“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.”
– Abraham Lincoln
The secret to taking better pictures
The other day I was Skyping with my Grandma when I noticed that my living room had terrible lighting. There’s a massive glare that projects off my forehead and it looks awful. No matter where I’m at it looks bad.
Poor lighting can cause all kinds f problems. It can make your pictures look grainy, obscure important material, and create a terrible presentation. Bad lighting, and a lousy staging areas, can easily make you look like a depressing weirdo.
Before I get too far ahead of myself I want to reel things in and start at the beginning.
Why men should learn about photography
I never really cared about photography until last year. It didn’t seem that important to me and I didn’t put any real effort into becoming photogenic.
This eventually became a huge problem.
When I decided to take up online dating I was in for a rude awakening. I didn’t have any good photos to use. My pictures were either grainy because they’d been shot in clubs at night, or uninteresting. Even if I took a selfie it would look bad due to the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing.
While I could have hired a professional photographer, I wanted to solve this problem on my own. And in order to do so I turned to one of my childhood idols for help.
Robert Rodriguez, the guy behind classic movies like Planet Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn, started his career with a low-budget film called El Mariachi. He made the whole film for $7,000 and turned it into an international success that raked in millions of dollars. Being a film nerd I owned a copy of his book, Rebel without a Crew, which detailed exactly how he was able to make the film so cheaply.
Flipping through the book I found the section on lighting. Rodriguez had used ordinary desk lamps to illuminate his sets. As the owner of a desk lamp I figured that it was possible to do something similar.
After spotting a good place to take some pictures I set up my lamp and got to work. While none of my shots were outstanding they got the job done. Some good photos set to an interesting backdrop really helped to boost my online response rate.
How to take winning photographs
Recently I’ve been on a cooking grind. I’ll make three to four meals a day. I’ve been considering sharing some of these recipes online, but I want to include pictures with every dish.
Unfortunately bad lighting and poor locations were holding me back. Every photo I took looked horrible. It was discouraging and I was ready to give up.
Before quitting I decided to make one last attempt. I went to the store, bought a lamp, and spent an afternoon fiddling around with different shots. Here’s the difference that good lighting and a nice backdrop made:
This first picture has zero additional lighting and is really poorly framed. You see more of my table than you do actual food. It’s too wide and unfocused. Everything looks dark and grainy as well. If I saw this in a cookbook I’d skip making it.
This second picture was taken with the aid of my desk lamp. I also tightened everything up so that you know what you’re looking at. Additionally, I kept the travel brochures in the background as a sort of visual garnish. If you were just looking at my table and a plate the image would be boring. This way there’s more going on.
Cheat sheet to improving your own photos
- Practice taking pictures before you post anything.
The secret to taking better pictures is practice. If you’re getting profile shots for something like Tinder you’ll want to have a bunch of photos before choosing the best ones. Even with someone else taking your pictures you’ll want to know how to compose a shot. This way you can get comfortable in front of the camera.
- Use a good light source.
I can’t stress this enough. Most cameras, especially on phones, are terrible in the dark. Day and night shoots should both use additional light sources. Amazon has a 600W Lighting Kit for less than $50, I’m ordering it when I get home next month, but a cheap desk lamp can work in a pinch. Any light is better than grainy darkness.
- Think before you shoot.
If you’ve ever visited one of those sites dedicated to terrible dating profiles or social media accounts, you’ll quickly realize that most of the people suffer from poor photography skills. They pick weird places to take their pictures, dress sloppy, and have very strange spacing. The image below is from a BuzzFeed article about the worst dating profiles.
Despite being at a museum, about Ancient Egypt none the less, this guy ended up wearing a dorky hat and snapping a picture in front of some grey wall of text. A change of clothes, better posture, and a more interesting location within the museum could have made this guy look cool.
- Look at other photographs.
I’ve been studying a lot of culinary photography. Everything from frilly shots of cupcakes to sleek images of gourmet food. If you have a cooking site I’ve probably spied on it.
In addition to standard books and blogs I’ve also checked out some of the weirder material. Rapper 2Chainz released a cookbook last year, and I’ve really enjoyed the imagery from it. It inspired me to sketch out some ideas for incorporating things like guns and boxing gloves into photos of stews and burgers.
A lot of guys overlook photography and never take pictures. They don’t really care about the subject or think that it’s only for attention starved girls. As a result they miss out on a lot of opportunities. They are unable to create visually impressive pictures and have trouble highlighting their best features when they present themselves on social media or dating websites. Even things like making YouTube videos require you to know a little about lighting and shot composition.
I’d highly recommend learning some basic photography skills. You’ll need if you ever want to work on a visual project like a blog, eBook, or YouTube series.