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In general, I do not like taking photos much. But I have some female friends, including my flatmate, who I hang out with and they love taking photos and they always ask me to do it. However, all of them commonly say that I cannot take nice photos (this is with a phone camera).

Today, I am going on a trip with my flatmate for some days and I know that one of my responsibilities is to take photos, either selfies of both of us or regular shots of her. Are there any general tips that I can implement for taking nicer photos so that I do not disappoint her?

The photo that I took in the Christmas evening is here:

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    I don't think we can answer this without examples. Perhaps you could ask your friends for permission? – mattdm May 1 at 12:39
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    More than one example would probably help. But also, if your friends are complaining that you're not getting good results of them, it's going to be hard to really help when your friend's actual face is blocked out. It would also be useful to have a picture that your friends do like for reference. – mattdm May 1 at 13:29
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    Honestly, if you don't like taking photos, and your friends always criticize the photos you take of them, tell them to take their own damned photos. If you are going to take photos, take them for somebody who will appreciate them (yourself, for example!) or who will give constructive feedback. – David Richerby May 1 at 17:52
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    Is it possible your friends just like to tease you a bit? Maybe teasing them back a bit about being horrible models can work too. – Orbit May 1 at 19:22
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    I am willing to bet a not insignificant amount of money that what your friends are saying is "I don't like the way I look in photos so I am going to humorously blame the photographer". – MikeTheLiar May 1 at 19:30

10 Answers 10

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they always ask me to do it. However, all of them commonly say that I cannot take nice photos

It's weird that they don't like your work but continue to ask you to do it. Maybe there's some teasing/flirting going on? It's great that you want to improve your photography, though. Keep it up.

There are a lot of conventions about what makes a good photo, and learning about that will certainly help, but your friends aren't evaluating your photos for technical merit. They probably care mostly about whether or not they look good: the better you make them look, the more they'll like your photos. With that in mind, here are a few tips:

  • Get them looking at the camera. If they're looking, then they're less likely to have their eyes half closed, have some weird expression on their face, etc.

  • Get close. Fill the frame with your subject(s). That'll help your composition, avoid the possibility of having something distracting in the background, and give them more of what they want to see. If you're traveling, then you'll probably want some shots with local attractions visible, but try to still make your friends the center of attention.

  • Pay attention to light. Specifically, pay attention to how the light makes your subject(s) look. Is the direct sun causing dark shadows on their faces, or making them squint? Is there a bright background that's making the camera underexpose your subjects? Just looking at your photo with light in mind will help you take better shots. People tend to look better in soft light, i.e. light that comes from lots of different angles, so shooting with your subjects in the shade of a building with open sky above is a good strategy. Shooting on a cloudy day is good for the same reason. If you're indoors, try pointing a light at the ceiling to create soft light.

Have a great trip!

Update: The sample shot you added is a great example of where keeping light in mind could help. I'm sure that long set of lighted arches was lovely, but it's much brighter than anything else in the photo, so it tends to make everything look dark and dull. Composition-wise, you were back far enough that you got a lot more dark sky and hedge than you really need, and it seems a bit unfortunate that the subject's head is right at the vanishing point. If you could do it again, you might move your subject a bit closer to the lighted arches (or even under the arches), and get yourself a lot closer to the subject so that you could use that soft glow to light up her face and eyes. Even with the subject standing in the same place, just taking a few steps closer would fill the frame with more of her and less of the sky, and it'd get her head away from the vanishing point formed by the arches and hedge.

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    Thanks for your comments. In particular, regarding the effect of light. Why they ask me to take photos, despite knowing that I am not good, is maybe because sometimes we are alone and there is nobody else. – KratosMath May 1 at 13:27
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    Your comments on my photo were actually very useful for me. It was a nice review. I will keep them in mind. – KratosMath May 1 at 13:48
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    @FreeMan, the O.P. has only rudimentary photographer skills. Putting things right at the vanishing point requires more than a basic understanding of composition; the photographer needs to have some special goal to achieve and needs to know how to do it. Better to start with the basics: put the center of the subject at the intersection of two of the "one thirds" lines, avoid visual lines in the photo intersecting improperly with the subject (poles appearing to come out of people's heads, and things like that). – Forbin May 2 at 22:19
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    @KratosMath Some people like to have mementos of what they do. They might be unhappy the photos aren't great, especially if they want to share them (and they might be embarrassed they look bad); but they still appreciate having any photo. But in the end, learning something about photography is likely to help you with pretty much any other artistic endeavor you might like to do - observation is crucial to any art (and science/engineering), and that's mostly what this is about. Don't feel discouraged - it's hardest the first time, when you don't really know what you're looking for :) – Luaan May 3 at 7:45
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    The crux of this answer isn't about any of that. It's this: "... your friends aren't evaluating your photos for technical merit. They probably care mostly about whether or not they look good: the better you make them look, the more they'll like your photos." – Michael C May 3 at 23:16
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I have come across this previously and unfortunately, due to the world we now live in, I learnt that people in general have a somewhat distorted view of how they look and what their best look is on a photograph.

People, everyday, see themselves as a reflection in a mirror where they are able to create looks that they find pleasing.

These looks are often very limited and repetitive due to lighting conditions and can very quickly become the basis of how they perceive themselves at their most ideal. This is why selfies are so powerful. They allow the person to twist and turn until they see exactly what they want to see on the screen.

Now, when you take an image which does not represent their ideal, then, of course, they don't like it! Not because its not a good photo, but it does not represent their reflective ideal of what perfection is. Its not your fault, but you can not have enough understanding of what their interpretation of a great photo is unless they have specified it.

Therefore, my trick is to, often, ask the subject to take a selfie of themselves in front of me with all the twists, turns and expressions. Having observed them in action, I now have a much better idea of where to to take the image from.

I even quite often ask the subject to pretend that they have a phone in their hand and twist and turn as they were taking a selfie and then I position myself where the phone should be, ask them to pull their arm back and snap away.

These images may not be a true representation of the subject, but they will appreciate them a lot more as they will once again become percipients to their ideal.

Try it,

  • +1 for the "pretend selfie" trick. I may have to try that sometime. :) – Ilmari Karonen May 1 at 19:32
  • I do similar with "selfie" BUT have them leave the arm their (or have them hold eg a broom handle) and take what then appears to be a selfie but isn't. – Russell McMahon May 1 at 20:24
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    This is becoming even more of an issue as some phones automatically apply filters on their forward facing cameras that smooth out skin tones etc, these effects are rarely automatically applied on the back camera. This results in people having a unrealistic mental image of themselves, but also blaming the person they lent their phone to for the shot rather than the phone itself. – J.Doe May 2 at 13:41
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    @J.Doe - so true about filters! – Abdul Quraishi May 5 at 10:03
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Consider moving closer to the subject and following the 'Rule of Thirds'.


The problem with most of the advice you've been given is that there's too much of it. How are you going to remember it all the next time you need to take a photo? Where do you start?

Telling you to improve your composition would be so broad that it would be useless. So I picked two points I thought most likely to provide the greatest benefit.

  • Move closer to the subject. -- This will reduce distracting background elements and focus the viewer's attention on the subject.
  • Follow the 'Rule of Thirds'. -- This is one of many compositional guides based on asymmetry. Basically, photos tend to be more interesting when points of interest are not perfectly centered. In this particular variant, the image is divided into a 3x3 grid, and points of interest are placed at the intersections.

Many compositional considerations will follow naturally from these. Others can be added to your repertoire gradually.

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    This is a picture of a landscape with the vanishing point annoyingly in the center. There's also a person standing in the way. +1 – Mazura May 2 at 0:32
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A few samples of your BEST photos may help us comment better.

If flash is not used, cellphones benefit from good lighting. Ensure your subject is well illuminated.

"Camera" motion must be minimised. Holding your breath and consciously steadying your arm helps image quality when light is not good.

ENSURE that your subject is in focus. Out of focus photos look terrible except when the effect is used for a specific purpose.

In portraits have the subject fill a significant part of the image. Sometimes the background is such that having the person involved 'small' is acceptable but, if the photo is of a person ensure that the photo is of the person.

Try to avoid having light sources behind the subject. If the background is brighter than the subject you will tend to obtain silhouettes.

Ensure the subject is looking at the lens. This does not matter as much if they are a reasonable distance away but, when taking closeups or selfies with two people, look at the lens and not elsewhere.

When taking portraits at medium to short distances ensure they are looking AT you (unless a looking-away stance is intended). If there are two or more photographers, if they are not looking at you but at another camera then it is often very obvious in the photo.

Identifying what it is that people say is wrong with your photos is a useful step in improving them.

_________________________________________________

THIS is one of my "Random Strangers" albums. The photos are not designed as 'works of art' (if any happen to be, that's a a bonus :-) ) - they are largely photos which happen 'along the way' as part of my trip-record / life-record. People are generally happy with these photos of themselves when they see them. Have a look - decide if any look like photos that you would like to have taken. (Ignore the rest :-) ). If you like them, work out WHY - how do they compare with yours? What can you do to make yours look more like the ones that you like?

Screenshot from album - much more detail in album proper -

enter image description here

____________________________________________

It's not easy to properly simulate reducing exposure and then using flash - but this is a very (very) rough simulation:

enter image description here

  • Thanks a lot for your valuable comments. Well, I didn't include any photos since I don't want to upload photos of the others without having their permission. – KratosMath May 1 at 12:31
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    @KratosMath You could blank out their faces - or even most of their heads. It is VERY hard to give good advice on how to improve something when one does not know how it is 'broke'. – Russell McMahon May 1 at 12:33
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    While your (implicit?) suggestion to try using a fill flash is generally good, cellphone flashes are often quite terrible for that (or for any purpose, really). They have all the general problems with on-camera flash (such as unnatural shadows from a bright point light source close to the lens), and they're also often quite weak (making them all but useless in daytime) and may have a poor color temperature (often producing an ugly yellowish foreground color cast, especially when using auto white balance). Sure, it can be worth trying, but I've rarely found it to actually help. – Ilmari Karonen May 1 at 19:40
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Not a technical thing, but in my experience many people also like if you duck down so that they appear taller.

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    I would guess that this is true only for relatively skinny people - otherwise, it might put emphasize on the belly :D – flolilo May 1 at 18:19
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I have 3 pieces of advice.

1) When ever you have your phone out pointing at people who want to be photographed, just keep snapping and snapping, move the camera left - right, up - down etc, don't let them know you have started and don't let them know when you stop. I bet you will have a few decent shots!

2) Keep and eye on the background for both selfies and portraits.

3) Just enjoy taking the photos even if they are not good.

  • Tony - lines do not break unless you add two spaces at the end. You obviously intended the points to be on new lines. I added spaces as above and then added paragraph breaks for 'good measure'. – Russell McMahon May 1 at 13:03
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Is it the phone?

Don't get me wrong - most people are rubbish photographers. But a good phone camera can really make a difference.

I've got a Samsung S5 Neo. Samsung have always generally had good cameras, and this is no exception. Focussing is decent, the lens is good enough to keep up with the sensor resolution, no significant distortions or colour casts, and JPEG compression can be set fine enough that it doesn't kill you. It's basically a decent daylight snapper. But it falls down badly for low light, fast movement, and flash photos. And of course you've got camera shake to deal with.

My gf's old phone was a Huawei. The camera glass seemed pretty iffy, but worse than that, the camera JPEG compression was highly lossy. You simply couldn't get decent pics on it, and the phone wouldn't let you dial back the compression for better quality.

Then she got a new Huawei - their copy of a Samsung Edge. This thing now has 4 lenses, and the picture quality is outstanding. Focus is amazingly sharp, the flash does what it says, the range of light it's happy with is much better, and most importantly for phone cameras it does image stabilization. It's almost impossible to get a pic that's blurred unless you mess up with foreground objects. I'm still better at composition and spotting the opportunity, so occasionally she gives it to me to do the snapping. But good equipment still makes it easier to get something decent, and the quality of what she puts on Facebook these days has gone right up.

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I have been through this same problem

My solution:

Explain that she already knows you are not really good at taking pictures and ask her to take a picture of YOU the same way she wants a picture of HER. Once she takes the picture of you, change places with her and take the same picture, same angle and so on. This may help :)

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    No need to "explain" anything. Just ask her to show you what she wants the picture to look like. – xiota May 3 at 20:49
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I see a lot of good answers. Let me just add a single point.

Get the flash off your camera!

A direct on-camera flash is a driver's license photo.

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If taken as an art, photography is subjective and there is no right, wrong, good or bad. Mobile photography can be hard as phone cameras, although getting better aren't anywhere near as good as pretty much anything with a bigger sensor.

Typically, people have a best side, light has to hit them in a particular way for them to feel good, so take a lot of photos and not one, it's digital, very easy to remove.

If this is becoming somewhat annoying then I'd have two suggestions:

  1. Don't take them for them: Ask them to get a selfie stick or just ask a member of the public to do it for them (if applicable)
  2. Take some basic lessons/tuition: It's very easy to spend a few minutes on YouTube and grab some beginner information like composure, light and location, all very viable and easy to learn points that will help you take better photos.

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