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5 tips for taking photos that are actually worth keeping

We all take too many photos that languish in our camera roll – so we asked professional photographers for their advice on capturing print-worthy memories…

A blurry snap of the dancefloor at a wedding. A picture from a dinner party in which everyone is either mid-conversation or mid-chew. A badly-lit photo of your friends on a Tube platform before a night out (you thought it would be fun and artsy; the result was more drab and unflattering).

In all likelihood, the camera roll on your phone is overflowing with photographic flotsam like this: sloppy shots that haven’t even made it onto your main grid on Instagram, let alone warranted a spot in a physical album or frame at home.

It’s only natural that we want to document our post-pandemic social lives after more than a year stuck at home. But quantity isn’t the same as quality, and there’s something a bit futile about taking endless pictures that are destined to go nowhere but the cloud.

Some research even suggests focusing too much on documenting experiences with our smartphone cameras can take us out of the moment and hamper our memories of the event – hinting that a more mindful approach could be a good idea.

Of course, we’d all love to capture frame-worthy memories on every night out (as opposed to sweaty-faced group shots that immediately prompt screams of “DELETE IT!”). But how do you go about taking photos that you’ll actually want to print, keep and give to friends as keepsakes – rather than simply providing more filler content for your Instagram stories?

Below, professional photographers share their advice on how to take pictures that you (and your friends) will treasure for years to come. 

1. Consider the colours

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Photos with rich, vivid colours will almost always look better than those with sludgy, washed-out tones, particularly when printed out. Good lighting is key to capturing bright colours – so pay attention to the location of your main light source, whether it’s an overhead lamp or the midday sun. Rule of thumb: you want light to shine your subjects, rather than from behind them.

“If I’m outside, I’ll even avoid photographing someone in front of a brighter portion of sky, as it can cause the background of the photo to look washed out,” says lifestyle and portrait photographer Liz Seabrook.

Contemplate the colours and patterns in your photo, too. “I like taking portraits against dark backgrounds – they make whoever’s in front of them stand out,” says Seabrook. “And remember that complementary or corresponding colours can make an image feel more put-together. If you’re with a friend who’s wearing a pink coat, and you walk past a house that’s painted a similar shade, that’s a photo opportunity.”  

2. Think about the composition

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Put simply, composition refers to how different items in an image are arranged – from the lamppost in the background to the people at the centre. A striking composition can elevate a photo from random snapshot to print-worthy memento.

“If you’re taking a group picture, get everyone close to each other, and try and fill in any empty spaces between people,” says lifestyle and fashion photographer Ella Gradwell

“Create triangles with the way you place your subjects, or keep some space above their heads. I always like to pay attention to the environment, too – are there any nice lines I want to incorporate into the shot?”

In photography, this final technique is known as ‘leading lines’: using lines within an image to lead the viewer’s eye towards the subject. Photographing your friends in front of a staircase, leaning against the parapet of a balcony or standing on the edge of a riverbank would all be examples of using leading lines.

“Most importantly,” says Gradwell, “try not to photograph anyone with a tree directly behind them so that it looks like it’s growing out of their head – a mistake I continuously make.” 

3. Relaxed is better than rigid

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Unposed pictures are often the most effective. “My favourite individual photos of my friends are always the candid shots – the ones of them laughing or talking so animatedly that you can see the excitement on their faces,” says Gradwell. “For group shots, the same applies. The best photos aren’t necessarily where everyone is doing their best smile and looking at the camera.”

If you’ve shepherded your friends into position for a group picture on your long-awaited European holiday, encourage a more relaxed vibe by cracking jokes from behind the lens, or by taking a few snaps before everyone’s officially ‘ready’. “It’s always good to try and get people to laugh and move and engage with each other,” says Gradwell.

Once you’ve got the group shot of dreams, set it free from your phone using the new instax Link WIDE – a small, sleek device that connects to your mobile via bluetooth and prints super-sharp images on WIDE format instant film. Choose a colour mode, collage your images, or personalise with stickers and text.

Or, if you’re feeling snazzy, add a QR code to the photo before printing and giving to your friends, linking to a secret message, a location or a song on YouTube that reminds you of your trip - Lizzo’s ‘Good As Hell’, anyone?

4. Make a ‘shot list’

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Seabrook recommends thinking ahead about what photos you want to take before an event, much as a professional photographer would do.

“If you take a lot of pictures but they’re not necessarily the best, or you feel like you’re not living in the moment because you’re too busy shooting everything, make a ‘shot list’ before going out,” she says. “Like: ‘OK – I want to get one good shot of the girls together before we go in, and one shot of us on the dancefloor. I can take more, but they’re the two images I want to nail.’”

This technique makes the act of taking photos “a little bit more mindful,” continues Seabrook. “You won’t feel the need to go picture-picture-picture throughout the night.” 

5. Think like you’re shooting on film

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Whether you use an instax instant camera or a Gigi Hadid-style disposable, taking film photos can help you live in the moment. “Having a finite amount of photos means you take the pictures that are worth it, then carry on having a wonderful time without worrying too much,” says Gradwell.

But there’s nothing stopping you channelling this focused-and-finite mentality when taking photos on your phone. And once you’ve got your keep-forever shots – complete with vivid colours, a considered composition and a relaxed feel – you can print them using the new instax Link WIDE printer, the best way to set your photos free from your camera roll.

“There’s a fine line between documenting a great time for posterity and standing on the edge as everyone else has a great time,” says Gradwell. “And printed photos are a much better keepsake than 100 phone pictures.” 

The instax Link WIDE is the first WIDE format film printer available and offers new ways to give your photos to your loved ones straight from your phone. 

Not only can you choose what to print from your smartphone, you can print from video, choose a colour mode (rich or natural), collage your images, or add stickers and text to personalise the print. Add a QR code to your image before printing - use this to add a sound clip, a weblink, a secret message or a location to your WIDE print. 

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