Photography is my achilles heel. In fact, I think I might run a marathon before I’ll take a pretty picture. Colleen Duggan, however, takes beautiful pictures. So I asked her to mentor me a little on the subject (note I asked her to mentor me and not any of my distance running friends). I hope you learn from it as much as I do!
Five Easy Tips To Make Your Photos More Beautiful by Colleen Duggan
A priest friend of mine told me recently that the famous theologian Hans Urs von Baltasar once said there are three things that can save the world: truth, justice, and beauty. It was beauty that Father was encouraging me to focus on in my work as a photographer because contemplating beauty inspires the human person towards the pursuit of what’s good and true.
In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a lot of ugly in the world, but photography gives both the artist and the viewer the opportunity to actually see in picture form God’s majesty in our mundane and sometimes drudgery filled lives. Lately, every time I lift my Canon and click the shutter, I think about von Baltasar’s words and am reminded that by capturing a fleeting moment of beauty or joy or love, I’m participating in God’s work of saving the world.
That’s a hobby worth pursuing, I think.
With the advent of the camera phone, everyone is taking pictures these days. Hop on any social media site and there is someone, somewhere who has posted a photo of her or her trip to the grocery store or coffee shop. Have you ever scrolled through someone’s Instagram feed and thought to yourself, “She just seems to have a ‘knack’ for producing pretty images! How does she do it?”
Sure, the woman who posts a bunch of eye candy might have an artistic bent, but my guess is she actually knows a little bit about what makes an image beautiful. Just as there are rules to good grammar and writing, there are rules we can follow so that we too are able to produce consistently pretty pictures.
So, what are a few of these rules and how can we use them to up our photographic game? Below I outline a few tips below to help you start capturing those important moments so you too can contemplate God’s bountiful beauty and use it to save the world.
USE THE CAMERA YOU HAVE: I don’t care what kind of camera you own, it’s possible for you to take pretty pictures. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the following photos, which were all shot and edited with my iPhone camera.
You don’t have to have the fanciest camera blinged out with all the bells and whistles (though if you do, could I use it sometime?) to capture a precious moment in time.
You only need to use the equipment you’ve got.
I never owned an iPhone until last summer and if I had known how great it operated as a point and shoot, I would have upgraded my phone much earlier than I did. (Side note: there are full time professional photographers operating only with iPhone cameras these days, that should tell you something about it’s capabilities.)
Learn how to use the camera you’ve got.
There are tons of tutorials online and websites devoted to help newbie photographers figure out how to use their camera phones. I suggest perusing sites like iPhonephotography.com and DavidMolnar.com for a gluttony of information and tips on the best way to use your mobile point and shoot.
On the other hand, if you do own a fancy dslr camera, I recommend you learn how to take that camera off of the auto dial and place it on the manual setting. This will be the best and surest way to create better images. I am limited in the scope and space of this article to explain exactly how to use the manual settings on your camera, but if you have the time and the inclination, there are many books available to teach you exactly how to get started. I recommend the following titles:
GET CLOSE: No, closer. Still too far!
If you want to add some pizazz to your photos, make sure you are up close and personal to your subject. (This advice is especially true when working with a point and shoot camera because you can’t swap out lenses to zoom in on your subject.) Taking photos from too far away leads to boring, ho-hum images. Filling the fame helps bring subjects to the forefront and also removes a lot of pesky background clutter that detracts from the overall photo.) Below are three different examples of what it means to fill the frame with your subject.
CHOOSE YOUR BACKGROUND CAREFULLY: I’m a bit of a freak about this particular photographic tip. Maybe it’s a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but to me a cluttered background can really ruin an otherwise awesome picture. Setting up an image is as much about the subject as it is what’s behind the subject. Pay attention to the random photo bombing objects or people who wander in and out of your photos and detract from the overall look. See below for examples of photos with fresh, clean and interesting backgrounds.
PERSPECTIVE: If you want to take interesting photos, think of creative ways to look at a scene or subject differently than you might usually. Lie on your back and look up at your subject or climb on a table and shoot from there. I live in a rural area and I routinely take pictures out my window in order to capture images of the beautiful, country landscape.
(Hey, if you are serious about photography, you do what it takes to get the picture.)
See the images below to see what I mean about varying perspective and start thinking of different ways to capture an image.
(Note: What I’m encouraging here is changing the way you look at a scene in front of you, which will most likely require you as the photographer to move your body either closer or father away from the subject. I’m not, however, encouraging you to slant your camera at a weird angle. Nothing signals an amateur photog than a picture taken from a weird or tilted stance. It’s also a personal photographic pet peeve. End rant.)
I shot the photo above on the floor of my son’s bedroom while he peaked down at me from his crib perch.
I shot this with my iPhone camera lying down beneath the swing set while my daughter flew in the air. I made a conscious effort to disregard any of the stares from onlookers…and there were stares. I also tried not to get nailed in the head with her heavy feet.
Instead of taking a picture of my daughter smiling while holding her newly picked “flowers”, I focused on the large bouquet of dandelions she gathered. This image tells an entirely different tale than it had if I had included her face. This photographic decision illustrated how much time it took her to collect those dandelions and highlights her thoughtful attention and gesture, which is a much different story than the one I would have told if I had included her face in the photo.
The most fun perspective shots are often action ones. If you are taking pictures at sporting events, try to capture the subject as he or she is moving. Full disclosure: in this photo, my husband threw my son into the pool. However, to make the image pop more and to give a more visual “WOW” factor, I edited my husband out of the image so all you can see is my son flying through the air and into the pool.
A note of caution: If your subject is a child, make sure you crouch down to get on the child’s level. For a more visually appealing photo, it’s important to get eye to eye with the kid. Compare the two images below to see what I mean.
In the first image, I’m holding the camera at a downward slant, a common mistake most newbie parents and photographers make.
In the second image, I’ve changed positions and am at eye level with my child. I’ve also moved to the side of him in order to capture a prettier background.
See the difference?
REMEMBER THE RULE OF THIRDS:
When my daughter asked me to teach her a little bit about photography, the first rule I exposed her to was the rule of thirds (see image above for a visual). If you are trying to improve your overall look of your photos, remembering this simple design trick will instantly increase the wow factor of your pics.
Newbie photographers often make the mistake of putting the subject smack dab in the middle of the grid shown above. While it’s ok to break this rule sometimes, an image is more interesting if the subject is placed at one of the intersecting lines of a tic tac toe grid. (The scientific explanation has something to do with where our eyes fall when looking at a picture. I don’t know much about science, but I know I do follow the rule of thirds as often as I can.)
Imagine the tic tac toe grid over this photo. See how my daughter’s body is almost directly on the left line of the grid?
In this picture, I placed my little girl on the opposite side of the grid. Doing this naturally creates a more interesting picture than if her body was dead center.
A final note, with a little bit of practice and study, it is possible to improve your photo taking efforts. I wish you much luck and photographic success!
P.S. Rules are meant to be broken. Feel free to break one or all of these guidelines as you see fit. No photographer follows all the rules all the time, and you don’t have to, either.
Now get out there and experiment with your camera and be sure to send me your results!
Words and Images Copyright 2016 Colleen Duggan except where noted.