Anyone can make beautiful photos from everyday life. A little attention to light, composition and focal point can turn your ordinary snapshot into a magazine-ready image.
If you are one of the millions of folks who get stressed out trying to measure up to the weirdly curated lives of others online, I hope this little list of tips helps you. It’s important to remember that everyone online is showing an edited view of themselves. That editing might be an overt choice (i.e. carefully styled fashion bloggers) or something as subtle as tone, word selection, or good angles. Even the most raw and honest folks online are posting their lives through some form of editing.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with editing or curating your social media. I do it. You won’t find a lot of pictures of me rocking a double chin or giving close-ups on blemish day. Everyone edits. That is why it’s not useful to compare yourself to anyone else — and it is especially unproductive to compare your life to someone else’s curated, carefully selected Instagram feed.
Enough blah blah, here’s the list.
Take a LOT of Pictures
Hey, we aren’t back in the film days here. If you are shooting your pics on a digital camera or a phone, there is no reason not to take a zillion shots of everything before picking the right one. You increase your chances of getting a great picture organically when you take a ton of them.
Stand up, Stand Back, Stand on Something
Try taking the picture from a few different angles and different distances. I will stand on chairs, beds, stepstools, walls, benches, ladders and anything available to get a shot. I crouch when needed and folks, i am not a good croucher. Snap your pic and then try moving a few steps back or forward. Play with new angles and shooting your images from above or at the side at eye level.
It’s OK to Look Like A Tourist
Have you ever wished (after the fact) you’d just gotten over yourself and whipped out the camera? When the Captain and I were in Stockholm, we were waiting at a bus bench for the hop-on hop-off bus. Also waiting at the bus shelter was another couple, an older man and his wife. We all kind of stood there awkwardly for a while and then I noticed a funny sign across the way. I asked the Captain to pose, “Move here, no, left, that’s good…” and I took some pictures, followed by some selfies, followed by general laughing and tomfoolery. At first the older couple just watched us. But after a few minutes we looked over and noticed the older gentleman and his wife had started taking pictures, too.
Everyone wants to snap photos but they worry they might look like tourists or weirdoes. Maybe your actions will loosen up the folks around you, too— my inability to feel shame at selfie-taking helped the couple at the bus shelter feel comfortable, too. After that everyone had a nice chat and we got to hear about their trip and we told them about ours and all was well in Stockholm.
Consider The Rule Of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is a trick I use in my every day life — I consider it when hanging a painting on a wall, when composing photos, when working on design projects for my job. You divide your image or vista into visual thirds and use this to help you arrange the focal point of your composition. To use this technique to balance your photos, imagine each image broken up into nine sections. Now imagine that the focal points align along this area for heightened visual interest:
Here’s the basis of this theory: If you place your visual focal point in the intersections or along the lines your photo feels balanced and the human eye will interact with it more naturally.
If you want to play with this, you can enable the grid on many phones — just go into the camera settings and enable the grid feature. All rules are meant to be broken, of course, but it’s fun to experiment with the rule of thirds to see if it spices up your photos.
Use Your Camera to Take Pics, Not the In-App Instagram Camera
Your device camera will always be faster and cleaner for taking multiple shots than the in-app camera for Instagram. Also consider photographing more space than just what fits in the square viewfinder area — often, my best Instagrams are just small portions of a much-larger image.
Use Natural Lighting Whenever Possible
Flash is harsh. You want a shiny face and a big, flat forehead? Use flash. Try to use natural light in almost all of your photographs and then fix ’em in the mix.
Fix ‘Em In The Mix
I spend most of my effort on capturing good shots that need less editing, but you can almost always use a little help! Don’t be afraid to use tools to freshen and enhance your images. I use VSCO, Instagram, Pic Stitch Go, and Afterlight on my phone. On my laptop I use Photoshop to edit the brightness, contrast, exposure, stuff. And honestly, even though I am a trained professional artist and I know Photoshop like the back of my hand, I prefer using Instagram’s features on my phone. It’s fast, all-in-one, and easy. Instead of using the default filters, try experimenting with the other tools under the EDIT menu. Adjust the brightness, contract and structure to start. There are folks out there who spend a lot of time and energy touching up their photos, a quick google will show you all the latest tools. There are hundreds of great photo editing apps out there.
Don’t be afraid to stage your object photos.
I love toast. On the weekends I take pictures of my fancy toast and I stage all my scenes. What does that mean, exactly? I select a nice, colorful napkin. I brush the crumbs off the plate. I arrange the toast and toppings with a side of sliced oranges or coffee served in my favorite bright blue mug.
Staging might seem a little inauthentic, but if you look at this from the hygge point of view, staging your meals all the time (even when no camera is around) adds pleasure to your life. I do not want to live the movie where I eat toast over the kitchen sink and wipe my hands on a paper towel. I prefer the breakfasts I have when I eat sitting at a table, with a napkin and a nice plate and a pretty table setting. Maybe a little staging is healthy in all our lives. Is it wrong to add some beauty and harmony to your every day tasks?
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So that’s my quick approach to upping the quality your photos. I started thinking about this whole topic because yesterday I watched a Ted Talk about research findings into social attitudes and one of the anecdotes the speaker uses to illustrate his talk is the disturbing reality of social media anxiety.
I often hear my friends or co-workers talk about Instagram Stress or Pinterest Anxiety — a condition whereby one feels worse/anxious/unhappier after seeing the beautifully curated lives of others online.
I don’t have this one particular form of stress (THANK THE LORD.) I think it’s because I’m an artist and most of my life is spent looking at work that is infinitely better than mine. After a while you train yourself not to take it personally. If you spend all your time as a painter comparing yourself to the masters, your painting career will last about four minutes. However, I do understand the anxiety that comes with comparing myself to other people in other ways. It’s the fastest path to unhappiness and something I try to watch in my thinking and nip it when it starts.
Here’s the Ted Talk if you’re interested: