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How to take better pictures

Five ways to improve your Instagram photos


Five ways to improve your Instagram photos

I am completely addicted to Instagram. I love it. I don't post a ton - not even every day - but I'm on there lurking all the time. It's a bit of a no-brainer, really... Instagram is like the photographer's Twitter, but in my opinion, a picture can be worth so very much more than 140 characters.

My feed is a mixture of friends, photographers, and photographer friends, and the quality of the images varies pretty widely... which is to be expected. Instagram is as much a source of entertainment and connection for me as it is for inspiration, and you certainly wouldn't have to go too far back in my own photo roll to see that I don't require every photo I post to be a work of art. That said, I don't know anyone who would be opposed to making their phone photos a bit better and punching their IG cache up a few notches, so I thought I'd toss out a few ideas for how everyone with an camera phone can take their images to the next level.

(As a side note, all of the photos on today's post were made and edited with my iPhone only, and most have made it into my Instagram feed in the last year or so. They are not, however, presented in any particular order... just a random collection that hopefully illustrates the five principles listed below.)


As with all things photography, the number one key is light. With good light, you can make a good photo out of just about anything. Even better? Good light is all over the place. You can get lucky with a pretty sunrise or sunset, or you can get creative and make good light by moving your camera around in relation to whatever light source you have available. I can't tell you how many times I've used iPhone flashlights to light things for photos - including professional photos - in a pinch. It's not the light, it's how you use it...


One of the great things about your phone is that you've got it with you everywhere, so any time you find yourself in a particularly interesting setting, you can make a photo. Even if the setting isn't interesting, though - perhaps especially if the setting isn't interesting - consider changing your perspective to engage the viewer. Hold your phone directly over or under your subject, shoot your subject through another object, or skip your subject altogether and photograph him/her/it in a mirror or puddle. Make it your personal goal to avoid photographing anything from the vantage point that you'd normally see it.


Phone camera lenses are relatively wide-angle, meaning that they have a pretty large view of a given scene. This can be a drag when what you'd like is one of those pretty portrait lenses that flatters people and isolates the subject against the background, but it also lets you create some pretty dramatic photographs of landscapes and cityscapes. Phones also do a pretty incredible job of focusing up close, creating near-macro photographs. Keep your eyes open for the big and small scenes around you and you're sure to find some incredible things you can capture with your phone.


And what would Instagram be without the nifty filters it gives us to play with our photos? These photos don't have to be fine-tuned, people... the idea is that you shoot a photo, take thirty seconds to edit it, and get it out the door. People see these photos on a three inch screen, so impact is everything. I edit my Instagram much more aggressively than I do my professional work, because why not? It's fun!


Finally, the old standby: composition. I was watching the Grand Budapest Hotel recently and marveling at how Wes Anderson has dedicated his entire career to shooting scenes framed dead center... he pretty much started a whole movement around it. But whether you like to frame things dead center or go with the more traditional rule of thirds, do consider the composition of your images. Especially when you're working within a tiny square, the strength of your composition is your best advertisement.

So that's it! Don't overthink it, but don't underthink it either... and hopefully I'll see you on my screen sometime soon!




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Cameras & Cocktails | Chapel Hill Photography Classes

I'm super-excited to be writing today's blog post to announce the official launch of Cameras & Cocktails... this little idea has been in my mind for a long time, and I'm thrilled that it's finally up, running, and ready to go! Nearly every day, I get emails and questions from friends, clients, and even some perfect strangers who want to know what they can do to take better pictures without having to learn everything there is to know about photography. The vast majority of these come from moms who appreciate the beauty and value of good photography and want to document the lives of their little ones, but don't have the time (or energy) to dive head-first into the bottomless pool that is photography education... and fair enough - there's a lot to learn! Lots of people these days have great cameras but very little idea of how to take advantage of them, and they get frustrated by their seeming inability to make pictures that look like they want them to. I always try to answer people's questions, but photography is a big subject and email is a tough medium.

So I got to thinking: how could I make photography more accessible in a way that was both educational and fun?

And that, my friends, was how the idea for Cameras & Cocktails was born.Chapel Hill Introduction to Photography Class

I designed Cameras & Cocktails the same way I would design as an intro-to-photography class for my friends... quick, light, and social, but with a healthy dose of good and useful information thrown in. Oh, and alcohol*! (My friends rarely show up if there's not some kind of booze involved  :D)

Here's how it works: You find 5-7 friends/neighbors/book club members/whatever who would like to know how to take better pictures - whether they're shooting with fancy dSLRs, point-and-shoots, or just their iPhones. On the appointed date and time, we all meet at your house, I set up my projector and screen, and we toast to fun with a purpose! Everyone walks away with a swag bag of goodies, a PDF of all the information covered in the class, and a much better sense of how to capture those beautiful images that can seem so elusive.

A few months ago I gave my newsletter readers the opportunity to try Cameras & Cocktails out**... and it's been met with HUGE enthusiasm. Here are a few of the responses I've gotten from some of the people who have taken the class thus far:

  • "This class was terrific. Annemie is clearly an expert, yet she is incredibly accessible and gave me the feeling that I, too, could learn to take awesome pictures."
  • "I never would've thought to take a class on photography, but when my friend asked me to join I figured why not? I'm so glad I did! My family went on vacation to the beach right afterward and I got some GREAT photos of my kids that I never would have been able to get before!"
  • "Cameras & Cocktails was the perfect Mom's Night Out activity! We got to socialize, drink wine, and begin to learn how to use the DSLR cameras we've all been using on auto mode for all these years!"
  • "I left much more comfortable and confident with my camera, and excited to take better pictures."
  • "I thought the class was the perfect mix of technical info and composition guidance - I really learned a lot. ...I would love to have you give a presentation for my sister's baby shower this fall!"

Interested in hosting your own Cameras & Cocktails party? I've got good news for you: in exchange for providing the venue, the refreshments, and the students/party-goers, you attend the class for free! With a busy wedding and portrait schedule, though, I can only book 2-3 classes a month... so get in touch soon!



* I'm calling it Cameras & Cocktails, but you know your friends better than I do, so if you'd rather host a Cameras & Coffee or Cameras & Cookies or Cameras & Cheeseburgers party, that's your call... the material is the same. It doesn't even have to begin with a C!  :D

** The next newsletter is due out at the end of this week... if you're not signed up and would like to get previews of fun stuff like this, go get your name on the list!



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