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Your Social Photos are Bad. Here’s How to Make them Better (Part 2)

In my last post I shared some creative tips for making your social photos look better. Now, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty technical aspects of improving quality — because creativity alone can’t make a good photo!

The technical

Follow the rule of thirds. When shooting, imagine that your image is divided up into three horizontal and three vertical sections, and align visual elements along those compositional lines. If this sounds too complicated, the handy .gif below might help — see how the horizon lies along the bottom third of the photo and the tree is centered on the right third of the photo? Try turning on the grid functionality on your camera or phone for extra assistance.

Rivertree thirds md

Avoid the flash. The flash washes out your subject and creates harsh lighting conditions. Make sure auto flash is turned off, and if it’s simply too dark to shoot without the flash, then change your lighting conditions.

Change your light. No professional equipment needed! Sometimes better lighting is as simple as switching on another lamp in the room, turning off the overhead office fluorescents, taking a product outside to shoot it, or walking around from the shady side of an object to the sunny side.

Straighten up. No one likes a slouching horizon. Any photo editing software will enable you to quickly rotate any rogue tilted photo back to straight lines before your viewers get seasick. And again, turning on your screen grid can help you achieve right angles before you even take the shot.

BEFORE: Yikes, I feel a little dizzy.
BEFORE: Yikes, I feel a little dizzy.
AFTER: Much better.
AFTER: Much better.

Shoot multiples. Sure, Ansel Adams would have needed only one shot, but we’re never going to be Ansel Adams, are we? Always take several shots from a variety of angles and distances. Later, you can pick the best and delete the rest!

Shoot first, crop later — and forget about the zoom. You’ll want to modify the format to fit the social platform, anyway (more on that next), so I’ve found it’s handy to always shoot in landscape mode (horizontal) and leave all cropping and zooming for when I’m editing the photo.

Take advantage of tap to focus. Sometimes auto focus functionality is not so functional — especially in confusing lighting conditions. Not every camera phone will let you tap the screen to change the focus to your subject, but on those that do, it can be a lifesaver.

At first, the auto focus function on my phone's camera decided for itself to focus on the background.
At first, the auto focus function on my phone’s camera decided for itself to focus on the background. Not what I had in mind!
I tapped the screen where I wanted the focus to be -- much better!
I tapped the screen where I wanted the focus to be — much better!

Invest in a tripod. Really! If you find yourself continuously deleting shaky, blurry snaps from your device, a tripod could be a time- and photo-saver. And don’t worry about breaking your marketing budget here — Amazon sells minature tripods for your phone or small digital camera for as little as $5.

Think in different formats. Instagram photos tend to be square, and vertical photos are more popular on Pinterest, while Facebook and Twitter show horizontal photo previews. Think about where you post your photos most frequently and optimize for that platform.

Photo editing: where the magic happens. Let’s face it, our phones and cameras have technical limitations, and a shot will rarely look as good on screen as it did to our own eyes. Here’s where a good editing app can step in to fill the gaps. Snapseed, CameraPlus, and Afterlight are all good apps that vary in price from free to $1.99. If you’re posting on Instagram you can edit your photo right inside the app, and a recent update that allows you to click into each filter to edit its intensity is very welcome indeed.

Hopefully these tips can help you get the most out of the photos you take for social media — and boost your social engagement!

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