Take Better Pictures: One Guaranteed Way to Improve your Photos

How can I take better pictures? I get asked this question all the time. I always feel sort of overwhelmed, and at a loss for words. Where do I start? Should I begin with exposure, composition, lighting, f-stop, shutter speed, or connection? Over Christmas especially I get asked about teaching a photography class, what camera is the best, what settings should I use, what do you do in Photoshop to make it look better, etc. I truly want to help people use their cameras to capture their memories. The problem is I can’t teach someone about photography in one conversation.  I decided I would humbly answer some questions you might have about photography on my blog. I want to emphasize the word humbly because there are millions of people who know how to explain these things better than I ever could, and believe me I’ll be directing you to them a lot.

I think the best book out there that explains your camera’s settings in a way that is easy to understand and follow is Bryan Peterson’s book Understanding Exposure. I highly recommend it. In fact all of his books are fantastic. There are a million websites with as much information as you would ever need to know. A great one with tips and tutorials is Digital Photography School and a forum with a wealth of knowledge is  I Love Photography.

I know you’re thinking  you don’t have time to read a book or a website to learn how to take pretty pictures. In fact you would rather watch the grass grow than do something so dull. You just want to use the camera you have to get better results. You are in luck because you can get beautiful photographs using the cheapest camera on the market with just a little knowledge about lighting and composition. You don’t believe me? Take a look at this fashion shoot using a cell phone camera.

People often think, “I need a better camera to make my photos look better.” While it is true that better equipment makes it easier get better results, there is so much more to it. I’ve heard it explained using the example of a great chef. He or she usually has the best knives, pots, pans, ovens, etc. to work with in their kitchen. These tools help them be more efficient, but really it’s their knowledge of food and the process of cooking that makes the food taste amazing. Even if they were given Walmart pots and pans their food would taste better than mine. If you put me in a kitchen with all of the greatest equipment I guarantee you the results would not be the same.

I’m going to start a blog series with simple, easy ways you can improve your photos. Please note these will not be ground breaking, earth shattering tips. These are just simple things you can tweak in your photos to make your pictures better and more meaningful. I don’t know how often I will do this, but hopefully on a regular basis. I recently asked what questions people had on my Facebook page and on Twitter.  I will be answering those questions first. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

So, here it goes. The number one thing you can do to improve your photos is to MOVE IN CLOSER. I am guilty of being lazy. If there’s an easier way to do something where I have to exert as little energy as possible I’m all for it, but please please, do not stand far back and take photos of your child. You really need to move in, and get down on their level to take their photo. It is the only way to get a good portrait of them. There is a huge difference, and I promise you your photos will improve dramatically if you just remember this one rule.

Just this morning I took Noah outside because that is where he is happiest, and I wanted to show you the difference it can make if you move in closer. Here is the first one. I’m standing and looking at him at my level. I see my cute little boy there in the middle, but I can hardly see him, much less see what he looks like. All I see is the mess that our yard is with all the weeds and brush. It’s embarrassing, and not a picture I would ever keep.

I moved in a little bit closer. Here he is longing for his car he sees through the fence. It’s more of a storytelling photo, but still, not what I was looking for. Plus, you can still see the mess that my yard is, and that is embarrassing.

I moved in even closer, but still on my level. He’s way to far down . I still can’t see his chubby cheeks and bright blue eyes.

So I stooped down to his level, and YES, that is how I want to see my baby. The lighting didn’t change. He’s still in the same location (you can see the white fence blurred in the background), the only thing that changed is I moved in closer and got down to his level. What a huge difference it made.

We moved around to the front of the house by the garage. I stooped down to his level again and got his attention. I like the leading lines of the garage and drive way that brings the eye to him, but I still think it would be better if I moved in a little closer.

We enjoyed a fun game of peek a boo with the side of the house while I moved in a little closer. It’s not perfect, but I like it with less drive way, and less distraction. It’s clear he’s the star of the show.

We eventually made our way to the back where Noah’s favorite outside toy is. This snapshot is simply not interesting. It’s poorly composed. Most of the picture is taken up by the yard. That beautiful block wall, and brick patio (try not to be jealous of our outside oasis), and the grass fill the space. What does that kid look like?  What is the point of this photo? Are we supposed to look at the yard or the car, or the kid?

When I move in, stoop down to his level, and get his attention the point is so much more clear.

Don’t get me wrong there are times when you want to take in the whole scene and move back. If you are taking photos of a group, or the whole room is important to your photograph please move back. If you are just trying to take a picture of that cute toddler’s face, move in closer. This does 2 things. It makes the child the focus of the photo, and removes the distracting background that competes for your attention.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

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