Make Better Photos (Part One)

Any photographer will tell you that it’s not the camera that makes a great photo, it’s the photographers themselves. Yet many people still believe an expensive camera is a requirement to making beautiful photography. Whenever any of us sees a beautiful photo, we hardly ever ask ourselves what type of camera was used. That’s because most of the time, it honestly doesn’t matter. Most of the time the number of megapixels, or fancy options aren’t the reason why one photo is more compelling than another.

Whether it’s a wedding at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens shot with an entry level Nikon D40:

A sandwich from The Mercantile, shot with a point-n-shoot:

Children in the front yard:

Or friends just messing around at a MARTA station:

The type of camera being used is one of the least important factors in making interesting and beautiful photos. What IS important are fundamentals of composition. Obviously we can go into a technical (and boring) discussion on the rule of thirds and perspective, but who wants to do that? Not me. Not you.

We regularly take on 10-15 interns for 3 months at a time. With so many interns and so much work to get done, we don’t have the luxury of explaining everything or doing much hand-holding. So we created simple guidelines to follow that are somewhat restricting, yet at the same time force creative growth among our group of developing photographers. Our interns come to us shooting one way, and then during the three months we force them to shoot a little differently and break some of their habits. All of our guidelines can be used whether you’re using a point-n-shoot camera or a high-end dSLR. No matter what camera you have right now, whether it’s a pro-level full frame body or camera-phone, the three guidelines below will help you improve your photography.

  • Don’t zoom. Move your feet
  • Get in the best position for the best shot
  • Find a different perspective

Let’s go through each of these separately.

Don’t Zoom. Move your feet.

Leah and I picked up our dSLRs and started our photography business a little over a year ago. The fact that we  learned quickly and rapidly developed our shooting style is directly related to how we rarely everzoom-in’ with our lenses. If we want to get a closer photo, we actually get closer. Even when we are using a lens that zooms, we leave it at it’s widest setting and move our feet to get closer. I know some people will argue all day long that a long zoom lens will get you great pictures of hidden moments – but you’ll miss out on the interaction that occurs when you’re 3 feet away from your subject.

Whether it’s your family pet, your children, or strangers, 89.452% of great photography is directly related to your ability to communicate. You can communicate verbally, through facial expressions, or with body language and demeanor. Sometimes it all pays off because your subjects will become very comfortable with your presence. This makes it considerably easier to disappear while standing four feet away, right beside them, or… at the very least, even difficult subjects will play along and let you snap away.

You get better photos of people when you’re closer to them, not when you’re far away with a telephoto-zoom lens. Your point-n-shoot camera probably zooms out 12xxxx times! And that’s great, but you don’t need it when you’re photographing people across the room. Move your feet and get closer to them.

Get in the best position for the best shot

You know why professional photographers seem to make the best photos on a consistent basis? It’s because they make sure they’re in the best position to get the best shot. They don’t settle. They don’t stand just off to the side, or behind the subject taking pictures of the back of people’s heads. You want better photos? Set yourself up to make better photos. Find the best spot.

Ask people to move. Turn on some lights. Suggest a better location that’s 10 feet to the side. Trust me, most of the time people would rather you take a good photo of them than a bad one. So if they’re hesistant, just tell them you’re going to make them look great. Tell them they’ll be more attractive. Tell them that you know what you’re doing. Have some confidence. Really. It’s that simple. (Okay, it’s not always that simple.)

Find a different perspective

We stress this point over and over to our interns. Don’t photograph things like everyone else. One of the easiest and quickest ways to make progress as a photographer is to simply shoot from new perspectives. Most people photograph everything from eye-level. Whether they’re standing up or sitting down, people put the camera to their faces and snap away. When you shoot like that you end up with a lot of average looking photos from standard view points. What you should incorporate are photographs made from viewpoints that are not from where we normally see the world.

A few of our favorite methods include photographing children at their level:

Or putting the camera on the ground:

Or from overhead:

There you go. Three guidelines that can help anyone make better photographs without spending a dime on a new and more expensive camera. Whether you’re using a point-n-shoot or a fancy dSLR, composition is fundamental to great photography, and we truly believe that everyone deserves to have beautiful photos. It’s one of the reasons we have an internship program, and the main reason we’re always open to answering questions about photography in general. It’s not rocket science, but there is a great deal to learn and we’re big on sharing what we know – with everyone.

We tell our interns that nothing we do is secret, but not everyone knows everything we do. If you have any questions about photography, please feel free to send us a note at or simply fill out the contact form below.

Thank you very much.

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