5 Easy Picture Taking Tips I Live By

What can I say — I love picture taking. Since the first time I “borrowed” my sister’s Kodak Star point-and-shoot as a kid — and proceeded to use up all of the film on random, abstract views inside our little duplex — I was addicted.

And isn’t it true that it’s a hobby for a lot of us? Whether it’s just for the family, a rad social media feed or a serious goal to improve, we like to capture moments. A lot.

So it’s worth trolling around for new tips and tricks to up our game just a little.

Now I’ll never claim to be a professional. I’m just a woman who is passionate enough to share what I’ve learned. Mostly from my own mistakes. And thank goodness I’ve grown a lot since my six-year-old, camera-joy-riding days.

In my opinion, a picture isn’t worth a thousand words.

But I’ll be honest, capturing a “good” picture just isn’t motivating enough for me. So why do I keep clicking away?

Well, I take joy in it. (Remember this conversation about joy a while back? Yup, joy is a good thing.)

It’s an excuse to pause and visually digest what’s around me. Whether I’m in the city center or getting lost somewhere in the woods, I love the experience of letting my eyes pick one thing to focus on, and trying to capture that feeling (remember that conversation about being present in the moment? Yup, great practice here).


That’s right: that feeling.

There aren’t a thousand words running through my head. Usually, there’s something stronger: an emotion. Yes, the emotion of being in that place, in that moment.

At its core, I don’t think a good picture says a thousand words. I think it’s worth the emotion. It’s using our eyes to tell us how to feel. And we could be feeling any gamut of things: maybe awe, maybe peace. Maybe excitement or victory. Or curiosity or confusion. Even pain or fear — whatever the picture taker decides.

Alas, theology aside, what are some crazy-easy tips to help you take better pictures?

Whether you take pictures with a point-and-shoot, a DLSR or mirrorless camera or just your cell phone, these tips are helpful for any beginner.

1. You’re in charge.

That’s right. It doesn’t matter what your mother’s cousin thinks about that messy family photo in front of the Christmas tree. What do you think? We just talked about the emotion involved: how do you feel about it? What joy did you experience in capturing that picture?

Whether you want to claim it or not, picture taking is an art form. You are the artist. Let your wild side show. Will the pictures always be perfect? Heck no. But I guarantee when you’re emotionally invested in your subject, you will learn quickly what you do and do not like about your picture taking style. And you’ll learn from it.

For example, I love abstract photography. I get lost in a full-sized picture of a flower, or maybe of looking through ice from the bottom-up. And my husband? He just flat doesn’t get it. It’s not his niche. That’s cool, bygones be bygones.


2. Aim for good lighting.

This one is huge. Photography is essentially the study of light; how it works, different kinds of light and how to capture it (or how much you want to capture).

But let’s keep it simple.

Learn to love cloudy days

No joke, natural light is the best light to take pictures in. I personally avoid fake light like the plague — I don’t even take pictures with a flash these days. And to be frank, cloudy days are some of the easiest for picture-taking.

Especially where light is reflected — snow, beaches, water — taking pictures on cloudy days get you some of the best exposure and color contrast.

A bright sunny day sure can be fun, but shooting in harsh lighting is a learned skill. So start with cloudy days until you grow a little.

And when it’s not cloudy, aim for a well-shaded area without too bright of a background (we’ll talk about that in a minute).

What about taking pictures inside?

Shooting that family pic indoors? No sweat. Just because natural light comes from outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t get it indoors as well.

Try to situate everyone in the sunniest part of the room, with your (the picture-taker’s) back to the light source. Always try it first with the flash off — you’d be surprised how well your picture turns out.

3. Don’t forget to check your background.

If you haven’t thought of this one yourself, this is your education. Check your background for anything unsightly — a trash can, power lines, random pedestrians, your neighbors barking dog or a rusted-out car… Even if it isn’t in focus, it can draw the eye from your subject.

Let me assure you, the background doesn’t have to be perfect. But a little mindfullness here does the world for your picture-taking.

I love this picture, but two things would have made it better. First, if dad wasn’t standing in the background. Second, if the baby had been in complete shade. Alas, still adorable.

4. Never, ever zoom.

Let me reiterate: never ever, ever, EVER zoom. And here’s why.

Digital photography is a technological marvel. The fact that we can even take pictures without film still blows my mind. And the zoom is no exception. We can take a subject far away and bring it several times closer without taking a step. Wow.

But what happens when we do that? Well, the camera technology can’t fill in the blanks, so it generates blocks of color to fill in the picture. The result? A pixelated image that is grainy and harsh.

Now keep in mind this isn’t necessarily the case with an optical zoom (ya know, those camera lenses that are long and actually telescope a little). But since most of us are taking pictures with a digital zoom, i.e. our phones, I find it best to steer clear for the sake of picture quality.

So instead of zooming, try to physically move your camera closer to your subject. That means leaning over that flower, or walking a few feet closer to that water fountain. And if you can’t get physically closer, consider taking your picture with a broader focus — maybe the whole enchilada instead of just the sour cream and guac.

What I really wanted was a picture of the moon. But since there was no way my camera was going to capture it well, I changed my approach and took in the whole scene — empty sky, colors, reflection and all.

5. Be prepared

This gets my husband and I every time: we head out for family pictures. We find a nice spot, set up the tripod and camera and are ready to go. But we’ve got one problem.

We’ve got no idea how we want to pose.

That might not be a problem for some folks, but it catches us by surprise every time. Because we didn’t prepare. So before you head out for “that shot,” brainstorm for a few minutes on how you want the picture to look. It might mean looking up poses first. Or scouting a location. Or bringing a change of clothes for a different effect. Whatever it is, planning ahead just a little goes a long way.

Ultimately, picture-taking isn’t an exact science

But a little mindfulness goes a long way. If you take these crazy-simple approaches, your pictures will quickly hit a new level — and everyone will notice.

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