How to Take Great Photos

Capture Memories and Be Artistic

Going beyond the basic 'point and shoot.'
How to Take Great Photos
Whether you're taking casual phone snapshots or pursuing serious photography, there are tips everyone can apply to improve their photos. (IKO-studio/Shutterstock)

Taking snapshots can be a lot of fun, but with a tiny bit of effort, they can become art.

Photography is a rewarding hobby that can be pursued for an entire lifetime. Whether just taking the occasional snapshot of a cute puppy or a family gathering or documenting rare events such as meteorites or storms, the basics remain the same, but the focus, excuse the pun, can be wildly different. With pretty much every cell phone of recent vintage now featuring a camera function, there’s no longer the excuse of not having a camera handy.

Photography Fundamentals 101

Taking a photo can be as simple as looking through the viewfinder and pressing the shutter button. However, to take a great photo, a bit more effort and forethought are required. One of many important factors to take into account is the background. Unless the shot is a very tight closeup, if the background is very busy in terms of colors, texture, or action, it can take the viewer’s focus away from the main subject. But these external factors are not always bad; a creative photographer might choose to use the interesting texture of a brick building or the action of cars speeding past to add interest and layers to the image.

Lighting also plays a huge role in the final result; too many folks snap away and then are surprised to realize they can’t really see the puppy being cute at the dog park or the kids at grandma’s holiday dinner due to them being lost in the shadows. Using the camera’s flash might not resolve the problem, as it can create unexpected shadows or reflections. The solution is simple: slow down and peek through the viewfinder to see how everything looks before pressing the shutter button.

By taking time to consider the composition of the photo, it becomes easier to know when to adjust the subjects or the angle from which the photo is being taken. One example is that photo of Uncle Bob in the park; because there were trees in the background, it looks like they are growing out of his head. By moving a few feet in either direction or asking Uncle Bob to take two steps to the right, the photo would have captured his beaming smile without any unexpected, distracting special effects. Another trick is to simply take more photos from different angles; professionals know that to get one great photo, they may need to take 20 or 30 shots. Digital film is free, so take more shots.

Quality Isn't Free

Some people are convinced a "real" camera is required to take quality photos, and in some cases they are right. Without getting into 35mm or other film cameras, those who prefer to keep all their photos in one place might prefer a digital camera to eliminate the need to shuffle through all the photos on the phone to find one specific shot. Using a dedicated camera also keeps photos private; with some phones sending all collected data to a server or the cloud, hacking could become an issue. Another plus of a camera is the ability to utilize different lenses or a more powerful flash. While there are aftermarket lenses that can be used with a cell phone, for the most part, a "real" camera is much better suited for using a macro, telephoto, wide-angle, or fisheye lens.

Everyone's a Photographer

Photography, like golf or tennis, is an activity for which more practice and time can almost always lead to improved results. The question for each person is to determine when they have achieved a level that makes them happy. There is no wrong answer unless one is a professional photographer paid to take always awesome photos. For the rest of us, the question is whether to make photography a hobby or a vocation. Most cell phones and digital cameras can be used to "point and shoot" a photo; they utilize an array of sensors to automatically adjust exposure and focus and possibly trigger a flash in order to produce a good photo, assuming we’ve managed to not position Uncle Bob in front of a light pole this time.
It used to be that in order to be considered a serious photographer, one had to not only compose and take the photo but also develop the film into prints and be able to manipulate the exposure and other settings to create the desired effects or shoot in "raw" mode. Happily, digital photography eliminated the need to either learn how to develop film or take it to a lab to be processed into prints, but many digital cameras and cell phone cameras have settings that can be adjusted. This allows those who want to delve further into photography to learn and use new skills, raising their efforts to that of an artist. Best of all, if you don’t like the result, delete it and try again.

Shoot Like a Pro

How to improve your cell phone photos.

Look Before You Click

Consider how the background or lighting will affect the photo, such as having a tree stick out of Uncle Bob’s head. Move the subject, adjust the angle, or zoom in or out as needed.

Use What You Have

More than a few professional photographers utilize a cellular phone camera to take spectacular photos, so try what’s handy before stepping up to more expensive gear.

Take 20 to Get One

Pros know to take many shots from different angles and under different lighting conditions to get that one great shot. Digital film is free, so take many shots.
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.