5 tips for capturing killer photos

It seems that everyone is a photographer these days. From food shots, to family portraits, to that perfect Instagram aerial, we’re all probably guilty of spending more time framing and hashtagging a shot, than proofreading our use of your and you’re in text messages.

What makes a great photo?

I could tell you about composition, lighting, framing, and a million other nuances. That’s not all that interesting, unless you’ve got ambitions of becoming a pro photographer. If you’re interested in that level of detail, check out my buddy’s website, ebooks, and educational content. If you just want to create a killer photo of your dog, or that amazing dessert from last night, here are some simple tips to make your shots awesome.

Straighten it up

Framing a shot is all about how you angle your phone or camera in relation to the object you’re photographing. People love taking selfies from above (it’s slimming), but non-selfie shots can be improved by adjusting the tilt of your capture device to match a straight line in your viewfinder.

For instance, check out these two shots. The first image is not aligned. The second image is framed to align the lip of the cup horizontally.

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Get up close and personal

Whether you’re taking a picture of a person or object, most shots (unless there’s additional context needed — see below) can benefit from getting closer to the subject. Getting close does two things:

  • Shows more detail.
  • Allows your camera to automagically blur the background (a lil’ depth of field magic for the vocabulary geeks out there).

The preferred method for getting close shots, is to — actually put the camera closer to the subject. If that’s not possible, cropping or zooming are other options. Don’t get lazy, though. Cropping and zooming are convenient, but unless you’re using a high resolution camera (smartphones are good, but not super high resolution) or a physical zoom lens (you know, the kind you see photography nerds adjusting on the front of their cameras), you’ll lose significant image detail. Crop and zoom sparingly.

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Provide context

Remember what I said about getting up close and personal? Well, if other parts of the scene are important to get the ‘full effect’, keep your shot wide enough to capture the context. For reference, most of the pictures I take require context a third of the time. Architectural or travel pictures are great examples of situational shots that might be better with additional context.

Rule of thirds

There’s a great rule of thirds explanation on Wikipedia. Here’s the basic idea. If you were to split your shot into three equal vertical and horizontal pieces and draw lines, your subject should appear at the intersection of any lines that are two-thirds across the shot. For instance:

By Tadrart01.JPG: Pir6mon
derivative work: Teeks99 (talk) – Tadrart01.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Color balance and structure

The way you use this tip depends solely on personal preference. Sometimes I like to create an HDR look by amping up saturation (amount of color) and structure (the prominence of detail) in the photo. Other times, I like to keep shots soft and natural.

Every camera and phone manufacturer includes software that processes what it considers to be the most optimal color balance for your photo. Because it’s a computer program, there’s a margin between what you think looks awesome and what the camera predicts you will think looks awesome. It’s that margin of error that you’re correcting when you adjust color balance, contrast, shadows, etc. Experiment with these attributes to see what you dig.

So there ya have it. Some tips and tricks to make your photos look just a little bit more awesome. If you think of it, give me a shout with your before and after photos. I’m ‘ifyouwillit’ on Twitter and the grams.

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