I don't claim to be a professional. And I'm not starting a photography business. I just love to take pictures. To document life. Always have. Growing up, my parents spent wayyyyy too much money developing film for me - mostly of mailboxes and kittens in boots and other insignificant things I adored. Not because we had a lot to spare, but because they knew the joy it brought. And, God bless 'em, they never complained - never told me to stop or slow down or wait to develop them.
Flash forward to 2015, and film is a thing of the past. But pictures are more esteemed than ever. We Instagram our dinner, Snapchat our shopping trips, Facebook our pregnancy announcements, blog our lives, and pin other people's pictures on Pinterest. We snap photos on our iPhones, DSLRs, GoPros, and point-and-shoots. We hoist up our selfie sticks, say cheese for photographers, and wait for timers on tripods. We smile, we smize, we fish gape, we fake laugh.
We're so silly. But we LOVE pictures.
I'm huge advocate for hiring a professional photographer, especially for events and occasions. They know what they're doing! But the reality is, unless there's a photographer in your family, or you're rolling in the dough, there probably isn't someone with an expensive camera following you around, documenting moments that are little to the world but big to you. And chances are, you can't afford to hire a photographer to tag along on vacation, to take a picture of your dog in their Halloween costume, to snap photos as you rock your baby to sleep. So here are a few tips that might help you take better pictures, on your own, with you in them, and WITHOUT a selfie stick or a selfie arm ruining your picture.
1. Use a tripod.
If you want to be in the picture without showing the awkward selfie arm or using a selfie stick, this is the best solution. And you won't have to ask strangers to take your picture! (BIG win for introverts like me.) This one is my favorite, perfect for on-the-go pictures! Stick it in your purse, then hang it or attach it to whatever is nearby - a park bench, the hood of your car, whatever. I also suggest using a full-size tripod if you can, as it's much more customizeable. Mine is a cheap one from Amazon, similar to this one. Don't spend more than $20-35 on a tripod! For smart phone photographers, I love this bundle on Amazon. You get a lightweight, compact tripod with a smartphone mount, and it comes with a wireless Bluetooth remote. All for 10.99, say whaaaaaaat?! You're welcome.
The photo below was taken at Mount Rushmore on a tripod. Instead of teaching a stranger how to use my DSLR and taking a gamble on what would end up in the frame, I was able to have complete control over the finished product. #controlfreak
2. Buy a remote.
You can buy one for as cheap as a few dollars on Amazon. Again, it definitely isn't necessary to spend more than $30! (Be sure to read the reviews before purchasing and check to see if it's compatible with your camera.) I used this one for several years, but I lost it this week in the Christmas tree lot at the hardware store (TYPICAL), so I ordered this one ($8.49!!!) from Amazon. It's half the price, and the reviews are great! Can't wait to try it out. In the menu of most cameras, you can change the release mode to either quick-response remote or 2-second delayed remote. I prefer the latter, as it gives you the opportunity to slip the remote in your pocket - much less dorky than obviously holding out a remote.
Also, don't forget to confirm that where you'll be standing is in focus before snapping the picture with your remote. If you're posing next to someone like I am below, just have them stand in the right spot and half-press your camera's shutter-release button until they're in focus before jumping in the frame yourself. If you're taking a picture solo, you can either have someone stand in for you to check the focus, or you can take your chances.
3. Use your phone's self-timer camera setting.
While most people don't have DSLR cameras, most people do have smartphones. If you don't want to buy a smartphone tripod or remote, your phone's camera or a self-timer app does the trick! Lean your phone up against something, scurry into the frame, and voilà!
The picture below was taken as we were moving out of our first apartment ever. I didn't have time to find my DSLR, so I I leaned my phone against my purse on our porch ledge and used the TimerCam app. Not too shabby!
4. Location, location, location. And timing.
Break the mold! Instead of going to the orchard for pictures with the rest of suburbia, go to a friend's farm, or snap them on a small-town sidewalk. Go on a walk with your family and take some pictures during golden hour. The time of day makes all the difference. Pictures come out best when the sun is at eye level, so get out earlier, or stay out later. Avoid middle-of-the-day shoots unless you have some fantastic reflective shade, and don't avoid cloudy days! Some of my favorite pictures were taken while the sun was napping. Below is our Christmas card photo, conveniently taken in the high school parking lot next door. Nothing fancy, that's for sure. But the lighting is great and there were no gawkers! :)
Ask a friend, ask a stranger, ask your husband, ask your little sister. Don't be embarrassed to ask someone to take your picture. While tripods are nice, it's fun to see what pictures look like from someone else's perspective. Someday, someone is going to wish there were more pictures with you in them. And if it isn't you wishing, it will be your nieces and nephews and children and grandchildren. I wish my parents had jumped in more pictures they took of my sister and me as kids. I wish my family had more pictures of my great aunt, who died before I was born. I wish my grandma hadn't hidden from the camera so much.
Documenting moments isn't just for you - it's for the people who love you.
So GET IN THOSE PICTURES!
6. Be true to yourself.
No need to go out and buy fancy clothes. Wear what's comfortable. Wear things that say, "That is so (insert your name)." For instance, in the picture below, I'm wearing a sweater over the shirt and leggings I slept in the night before. I know, that's disgusting. But it's real life! It's classic Saturday morning attire. And it's so Maggie. Had I worn a pink dress and heels, people would raise their eyebrows and think, She's trying too hard. Same goes for makeup. If you normally don't wear any, you might throw on a little blush and a little mascara. Don't watch a bunch of contour tutorials and think you have to be all Kim Kardashian to look good in pictures.
BE YOU, dang it.
7. Keep it real.
Notice how extreme editing styles are just that - styles? They're cool one day, then not the next. It was once cool to use heavy vignette and put text art quotes on pictures. Now, those things make me shudder. Don't edit and filter so excessively that you lose the feel of the moment. Don't blur out your freckles. Don't slender your figure in Photoshop. Don't change the color of your eyes. KEEP. IT. REAL.
8. Posing isn't realistic.
Yet, we all feel like we have to. More often than not, it looks and feels awkward. So instead, take candid pictures that show what you're actually doing, not what you're pretending to do. Set up a tripod while baking Christmas cookies and snap a few while you're rolling the dough or spreading icing. Don't feel like you have to look at the camera and say cheese or do your hair or set up the room to look just so. Document everydayness.
The picture below was taken while my family FaceTimed my sister and her husband on Thanksgiving. Kyle snapped a few while we were talking. Zero posing, just family being family. It isn't perfect, but it's perfect to me! And that's all that matters. :)
9. Take more "from where I stand" pictures.
I absolutely love these! As I was leaving the Farmer's Market in October, I looked down at the crunchiness of fall underfoot and thought to myself, I love this moment. So I documented it. I was still wearing my pajamas from the night before, a bag full of apples in my hand, and a belly full of hot apple cider. It was a morning for the books, and I wanted to hold onto it.
10. Don't compare.
Your pictures won't look like everyone else's. And thank goodness for that! Use your own artistic eye. Take pictures of whatever you want to take pictures of, with whatever camera you have. I've quoted her before, but I'll quote her again:
Some of the best pictures from my childhood are grainy and out-of-focus. Our family's Olan Mills portraits aren't real life. I prefer the pictures with bedhead and Kool-Aid mustaches and pajamas, thank-you-very-much!
Just snap. Snap away.
-Maggie (the journaler)
camera: Nikon D7100
Comment or message me if you have any questions not covered in this post!