Anyone that I’m connected with on Twitter or Facebook knows that I love to take pictures. And while I may not be great, I think I have a decent eye for taking a decent snapshot. To that end, I am totally hooked on an application called Instagram (iPhone only at the moment). I like it for a variety of reasons but the three most important are 1) it’s ease of use, especially with it’s sixteen pre-created filters, 2) the ability to cross-post to several different social networks and 3) the Instagram community.
The reason for this post is that several people have asked me recently what I use to take the pictures that I post. Rather than lock that information up in a single e-mail, comment or tweet, I’m putting together a quick post on five tips on taking better pictures.
Five General Photo Tips
- The Camera: Start with a device that takes good pictures. That doesn’t mean a DSLR or even a point and shoot camera with 15 megapixels. What it does mean is that you shouldn’t be using a crappy flip phone or a Blackberry (which takes horrible pictures). Truth be told, I love my DSLR… but the device I like best for picture taking is my iPhone 4. Unless you plan to blow your pictures up beyond an 8 x 10″ size, you really don’t need much more. That is of course unless you like using zoom or macro lens that allow for more pixels/different lighting and shutter speeds.
- Time of Day: What a lot of people forget about is that the lighting for your pictures accounts for at least 50% of how the picture comes out. You can game the lighting using different apps/filters, but starting with the right “canvas” makes all the difference in the world. My favorite time to shoot is just after the sun comes up or just before it goes down. Note that temperature/humidity also play a factor. Usually colder, dryer days are the best days to shoot. Humid days are the worst.
- Keep it Simple: Some of my best pictures are the most simple. A single flower, a raft, a tree, a bird. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take a good picture with lots of people or things in it. Just that pictures that are too busy can come across as noise.
- The ‘Crop’ Tool is your Friend: Most people forget that sometimes you can make a good picture into a great picture by cropping it correctly. Most basic photo apps (or even tools like Microsoft PPT or iPhoto on the Mac) allow for the ability to crop. This can help you zoom in closer on the subject, eliminate unwanted noise or create a cleaner composition. Try experimenting with different pictures to see what I mean.
- Experiment with Black and White: What might be an ordinary picture in color can become much more interesting in black and white (or sepia tone). This is because converting your picture to a monochromatic color scheme can accentuate the lines and lighting in your photo. If your camera app gives you the ability to adjust your lighting, sometimes “overexposing” your picture can create some cool effects. [I've included an example of this below]The four photo applications I use regularly are iPhoto (Mac), Camera+, Dynamic Light and Instagram. Here is a list of other cool photo apps for the iPhone that you might want to check out. [h/t to Shauna Causey for turning me onto Dynamic Light]
- Take Pictures with your Native iPhone App: Taking pictures with your native iPhone app and then cropping/filtering them with Instagram is useful for two reasons. First, it keeps a raw version of your original photo. Second, it allows you to crop and zoom in on your subject matter. Recently, I’ve been taking pictures with my Phone app, importing them into my Dynamic Light app (tons of cool filters and greater flexibility with your lighting techniques) and then finishing them off in Instagram [see below for an example]
- Don’t Forget the Tilt-Shift: After you’ve taken a picture (or uploaded one from your photo library), if you touch your screen, a button in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen flashes up called “Tilt-Shift.” Clicking on this button gives you an opportunity to blur parts of your photo using either a straight line or a circle filter (you can toggle between the two in the bottom left-hand corner). Don’t overuse this feature but if you have a flower, face or other subject matter in your foreground, you can blur the background re-creating the same effect that using the f/stop feature on a DSLR would create. Warning – some people overuse this feature. It can be cool but can also make you look like you are heavy handed in your photo filtering.
- Use the Right Filter: There are sixteen pre-made filters in Instagram. Most of these filters are crap. The four I find myself using regularly are X-Pro II, Lomo-fi, Walden and Gotham. One of the cardinal mistakes that I see many other folks making on Instagram is trying to use some of the other “retro” features and in doing so, wash out/water down their pictures. DON’T DO IT.
- Vary your subject matter: Taking pictures of only flowers, faces or clouds may be your thing… but if you want to make your stream interesting, mix it up a little bit. This means action shots, still lifes, black and whites and color, faces and flowers. A good test is in the Instagram app, click on your “Profile” and then “Your photos.” Do your last 16 pictures look different? Or similar? Would other people find them interesting?
- Tips for Engaging: Here are a few suggestions if you want to engage with other followers on Instagram or acquire new followers:
- Make sure you have a photo up for your avatar and post a few pictures before following other people.
- Before you post one of your own pictures, go into your “stream” and like 5-10 pictures that your friends have posted (obviously you don’t want to like pictures that aren’t good but if you follow the right people, it won’t take long to find 5-10 good pics).
- Don’t overpost. Just like on Twitter, if you update too many times in a row you will flood other people’s streams. It’s not a huge deal but it makes it harder for people to concentrate on your best work.
- BONUS: for any of you that also use foursquare, using Instagram to “check in” to a location while adding a picture to the venue can be a cool way to make your check in more interesting.