Photography & Videography Basics

Not all rules are meant to be followed all the time. But you have to know what the rules are, so you know why and when to break them.


  • Shooting outside when the sun is high in the sky. It creates shadows under people’s eyes and nose.
  • Too much backlight. You will either blow out your background or create a silhouette of your subject.
  • Using a flash for still images.
  • Shooting under a tree when the sun is out. This creates shadows on people’s faces.
  • Placing your subject up against a wall. Create depth by shooting farther away from your background.
  • Too much or too little headroom and lead room.
  • Zooming in while recording video. Use your feet, not your zoom, (unless you’re intentionally trying to create a shallow depth of field).
  • Shooting vertical video.


Tips to Shoot Better:

  • Shoot outside when skies are overcast. The clouds create an even light filter which means no shadows.
  • Shoot in the shadow of a large building. If everything you are shooting is in the shadow, it creates an even light distribution similar to overcast skies.
  • Always think about headroom and lead/nose room.
  • Shooting action is more interesting. Capture moments
  • Get a variety of shots
    • wide (sets the stage)
    • medium
    • close-up
    • extreme close-up (reveals emotion)
  • Get a variety of angles
    • put your camera on the ground
    • hold your camera above your head
    • shoot your subject’s reflection in a window, mirror, puddle, etc.
  • Enable the grid view in iPhone’s camera app to follow your rule of thirds.
  • You should also use grid view in Android phones like Samsung, but you should also hold the phone still for longer than you think when there’s low light.

Let’s Look At Some Examples

Lighting can help you or hurt you depending on how you use it. I took these two pictures while I was sitting in the same seat. Notice what a big difference the lighting makes when I turn slightly. The first picture is way too backlit. The lighting coming from the window behind me forces my camera iris to close so my face is too dark. The second photo uses the lighting to improve the photo quality.

Take a look at the following photos and identify what’s wrong and right about each one.

photo 2
There is too much backlight in this photo. It makes it difficult to see the details on the people’s faces. If you have light behind your subject, tap on their faces with your camera phone, or increase the aperture/ISO on your DSLR, or open your iris on your EFP camera. Or just move so that you are not facing the window.
The resolution of this photo is poor because the light coming in the window creates too much backlight. The photo was edited to lighten the woman, but that also means the details in the background were lost and blown out.
Backlight is used intentionally to create a silhouette. There is plenty of lead room and negative space. And the man’s head is in the upper left following the rule of thirds.
Backlight is used intentionally to create a silhouette. The sunlight creates solar flares around the boy and illuminates his lightsaber.  The boy’s shadow is intentionally included in the shot. However, this would have been even better if I were farther away from the boy and included his entire shadow. I intentionally did not follow rule of thirds because I like the lines created on either side that point towards the center.
This is an example of intentional backlighting creating a silhouette. There’s a little too much headroom.

I adjusted the shot to frame it more precisely to the rule of thirds:

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 10.59.29 AM.png
Use negative space intentionally. Lead room should create space in the direction the person is looking.
Check out this lead room.
Create negative space on the upper left because that is where the baby is looking.
Layer your shots. Look for opportunities to create depth and focus. This is taken with an iPhone. Tap the person or item you want to focus on, and it puts the rest out of focus. This has a shallow depth of field. It also has a dark vignette to ensure people focus on the light part of the shot.
Frame your shots. Get close.
Here’s another way to frame a shot.
This has a shallow depth of field. It also shows how effective extreme close-ups can be. Also note the height and angle. The camera is nearly touching the table, pointing in an upward direction. This also has vignette.
This has a shallow depth of field. The flower in focus is an extreme close-up.
Extreme close-ups and a creative angle makes a huge difference. Remember to get close to people and things you’re shooting.
Get close. Use extreme close-ups often.
The right angle tells a better story and looks more interesting. Angles also help create shallow depth of field. If this photo were taken from standing up several feet away, it would not create the same effect. A shallow depth of field gives photographers power to control what people focus on.
This is a reflection shot. The sun is setting in the reflection of the man’s sunglasses. Remember to look at things differently. A sunset is great, but it’s more interesting when you see it through someone else’s eyes.
Reflection shot of a young girl looking at the inside of a camera.
Over the shoulder shots help put your viewer in the shoes of the subject. Use over the shoulder shots to connect your viewer to the person you’re featuring.
Lead room & reflection shot. Notice your subject’s headroom should get smaller as you get closer to them.
Angles make all the difference
The camera is touching the ground looking up because it fits with the overall emotion of the photo. Your angle and height should match the feeling. In the same way that an extreme close-up would evoke emotion, this wide shot and the angle evoke power, and plays on the over the top comic scene.
Your viewers become more immersed in a scene when you include shots from behind or over the shoulder.
Whether you’re shooting stills or video, you should try to capture action.
Don’t underestimate the power of reaction shots. Always get as many reaction shots as possible. Whether you are shooting still, or video, reaction is super important. Also, remember to get eye level with the person you’re shooting (unless you intentionally shoot them higher or lower).
Editing Apps
  • Instagram
  • Adobe Premiere (video)
  • Adobe Photoshop (images)
  • Snapseed
  • iPiccy

It’s easy to make good pictures better with simple edit tricks:




When editing becomes unethical

The picture we just looked at is clearly improved after adding a few effects. But when can edits be unethical? The following video discusses the controversy surrounding one editor’s decision to darken O.J. Simpson’s face on the cover of TIME magazine.

Here are more photos from Instagram to inspire you to use different angles and lighting techniques:

cool pic



lead room



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Once you learn the basics of photo composition, you can really start to tell stories. When you use photos or video for storytelling, make sure your framing and lighting help you tell an emotional story.

Get inspired by taking a quick free course on Poynter’s News University website called “Best of Photojournalism: What Makes a Winner.”

5 Tips To Keep In Mind Before Your Next Shoot

Al Tompkins created this video with examples of good lighting and better video. This video is from a few years back so ignore 5:40-6:06. 16:9 is now the industry standard.

I encourage to you refer back to his tips before your next shoot:

  1. Put the camera on the shadow side of the subject you’re shooting.
  2. Use steady sequenced video. Stop panning and zooming!
  3. Pay attention to natural sound and keep your headphones on.
  4. Pay attention to framing. Smaller screens need close ups.
  5. Work closer to your subject. Zoom with your feet, not your lens.

While you watch any video (TV, film, ads, etc.) pay attention to each photography technique:

Don’t forget audio

  • Natural sound (nats) help immerse your audience in your environment. Listen to your surroundings.
  • Always wear headphones to hear what your mic hears.

Watch and learn. Follow Storytellers on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 1.09.49 PM.png

You can also check out some inspiring work on their YouTube channel TV News Storytellers.

Get Involved & Get Inspired

The National Press Photographers Association has a great website with lots of beautiful photography examples.

Connect with Bob Dotson. He’s been an NBC correspondent for four decades. You can watch many of his stories in the “Make It Memorable” section of NBC Learn.


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