Simple Ways to Take Your Photography to The Next Level

September 14, 2017


With a degree in journalism I take the most pride in my writing, but as trends have quickly changed with the rise of social media, I've realized that taking incredible pictures has become just as important as quality writing.


We live in a society that spends a majority of its time scrolling through hundreds (if not thousands) of posts a day and it's hard to get someone to slow down long enough to notice your pictures unless they truly standout. You can easily upgrade your photography by making a few simple changes, having the right equipment and using high-quality editing tools. 




I'll be the first person to tell you that cell phones can take fantastic pictures — especially if you're on the go and want to snag a shot quickly — but when I want to snap the most high-quality picture I can get, I always rely on my Canon DSLR (digital single-lens reflex). Real cameras seem to pick up even the tiniest of details that can make a big impact. (I try to ALWAYS have my camera on me or nearby wherever I go, you never know when a photo op might present itself.)


 Using manual focus on my camera allowed me to focus directly on this butterfly and blur out the surrounding flowers. 

My Canon also picks up the littlest of details that don't always show up when I use my phone. In this photo you can even see the specks of pink sand around the piece of seaweed!


News flash! You don't have to have an expensive camera to get great shots — I'm still using what I consider a starter camera and love it. (Here's the camera I'm currently using and highly suggest it.) See some of my favorite shots using my Canon on my recent trip to Aruba, here.


Now that I know how much I enjoy photography I'll start to upgrade my equipment and invest in a heavy duty camera and different lenses — I suggest doing the same in case you don't enjoy it as much as you thought you would. 


People tell me all the time that they don't like to carry their cameras around because they are too heavy — believe me, I get it! I've had bruises on my hip several times from carrying my camera around all day, but it's always been worth it. Having a comfortable camera strap can make all the difference. This Pacsafe strap was designed for ultimate comfort with a padded shoulder strap that adjusts to wear cross body — to help keep tension off your shoulders and neck. It also has small compartments to hold any camera accessories you may be toting around like a lens cap. 


Still not interested in investing in a camera? No problem. There are several small tweaks you can make to your phone to upgrade your picture taking. A phone lens kit is one of the simplest ways to take your phone photography to the next level. One of the kits I love lets you shoot high-quality fish-eye, wide angle and macro shots. You can find it here for $34. For a more affordable option, this lens kit easily snaps on your phone and has three lenses that you can switch out depending on the shot — it's also compatible with any smart phone or tablet. In all honesty, for $10 you can't go wrong. 

My favorite interchangeable lens kit


Lighting cases are another great way to step your game up. Designed by a photographer, the LuMee Duo LED Lighting Case gives you professional lighting right at your finger tips. The case has built-in LED lights on the front and back that will give you natural light even when mother nature won't. It's great for indoor and food photography. Compatible with iPhone 7. This one is rose gold and fits an iPhone 6 and 7

 Along with great lighting — LuMee is lightweight and rechargeable. 




Following a few simple rules can take you a long way when you're out shooting. 


Golden Hour — The best times to shoot are one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset — both considered golden hour because of the flattering golden hue the sun casts.

 This was quickly taken during Golden Hour with my phone. Notice the beautiful golden haze? 

A beautiful setting made even more beautiful by the golden hour. 


Horizons — Always make sure your horizon line is straight when you take a photo — otherwise people won't be able to focus on anything other than the picture being crooked. If you realize your picture isn't perfectly straight after you've taken it, straightening it up is an easy fix during editing — but a very important one.


Rule of Thirds — When it comes to framing your shot, stick to the rule of thirds. Imagine your photo is a 3x3 tic-tac-toe board and the ultimate goal is to place your focal point/subject where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect. Doing this will make your photos more interesting and eye-catching than if you shot your subject straight on, dead in the center.

Using the rule of thirds gives this flower picture better composition than if it were taken straight on. Same goes for the photo below.



Taking the time to edit your photos correctly is just as important has having the right equipment — it can truly make or break your shot. Personally, I won't publish a picture on any of Southern Departure's social media accounts without taking the time to edit it first — same goes for the site. Trust me, it's always worth taking the extra time to go the extra mile to make your pictures really pop and stand out. 


I use Adobe Lightroom CC to edit the photos I've taken with my camera — it takes some getting used to, but there are plenty of free tutorials online that will help get you started. Once you've gotten the basics down, it's pretty intuitive and great for small edits like color boost, tweaking exposure and shadows and straightening out crooked shots or big edits like cloning and spot healing. I pay $9.99 monthly for a membership and think it's worth every penny. 

Here's what Lightroom CC looks like when you're editing. 


For shots you've taken with your phone there are countless apps you can download to improve their quality before posting. I'll be honest, I don't love the filters that Instagram offers, I'll typically only use the brightness or highlight option to bump up any unwanted shadows, but even that's rare. Most of the in-phone editing that I do takes place in one of these apps:


Lightroom CC — YAY! Lightroom offers an app for your phone that's included with your monthly desktop membership. The app is a smaller version of the desktop program, but just as effective. 


Retouch — I just discovered this app after reading a recent article by another travel writer, and am so glad that I did. Retouch is the answer I've been waiting for when it comes to getting ugly, unwanted items out of my pictures — like telephone lines or trash cans. ($1.99)


Snapseed — This app is amazing for adjusting lighting, spot editing and sharpening images.  It's extremely easy to use and I can't recommend it enough if you want crisp, clean photos. (FREE)


VSCO — If you're looking for preset filters I've found that the VSCO app offers the countless presets that make editing quick and painless — most of the filters are a little dark and moody for my travel pictures, but sometimes I do want to add a lot of contrast to a photo or transform it into black and white. (FREE)


Tip: Using editing apps on your phone will drain the battery very quickly, it's always a good idea to have a small portable charger to keep it from dying. I like this one for $15.


No matter what editing software you use, it's always important to remember not to over edit a picture. You can take a remarkable shot and ruin it by too much editing, which can range from over sharpening a picture to adding too much color or overexposure. I'm definitely guilty of over editing, it happens to the best of us. To avoid this (because it's easy to do) I'll usually edit a photo and then step away from it for awhile and come back with fresh eyes to look at it one last time.


Now that you've got the right tools to edit, you'll be able to take your photography to the next level in no time. 




For more helpful resources follow my photography board on Pinterest to see all the sites I rely on for tips and tricks — I'm always adding to it, so keep checking back.


 Pinterest keeps all my favorite photography sites in one place. 

General Advice 


• Don't be afraid to get started. No one, and I mean, no one started out being an amazing photographer — or even a half-way decent one — without starting somewhere. You can start on your phone and work your way up to a DSLR, but start somewhere, and don't let not being perfect immediately intimidate you. Most professional photographers with years of experience will tell you they cringe when they look back at the first few years of their careers in photography, because they've come such a long way — and these are people who get PAID to take remarkable photos. 


• Take LOTS and LOTS of pictures — if you're shooting digital they're free, so why not?! Take as many as you can. You'll only get better with lots of practice. Plus, not every picture will be up to par, so the more you take the more options you have to choose from for the final product. I take probably 200 photos at every location I plan to write about and you'll probably only see five of them. 

 I took over 300 photos in this sunflower field in Virginia and liked less than ten. But it always feels amazing to get "the shot".


• Don't force a shot. Taking a food shot in bad lighting will never look good, accept it and move on, don't try and force the shot — it'll still look like crap even if you edit it. The more photos you take, the more you'll start to realize what scenarios won't work well and you won't even waste your time. 


• Find your own style when you're editing. Don't copy someone else or feel inadequate because your pictures don't look similar to another photographer. Everyone's eye is different, maybe your pictures stick out because you're great at finding unique angles or your editing style is unmistakable. Once you've found your style, stick with it — constancy is another important factor when it comes to your photography and keeping your work polished. 


• Along with finding your own style it's important to be unique when it comes to the shots you take. We've all seen the infinity pool shot with the subject's back to the camera, the blogger looking at her shoes holding her hair, the girl reaching back to grab her boyfriend's hand — been there, done that. Be creative! Don't just do whatever everyone else is doing — it's overdone and stale. 


• Don't do something just to get a picture for Instagram or social media — it often takes away from the experience you're having. I try to avoid editing/posting pictures until I have some down time or at least until the next day. This way I can enjoy the moment and experience I'm having without feeling the pressure to post right away or rush the process and end up with a mediocre picture. 


Continue to learn and grow. Photography is a hobby that allows you to continuously get better at your craft, keep trying new things. 



I've been playing around with some of my photos and made my favorite shots into greeting cards, stickers and notebooks — check them out, here 


'Four Reasons You Should Stay on an Island Instead of Cruising'. 

Click here for a three-day itinerary for "America's Finest City" — San Diego.

Follow Southern Departure on Instagram to see all the day-to-day happenings, upcoming articles and trips. 




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