we are, Episode 22 and I want to give you some of my best tips and tricks to take better photos – with a camera, or on your phone, for your business or for your social media, or even of your family. Whatever you want to accomplish you can use these tips to create better images!

Ok so I need to preface this by saying that I 100% believe whole heatedly in hiring a photographer. Obviously… it’s what I do. But I don’t just say that because I AM a photographer, I say it because I believe so strongly in what we do, and in hiring professionals for the important things in life – and for me imaging, preserving memories and presenting a polished and professional look for my brand are high on my list of importance.

There are also moments when you can get away with doing it yourself or passing the camera to a friend and moments where you really shouldn’t. Newborn photography? Don’t attempt it yourself. First of all it’s really uncomfortable to try to photograph your own newborn while you are recovering. I speak from experience… it’s not super fun… but more importantly there are safety risks if you don’t understand posing and it isn’t something you can go back and re do if you decide in 3 months that what you created wasn’t up to scratch. Too late. Baby doesn’t look like that anymore. Same goes for your wedding. You don’t get a do over (at least hopefully not) for a wedding, so hire a professional who you trust, click with a love the other work they have done.

For business and personal branding it is obviously best to be as professional as you can and put your best foot forward. It is hard to take someone seriously when they don’t present a polished appearance – be it with their copy, their website or the images they display. 

So if you can hire a photographer do it. Find someone amazing, whose work you love and who you click with and have them help you to create your vision – for branding, for products or of your family. (And if it’s for your family then you REALLY need to hire someone, so that you can be in the pictures too! We get professional family photos done at least every other year so that our different stages are beautifully documented and so that I can show up in our family photos too! And those photos are hung all over the house, reminding our kids that we value them, and we love them.)

I get it though, sometimes hiring a photographer isn’t in the budget, you are on a super tight deadline for a project and don’t have time to hire a pro, or maybe you do work with professional photographers but you want to be able to capture quality images between sessions. Totally valid, and that’s where this episode comes in!

If you are taking images for your social media or your business you are going to want to create a style so that you can develop some form of consistency. To some degree you can accomplish this by using filters in simple photo editing software or through Instagram’s built in options, but if your photos are all over the map with lighting, colour casts and focus issues then its going to be really hard to get it all to look cohesive.

If you aren’t sure what you want your style to look like, take a minute and scroll through your social media, or look at who you follow on Instagram. There’s a good chance that there will be some consistency to what appeals to you. Do you prefer dramatic lighting, soft and airy? Dark and moody? Do you have a natural preference for cooler or warmer images? These are all indicators that can help you determine what style you are aiming for when shooting your own images.

If you are looking to create images for your own personal use such as of your kids, or your pets, or other family members then you have the luxury of being able to throw consistency out the window and have some fun being creative – but when it is for a brand you are going to want to make sure that it is recognizable. I’m willing to be that there are people or companies on your social media where you can tell it is their image before even looking at the caption or the name of the person posting it – just because they are consistent in the look and style that they put out in their image.

Once you know your style, or are working towards that, one of the most important things you need to consider is lighting. Lighting can make or break an image. It is more important than almost any other factor you are going to be working with. Make sure that the area you are working in has enough light to work with and look at where the light is coming from. If you are photographing a person or animal you want to make sure that the light is coming from above them, or to the side. Never from underneath. Remember sitting around the campfire, telling ghost stories and putting a flash light under your chin? Yeah, not the most flattering look. You want to somewhat mimic natural light, casting down on your face from above or from above and a bit to the side. This is what is going to be most flattering in 99% of cases, especially with people and animals, but with most other things as well. It is how our eyes are trained to recognize things.

Make sure that your image is well lit. Dark and moody is fine, but only when it’s intentional. Underexposed, as in being darker than it should have been, just looks bad and statistically people are more likely to just scroll on by a darker, under exposed image than one that is well lit. People don’t want to strain to make out the details, they just want to look at a beautifully exposed image.

If you are going outside to take pictures then you are likely going to have the best luck either in the morning within the first few hours of the sun coming up, or in the evening in the last few hours before the sun drops. This is a bit counter intuitive, most people who aren’t professional photographers think that they should go out when it is super bright and sunny, but the truth is that the sun is way too harsh at high noon, and you are looking for a softer, more evenly dispersed light that will flatter your subject. You will also get richer, crisper colours when the light is softer, instead of having more washed out colour in the middle of the day. Now obviously, as with anything there are exceptions to every rule, and a REALLY good professional photographer CAN take gorgeous photos even at high noon, but it is a lot harder, takes a lot more skill and why make more work for yourself?

If you are inside then you will want access to window light if at all possible. Position your subject in front of the window, and then play around to see what you like best. When photographing people it is pretty standard to have the light coming across from the side of their face (so have them standing with one side to the window instead of facing it, or turning their back to it), to get soft shadows on one side of their face. But again, in photography rules are made to be broken so you can try all different angles to see which you like best. If you find that the light is too harsh, creating hard shadows instead of soft, flattering ones then you can throw a sheer drape in front of the window which will act a bit like a big softbox, diffusing the light and making it more flattering.

Last tip on lighting – if you are photographing people, try having them face away from the light source so that they aren’t squinting in every shot. If you are using a phone, tap on the face of the person on the image – it will then focus on their face, but it will also automatically change the exposure on the image to make sure that their face is bright enough. If you are using a digital SLR then flip change the metering to spot metering and meter for the persons face. This will give you a well exposed subject. You might get a slightly too bright background, but that is ok, the subject is more important!

The next factor to consider is the background. Is the background appealing? Are there a lot of distractions? How is the light falling? Is it even and consistent, or super spotty and contrasty? When you are looking through the viewfinder or at your phone screen, take a look around the background of your images before clicking to take the picture. There have been many a beautiful photo ruined by something distracting or weird in the background. I actually know someone’s who was so delighted after his son was born he snapped a couple of pictures and immediately sent them to all of their family, friends, and co workers… Shortly after he noticed that while the photos were of the baby, his wife was in the background. Not sitting and smiling while staring at their little bundle of joy either… No, she was spread eagle being stitched up by the doctor and this well intending husband sent his entire contact list a picture of his wife’s crotch. Don’t’ be that guy… but also don’t let you gorgeous photo be ruined by garbage on the grass, or a bright blue port a potty that could have been avoided if you had been paying attention. 

Like wise, pay attention to the composition of your image. Meaning, where is the subject within the image. Are their arms or legs cut off? The top of their head? Are they at the very bottom of the image and the rest is meaningless background? Again, rules can be broken when you know what you are doing but generally you want to avoid cutting your subject off anywhere that is a joint – so if you are going to crop their arm out of an image do it at the forearm – not the wrist or elbow, and try to keep their head completely in the frame. Try as well to have your subject fill the frame, unless the background is relevant. As a loose general rule, the face should be in the top 3rd of the image, you don’t want to have your main subject as a tiny spec in the bottom corner because the image wasn’t framed well!

Next we have focus… oh man, this one is right up there with lighting, and potentially even more important. Your images need to be sharp and crisp, and in focus! The background does not, but the subject should always be in focus. If you are using a phone you can get you image in focus by touching the screen where the subject is showing up. The phone is smart and will then try to keep that as the main place to focus and to set its lighting and colour for. If you are using a DSLR then you can select the focus point you want to use and place it on the subject, in the case of a person, the subject’s eyes. Most DSLR’s now have the option to move the focus points around the frame, allowing you to compose the image as you wish, but still keeping your subject nicely in focus.

Before we go on I want to take a quick second to thank one of the show’s awesome sponsors, Audible and tell you about a special offer they have for the Updraft Audience! Audible is literally the ONLY way I am able to get through a book these days. I am die hard lover of reading, but since starting a business and having a family I just don’t have much time to spend on it. That, or I carve the time out, get cozy in my bed to read and wake up the next morning. Audible has given me that love back though, because I can listen on the go! I listen while walking the dog, while driving, even while taking a bath. Now I can take in a few books a week – instead of the measly 2 – 3 a year I used to do. If you haven’t tried Audible yet I highly recommend heading over to www.audibletrial.com/updraft to take advantage of their offer to the Updraft Audience – a free months trial AND get your first book at no charge. My most recent favourite was the Handmaid’s Tale, which I followed in quick succession by the sequel Testaments. Couldn’t stop listening, and as it so often is, the book was way better than the show! Go check it out at audibletrial.com/updraft.

Other factors that will affect your camera or phone’s ability to get sharp images are lighting, movement, and depth of field. I’m not going to go too far into depth of field as its more advanced than we have time for today, but basically that is what determines how much of the image is in focus. You know when you see a beautiful image of a person in a field, and their face is in focus but everything else is blurred? They do that by using a shallow depth of field. Sometimes when you are a using a super shallow depth of field it can be a bit tricky to get exactly what you want in focus. If this is the case you might need to bring that depth of field up a bit until you are a bit more confident.

The two that I want to talk about pertaining to focus, are light and movement. Again, light is going to be a key factor here. Here’s how the camera works. The shutter opens for a moment, allowing light to pass through and reach the sensor, where the image is created. The more light available, the less time the shutter has to stay open in order to create the image. The less light available the longer that shutter has to stay open. When the shutter opens and closes very quickly (we are talking a 500th of a second or faster) it freezes movement. So if the camera was moving slightly as you breathe or your hands shake slightly then it will not affect the image at that shutter speed. If it is darker and your camera has to keep that shutter open longer, then the tiniest of movements will affect the image, causing it to be less sharp or even blurry.

If the subject is moving then this compounds it. To make things even more complicated, sometimes you WANT some movement to come through in the image. Like if your child is a spinning in circles in a field of daisies and you want to see a bit of movement blur then that is great, but if your toddler is always on the go and you just want a shot of their perfect little face then you are going to want to freeze that movement for a crisp portrait.

Now obviously there is more that goes into than that, but that is the basics of how light and movement can affect your images. With a DSLR you have much more control over how the camera gets enough light. If you need a faster shutter speed that you can use based on the light available then you can open up the aperture, or turn up the ISO brighten things up and make it work. You can play around with it on manual until you get the right settings.

With a phone you are going to be more limited in what you can control as far as settings, so you need to make sure that you have ample light to work with in order to get crisp clear images. If you have to shoot in an area that is darker, try putting your phone one a stand (or propping it against some books) and using the times so that there is no motion from your hands and body as the images snaps. Make sure that your subject is very still as well and it will help to cut down on blur and give you a sharper image.

One more factor to consider when creating your images is colour. Are the colours true to life and accurate, or did the camera get confused. Our phones are getting better and better at adjusting and doing the work for us, but it’s not always perfect. Different lights have different colour temperatures, and this can affect your photos by making them appear warmer and more yellow, or cooler with more blue. Most of the time the camera in your phone is going to adjust for this, and if it looks off on the screen then clicking on the subject or the person’s face will help it to get it right. If that isn’t working try moving to a different spot. If there are lots of different light sources for example it can mess with the phone’s ability to get it right. Artificial lighting, and natural lighting for example are very different in camera when showing up on a camera, so if both of those types of lighting are hitting your subject at the same time the phone’s camera will likely have a very hard time figuring out what settings it should be at.

In a digital SLR you will have more control. There are often settings for different lighting situations right on the camera, or if you want to get super fancy you can adjust the Kelvin, which is the light temperature, to make sure the colours in your image are true to life. I won’t go too far into it on the podcast but as a basic guideline the higher the number in Kelvin the warmer the image, and the lower the number the cooler the image. So if you snap a picture and it looks like it has a blue tone to It then you would increase the Kelvin, and vice versa if the image were to come out to warm. There are so many tips and tricks and products you can use to get the colour right in camera, but hopefully that will get you started. 

Now get out there, take some pictures, use these tips and tricks will help you to create better images – be it for work or for preserving memories. Feel free to share them with me by tagging me on Instagram or sending them to me via email or in a DM, I would love to see your progress! And, as I said before I ALWAYS recommend hiring a professional whenever possible. A good photographer will take the stress out of the situation, and provide you with high quality images which is well worth the cost of hiring them!  

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