Monday, September 19, 2011

Tips + Tricks | 5 Helpful Hints to Improve Your Snapshots

Have you ever looked at a photographer's personal snapshots of their vacation or their children, and thought to yourself, "Wow! How do they do that?"

I'm not going to lie to you. A lot of how its done has to do with the camera body and lenses that the photographer is using to take the photos, and the software being used to edit the photos. However, there are several things that you can do to take better snapshots, regardless of the camera that you are using. I'd like to share with you 5 simple things you can do to improve your snapshots.

In an attempt to make the examples as real as possible, I tried to use photos similar to the ones that you might be taking on vacation or around your home (except I don't have kids, so my dogs and husband are my subjects).

1. Always be aware of what is in your frame

You want the focus to be on the intended subject of your photo, not on oddball random things off to the side of your frame. Nothing ruins a photo faster than something in the background that you didn't realize was there!

Take a look at this photo of Kevin in front of a rock formation in Sedona.  The random tourist on the right side of the photo is a distraction, and obviously the photo would be better without her there...

By taking a step or two to the side, turning my body slightly, and zooming in a little bit, I was able to remove the tourist from the frame, so that the focus of the photo remains on Kevin and the scenery behind him. I also could have asked Kevin to reposition himself, but since Kevin doesn't really like posing for photos, I try to take my shots as quickly as possible. It's easier for me to move than to redirect him into a new position...

2. Watch out for distracting backgrounds (or foregrounds)

Sometimes the background for your image is an important part of what you are photographing (like in the photos above), other times all it does is distract from the subject you are trying to take a photo of, like in the image below.  The viewer could probably guess that Zoe is my intended subject because she is what is in focus, while the other objects aren't, but this photo would be much better without all of the clutter in the frame...

For this image, all I did was zoom in as far as my lens would let me and snap another photo...

And here I got up off the couch where I was sitting to take the two photos above, and reposition myself so that I was on the other side of the coffee table and zoomed in even more...

How tight to crop your photo is personal preference, but I think it is easy to see that Zoe stands out as the subject of the photo much more in the second two images!

3. Look out for lamps, poles, trees, etc. coming out of people's heads

This photo of Kevin was taken in our office, which is fairly crowded.   For the photo below I positioned Kevin so that he was partially in front of the bookcases, with the lamp pole directly behind him.  You can see how the background is a bit distracting and the lamp looks like it is growing out of Kevin's head...

This next photo is a little better, but not great. The lamp is no longer coming out of his head, but instead the bulletin board (that we really need to hang up!) looks like it is coming out of his neck...

Using my advice from above, one solution would have been to crop the image to eliminate some of the distracting background. To improve the image even more, I also changed it into black and white. It some instances black and white can help eliminate distractions...

However, the easiest solution would have simply been to have Kevin move a bit to change the background so that he didn't have the lamp pole, or other items behind him.

4. Avoid taking photos of your subjects from below

Occasionally there may be a circumstance where you want to emphasise the size of your subject, or perhaps show them in a particular intimidating type of manner, but in general people look much better when photographed from slightly above (or at least eye level).

For this photo I got below Kevin and shot a photo of him. Kevin has a very thin face, so this photo of him isn't too bad. If he would have taken a photo like this of me, I'd look like I have five chins!...

This photo, taken from slightly above, with him looking up at me, is much more flattering...

This can be tough if you are photographing a subject that is a lot taller than you are and you are both standing. If at all possible, try to have subjects sitting down, or else try to find some place where you can stand to elevate yourself above your subject.

5. Position your subjects so that natural light is in front of them, not behind them

Sometimes you can use this type of set up if you are taking creative silhouettes, but in general you should never position your subject in front of a window...

Instead, simply turn around so that your back is to the window and the natural light from the window is shining on your subject...

And there you have it... Five simple tips to improve your snapshots. If you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them in the comments section.

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.


  1. These are all great tips ! Nicely done.

  2. Sorry I haven't been by in awhile, school and work keep me so busy!

    Most of the time, I don't really think about the details when I'm taking pictures. I just point and click. These are excellent tips!

    The post I bookmarked on your old blog is the one about the tats you and Kevin got shortly after you got married and the significance behind them.

  3. Thanks, Ashley! :)

  4. I know what you mean. I've been keeping very busy lately, too. I hope school is going well for you!

    I hope you find the tips helpful. :)

    You might be in luck. My new logo design is based on the same ideas, so I'll be writing a similar post to go along with my logo reveal this fall!