8 Tips for Taking Great Photos

8 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos

Are you a good photographer? I’d love to be able to take truly beautiful shots of our family and everyday moments. Inspired to up our game, we set out to get some expert advice. Here, food and lifestyle photographer Marte Marie Forsberg, who teaches two amazing Skillshare classes, shares eight things to keep in mind behind the lens…

First, you should know: One really great way to study photography is through Skillshare, the online learning community of more than 3,000 classes on tons of creative topics, including food, design and writing. Photography is one of Skillshare’s biggest categories — they have nearly 800 classes — and you can take them whenever and wherever you want. The instructors are fantastic.

Here are Marte’s tips:

1. Get really close. One of the easiest ways to pump up the impact of your photos is by playing around with proximity, Marte says, especially when you’re shooting people or animals. “The closer you get, the more you’ll heighten the intimacy and emotional bond between your subject and the viewer. They’ll feel like they can’t look away.” A very close photo can even show more than real life. “All sorts of details come to the surface in close-ups that you’d totally miss with your ‘normal’ eye.”

2. Use Vermeer’s light. You can take a great photo in many kinds of light, but perfecting your technique in natural light is a great place to start, Marte says. When shooting indoors, Marte loves to use light streaming through a north-facing window, in particular, because it’s indirect and soft. (Vermeer famously painted his 17th-century masterpieces in a studio lit by a north-facing window.) “Northern light has a cool, blue tone, which is a beautiful natural color that sinks into every aspect of your photos,” she explained. “It’s also very easy to work with if you’re using an editing app later.”

3. Keep your eyes peeled. The best camera is the one you always have with you. Plus, “iPhone photos are making the cover of news magazines now; you could shoot an entire cookbook with one if you wanted to,” says Marte. She also recommends exploring without your camera in hand at first, which helps you see more creatively. “If I’m doing a travel story, I make sure to walk around a lot before I even take my camera out,” she says.

4. Get crazy with composition. It’s human instinct to put the subject in the middle of the frame, but it’s often more interesting not to. “Whatever you do, try to experiment beyond centering,” Marte advises. For a still life, she recommends placing low items in the foreground and taller items in the background, or making good use of negative space. “You don’t have to fill your whole frame with stuff,” she says. “You can insinuate a great story with just half a teacup.”

5. Go to a museum. “We’re bombarded by beautiful images online,” Marte says, “But sometimes you can just scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll…” She believes anyone who’s getting into photography should browse physical art books or visit galleries and museums, in addition to Instagram and Pinterest. “Getting back to basics and feeling the pages in your hand or seeing images in an art space slows you down and inspires new ideas.” And you don’t have to limit your art appreciation to photography. “Light, composition and all the essentials are captured in great paintings, too.”

6. Hit the floor. Don’t be afraid to stand on a table or climb a tree so you can shoot from above, or flop on the grass so you can get down on the level of your subject. “When you move your body, all of a sudden you see the scene through dramatically fresh eyes,” says Marte. Also, keep in mind: The best picture might be behind you. “If I see something beautiful, I always turn around,” she says. Imagine a gorgeous sunset, when you might see a pack of people lined up for the classic Instagram shot. “The next time that happens, turn around and look at what the sunset is shining on,” says Marte. “That’s the money shot.”

7. Edit, edit, edit. Marte believes 50% of a photo’s success is created before editing and 50% is created after. She recommends the VSCO app for making your photos even more beautiful. She always darkens and sharpens images to add contrast. “You don’t need to be afraid of tinkering in photography,” she says. “It isn’t a new thing. When the great Ansel Adams was developing his film by hand almost 100 years ago, he would enhance shadows and light.”

8. Print your photos. “Taking images from the digital world into the real world feels so good,” says Marte, “And the process of selecting the best ones for printing will help you shoot better photos later.” Some easy sources: Social Print Studio for quick, inexpensive Instagram prints; and Costco, for the best ratio of value to quality.

8 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos

8 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos


Thanks, Marte! Find her classes on Skillshare here. We also loved the documentary photography class taught by Ami Vitale, a shooter for National Geographic, and Dan Rubin’s class on editing with apps.

Bonus for all readers: Skillshare is offering Cup of Jo readers three months of unlimited classes for $0.99, if you sign up by May 31st. Go here to sign up. It always feels so good to learn something new. (Their cooking classes are great, too.)

Also, would you ever want to teach a class? Skillshare is always looking for new teachers. Learn more here. Thank you so much, Skillshare!

(Photos by Marte Marie Forsberg. This post is sponsored by Skillshare, an awesome online learning community. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that support Cup of Jo.)

  1. I like the tip that mentions walking around before taking photos. I’m guilty of being “trigger-happy” whenever I have my iPhone in my hand. I do get to enjoy the scenery for a few seconds before the shutter, but it would be nice to really take everything in before I think of “sharing” the experience to the world.

  2. i always try to take great photos, but my sister seems to have those skills more than i do! these tips will definitely help me in the future :)


  3. I became a MUCH, much better photographer after getting the e-book “How to Create Stunning Digital Photography” from Amazon. It even has videos in it. I swear my skills improved ten-fold. Well worth the ten bucks!!!

  4. I used one of these tips this weekend (north-facing window) and posted a photo on Instagram … seconds later, someone asked me how I got such good light! So it definitely worked!

  5. Really appreciate all these tips! So looking forward to growing in this area!

    Thank you!

  6. I am obsessed with online webinars and classes. I would sit here all day and just watch them over and over if I could. Thank you for the great tips, I’m always looking for tips to photograph my daughter.
    xo Michelle

  7. Oh, as an aspiring professional photographer I just ADORE this! <3 xo

  8. When I was learning photography, I quickly found that lighting was everything. The book, Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera, taught me all I needed to know about aperture, ISO, shutter speeds and how to use these setting to work with and enhance available light. Beyond knowing the basics of using a camera, time of day and weather can be your greatest asset. Look for even lighting in the morning or evening, during the “magic hour.” You can also find even light when the weather is overcast. Look around for shadows, if you do not see any, you have found even light :)


  9. Christina says...

    Great tips! What kind of slr camera would you recommend? Thanks ☺

  10. Thank you for this post! Picked up some great new tips, and even the ideas I’d heard before were great reminders (plus the beautiful photos you included were worth it in themselves!) Just discovered your blog on Bloglovin’, can’t wait to read more!

  11. Nancy says...

    A tip that I would add is to be aware of transitions as an opportunity for wonderful and dramatic lighting for photos – whether it is the transition of time of day (early morning or sunset), transitions of weather such as an approaching or receding storm, or a transition of seasons. Scenes that can be ho-hum at an average time of day can be stunning if you keep an eye open for dramatic lighting situations.

  12. What great, practical tips! I can’t wait to look into Skillshare. Photography is one thing that has always been intimidating to me – but it has become important for me to grow in. Thank you for sharing!


  13. Kayla Heersink says...

    I signed up last night and watched a bunch of photography videos. This is great! Thanks! I’ve already learned a trick or two.

  14. Great tips! It can be almost intimidating to see the standards of any kind of photo posted through Instagram/Pinterest/etc. these days! I love the “turn around” tip! I’ve never really thought of that! But I suppose something just as breathtaking could be directly behind you as it could in front of you!
    Thanks for sharing!

  15. I am following her Instagram now. Great suggestion.

  16. Lindsay says...

    I just installed vsco but I can’t really tell how to use it. How is it better than instagram? Help please!

    Also curious about skillshare. Are there additional costs after the $.99?

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      Hi Lindsay! There are no additional costs after the $.99! That will give you three months of unlimited Skillshare classes. (Ordinarily, you can sign up for $10/month for unlimited classes.) VSCO has more photo editing settings than Instagram, so many photographers like to use it to fine-tune their images there first, before posting on Instagram. Good luck!

  17. Shelby says...

    I just wanted to say that I signed up for Skillshare with the promo code you posted from them a little while back…and I am so hooked!
    I love their videos and have honestly learned so much – a simple one hour vid would have cost me about seven hours scanning blog posts and youtube videos to teach me the same things. My favourite for anyone who wants to learn how to take yummy food photos is DSLR Photography for Bloggers by Brit & Co, and just a generally amazing class is The Modern Marketing Workshop by Seth Godin(!). Thanks for sharing this amazing site with us, Joanna!

    • Liane says...

      Yes! I finally switched my DSLR to manual after watching a skillshare class by Indeana Underhill. It’s great to be able to re-watch segments till You really understand something. You can’t do in a structured class or without being bombarded with YouTube adds. Will def check out Brit and Co.

  18. Coco says...

    Yes! I love that she mentions Vermeer Light! I learned about shooting using a window with northern light back in my first photography class and I’ve never forgotten that tip. The results are always so beautiful, natural, and soft.

  19. I’ve been following her account for over a year now, and she is my absolute favorite on Instagram.

    Sometimes I find myself staring at her photos and get lost in the story she tells through them. Her use of light is like nothing else I’ve seen before. There are a few pictures with the one ray of light entering her beautiful cottage through a window and illuminating the one thing that explains what the photo is about.

    I just like her photos so much. Her pics can bring you childhood memories, with familiar and cozy feelings, but at the same time are cool and unique.


  20. Allie says...

    Thank you so much for the ideas, Monica, Tamara and Tis! I’ll give these tactics a whirl : )

  21. These are great tips. Thank you! I’m just beginning in photography and this is all really useful.
    I’m new to bloglovin, please check out my blog :)

  22. #6 turn around! I have beautiful mountain view out my eastern facing Windows. Good at sunrise but stunning at sunset. The whole mountain turns pink and purple. Just stunning.

  23. Amber says...

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me since I finally bought my first Moment wide lens (for my iPhone 6) and Moment case. Eek! Excited to step up my iPhone game! As much as I would love to finally get my dream dslr, it’s not only not in our budget right now, but also not very practical when I’m chasing after two toddlers. I love that phone cameras (and accessories) have come such a long way and actually make it possible to take quality photos with something that fits in your back pocket!

  24. I love that she didn’t say anything about having a fancy camera. Henri Cartier-Bresson used a Leica with a “normal” 50mm lens–the one that resembles what we see with our eyes (i.e., not telephoto).
    The unusual composition is all over Instagram and other sites. My daughter is brilliant at it, probably picked up from too much time on social media ;)
    As for editing photos, look them over carefully on a big screen as soon as possible and throw out the ones that don’t pass muster.

  25. Allie says...

    Great tips, Jo! Do you have any tips for organizing photos? Like so many moms I know, I take so many iphone pics and then get overwhelmed with a system of how to regularly take them off my phone before I’m alerted that I’m running out of storage space. I just feel like I’m swimming in photos with every intention of doing something great with them and it doesn’t happen. And I really want to make baby books for my kids but it’s overwhelming to sort through all of the photos. If you have any suggestions or apps that make it easy, I’m all ears!


    • Monica says...

      I have the same problem (and even upgraded to the 64gb phone…), BUT I’ve had lots of luck with getting pictures off my phone and into printed books with the Chatbooks app. They print directly from your instagram feed or iphone photos and ship automatically so you don’t even need to remember to order them. It took me a while to get everything organized, but now I’ve gotten into a good groove and finally have printed photo books of my kids!

    • Allie, I have the same issue. So. Many. Photos. I link my phone to my Google account so all my photos are automatically backed up. Once every month or so, I’ll devote an hour to logging into Google and creating albums for groups of photos; every day pics are in albums labeled MONTH/YEAR, special photos by event (i.e., NATURE CENTER TRIP/NOV. 2015). It’s pretty quick and painless once you get into the groove. With the albums names, consistency is key. Later, if you spot a special offer on My Publisher or Shutterfly, you can easily upload your files to create an actual printed album since your pictures are already organized. Good luck!

    • Tis says...

      I try to be ruthless with the photos I just took. If I take ten pictures in one session, I immediately go through them and delete seven or eight. It doesn’t solve your problem (which is also my problem!), but at least in the long run, it keeps your images in the dozens, instead of hundreds. I call that a victory. :)

  26. k says...

    A word of caution: as a person who prints books with images for a living, I come across many many ( many!) photographs that have been “enhanced” by someone untrained and it ruins or at least detracts from the image. Things you can’t see on screen will appear in print. And things that are passable in magazines or newspapers show up in a well printed book/ art work. I’m constantly trying to correct for strange artifacts in digital files that the author / photographer /designer deliberately added in an effort to improve the image ( think bad shadows, too much contract, blown-out whites, smudges from over zealous smudge-tool-useage and on…and on…)

  27. Louisa says...

    OMG an English Pointer.

  28. I adore Marte’s Skillshare classes and photography. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Thanks for these great tips! I’ve slowly started to realise editing is key to photography and isn’t “cheating” as I thought to begin with!