Five Tips for Better Photographs

My Generation

Day 7 of 30 Days: Depth of what? Bounce what? You're using a wide what? This and more, explained in today's five things.

Published on: November 7, 2013

1. Depth of field. You know those beautiful portraits where the backgrounds are blurred out and the subjects virtually jump out of the photo? That's due to a shallow depth of field. You will not re-create the look of a professional portrait with a point-and-shoot camera, but you can make a snapshot portrait look better by paying attention to depth of field and by creating a shallow(er) depth of field. In short: zoom in, step backwards until it's framed properly, focus on your subject and shoot.

2. Know when to use the wide angle and know when to, well, not. Case in point: my colleague Josh Flint graciously agreed to shoot a photo of me with a group of my very best gal friends at the Ag Media Summit this summer. There were maybe 8 or 10 of us in the shot. Josh was using the point and shoot camera belonging to one of our group and stepped about six feet in front of us to frame the shot. He prepared to shoot and nearly in unison, our group (all ag writers and professional photographers of some type) raised a chorus of "Whoa!" I hopped down from my spot and shared a bit of priceless although unsolicited advice: when you're shooting a group of women like that and you keep the point and shoot at its widest lens setting, you will make everything - and everyone - look wider. "That's why you all looked panicked," Josh said later. Yes. Vanity? Perhaps. Technology working for us? Definitely. {Read Josh's hilarious take on this event here! And he's right; we did hand him a solid half dozen devices with which to take our photo. And he did a most excellent job, despite the superfluous advice he received!}

Image design by Erin Ehnle, Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl. She is a remarkable photographer.
Image design by Erin Ehnle, Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl. She is a remarkable photographer.

3. Bounce flash. In general, I avoid flash photography, preferring natural light. But sometimes, you just have to take photos inside. Birthday parties, Christmas, etc. If you use a separate flash (one that's not built into the camera), you can pivot the flash upwards and bounce the light off the ceiling. That will throw the light downward and will bounce it around the room, eliminating shadows on the walls behind your subject. It creates beautiful soft light that filters down and around your subject. Works best with moderate-height white ceilings, though I've also had success with tan vaulted ceilings. Don't try it in a gym or hotel ballroom.

4. Climb on something. Or lay down. For good field photography, get up high - climb up on wagons, semis, bins, another tractor, a fence, a truck, anything - or lay down in the stalks/dirt/rows/crops. It's always a better perspective and a better perspective makes for a more remarkable photograph.

5. Angle is everything. When I was a young field editor on the job, I went out and shot photographs of a crop consultant as he posted field signs. I brought the photos back to the office, excited. The venerable Mike Wilson looked them over. Loupe still in hand, he leaned on the light table with his other hand. And over my photos, he spoke solid words of advice that have stood the test of time: "Never shoot a fat man from the side." Yes, sir.

Five Things: The Series

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  1. Renfield8 says:

    Great intuition about the barrell distortion causes from digital cameras and camera phones. Some of the later Paint Shop Pro's have a fix for this, but if you are uploading from your smartphone, you're stuck. Nobody wants to look wider, especially (you know) with the Barbie Mentality that is prevalent in this society. I enjoyed your article. Thanks!

  2. Michael of says:

    As someone that grew up in agriculture and still works in agriculture all while being a photography fanatic (but novice), I appreciated your article! Thanks for sharing!