How to Take a Better Photo

I’ve always been interested in photography.  When I was a kid, I had a wall size cork board covered in pictures pulled out of magazines.  I got my first taste of photography when I studied abroad in college and traveled throughout Europe for a month with my film camera – capturing unique doorways and photos of bicycles along the way.

It’s no wonder that after years of working in the corporate world, my passion drew me back to school at the Academy of Art for 2 1/2 years before becoming pregnant with the P man.  I had started photographing children around that time and I find that environmental portraiture is my favorite.    I’ve been lucky to grow a business photographing families and kids as well as freelance work doing what I love.

I wanted to share a few tips on how to take better photos – especially since it’s summer and most people are traveling or spending a lot of time outside with the kids.

Time of Day. To avoid your subjects squinting in your photos, I recommend not taking pictures during the day when the sun is at it’s highest point.   People have a hard time opening their eyes and you also get strange, harsh shadows on skin.  Shooting in the early to late evening, or “the golden hour” gives you a warmth from the sun that looks great on skin and gives your image a terrific feel.Image

You best pictures sometimes turn up in unexpected places.  When I look at people or things, I see how they could look in a 4×6 photo. Some of my best photos have been flukes, like this one.  My husband was cleaning out his truck after a weekend of hunting, and everything kind of fell into place.  The dog, the boots, the bag.  I whipped out my camera and got a great shot.  Sometimes photos like these come together in a matter of a minute or two. With my photographs, the first image I take is sometimes the best.  If I spend too much time trying to stage something, it doesn’t always work out.   If you see something cool, shoot it.  And shoot a lot.  You never know where or when an opportunity will arise.


Don’t say “Smile!”  When photographing small children, I never tell them to smile because sometimes you get that forced lock jaw look where kids can look like they’re grinding their teeth.  It’s better to get them to laugh.  This photo was taken at P’s party and it was nice to have our goofy friend Steve standing behind me getting the kids to crack up.  It gives the photo a great feeling of atmosphere and you can sense their energy in the pic.   This photo fell into place at the last minute as well.  The kids were all kind of sitting together and I whipped out the camera. This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

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Watch Your Background.  I’ve had a lot of clients request photo shoots in places like public parks and beaches.  Basically places where you run the risk of a lot of people in your background.  This is all well and good if you want to see legs around your subject, dogs running through photos or people having a picnic in your background.  I’ve had to ask people to move out of a shot and you feel kind of rookie-ish doing it.  I like to pick places to shoot that are quiet, peaceful and you don’t run the risk of bodies in your background.  If you are in a busy place and want to take a photo of someone, check out the whole area.  See if there’s a quieter, less crazy place to shoot your photo.

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Keep shooting.  I saw these ladies sitting on a bench in the Marais district of Paris and knew it would make a terrific photo.  I stood pretty far back (thank God for that long lens!) and pretended I was shooting a building behind them and then I’d photograph them.  I knew they would never give me permission to photograph them so I tried to play it cool.  I’d shoot around, then them.  As a photographer, you’re supposed to get model releases from all of your subjects, but I know that would never fly.  I just kept shooting.  By the time they noticed me and tried to shoo me away,  I had my photograph.

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You can never go wrong with window light.  Putting a subject near a window is a great way to shoot.  With one of my favorite photos of P, I stuck him on the floor next to our windows in the afternoon and started shooting.  It’s a beautiful, diffused, even light that falls softly on skin and your subject.   You’ll start to notice how many shots in catalogs are shot near windows.  It can be subtle or completely dramatic.


Rule of Thirds. “The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.”  In other words, to create visual interest in your photos, don’t always center your subject.  I like to put my subjects to my far left (maybe because I’m left handed).  It makes for an interesting photograph and can create depth based on what is in the foreground and background.

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Figure out what you like to photograph and go for it.  Like I said, for me, it’s environmental portraiture.  One of my favorite photographers, Robert Yager, is an LA based photographer who embedded himself with the gangs of LA and photographed what life was like for them.  His pictures are very powerful and I love how photography gives us a window into a world that we normally wouldn’t be privy to witness.   If you like travel photography, take your camera everywhere.  If you like photographing kids, take pictures of them running through sprinklers or eating breakfast.  You’ll be surprised what you come up with.

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(All images above copyright 2012-2013 Christina Straw Photography)

If you’re interested in classes in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out Rayko Photo Center
Want to rent a different camera or lenses, take a look at
Download a free trial of Adobe Lightroom (intuitive photo editing software)

For more information on me and my work, visit


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