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7 tips to take photos you can sell

Looking to start up a side hustle as a photographer, or maybe you just want your Instagram to stand out from the crowd. Check out these tips to take photographs you could sell.

Three photos of Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon on an escalator, on steps and jumping on a bed with her kids.
Photos that are amateur versus professional are down to the lighting, positioning, texture and more. (Source: Supplied) (Samantha Menzies)

This is part one of How to take photos you can sell. Stay tuned to Yahoo Finance for part two, where Nicole’s five all-time favourite photographers confide their top pro pic tips.

In tighter times, everyone is trying to harness their hustle... for cold hard cash. But beyond the obvious financial boost, it’s an appealing prospect to turn your love into your ‘living’, right?

And if you think about it, when it comes to photography, the social media and smartphone age mean we all have some rudimentary skills and, already, some experience. So, what if you could hone your skills with a phone to an extent you could actually sell the pictures? Or perhaps you just want an Instagram account that ‘sings’.


Read more from Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

Here are the secrets and techniques as told to me – mostly anonymously to not jeopardise their owners’ earning power – by the best photographers I’ve worked with in a 20-plus year media career.

1. Go with the best light… wherever that is

Photography-ShowerLight.jpeg - byline, shower and behind the scenes bath photo
The natural light in my bathroom is fantastic for photos. (Source: Supplied/Jim Trouse)

Don’t tell anyone but for years, the byline photos that appear beside my articles in Sunday papers around the country, and online, have been taken in my shower.

Here is the raw, before-deep-etching version (and one photographer and I ‘in the bath’).

The natural light in my bathroom is fantastic, probably due to full sun on an opaque window – first photo tip!

Any wedding photographer will also tell you it’s brilliant luck to get a cloudy day. Full sun is full on… hello squinting and wrinkles.

2. Get halos and good lighting

Photography-HaloGlowGodLight - Pic of my daughter and I surrounded by light; jumping on the bed photo; in front of Paramount selfie
Backlighting can transform a photo. (Source: Supplied/Jim Trouse/Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon)

I love backlighting for my photos – it’s really forgiving – and my favourite social media photographer loves higher exposure… or upping the light. On an old-school single lens reflex camera, you would accomplish this by widening the aperture.

A wider aperture also gives more depth of field, which means you can have your subject in focus and blur objects as they get further away (you’ll learn more about this shortly). On a smartphone, you simply increase the exposure (I will get to “portrait mode” in a sec, too).

If there is a light source behind you, this can produce a brilliant outline glow. (And I love selfies with the sun behind that capture that ‘god lighting’ interest effect). After sunset, look at turning night mode off and lessening the exposure for a crisper pic.

And if you don’t want to mess with the specific settings, do you know how to ‘dial up’ the light on an iPhone if it is too dark or you need more foreground light? You hold your finger on the screen and wait until the little sun appears and slide it. This works for videos too.

By the way, my top lighting tip: Everyone looks better with a halo light trained on them. You can either clip one to your phone or set up a stand one.

3. Flatter your subject, for goodness sakes!

Photography-FlatterYourSubject – me on steps at Pavilion; me book cover
Positioning is vital for professional pictures. (Source: Supplied, Jim Trouse and Nicola Holland)

If you’re photographing a person, help your subject position themselves in a way that looks good – remember, only you can see what the end result will be and a lot of people are awkward in front of a camera because of long experience of unflattering, un-coached photos.

Almost no one looks their best standing front on, arms beside them. I certainly don’t. Angled with angles between your body and limbs works far better.

But it can feel weird to twist in a way that looks good so consider just using the ‘topography’ at your fingertips – stairs to just walk or walls to lean. And if your subject can’t figure out what to do with their hands, give them a prop – even simply a mug, which tones down the photo’s formality as a bonus.

From your side of the camera/phone, don’t chop off their body at the bottom of the frame, at a wide body bit. I’m serious. Not thighs. Stop at knees, ankles, or even better, get feet.

As a 5’2” individual myself, feet at least capture your full height and shows every body in proportion. And on that topic…

4. Change your height

to go with me wide pants at channel 10; channel 7 in red, also to go with me from above in studio
Never take a picture straight on. (Source: Supplied/Marlena Rossall, David McCrudden and Lyndon Hill)

A photographer’s ‘height’ is everything. Straight on – and sometimes even straight – is dull.

Basically, shot from above, people look small, shot from below, people look tall (witness the previous step pic too… I am way shorter than that looks!). Either approach, though, done right, can produce a successful shot.

Just watch those chins when shooting a subject from below, and tactfully suggest angling their head away. And you can add to this with any of the above, or this technique…

5. Go with the line flow

Photography-Lines - photoshoot, selfie with patterns, escalator
Contrasting textures make photos pop. (Source: Supplied/Rachel Terry, Jim Trouse and Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon)

Converging lines, leading lines, patterns, contrast… look at the subject in its context and see what you can make more of. Angles, diagonals and triangles. All can be intriguing and lead the eye to where you want the viewer to focus their attention.

6. Pick live or raw mode

Now, this one depends on your subject. For capturing the perfect pic of a high energy child, ‘live mode’ is just safest… you can choose the precise moment that works. But ‘raw mode’ – and mandatory sharp hero-shot reflexes – is the professionals’ choice.

The resolution is much higher and you get more pixels. Just be aware that the file size will be bigger so sharing could be an issue. With raw mode, on most phones pre- and post-production editing capacity is much greater.

7. Play with portrait

Photography-Portrait - book shoot; in studio; at the WIM conference
Learn how to use portrait mode. (Source: Supplied/Jim Trouse, Lyndon Hill and Megan Keene)

Now, purist professional photographers hate ‘portrait mode’ because it is just SO much. But others know how to make it more subtle. And the black and white/colour capability can be seriously effective.

By the way, by turning your phone upside down (so the lenses are at the bottom) and/or getting down low to get more foreground you can make the ‘depth’ effect look far more natural.

Think, getting close to, say, daffodils in front of a farther-away subject on which the picture is actually focused. The same goes for restaurant/bar pics with a blurred-out table up close. Or a live audience or the behind-the-scenes of a studio.

You simply often hold your finger on the screen on the spot you want the focus. These are some insider insights that professional photographers know… but will usually not tell you.

Stay tuned to Yahoo Finance for part two of How to take photos you could sell, for my five favourites photographers’ top pic tips. Could you turn a budding interest in photography into actual income?

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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