Most people are not very good at taking photos. I know this because I live with someone who can actually take good photos and often points out, with a perfect mixture of annoyance and indifference, all the photos with terrible composition as I scroll through my Instagram feed.
Here’s the thing about great photography: it takes intention and an eye for detail that most people miss. That’s a very complicated way of saying that your photos should look nice and they should say what you mean for them to say. Even the simplest photo, whether of a birthday cake or a person at their desk, should be taken with that kind of awareness.
Photography for business is no different. Whether you recognize it or not, pictures create a mood, they deliver information, and they tell a story. When you take a photo for your company to post on social media, you are giving information about your brand to your audience. And the information should speak well of your brand and remain consistent with how your brand is communicated.
Let’s face it—not everyone is going to magically be a professional photographer just because we need to post something to our company’s Facebook page. But that’s okay. Most audiences don’t need brands to deliver perfectly edited and stylized photos for their social pages. What’s more important is that they look nice, intentional, and clearly say what needs to be said.
With that in mind, here are ten quick tips to make your pictures look better.
1.Use the best camera available
For starters, let’s talk about your phone because you’re likely taking this photo on your phone. For the last decade, smartphone makers have basically discarded the idea of creating a better phone. The aim has been to create a better interface, a robust suite of apps, and, in many cases, create a better camera. Unless you’re a professional photographer, a smartphone is likely the only camera you’ll need.
When you are taking a photo for your social channels, make sure you are using the best camera available to you. If you know a coworker has a more recent phone than yours, ask if you can use it—don’t be afraid to ask, you work together!
In general, a phone made within the last three years is going to have a better camera than one made more than five years ago. And do not use a flip phone. For the love of all that is sacred, do not use a flip phone.
In photography, the thing you are taking a photo of is called a subject. A subject could be a person, an item on your desk, a building, or a bug on the sidewalk. If you can snap a photo of it, it can be a subject. And too often a bad photo could have been a great photo if the camera were closer to the subject.
If your subject is a person, don’t be afraid to get up in their business. I mean, be respectful, but don’t think you need to stand across the room from them. Stand a few feet away from their face and take the picture at eye level. If your subject is sitting, crouch down or sit, too.
Your subject may be a different height than you, so you may need to get low or stand on something (pick a stable object) to get higher. Whatever the case, a photo taken at eye level will help your cause.
Try to avoid using your camera’s zoom feature. This will often hurt the quality of your photo. For best results, physically move your body closer to the subject.
3. Check your focus
Many potentially great photos are ruined because of a blur. Luckily, smartphone makers have made this issue very easy to correct. Because your whole screen is a preview of the photo, just tap on the subject you wish the photo to focus on, and the lens will automatically try to adjust. Also, you can lock focus by holding your finger down on the subject on your screen for a few seconds.
Lighting can be a factor in finding focus, so be conscious of your light source when you’re out there shooting.
4. Know your light source
Speaking of lighting, it’s super important to account for the way light is affecting your photo. But before we move on, check the brightness of your phone. For the best results, you will want to have an even look to your photo, so when taking a picture, keep the brightness indicator near or slightly above the mid-point.
In most cases—I want to say all, but you never know—you want your subject facing a light source. For example, if you’re taking a photo outside, your most significant light source will be the sun. In this case, you will want the sun to be shining down on the front of your subject, not behind them.
If the light source is behind them, that means the light is facing you and probably darkening the subject. And remember that focus tip? If the light source is behind the person you are taking a picture of, your phone is probably having a hard time focusing on their features.
Whenever possible, use natural light to brighten your photos. Stand in a room with big windows—or any windows—or take a second to go outside. If natural light is not an option, say you’re in a basement, then you may have to try a few things out. If you have overhead lights, don’t have your subject stand directly beneath the light as that will cause shadows or wash them out. Have your subject stand back from the light source.
Another trick: if the lighting is not very good, try having someone use their phone’s flashlight to create a light source. Just make sure you are adding light and not creating more shadows to combat.
In most cases, and this is important, you will want to turn off your phone’s flash. Many times, the built-in flash will only cause more issues with the photo in the way of bright spots and harsh shadows. For that reason, try to use natural light or the lights in the room to brighten your subject.
5. Avoid clutter
Here’s a really simple tip: clean up the place. It can take some effort, but add some order to the madness by taking a moment to simplify the amount of stuff in your photo. If you can’t clean, try to move your subject to an area that isn’t so busy or cluttered.
I’m not saying that your photo area needs a pure white background, but give some thought to how much visual information you’re providing in the image and how it may enhance or distract from the subject.
6. Don’t push people against a wall
You’re not taking an ID photo or a mugshot. Let your subject have some breathing room by giving them enough space to stand naturally and not so stiff. If you are shooting a portrait, consider taking it in a more interesting position, maybe at their desk or outside. If you need to use a wall, have your subject stand a few feet from it, so the picture has some depth. But in general, avoid pushing people against a surface; it often gives an impression of being cramped—no one wants to look cramped.
7. Stay parallel
Remember that bit about getting at eye level with your subject? Staying parallel to your subject is like getting at eye level. The horizon, wall and ceiling divisions, trees, and building—all these things create lines in your photo, and you will want to pay attention to the direction they are running and how it relates to your subject. When shooting outside, make sure the horizon is parallel to the top and bottom of the photo or use other surfaces to help straighten your photo.
You may need to change the way you are holding your phone to take a straight picture. Apart from holding your phone tilted to one side, you may be leaning the lens forward or backward. Try to keep it as level as possible.
8. Use the rule of thirds
In photography, the rule of thirds is a compositional technique. It intends to help you determine where to place your subject in the image. The rule is that all photos can be cut into horizontal and vertical thirds—imagine two horizontal and two vertical lines cutting your photo into nine identical boxes. The most interesting photos, according to this principle, will have subjects that are placed on an intersection of horizontal and vertical lines.
I know, it’s kind of complicated.
But there is an easy way to give yourself these guides, removing the need to do the math yourself. Most phones provide you with an option to add a grid that lays over your camera image. This grid is based on the rule of thirds. After you take a picture, the grid lines are no longer visible. When shooting, either center your subject or put them at the intersection of a vertical and horizontal line.
9. Crop with caution
The good news with photos is that you can always crop them.
Cropping is an art of its own. In general, avoid cropping people at their joints. By this, I mean that you should avoid cutting the image at ankles, knees, hips, elbows, and necks. If you’re trying to get closer to the subject’s face, crop just above the waist or elbow.
If the background is busy or the wall is elaborately patterned, crop the photo so that your subject is in the center of the photo. If the background is flat or a single color, crop using the rule of thirds to help enhance the impact of the photo. Just be aware that cropping in too far will damage the quality of the photo.
10. Use an app to edit your photo
After taking your photo, you may want to spend a few minutes editing it. Why? Well, the human eye is a much more sophisticated lens than the one found on your phone. That’s why the vibrancy and detail of a photo are rarely captured with an image taken on the fly. Through the editing process, you can try to recapture the true-to-life aspects of the object you are seeing.
Apps such as SnapSeed, VSCO, and Adobe Photoshop Express allow you the ability to adjust brightness, exposure, skin tone, and a whole host of options to make your photo look more natural. Some apps even have built-in filters which can help streamline the process.
Taking a good photo is an art. It takes intention and thought and time. But not every photo you take will need to wow, amaze, and shock. That said, you are publishing this photo under your business’s name, so make sure it is good enough to speak well of your brand.