How to take better photographs while under lockdown

Howard Lake | 1 June 2020 | Blogs

Last week Third Sector announced that fundraising income at the top 100 charities was down by £92m in real terms, which is why to help fill the deficit, many charities have launched an emergency appeal. The pandemic has taken everyone by surprise. Campaigns that would typically take months to develop have been turned around in a few weeks.
As the UK’s lockdown is slowly eased, it is safe to say that life as we remember it, won’t be resuming anytime soon.
While Eastenders and Top Gear will resume filming in June, many charities will not be able to commission any professional photography for a while. To help continue to raise awareness of the many issues that they’re trying to address, charities are relying on people to take photos of themselves. Helpline staff, nurses, and care workers have all been stepping up to the mark by taking selfies for charities to use.
In March, one of the British Heart Foundations cardiac nurses used a week of her annual leave to return to the frontline for the first time in 10 years. Her photos and story helped the BHF raise the profile of their nurses:

It was only a mere seven years ago that the word ‘selfie’ was officially added to the dictionary. While many millennials are selfie aficionados, taking on average 25,000 in their lifetime, my mum and many others her age have never taken a selfie. The ones that she does take are often by mistake as she tries to unlock her phone.
There are millions of vulnerable people who are most at risk of the coronavirus that face an ‘indefinite’ isolation as they continue to shield themselves. Charities need to continue to raise awareness of the issues they face and will be relying on them to take their own photos for them to
use for the foreseeable future.
Sadly, when people take photos of themselves, they’re prone to making common mistakes which mean that the photos are not suitable to be used in marketing and communications. Charities like to avoid using stock photography wherever possible as most stock libraries are filled with cheesy and generic photos that are only fit to be memes. Apparently Istock believe that this is a suitable photo to illustrate diabetes:

Photographer Tim Cochrane has shared some of his top tips with us to help people take better photos of themselves…

Getting started

A few basic things will help to get you off to the best start. As your phone lives mostly in your pocket it can get covered in grime and dirt, so give it a little wipe down, glasses wipes are the best. Turn off any filters for natural colours (and no bunny or dog ears effect) and check the camera app settings (normally a cog icon) and set quality too high.

To selfie or not to selfie

Selfies have become a staple of social media but being at arm’s length has its limitations. If someone else can help you take the photo, it will allow for a more natural pose, and being a little further away from the lens helps in making it more flattering.
On almost all phones the main camera (facing forward) is better quality than the ‘selfie’ camera (the one the same side as the screen pointing back at the user). If you don’t have someone to help, you can try using the timer function if you want to use the main camera.

Using a window or doorway

Light is your friend, and more light helps your camera get a clear photo. Windows and doorways are a perfect place to start as they are good light sources. Start facing the window or open doorway. This should give you a nice even light coming towards your face. While talking about locations, think about the background and don’t have anything too busy or cluttered behind you as this can be distracting. The example below shows you the difference that you can achieve if you are able to get someone to take a photo for you and you find a good natural source of light:

Two contrasting selfies - one lit badly, one lit well

Bad selfie, good selfie

Near or Far, up and down

Framing up the shot often confuses people. Try to have a little space each side of you, generally shoot landscape (longest edge horizontal) as this gives charities more options for using it in different places online. Make sure no limbs like an arm get cut off, and if you are taking a full-length shot, including the whole body, don’t crop off the feet. For closer photos, a nice head and shoulders is a good guide, leaving a little space above the top of the head. Don't use the digital zoom-in function, if you’re you far away best, move your feet.

Time of day

Leading on from the previous tip, choose a time of day when that light is available, mid-mornings and mid-afternoons are good as the sun isn’t right above you or super bright. If you find you are getting too much sun in your face, move your head around until it’s not directly in your face. Avoid sunglasses or caps, as this makes the photos less personal and keep an eye out for too many shadows.

More than one

Having a choice is a good thing, so take a few photos to pick from. You can review them and choose your favourites to send. You can also try a couple of locations in the house or garden.

Help tell a story

Props are great at helping to show people what the story is about. That might be a fundraising T- shirt, medal, or whatever item helps to tell the story. If you were involved in something previously, overcame a challenging situation, or are working on a project, including a few photos can help to build the overall picture. If you have old physical photos, lay them flat, and without casting a shadow, take a photo of them.

Sending your photo

Once you have a few photos to send, there are a few ways to do it. Emailing the photos as attachments is the best way as it won’t compress them. If the photos are too large to attach to an email, you can use a free file transfer website called WeTransfer; which is quick and simple to use.

About Tim

Tim Cochrane started professional photography whilst living in Sydney nearly two decades ago and has since worked with a wide selection of clients including – Waitrose & Partners, The Guardian, NME, British Heart Foundation, Southbank Centre & Royal Festival Hall, The Stroke Association, Innovate UK and SonyBMG.

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