3 Fundamental Tips for Better Photos and Why All Students Should Learn Them

3 Fundamental Tips for Better Photos and Why All Students Should Learn Them

As students, we engage with images on a daily basis in classroom lectures, instructional videos, and documentaries. We use our camera phones to capture photos of friends, family, and life more generally. But unless you're an art student, photography is not a skill that you've been taught. With that said, I've included some ways we can use images to improve our academic work and 3 fundamental tips for better photography.

  1. Enhance your publications
    Most professors frown upon the use of images in academic papers. They know, 9 times out of 10, students include images when they haven't written enough to reach the page limit. Publishers and dissertation committees, however, welcome quality photographs that enhance the value of a paper. Photographs of scenes, subjects, or people mentioned in your paper can be invaluable but if you didn't take the photo yourself, obtaining the necessary permissions for publication can be a hassle. Therefore, I recommend you save yourself the trouble and snap the photo yourself - with permission from the people in the photo of course.

  2. Enhance your Presentation
    Thankfully, the days of ClipArt are over. Actual images of people and places have become more valuable and commonplace in presentations. "Less text and more images" has become the maxim of successful presentations. But where do you get these images from? You can use search engines like compfight.com to locate Creative Commons images that are available free-of-charge. However, taking your own photos guarantees you get the image that you need and convey the message you want. Besides, personal photographs stand out in PowerPoint presentations.

  3. Show your work!
    Basic photography skills are most useful for documenting your work. Whether you maintain a personal blog or a Facebook/Instagram account, quality photos on a social media account can go a long way. Last year, while sharing photos from a research trip in Mississippi, I was contacted via Twitter by a random professor who let me know that she appreciated the work we were doing. Confirmation is always good motivation.


So how do you capture better photos? There's no need to invest in an expensive DSLR camera or photography equipment, the camera on your phone is adequately suited to do the job. Before you upgrade your camera, it's important to understand the 3 fundamental truths of photography.

  1. Get close to your subject. Using the zoom on a camera creates a pixelated, often blurry image. For the best image quality, zoom out as far as possible and get as close to the subject as possible.
  2. Know the "Rule of Thirds". Overlay an imaginary 3x3 grid onto your image and make sure that sure that your subject sits along one of those grid lines. Phone apps like Camera+ allow you to add the grid and take full control of your phone's camera.
  3. All photos require some degree of processing. I recommend throwing on a filter with VSCO or Camera360 for quick image processing. Alternatively, you can use the Lightroom App and take control of a wider gamut of color correction features.

For a summary of these points, and more, check out the Professional Photography Tips from Joshua Cripps. You can also get creative with this cheap set of camera phone lenses from Aukey.

Once you've learned how to improve your photos, it's time to Get Social! Bring your camera along on research trips and conferences. I use my DSLR camera to take photos of random presenters, poster presentations, and scenes that I find inspirational. I make sure to collect the contact information of anyone who has agreed to let me snap their photo and send them a copy via email. It's a good way to make friends and offer something of value.

Regardless of how you use these photos be sure to keep a catalog of these photos in case your department or organization needs content for a newsletter. Sometimes the one with the quality photo is the one who is spotlighted. Also, check your organizations' website as they sometimes host photo competitions. The Society for Historical Archaeology, for example, hosts an annual photo competition at their national conference. The winner receives an award and recognition at the conference, something else to add to the CV.

How do you use photography as a student?

Managing Email: Multiple Inboxes, Burner Accounts, and Best Practices

Managing Email: Multiple Inboxes, Burner Accounts, and Best Practices

Toni Morrison: On Editing and Coping with Bad Writing

Toni Morrison: On Editing and Coping with Bad Writing