15 tips for improving your photos and videos

Wordsmithing alone isn’t enough in the era of Instagram and Snapchat. How can communicators compete without a photography background?

Communicators tend to think of themselves as wordsmiths, whether it’s writing press releases or cranking out stories for the intranet.

Nowadays the demand for photography and video skills are rising, given that nearly everyone owns a photography studio in the form of a smartphone. The question is how to take better pictures?

Yes, by all means, hire a pro if you possibly can. Professional-quality photos or video matter.

Sometimes, though, you’re forced to snap a shot. In a time of shareable images, the old style no longer works—grip-and-grin pictures of donors handing over giant checks, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre lineups of executives.

So we sought out tips from professional photographers and videographers. Here are a few of their tips:

1. Get closer.

The famous war photographer Robert Capa once advised, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Of course, he also died on the job when he stepped on a landmine, notes Kristin Griffin of Kristin Griffin Photography. Given that most of us won’t be tromping across minefields, the advice holds for organizational photographers.

2. Set the scene with your shots.

Shoot from far away, medium distance and close up, says Alyssa Craft, a videographer with Pure Living for Life, a site for people who quit the city to start a homestead from scratch. This is essential with video but also matters in still photography.

Example: Shoot a high-level overview of a farmers market, a person at a booth in said farmers market, and a detail such as a close-up of a child getting her face painted. “With these three shots in mind you can really capture emotion in an event with just a few photos,” Craft says.

3. Fill the frame.

You know those photos where your subject is standing three miles away (or so it seems), surrounded by extraneous space? Don’t do that.

“When photographing a person, use the whole frame,” says photographer Joel H. Mark. “Try not to put the head at the center of the frame.”

4. Apply the rule of thirds.

Photographers consider this a basic tip, but many beginners don’t know it. Start with your subject a third of the way from either the left or the right side of your frame, Craft says. “That said,” she adds, “rules exist to be broken.” First, though, you must learn them.

5. Look for the light.

The most important tip for amateur photographers is always look for the light, says Travis Johansen, producer, director of photography and video editor at Provid Films.

“What differentiates a photo that stands out is one where the subject looks amazing,” Johansen says, “and it’s the light that does it.”

Photographer and cinematographer Jon Kline adds that you should move your subject near the light.

“More light means less noise, truer colors and sharper photos,” he says. “The best light is usually near a window. When taking a photo, put the window at your back, and move the subject close, but not into direct sunlight.”

6. Get down and dirty.

Try different angles, which may require you to get a little grubby, suggests Alice Bil, owner-photographer of studioEPIC photography. If you kneel or lie on the ground, buildings will appear taller and more majestic. If you’re worried about messing up your outfit, bring a small blanket or scarf, she says.

Alternatively, climb a tree or wall. Portraits-especially of children or pets-can be stunning when shot from a higher elevation. “The subject looks more vulnerable, and their eyes widen when they look up at you,” Bil says.

Group shots are also better if you stand above-say, on a staircase-and shoot down, says Mark Alves, digital strategist with Alves Consulting. This allows you to avoid unflattering squatting poses.

7. Vary the setting.

Snap a few shots at your subject’s desk or where they work. These settings will appear more legitimate to a savvy audience than a sterile boardroom or lobby will.

8. Shoot more.

Hey, it’s easy to delete photos or video. Don’t be stingy. “Feel free to take a lot of footage,” Craft says. Shoot many perspectives of the same object, but and try both horizontal and vertical shots of still images. You never know where the image will be placed or if text or a headline will be superimposed on the image.

In our Snapchat/Instagram world, you’d be wise to shoot vertical and square video so you have more options for sharing, Alves says.

9. Crop and filter.

Instagram brings good news and bad news: It has raised the bar for professional photography, but it lowered it for what will pass as a useable photo, Johansen says. With Instagram, anyone can learn how to compose images and have them look good without spending weeks and tons of money on film, he adds.

“Crop and filter before posting,” says Barak Kassar, co-founder of BKW Partners. “It’s not always possible to get a great shot, so take some time to remove extraneous bits and run it through a filter or two.”

He says Google’s Nik Collection is great at doing this, and it’s free. Get comfortable with a photo editing app on your phone, such as Enlight, so you can rescue any photo mishaps immediately on deadline, adds Alves.

10. Clean your lens.

Many of us forget this when using smartphones. Keep a lint-free cloth with you so you can wipe off your camera lens, Alves says.

11. Treat images like headlines.


Kassar agrees that hiring a pro is the best idea, but he urges writers to think about photos the way they do about headlines and leads. “Treat a photo like a written headline or lead: Focus on the most important thing,” he says.

12. Get a good mic.

Scratchy or inaudible sound can destroy your video. “People can handle less-than-stellar video images,” Kassar says, “but don’t blow the sound.”

13. Watch the edges.

The difference between a good picture and a great one often comes down to subject matter and composition, Griffin says. Watch the edges of your frame. Exclude anything extraneous or distracting. Change your perspective and reshoot. Look at the scene along the boundaries of your frame

“Photography is really the art of exclusion,” Griffin says. “How do you take everything in the world and condense it down to just what matters in the frame?”


14. Watch the background.

Be hyperconscious about visual junk behind the subject, says Bill Brokaw of Brokaw Photography. “Visual junk is anything that distracts the eye-and therefore the viewer’s attention-from the actual subject,” he says. You know-the telephone pole that appears to be growing out of the back of your executive’s head during that outdoor shoot.

15. Use drones, Steadicams or tripods.

Shots in motion make video look professional and cinematic, says Maksym Podsolonko, owner of Magic Day Luxury Experiences. Shaky shots look cheap and unprofessional. Drones and Steadicam help you produce stunning shots.

If all that is beyond your skill level, at least get a tripod to steady your shots.

“Have fun,” Kassar adds. “It’ll make your subjects have fun, and it’ll show in the photo.”

This article originally ran on Ragan in 2017.


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