How-to Take Better Photos

Jenna Kutcher 

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June 26, 2019


The one change I made that lead to major Instagram growth? Posting photos of ME. And ever since I started sharing more of ME on my Instagram feed, I’m asked who takes my photos. People wonder if I hire a photographer or go to a fancy studio every time I need a new shot for my feed.

I definitely don’t and you don’t have to either. All you need is this episode and the willingness to try something that might feel a little uncomfortable at first.

I’m a photographer, and I know how to get the best shots of other people, but I’ve also adapted some of those same techniques to take photos of myself, and not just an iPhone selfie as arms-length away. If you’re more used to showing your LIFE over yourSELF, posting pictures with you front and center is an odd hurdle to jump. I want to encourage you to get out in front of the camera, show your face, be bold, and be YOU.

And because you might be looking for advice on posing and feeling natural when someone else is taking a photo of you, I’m serving up some of my favorite tips for when you DO hire a photographer to get the shot (or bribe your husband or partner to do the job!)

These are my tips to feel confident taking photos of yourself and getting shots you can’t wait to share in your feed.

Rock the self-timer

Self-timers are one of the most underutilized but TOTALLY transformative tools for your photo game. They’re especially helpful if you’re a solo-preneur, work from home, or have a remote team. Most importantly of all, they’re totally cost free AND pressure free. You don’t need a fancy camera or a tripod to get started, which is so great especially for people just getting into taking photos of themselves.

Just prop up your phone between two shoes or a couple of thick books, and set up your countdown. You’ll definitely need to play with it a bit to get the timing down, but this is a GREAT way to experiment with what works well for you because there’s no pressure or stress of other people and no rush to get the perfect shot in two or three takes.

Don’t forget to clean the lens. We don’t realize how much stuff comes into contact with the camera lens on our phone, so give it a quick wipe down with a soft cloth before shooting – a t-shirt will even work. Get any dust and smudges off of it to create the clearest snapshot possible. This is a good habit to get into before taking any photos on your phone, self-timer or not!

Find the best lighting… And this goes for all photos regardless of how they’re captured! You want to take photos in natural light but NOT in direct sunlight. The best place to take a photo is with your face facing a window where natural light is coming through, but the sun isn’t beaming right onto your face. The best time to take photos is when the light is softer, so think mid-morning or whenever it’s overcast!

Never ever ever zoom. If you want a closer up photo, just move your phone prop setup closer to you! Zooming manually on a phone camera, especially, takes away from the quality of the photo and might even make it more difficult for your phone’s camera to focus on you when you get into position.

Take advantage of portrait mode. You know those super profesh looking pictures that have the subject in focus and the background all blurred? A lot of phone cameras can achieve that look nowadays with what’s called portrait mode! It’s great for close-up headshots to really make your bright face and personality pop off the screen.

Feeling good about taking photos of yourself? Good! Now there are some scenarios where you just need someone else to take the photo. Asking them is sometimes awkward, I mean not everyone wants to be an Instagram Husband… but I’ve got you on this one.

Ask for help

Okay, so maybe you’ve run out of self-timer ideas or have taken a hundred photos in front of every perfectly natural lit spot in your home. You want to mix things up but aren’t fully ready to invest in a photographer, and that’s okay! You probably have plenty of people in your life who know and love you, and would be happy to offer a supportive hand if you reached out for it. I can’t tell you how many photos Drew or my mom has taken of me.

The BEST thing you can do when you ask someone for their help is ask with grace and receive with grace. Most of the time, your friend probably isn’t going to be an Ansel Adams level photographer who knows all the right angles and lighting and encouragement to offer up. They’ll pretty much ONLY know how to click the photo button, so it’s up to you to be specific about what you want.

Get the location, props, outfits, and whatever else you’ll need all ready to go before getting started. Show them some photos of the type of looks you’re going for, or explain your vision before they start snapping away! We ALL perform much better when we go into situations knowing what to expect, so if you just need a few shots for Instagram OR if you need to shoot several outfits and locations for batching purposes, be sure to let them know how much of their time you’ll be needing plenty in advance.

And truly, some of the best pictures are the completely unexpected, un-posed, accidentally candid ones. Whether you’re an artist or an accountant, a writer or a woodworker, a cook or a creator, get into your element and get busy. It doesn’t have to always be a hand-on-hip-with-a-big-grin photo — although there’s certainly a place for those, too. The movement and motion of your daily routines and work and relationships can be so beautiful without trying hard, or trying at all! I always tell photographers or friends who are shooting Drew and I together that if we have a cute moment, don’t ask to repeat it or make it weird… Just snap a photo! Those moments mean more to me than anything.

Hire a photographer

Once you’re in a place where life gets too hectic to bust out the self-timer each week or you need a lot more content than before, investing in a photographer can be an enormous game changer. Whether it’s once a month or once a year, or even quarterly or bi-annually, plan out the shoot with intentionality to get content that’s cohesive and that makes you excited to share it!

Keep it in tune with your brand and message… For example, if you’re a career coach, you don’t need to be taking fashion influencer photos with the most exuberant outfits ever against a street style backdrop. While it’s great to showcase your unique flair, you never want to be or portray someone who you’re not. That’s just giving you more work to do anyway! If you wear sweats and glasses and your hair piled on top of your head most days, show that! That’s real, so you’ll feel more comfortable AND you’ll attract the people who truly relate most to you.

A photographer will be able to capitalize on your ordinary life and come up with fun and creative ways to snap it and showcase it for the gram. For those who have been creating content for a LONG time, another creative mind in the mix might be just what you need to revamp and refresh your approach to sharing original content.

Try Editing and Presets

We all know Instagram is known for being a highlight reel. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that because for me, I feel like my truest self when I share my wins and losses and can connect with others through both the highs AND lows. But! That doesn’t mean you can’t create an aesthetic that is consistent and cohesive. It IS a photo sharing app, after all. Your photos should all have some similarities amongst them, and a great way to do that is by using presets, which are edits crafted to create uniformity that you can apply to your photos.

I have a set of 10 easy-to-use presets shopjennakutcher.com! You can get all 10 for under 20 bucks — go peep my IG profile to get a peek at what I’m talking about when I say consistent and color-uniform photos, because I use my own presets to create that regularity!

Go back through your archives

You probably have TONS of photos of you that you’ve never publicized or promoted anywhere. Think of the last few years and how many celebrations you’ve attended or memories you’ve made with loved ones where someone was there snapping pics. I’ll sometimes look through other people’s photo streams because family and friends often have great and useful pictures of us that may be candid and perfect opportunities to share on Instagram. On the other hand, they also often have some pretty hilarious and NOT Gram-worthy pics, too.

Even if it’s from an event or time that you’ve already posted about, as long as it’s not back to back or within the same handful of posts, you should be solid! You can certainly post a few pictures with the same outfit or background, but my belief is that people enjoy seeing a variety of types of photos, so it’s best to spread them out as much as possible.

I never post in real time on my feed, either. It just seems more stressful honestly to do it that way, and I want to have time to see what my overall grid looks like and to also ask myself, “Why does this photo matter? What do I want to say here?” By not posting in real time, I can be a lot more intentional with my content and share not only photos that are different and meaningful, but also captions that are well-thought-out and that deliver purpose to my audience. It allows me to provide value that is distinctive and diverse and share photos that don’t all look the same.

The Big Picture

The point is, you don’t NEED to have a professional photographer or a nice camera to get nice photos of you — you just need to step out. Get creative and resourceful. Use the people in your life who adore supporting you and take advantage of the tools you have already, like your phone and self-timer. Make small investments like presets to create consistency or larger investments like a photographer to outsource your imagery needs. You could even do a trade with another creative or Goal Digger, just start asking people in your network or in the Goal Digger Facebook group if they’d be interested! Photos that show you in your element will be easier to caption and let people into your life, and that’s the greatest part about contributing your special and individual voice online, right?

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  1. […] I’m not going to get into the details about how to get in front of the camera and take good photos, but Jenna Kutcher has a helpful podcast episode (and transcript) about it here.  […]

  2. […] Episode 269: How to Take Better Photos […]


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Before you get any further... Hi! I'm Jenna Kutcher!

A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

I’m an expert at online marketing, a nerd when it comes to the numbers, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love (without it taking over their life). 

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