Want to Take Better Pictures? Here are Tips from Photographers


The world of photography today ranges from Facetuning a donut brunch to developing vintage toy camera shots in a darkroom. Whatever you hope to achieve, entering this world can be intimidating. Why not turn to the pros when it comes to getting your pictures to the next level? I hit up three of my favorite photographers to ask for advice. Here, they share their wisdom, a couple ridiculously technical tips (per my request) and of course some of their gorgeous photography.

Brad Ogbonna

Tell us a little about yourself, the type of photography you do and where you’ve been published.

I am a self-taught photographer. I’m originally from Minnesota and now live in Brooklyn, NY. A lot of my work deals with people—portraiture, fashion, documentary. I’ve been freelancing for around five years and in that time my work has been published in The New York Times, Vogue, The Fader, Bloomberg Businessweek, Esquire, Forbes and Refinery29. I’ve also worked on campaigns for the brands Diesel and Vimeo.

What do you shoot with and why?

My first cameras were the Yashica T4 and Yashica FX-3 Super 2000, both 35mm film cameras. Those cameras were integral to learning my process and helped to develop my current style. As I started freelancing, I began shooting digital. I now work primarily with three cameras: the Canon 5D Mark III, which is my workhorse camera that I use on most client-related shoots; the Mamiya 645afd is my go-to camera on projects where I’m traveling and want to be able to shoot film while being mobile; and the Mamiya RZ67, which has become my go-to camera for portraits and personal/studio work. Occasionally, I’ll bring an Olympus Stylus Epic point & shoot camera along with me when I go out in the evening, because who doesn’t love photos of friends?

How did you learn to take pictures?

A lot of trial and error. Pulling references from magazines and the web and experimenting. Anything technical I learned either on YouTube or on some website I stumbled upon. In a way, I’m always learning something new in regards to taking photos. Feels like I’m just getting started.

What advice do you wish you’d had starting out?

That’s a tough one. I would say, “Don’t get hung up on people not willing to work with you at first. They’ll come around later.”

Please share a ridiculously technical tip that has made your pictures better.

I’m not really that technical when it comes to the actual process of shooting. I take pride in the simplicity of my setup. Knowing how to use light is important, whether it’s outside or in a studio. Being able to manipulate light for every occasion is vital and will take you far. Always make sure you have your memory cards, film, and batteries packed and ready to go before a shoot. I’ve cut it close on a few occasions.

How do you get the most out of a shot?

Shoot the hell out of a subject until I feel confident that I’ve found the frame I like. I’m not a one-shot purist. Sometimes you get lucky, but I’m not that type of shooter, so I’ll keep going until I feel comfortable enough that the shot’s in there somewhere.

Any other general advice?

It’s possible to be both nice and assertive and that will take you a long way. Know your worth and don’t sell yourself short unless it’s a good opportunity. Put time into your craft. Don’t jump on trends just because you feel like you have to. Find your own path. Shoot as much as you can and also try to put your work out there as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of any constructive criticism that may come along with it.

Lose your ego. Support your peers—it comes back full circle.

Lucy Hawthorne (Shuttersmack)

Tell us a little about yourself and the type of photography you do, where you’ve been published, etc.

I’m a lifelong Minnesotan—I grew up in Minneapolis, graduated from the U of M, and stayed put because I just love this state. Beyond the Twin Cities, I adore the North Shore and the Northwoods. From the landscapes to the wildlife, those places have always given me huge inspiration for my photography. I enjoy working with a wide range of clients: individuals, families, businesses, and agencies. My work varies from food to portraiture to lifestyle to editorial to weddings, etc. I love mixing it up and my client list reflects that. A few recent commercial clients include Scotch, Post-it, Lifetime, Red Wing Heritage, and Juut Salon. My work has also appeared in local publications such as City Pages, the Star Tribune and Growler Magazine.

How did you learn to take pictures?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when—honestly, I’m constantly learning new aspects. But I did grow up around cameras. My dad was an enthusiast and had a darkroom in our basement, so I learned a lot from watching him work, helping out from time to time, seeing his prints, and hearing him talk about his images. I took my first photography class in middle school during a summer camp at MCAD and took additional creatively inclined classes in high school and college. I started pursuing part-time paid gigs after college, learned more about the business side of things, and realized this could be a career.

What do you shoot with and why?

I’m a Nikon loyalist. My dad bought me my first camera, a Nikon FM2, when I was in high school and I’ve stuck with the brand ever since. #TeamNikon!

What advice do you wish you’d had starting out?

Make sure you have your small business basics down—you’re going to need the right insurance, figure out taxes, have the correct contracts, etc. So, find an attorney, hire an accountant, research insurance coverage, and talk to an agent. I did all of this, but in a very reactive manner. It would have saved a lot of panicked phone calls if I’d done all this at the start. I also have Leslie Plesser, the lead of Shuttersmack, who has been the most amazing friend/mentor/business partner. She’s been in the business longer than me, and she’s a photographer I’ve admired for years. She’s a lifesaver whenever I have a question. Leslie was just an acquaintance before I sent a random email to her one day, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Minneapolis has an amazing creative community, and folks are generally eager to help out.

Please share a ridiculously technical tip that has made your photos better.

Remove your chromatic aberration! And, overall, learn your gear—knowing how to use your equipment inside and out will make the creative part of photography that much easier. It’s a nightmare to be in a situation where your camera is acting up and you’re stuck because you don’t know what menu to select to fix an issue. The weather is getting cold and it’s dark all the time—it’s the perfect season to cozy up with your camera manual and learn it all.

How do you get the most out of a shot?

No matter the circumstance, preparation—technical side, overall aesthetics, desires of clients, etc.—is key to a successful shoot.

Jules Ameel

Tell us a little about yourself, the type of photography you do and where you’ve been published.

I’ve worked as a full-time freelance photographer the last five years, shooting documentary and portrait photography for both commercial and editorial clients. Recently, I’ve done work for Red Bull, 3M, General Mills, Mall of America, and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. The last three years, I’ve also been doing more video work as a director of photography.

What do you shoot with and why?

Currently, I shoot with a Nikon D850 and Sigma Art prime lenses. I prefer prime lenses over zooms because of their sharpness and wider apertures. Originally, I started out using Nikon because my dad owned Nikon gear I could use. I always recommend to people buying their first camera to consider what brand their friends use so they can borrow and test out new gear before they make the investment.

How did you learn to take pictures?

I’m completely self-taught and learned everything through trial and error when I started out. Buying my first camera at 16, I was fortunate to begin with digital when a lot of people were still starting with film at the time. Digital allows you to make mistakes and quickly learn from them, rather then when you get into a darkroom. I’m still learning to this day through trial and error, experimenting, and practicing different lighting techniques.

What advice do you wish you’d had starting out?

Photography isn’t a competition. Focus on what you like to photograph and what makes your work unique. At the same time, learn to appreciate other people’s vision.

Please share a ridiculously technical tip that has made your pictures better.

This is less to do with making photos, but rather making sure you don’t lose photos. You need to format your memory cards in a computer frequently, not just your camera. Your camera doesn’t clear the cache of deleted files from card when it’s formatted in-camera. Eventually, the cache will overflow and corrupt your card. I learned this the hard way on a shoot.

How do you get the most out of a shot?

I like to work with color to drive the emotion of an image. If it’s a commercial shoot, we can take time to plan the stylistic elements in the frame, but for documentary work, it’s enhancing in a post what’s already available to tell the story.

Any other general advice?

Keep shooting with whatever camera you have.

All images provided courtesy of photographers. (1-4 by Brad Ogbonna, 5-8 by Lucy Hawthorne 9-12 by Jules Ameel.)


Becky Lang is a writer, creative director and occasional podcaster living in Minneapolis. She also likes to draw dogs and female protagonists.