Photography 101: How to Take Better Photos

Today we’ll be chatting with a personal friend of mine, Madeline Harper.

Madeline is a Dallas based photographer (soon to be ATX!), and she’s the kindest and sweetest soul you’ll ever meet! She has the biggest heart for sharing beauty with others through her photos, and her passion for photography and storytelling through beautiful imagery is just intoxicating. It’s been fun to follow along through her photography career and to get to know her on a more personal level. (I started shooting with Madeline last year for my blog, and am so happy that we connected.)

Read on for her best practices and top tips on taking better photos, plus how to break into the photography world if you’re starting out!

Let’s talk cameras! Do you have a camera preference or go-to model of choice?

I use a Nikon D750. It’s my go-to, but each camera brand has its strengths. I started learning on a Nikon and gradually accumulated gear that I loved, so it made the most sense to stick with this brand! I do have a few Sigma lenses that I use with my Nikon body.

What are your top best practices for taking better photos with a DSLR?

The best thing my business mentor did for me was to take my camera, slide it into manual mode, and tell me from that day forward I wasn’t allowed to take it off! Since that moment six years ago, I truly haven’t. The custom manipulation you have of photos can’t be beat. After that, practice taking photos in all different lighting situations! Try backlit, in direct sunlight, indoors, in the shade- you’ll never be comfortable shooting until you know how your camera interacts with light. I always love a good backlit glow [just double check your focal point], but there’s something so fun about shooting in full sunlight and shaking things up! Practice any chance you get, the more comfortable you are with your camera, the better your images will be. Don’t buy more gear until you’re fully confident shooting with what you have.

As far as the specifics of how I shoot: I underexpose my images by one or two stops every time, to make sure I keep all the detail in the image! (You always have the option of brightening a shot in post, but you can’t bring back details that were lost by overexposure.) Keep your ISO low and your subject moving! It’s the shots in between planned moments that are magic. I stick to prime lenses for portraits- my 50mm 1.4 lens is my go to 85% of shots you see. I also use a 35mm 1.4 that is dreamy for pulled back shots and a 24mm 1.4 that I use for interiors. Prime lenses are the best investment I made in terms of gear after a full frame body.

How about iPhone photos? What are your top three tips for taking beautiful imagery with your phone?

  1. Even lighting is key for iPhone shots. Get your subjects in good, consistent lighting before taking a shot. Shadows are harder to edit on a phone, especially when they’re on a face.
  2. Make sure your angles are lined up – this bothers me more than anything on iPhone shots- if a horizon isn’t leveled or if a straight on shot isn’t lined up! Shooting with a grid on can help that but there are also tons of editing apps you can use to transform the image afterward- Afterlight and Filmborn are the two I use.
  3. Take three shots every time you want a photo. Change a bit in each one- I always take one a bit underexposed and one with a bit brighter exposure. That way you have options when editing! I also take a couple of images at different angles- you never know what will end up being your favorite!

What are some things that you feel are important when it comes to taking great photos?

It is so important to have a great relationship with your subjects! I’ve learned that a lot of people are uncomfortable in front of a camera, and as a photographer, it’s our job to bring out the best in our subjects! That starts with your clients trusting you and with you having confidence in your skill. (Movement is also your biggest friend!) It does you no favors to have six shots of the same pose. Study posing if it helps, but always keep your subject moving! Giving action words [walk this way, twirl, leap across the sidewalk] eases your subjects into great images! I truly believe that the unplanned photos end up being my favorites.

I always try something new at shoots- a new angle, a fun pose, a different expression! We aren’t just trying to replicate the work of others; we are trying to create a fresh approach that reflects each of our clients!

“It is so important to
have a great relationship
with your subjects!”


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If you could advise anyone wanting to get started with photography, what would be your tips and need-to-knows?

  • I would say first off, invest in yourself. Invest in a mentor session with a photographer you love or a book that teaches you the business side of things or a course that walks you through an area that may not be your strongest. I reached out to so many seasoned photographers when I was just starting, asking them out for coffee just to hear their stories and advice!
  • Secondly, become an expert with the gear you have before dropping thousands of dollars on the next thing you think you need. That was one of the most helpful pieces of advice when starting out. Master what you own, then upgrade when you can’t get any more growth out of the gear.
  • Third, I always take time to invest in relationships. It is the people around me that keep me encouraged when a job seems out of my league, my friends in the industry who I call when I have an editing question, and the people who refer me that make this business run. The relationships I have with other business owners, creatives, and photographers have catapulted my career. It leads to continued collaborations with businesses you love [@Revelry and @TheIdentiteCollective being two examples].
  • Another tip is to draw inspiration from unlikely sources. I went through a phase where I only followed other photographers and wanted my work to look like theirs; it led to an unhealthy space of comparison. It wasn’t until I unfollowed people that trapped me in the comparison game and started followings artists, designers, travelers, and makers that I truly found a source of inspiration that wasn’t leading me to create stagnant work.

“The more lifestyle work
others saw me doing, the
more they trusted to hire
me for their businesses.”


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*BONUS TIP!*
The last and probably biggest piece of advice I have is to know the areas you want to grow in! I said yes to any and every project at the beginning of my career, and it left me scattered and not knowing which direction I wanted my business to continue in. There were a lot of projects I should have said no to. Once I decided to hone in on lifestyle photography, shooting for brands and bloggers, I sought out projects that reflected that! The more lifestyle work others saw me doing, the more they trusted to hire me for their businesses.


Stay connected:

Website: Madeline Harper
Instagram: @madelineharperphoto

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