3 Tips for Taking Better Pictures

Before we moved to East Texas a year and a half ago, I actually owned a studio and ran a successful photography company!  It’s so weird to me sometimes, that in this new life, no one knows that about me.  It was like…WHO I was in my old town and just…not…here in my new home.  I’ve enjoyed being full time mom and have had a lot more time for my family, but sometimes I do miss the rush of making a vision come to life with my camera.  In the mean time, I still do get to use my art to capture the important and even the everyday magic that is my family.

I know there are a lot of mom’s out there, just like me, who love taking pictures of their kids and just photography in general.  I’ve got three tips to make your pictures really POP! Whether you are sporting that “fancy” camera with multiple lenses or your iphone, here are three simple but essential things to keep in mind when you are snapping.

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Light is the single most important element in taking pictures.  Consider where the light is coming from.  If it is behind your subject, they will be dark or a silhouette.  From the side, you might have half a face dark and half light; from above, there will be dark shadows under the eyes and nose.  If you’re outside, look for areas of solid open shade.


Iphone pic Lit from above – see the dark shadows under my eyes and nose.


Iphone pic Lit from a nearby window – MUCH better!

Here’s some more examples of different lighting.  Same girl, same shirt, same chicken…Open shade vs. Full sun


Find the light, and move your subject around until you like the way it falls on them.  OR – add your own light.

Open a curtain, go outside, use a sheet of white paper to reflect light back onto your subject.

Light is amazing and can tell an incredible story, use it!




Composition is the way you put a picture together.  Where your subject is, in the frame.  Most of the time you see a subject right in the middle.  But you can play with composition to tell a story.

Here’s five different angles of the same subject – each telling a different part of the story.


carrie cotten photography

Try leaving space to the left, right or top of your subject.  This is called negative space and is a really neat way to give interest, tell a story or convey emotion.

Try different angles and notice the differences of how the subject looks.  Is the angle flattering, does it tell the story you are trying to share?  Generally shooting from below, upwards towards a subject isn’t flattering for ….anyone. ever.

Here’s some examples of different ways to compose an image to tell a story.


Don’t be afraid to get close and get far….

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cotten kids walking copy

Also – one rule I try to keep in mind (which could also be fixed with a little cropping if you forget) is to position my subject so I’m not chopping off their arms or legs at the joint.  If I can’t get the subject’s whole body in the frame or want a closer shot for my story, I try to crop it closer or father back so I’m not chopping them off at the knee caps or ankles.



The final element to make your photos really pop is the background!  What’s behind your subject.

Let’s talk clutter – ditch it!!  If you’re inside, and your sweet toddler is playing so beautifully in the living room, the light is shining in the window and he looks just like an angel – this is definitely a moment you want to remember!  Before you snap, just take a quick scan of what’s behind him.  If you can shove the clutter to the side so it’s not in the frame, try shifting your position so it’s not visible.  Making your subject the main focus of the image is a powerful way to make a statement and to capture a more interesting image.

That lovely skull backpack in the background was creeping me out so a slight shift and voila!  Much better!

Of course, photography is art – there are hundreds of thousands of ways to make a statement – sometimes the clutter IS the statement lol!!

Other ways to use background to make your image pop are to use color, texture and nature.

Look for areas (inside or outside) that have large blocks of color, different textures (like old buildings, stacks of logs or brick walls) and of course nature!  A lush green plant is one of my favorite things to use in the background.


Keep these three simple things in mind as you’re snapping and you’ll be amazed at how your images pop!  But – the most important thing to remember is to be present in the moment.  Capturing the memory forever is awesome, but don’t get so caught up in capturing the memory that you miss the moment.



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