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The photography basics: how to take a good picture with a smartphone or compact digital camera

You don’t need to be a professional photographer with fancy equipment to take great snaps of your friends, family and pets.

Summer in Australia inspires us to turn off the TV and venture outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. And whether it’s at the beach, the park or even in the backyard, there’s usually a moment that has us reaching for a camera. So if you want to Facebook or Instagram the kind of photos that will impress friends, family, old school chums, random work colleagues, that guy you met once at a concert, that girl you had a drink with after your friends deserted you, or the other 827 people you’ve friended or followed but never met, then here are a few tips that will get you Likes galore.

But before we start, a bit of advice on the forthcoming advice: this is intended for the non-professional whose camera fits in the back pocket or enjoys smartphone photography. That means you’ll be using the basic auto settings with the few options provided, which for most people, is more than enough.

If it’s portrait photography tips you’re after, here’s the first. When photographing people, GET IN CLOSE! When showing photos of your significant other, you don’t want friends squinting to recognise Deirdre or Trevor somewhere in the distance. So move closer until Deirdre fills up at least half the frame, or zoom in on Trevor – almost every pocket digital or camera phone has a zoom setting these days. And to ensure Deirdre isn’t blinking or Trevor isn’t yawning, it helps to tell them you will click the shutter on the count of three. One, two…

Most of the people snaps we take are when we’re out and about, or travelling. What separates a good photo that gets Likes from a photo that people scroll past is one where you can clearly see the people and the location. This is where Trevor might position Deirdre to one side, filling the rest of the frame with a city skyline or mountainous vista. To make sure Deirdre is in focus, Trevor should point the camera at his beloved and press the shutter half way down, locking in the focus (for smartphone photography, simply tap the person or thing you’d like to focus on on your screen and the camera will automatically lock them into place). Keeping the finger half pressed, simply move the camera to include the desired scenery and complete the click.

Grand Canyon - USA.

When it comes to #babyspam or capturing your pets, do it at eye level. Standing above a child or pet makes them look submissive, and a little distorted. Getting down on your knees is worth the effort because the photo will be a lot more adorable as the viewer will be looking at their eyes and smile rather than the top of their head.



The beauty of digital photography means you can see the photo on your screen before processing the film (modern day speak: uploading it on to your computer), so you’ll easily be able to spot casting shadows on Deirdre or Trevor’s face, or a squinty expression if you try and photograph on a sunny day (depending on where the sun is positioned). There are two ways to tackle a scrunchy nose, snarling mouth and beady eye, ‘the sun’s in my face’ squint, or an overshadowed ‘everything BUT the sun’s in my face’ expression.


One is to use the fill flash setting which most cameras have these days. Fill flash emits a softer light than the auto flash setting and is particularly good with nighttime shots such as the one of Santa below. The other option is to shoot into the light, where the subject turns their back to the sun. You might need to use one hand to shield sunrays from entering the photo but the results are usually better than the squint.


And finally, don’t just take one photo at each location or of a special moment – take several. Sometimes when you click the shutter you don’t notice the thoughtless local who wandered into your shot, spoiling an otherwise beautiful image of Deirdre in the main street of Koondrook with the carp she caught that morning.

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