Deep Dive: Photography Tips

October 18, 2021

Hi CIC Community,

My name is Alyce Johnson and I’m a local portrait and branding photographer. I work with creative entrepreneurs to tell their story through photography in a genuine and visually compelling way. I first connected with CIC in 2020 (before the world shut down) when my husband and I joined the Entrepreneur Workshop.

In this blog post I’m going to share with you 10 simple photography tips that will help even the worst picture takers improve their photography skills. These suggestions are perfect for you if you aren’t ready to hire a professional photographer, but you still want to have nice photos to represent your business. Whether you use a phone camera or a professional camera, these simple photography principles will improve the quality of the photos you take.


Photography Tips:

1. Pay attention to the light This may seem obvious, but the most important element in photography is LIGHT. The word photography literally means drawing with light, so I spend a lot of time looking for the best light for a given situation. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful subject, the quality of light will make or break a photograph. Start to pay attention to the light around you. Is it harsh and direct? Is it indirect and soft? What direction is it coming from? Is it casting odd shadows on my subject? These are questions I’m constantly asking myself. 

2. Hold the camera steady for sharper images. Shaky hands mean blurry photos. This is especially true when taking photos indoors when there isn’t as much light available. Sometimes to help me hold my camera steady I’ll use something like a doorframe or a wall to anchor my hands and avoid camera shake. You can also use a tripod (they make them for phones too!), which will hold the camera steady for you. The following photos were taken seconds apart, in the first my hands were shaky, in the second I was holding the camera steady.

3. In general, don’t use a flash. An on-camera (or phone) flash flattens the subject and usually is not flattering. It is almost always best to avoid using the flash. (In college I had a photography professor who called the on-camera flash the devil’s light.)

4. When indoors, turn off indoor lights and move towards a window. Indoor lights cast different color temperatures on your subject, this is why when I take photos indoors I turn off all the interior lights and use the natural light coming from a window. Start to pay attention to how light comes through your windows at different times of day; depending on the time of day the light from the window will be softer and less direct, or more direct and dramatic.  Photo examples: indoor light versus window light. 

5. Use white foam board to bounce light onto your subject. Sometimes the light coming through a window casts shadows on your subject in a way that you don’t like. Photographers will use reflectors to reflect light back on the subject to brighten it up. You can easily do this with a piece of white foam board. Look at your subject and bring the foam board closer to and farther from your subject and notice how the shadows brighten and darken. Photo examples: Window light without foam board reflector versus window light with foam board reflecting light

6. When photographing outdoors, avoid the midday sun. This is especially true when photographing people. When the sun is high in the sky it casts unflattering shadows on faces. Instead of taking pictures in the direct sunlight, move to a shady spot. The light will be more even on your subject. Another way to avoid harsh shadows is to photograph people in the morning or in the evening when the sun is lower in the sky (I always schedule outdoor photoshoots for morning or evening for this reason). The following photos were both taken with an iphone in my backyard at noon. In the first my husband was standing in the direct sunlight, in the second he moved into the shade.

7. When using a phone, move your body, don’t zoom. When you zoom in on a phone camera before taking a photo, the phone is digitally zooming in ( as opposed to on a dSLR, when there is an optical zoom, like a telescope). This lowers the quality of the photos and adds digital noise, which looks like lots of little specks. Instead, move your camera closer to your subject.  Examples: Zooming in on an iphone versus moving phone closer to subject

8. Pay attention to what is in the frame. I once heard someone say to eliminate anything that is unnecessary from the frame of the photo. I like that advice. When framing a photo ask yourself: Is there something distracting in the background of the photo? Can it be removed, or can the subject be moved? 

9. When photographing people, encourage your subjects to move.  Everyone says that they are not photogenic. I don’t think that’s true. A lot of people just get really stiff in front of a camera. And when you say cheeeeeeese and hold a smile for fifteen seconds, you don’t usually look too natural. When I photograph people I’ll ask them to move as I take their picture. This can be looking away then looking back, or shifting their weight back and forth between their feet. I’ll also have my subjects take deep breaths or shake out any energy they have before posing. Getting people to move around is an easy way to take more natural and relaxed looking portraits.