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How to take better photos

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Vacations are over before we know it. Thankfully, a really good photo can keep the memories alive. But if your photography skills need a little help, NPR's Life Kit has some tips on making sure the images you bring home are frameworthy. Here's Beck Harlan.

BECK HARLAN, BYLINE: If you spent time taking pictures on your vacation, the last thing you want is to come back and think, wow, these are pretty generic. This isn't really how I remember my trip.

DANIELLA ZALCMAN: I think understanding for yourself the intention behind a photo is absolutely critical to creating an image that will last forever and have significance to you.

HARLAN: That's documentary photographer Daniella Zalcman. She's photographed for The New York Times and National Geographic magazine. And if you're looking to have photos that feel more personal than the postcards at the airport, Zalcman suggests trying this.

ZALCMAN: I adore the idea of giving yourself an assignment or even, maybe to put it in a less formal way, maybe even a scavenger hunt while you're traveling of, you know, here's a list of things that I want to be thoughtful and intentional about and seek out as a photographer.

HARLAN: So maybe make a shot list. Make sure to add variety in both subject matter and style - details, wide shots, posed photos and candids. Whatever you do, make sure you don't discount the ordinary.

ZALCMAN: I always think it's fascinating to ask people to try to photograph what they see as being inane or ordinary because sometimes it's hard for us to appreciate those little things that can be very important.

HARLAN: It could be as simple as including your well-loved backpack in the foreground of that vista or taking a photo of your friend napping on the train, though be sure to ask their permission before you post it. Remember, you're the director of this photograph, meaning you have control over the frame. So, Zalcman says, get close.

ZALCMAN: And I say this kind of both philosophically and technically is not getting close enough.

HARLAN: Also, just try playing with perspective. What if you stand on the park bench and photograph your picnic from above?

ZALCMAN: What happens if you have, you know, a young child, if you try to photograph from their perspective, maybe? What does that look like?

HARLAN: And of course, pay attention to the light.

ZALCMAN: Taking images at high noon in a place with really harsh sunlight isn't going to result in the best photographs just because that light creates super harsh shadows.

HARLAN: You're going to have much better luck at what photographers call golden hour.

ZALCMAN: Sunrise and sunset and the, you know, depending on where you are and what the time of year is, you know, 30 minutes to three hours around those times creates some of the most beautiful, soft incandescent light that gives everything this nice sort of orange-y yellow glow.

HARLAN: So take advantage of the natural lighting when it's good.

ZALCMAN: I'm not saying that you should gear your vacation to when there is golden light. You probably don't need to do that. But, you know, if you are trying to think of when can we do the pivotal family photograph where we get everyone, where we corral all 19 of us into one place for the photo, then maybe you want to think about doing that at closer to 5 p.m. and not at noon.

HARLAN: When it comes to photos, a little intention goes a long way. Beck Harlan, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BROTHERS NYLON'S "TEA COZY")

MARTIN: For more helpful tips on taking better photos and lots of other topics, check out NPR's Life Kit. Just head to npr.org/lifekit.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BROTHERS NYLON'S "TEA COZY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.