5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
Let me start by saying that while I have learned a LOT about taking photos in the past 3 years, I am by no means an expert. I’m not even a photographer, since my eyes glaze over when people start talking ISO and shutter speed. The only part of photography I actually understand is aperture, and even then I only know a small number means I get a fuzzy background and that looks fancy so, like, do that? Right?
But after owning a Nikon D90 for a while and reading a zillion articles and books and tutorials I feel like I’m qualified to give 5 tips for taking great photos even if you don’t know what you’re doing. And the top 5 things I’ve learned about photography DON’T involve super fancy camera settings or post-processing. Photoshop and Lightroom are amazing programs but if your main goal is to take better pictures of your kids – either for your blog or just for their scrapbooks – you don’t need editing software. I promise. Just be more mindful of the following things when you’re snapping away:
1. Use natural light. It’s all about the light. Yes, your camera has a flash and no, I’m not saying flash is evil. Skilled photographers can do amazing things with artificial light. But when I use flash, everyone comes out looking like a deer in the headlights and/or a flesh eating zombie so I take advantage of natural light whenever possible. I don’t mean direct sunlight – it can often be too harsh – but light coming through a window, a shady spot under a tree or that magical golden hour right before sunset are all better places to take you kid’s monthly baby photos than under your ceiling fan lights at 8 pm. (This goes DOUBLE for photos of food.)
2. Pick a great location. My couch is moss green, filthy and makes a terrible backdrop for photos. My kitchen is OK but the dark counters and wood cabinets make it a cave. The rest of my home is always a mess. But the park less than a mile from my house is gorgeous – stone pathways, arbors, fountains, lots of shade, space for playing and running and bikes. I’m not capturing our “everyday” in the sense that we are in our house but I am capturing a typical afternoon in our neighborhood. It’s easy to bring the camera along, sit in the grass and let the gingers run in circles while I mess with my settings. Having a great location makes all the rest of the tips MUCH easier.
3. Pay attention to your background. This is why you’re shooting at the park instead of in your house (as cute as my tiny gingers are in those photos, the background prevents them from ever becoming prints I hang on the wall). But it also means take three steps to your left to avoid capturing that trashcan or people scooping dog poop or a couple having a fight behind your kid (all actual things I avoided during this shoot). Even if you are in your house, do your best to get blank walls, plain cabinets and doors in the background rather than piles of brightly colored toys and laundry. You can crop in post-processing – even basic, free programs allow cropping – but these are tips for AVOIDING all of that so try to remember to look behind your kid’s adorable face.
4. Children looking at the camera are better than children not looking at the camera. I should have just called this tip “Bribery”, but that seemed crass. I take a LOT of pictures of the backs of heads, butts, shoes, etc. But when you’re trying to take memorable photos, try to get your kid’s face as much as possible. Some of the best ways to get a child to look at you are shouting, waving your arms, playing “Can you see my eye through this camera?” and promising candy/ice cream/ponies. Mostly it’s a matter of following step number 5…
5. More is more. As long as you’re shooting digital, keep shooting. At a photography class just a couple weeks ago one of the pros told us to STOP taking so many photos and really focus on getting the shots right the first time. I am definitely going to work on that…soon-ish. But if you aren’t a pro, my advice is take tons of pictures, especially of kids. You might only get a few worth saving but that’s the magic of digital – delete, delete, delete. When your kid is running away from you, shout their name and start snapping – those just-turning-around faces are great and you almost always get eye contact. The same goes for jumping, swinging, splashing, dancing, and running kids – it’s better to have too many shots to choose from than miss a moment you loved.
I’m not saying you’re going to get magazine-worthy photos from your point-and-shoot or your cell phone camera, but I wish I had known all this stuff from the beginning when I was taking pictures of Baby Evan with my Panasonic. Just remembering to set the baby down somewhere without burp cloths in the background would have made a huge difference.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll try to help or find someone to help. And feel free to link photo tips that you’ve found helpful (or written!) in the comments.
All my photos in the post are straight out of my camera (Nikon D90, 50mm 1.8f lens) – no cropping, no exposure changes, no editing. All I did was watermark and resize the files for uploading. I did use my camera’s manual settings when I shot but I do that fairly often now and still don’t get great results. These photos look nice because I took them mindfully, not because I have amazing technical skills with a DSLR.