It seems so easy. The cameras on smartphones are supposed to be highly sophisticated. Just point, shoot and (in theory) out comes a visually stunning image.
And yet, my Instagram feed is still full of grainy, low-lit and off-centered images.
Because these kind of photos keep reappearing, it is clear many people simply do not have the basic understanding of what it takes to make the most of their smartphones (myself included). A problem only exasperated by the fact that many people are put in the position where they must take photos as part of their job function, even without a background in photography.
With that in mind, I rounded up a group of photographers I’ve worked with who don’t just ‘do it for the ‘Gram.’ They get paid to shoot celebrities, travel to exotic locations for clients and their work appears in national publications/campaigns.
These experts open up on their creative process with relatable advice you can put into effect today. Here is what they say it takes to create captivating content:
“The most interesting photos may be where you least expect them. Keep an eye out for those passing, un-curated moments that are right in front of you everyday.” Maura Stoffer, www.stofferphotography.com. Expertise: portrait and lifestyle
“Follow the light. Shoot in natural daylight and skip the flash. Indirect light is good for getting a well lit, crisp photo without the light being too harsh. Frame it up. Find an interesting composition that highlights your subject best. More often than not, simplicity is key. Get focused. A sharp image will give others the visual clarity you’re hoping to communicate through your photo. Try using two hands for stability. Have more fun. Sometimes one extra minute of effort is the difference between a good and great photo.” -Nathan Michael, www.lowresagency.com. Expertise: food and lifestyle.
“To make an interior photo more appealing to the eye, try to make all your vertical and horizontal lines straight. If you have an iPhone, turning the camera grid setting on makes it much easier to line everything up.” -John Stoffer, www.stofferphotography.com. Expertise: interiors.
“Keep shooting for yourself. Take pictures of what inspires and moves you. The more you shoot, the better you get. It’s always a learning experience. Taking photos for yourself will help you grow and find your vision.” -Sami Drasin, www.samidrasin.com. Expertise: fashion & lifestyle.
“When shooting interiors or architecture, shoot a room/door/building straight on and in natural light whenever possible. This rule doesn't always apply, but I've found that my favorite (and most liked) photos are usually shot this way. [Below] is my most liked photo of all time. It’s shot at home, in natural light and brightened using Instagram and VSCO. I usually edit in VSCO (the A6 filter is my favorite) and always brighten photos in Instagram. Most of my photos are shot with an iPhone, but I do bring a Fuji XT1 (the X100T is great, too) with me whenever I travel. Photos can be transferred to your phone via Wi-Fi wherever you are. You can’t beat the quality.” -Danielle Moss, co-founder of The Everygirl and blogger, www.danielle-moss.com.
“Know the angles of whatever you're shooting (this is especially important when your subject is food!). If you're photographing a towering burger, a perfectly melt-y ice cream cone, or something else that's very three-dimensional, shoot from a straight-on angle. If you're trying to capture an artfully plated dish at a Michelin starred restaurant, a thin-crust pizza, or something else with visual interest that exists in a flatter space, shoot from overhead to capture the color and texture of the dish.” -Kailley Lindeman, www.kailleyskitchen.com. Expertise: food, beverage and interiors.
“Look for the moment, in-between the moment. The everyday seemingly 'mundane' moments that are more common than the landmark milestones. As a photographer I’m looking for real life, and real moments. Not perfectly curated ‘it’ shots with the perfect light or composition - because that's real life.” -Kat Harris, www.katharrisweddings.com. Expertise: wedding and lifestyle.
“Don’t wait for ‘the right moment.’ Create the right moment.” -Chris Costoso, www.chriscostoso.com. Expertise: concerts/tours.
“When editing a photo from your phone (because let’s be honest, most of us are shooting mobile these days), learn how to use editing tools, not filters. Understand how to balance contrast, exposure, clarity—all of these tools are available in Instagram, but also in apps like VSCO. They’ll enhance your photos in a more natural way—you’re only boosting what is already there, not putting a sheen over the image. Don’t overdue it, of course.
If you’re using a traditional camera, be aware of where the light is. With food photography—which is mostly what I shoot, given my job and passions—I always try to sit at a table by the window, so that I can maximize natural light. Also, simple is better; try to remove detritus from your frame and focus on a single subject, if you can.” -Joseph Hernandez, food & dining reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Expertise: food and beverage.
“In this FKA Twigs photo taken at The Metro in Chicago, I realized the most memorable moments of her performance were when she danced. Each time she started to move, fans screamed with excitement. I wanted to capture the freedom she showed when moving. She held nothing back. Every part of her body from her hair to her finger tips moved to her music. Black and white photos are beautiful because they strip away non-essential objects from the viewer’s focus. This technique allows viewers to zero in on the subject matter in front of them and nothing else. ” -Roger Morales, www.aykidshots.com. Expertise: live events.
“The best camera is the one in your hand. Whether it’s an iPhone, disposable camera, or something that’s top of the line, you don't need expensive equipment to create something great. Leave your comfort zone. Try new things. Don’t always shoot what you know. Diversify. Meet new people, build new bridges. This exercise will only push you to be more creative and enhance your skills.” -Cody Madsen, www.codymadsen.tv. Expertise: sports and video.
Not yet out of college (some are skipping it altogether), or of the legal drinking age, these photographers are already making a name for themselves. Who says a degree is permission to work? These up and comers are quickly discovering the best route to becoming a great photographer is experience. Here is what they say they have learned so far:
”Be patient and flexible. So called ‘perfect moments’ are rarely instantaneous or intentional. They take time and luck. That can mean minutes or hours. Keep shooting while you wait for the ideal lighting to hit your subject, or for the wind to blow just right, because you never know what you’ll capture. Patience and an open-mind is key in photography.” -Jose Gomez, www.josegomez.squarespace.com
“I love working with friends. Not only is it more fun to work with a team you enjoy, but you can make more epic things when you work together.” -Evan Sheehan, www.evansheehan.org
“Light will differ and change throughout the day. Know where your light is coming from and what kind of light it is. Golden hour (sunset or sunrise) is the ideal time to shoot because the sun casts a soft glow that illuminates everything; whereas the sun at noon is harsh and bright. If you’re trying to do a flatlay (where objects are laid down and shot from an overhead angle) make sure the sun isn’t directly above, otherwise it will be difficult to shoot because your hands will cast shadows over your shot.” -Kim Kovacik, www.kovacikkim.wixsite.com/home
“Taking a photo means freezing and capturing a moment in time. The secret to a great photo is to always have your camera on you. You never know when that moment may arise and being prepared will never hurt you.” -Johnny Fan, www.johnnyfan.co.
Still need more help? Watch the tutorial we shot with Nathan Michael on ‘how-to create content people love.’ Jump to the 2:30 min mark to bypass our mic issues.