Instagram’s popularity proves it: You don’t need huge lenses and professional equipment to produce heart-worthy or even viral photos. Professional photography wisdom still applies whether you’re shooting on the latest Leica model or your cell phone. At a recent creativity workshop at the scenic Sundance Resort in Utah, we joined wedding and portrait photographer Justin Hackworth and landscape photographer Andy Earl as they led 30 lifestyle bloggers on a photo walk through the resort.
From easy, practical tips to photo storytelling strategies, here are their tips for how to make the most Instagram-worthy photos.
Upgrade Your iPhone’s Lens
For under $30, you can give your phone’s camera lens more power with lightweight attachments that can even fit in your pocket. While iPhone attachments range in price from $10 to upwards of $100, we love the XENVO iPhone and iPad lens kit for $30. Simply clip it over the phone to instantly upgrade your lens.
Adjust Exposure Manually
Shooting in low or harsh lighting? No problem. Your iPhone allows you to adjust the lighting before you start shooting. No photo editing required. Simply tap the screen where you want to focus your photo and use your finger to adjust the lighting up or down when the yellow sun icon appears on the screen. This little-known iPhone tip works great for brightening backlit subjects or subduing harsh lighting.
Avoid Using the Zoom
Zooming automatically hinders the quality of your photo, producing a pixelated effect. Justin suggests either moving closer to your subject or cropping the photo in the editing phase.
Make Sure Your Lens is Clean
Dirty lenses produce cloudy or muddy images. Wipe your lens with a lens cloth before shooting.
As Justin says, “If your photos aren’t good enough you probably aren’t close enough.”
Think of Photographs Like Stories
Just as impactful stories are only as long as they need to be, the best photographs include only the most important information and nothing else. Justin says you can always spot a beginner photographer by the background of the photo. If there’s anything distracting in the background, that’s a sign of a rookie who’s too focused on the foreground to notice that it looks like there’s a pole coming out of someone’s head. Justin suggests looking for strong lines in the background or anything that seems out of place and either adjusting your shot or editing it out in post-production. As Justin says, “what you leave out is just as important as what you put in the photo.”
A light-colored background with subtle texture makes this subject pop.
It’s also equally important to strive for interesting angles or intriguing subjects. Finding the image that portrays a sense of place, has a clear focal point, and has a bit of action in it takes practice. Justin advises starting with the easy or obvious picture—for instance, a portrait straight—and then physically moving around your subject to find something less obvious. He suggests practicing with everyday objects and figuring out ways to capture it so it’s unrecognizable.
This photo says so much by focusing just on the bride’s face.
Follow the Rule of Thirds
While there are always exceptions to the rule, this classic photography principle is behind some of the best pictures and a guiding force for both beginning and seasoned photogs. Execute the rule of thirds by imagining a 9-part grid in your frame and aligning the interesting parts of your image along the intersections. Justin says beginners tend to place their subjects in the middle of the frame, but actually focusing the focal point in one third of the image will produce a more interesting shot. When it comes to photographing landscapes Andy suggests placing the horizon in the bottom third. If your subject is more vertical, like a waterfall for instance, try aligning it to the right or left and using the other sections of the photo to lend a sense of scale.
Instead of placing his subjects dead-center, they appear in the lower third and slightly to the left.
While this portrait is centered, the subject’s strong eyebrows and expressive eyes are in the upper third, while his slightly crooked smirk is in the lower third, making for a pleasing shot.
Look (or Wait) for the Right Conditions
Photography is all about lighting. And according to Andy, photographers will go to great lengths to get a single winning shot, whether it’s getting up before dawn to catch a brilliant sunrise or waiting all day to capture the alpine glow just before the sun sets. While golden hours (just before sunset) produce the best shots, a little strategy can help you produce good images any time of day. Overcast days diffuse light and produce the most flattering, even lighting making outdoor photography a breeze. If you’re not blessed with clouds of San Francisco fog, look for shade and definitely avoid direct sunlight, which will cast unflattering shadows.
If you’re shooting inside, avoid mixed lighting—meaning natural light and artificial lighting, which will confuse your lens. Food photographer Wes Rowe recommends killing the lights and shooting in a window. Contrary to conventional wisdom, backlighting can create a dramatic photo, especially if you adjust the exposure ahead of time to brighten up the subject.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Armed with iPhones, the group took a scenic trip up Sundance’s lift and shot Utah’s breathtaking landscape. Here are some of our favorite captures of the day:
The winding path and the bridge in the foregrounds of the above landscape photos guide the eye through the photos, while a little animation makes them come alive. Turn your photos into Instagram videos like these with Spark Post‘s one-tap animations!
While Andy advises to avoid mid-day photoshoots on hazy afternoons because it washes out the colors and limits your ability to capture the landscape’s texture, this photo’s nice use of contrast between foreground and background proves even the worst conditions can still result in a pleasing photo.
When it comes to black and white photography, it’s all about texture. The stone creates a rich backdrop for this lifestyle shot.
Earl says the key to capturing landscapes is to use the foreground to lend the photo a sense of place and scale. In this case the boots and detailed blades of grass provide a nice focal point.