Think back to any major moment in your life. My guess is a photograph was involved. Births, birthdays, school dances, weddings— they are all generally captured on camera to be remembered forever. How do you go about taking pictures? Before you click and shoot your way through your family’s life, you may want to heed some advice. I’ve learned the key to taking magical photos is almost all in the technique.

Before I tried my hand in photography, I had a completely different life, working as a consultant for a design and development company while starting an executive recruiting company in Silicon Valley. The birth of my daughter changed my career aspirations. My interest in consulting and recruiting gave way to a growing passion for taking pictures of my daughter.

I wanted to photograph every moment, laugh and smile that could melt a mother’s heart. Before I knew it, I was shooting tons of images each day. When I reviewed the photographs, I realized I was getting tired of capturing images that were sub-standard or failed to portray the beauty I saw when I looked at my baby girl.

I decided to up my game and get great at photography. I aimed to preserve the beauty that was right in front of me so I could look back years from now to see each moment authentically depicted. To develop my skills, I started doing everything from attending seminars to reading the more than 100 books on photography at my local library. While I read, I made it a goal to understand the content. Unlike many other photographers who have had professional training, I am proud to say that I am entirely self-taught. I believe that is why I am driven to share my knowledge with others. I feel anyone can learn how to take great photographs with a little time and practice.

You can try simple things in your everyday picture taking to assist in capturing iconic moments. Here are tips to keep in mind when you’re taking real-life shots, not just staged “say cheese” moments.

If you’re photographing your own children, and they’re getting tired of posing for you, ask them to command what happens next. I’ve seen children come to life with this role reversal. Although you may need to endure a few over-indulgent requests, you’ll likely see enthusiasm.

  • When taking action photographs, like during a sports game, grab whatever shot you get first. I call this the safety shot. Then try to get a better position, one that might give an interesting perspective with varied angles and impact. Just be sure to take that initial shot, or you might not get anything at all.
  • If you’re photographing your friends, realize that they’ll probably relax more after a photograph has been taken. Keep your camera ready because just-after images yield poignant pictures.
  • Lives are never on pause, a reason to keep moving. Taking pictures when out with your friends doesn’t mean you have to stop what you are doing. Wonderful action shots tend to occur when you are interacting and participating in the action. When you are engaged with your subjects, they are engaged and natural with you, leading to authentic photos.
  • Be aware of the surroundings. Something distracting in the background can completely distract viewers from the real subject of the photo.
  • Kids are usually messy— embrace it! Whether they have chocolate on their faces, their noses are dripping or their hair has braids on one side and a ponytail on the other, that is simply who they are at that time in their life. Capture kids at every stage of their development.

Take a step back and consider that your photos can be even better if you think about the basics, such as lighting and framing, and the other easy tips. Once your photographs start improving, you might find that you thoroughly enjoy taking photos. Your friends will probably enjoy your new hobby, too.

Five Concepts to Consider for Every Photograph

  1. Interaction: When you are having fun, your subject will be fun.
  2. Composition: Don’t always get stuck in the middle. Switch it up and try putting the subject into one third of the entire picture.
  3. Background: What is happening in the frame can either add to or distract from the main subject. Keep it simple and think about using lines in furniture or nature to lead to your subject.
  4. Lighting: Light can make or break a good photograph. Try using natural light as often as possible, but avoid being in direct sunlight as it is often too bright for your camera to register.
  5. Hardware: Bringing along extra batteries or a memory card might save the day. A lens cleaner kit can keep everything crisp and clear.
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