Taking your own photographs

In some cases, it might be necessary or easier to take your own photographs.

This section covers guidance to:


Use the best camera you can

A high-end digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera is the most appropriate device for high-quality photography. However, with constant improvement in image capture technology in other devices such as phones and tablets, images produced by these devices may be acceptable for some purposes, provided that you have checked the capability of the device, selected high-resolution capture settings and followed the rest of the advice given here. Ensure that you have any accessories required to capture your images, such as zoom or macro lenses, a tripod, flash, or UV or other filters.

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Compose your image

Art photography often poses a subject at an unusual perspective, or zooms in or focuses on a very narrow depth range. This is generally not appropriate for scientific publications, except where high-end photography is a feature of the publication design.

For most purposes, you should aim to document your subject as clearly as possible. Centre the critical part of the subject, ensuring even space all around. Include the whole subject, if possible (avoid cutting off the tops of people’s heads or animals’ tails) – this may require you to zoom out or stand further away from the subject. If your subject can be manipulated, ensure that the critical part of the subject is clearly visible and not obscured. For example, when photographing a person performing an activity, ensure that their hands and body are positioned so that what they are doing or holding is clear.

Tip. Take a number of photos at different zoom levels or distances from the subject, or at different angles. Think about your viewpoint – do you need to crouch or lie down, or get up on a table or ladder to get a better perspective?

Photographing sequences

If photographing a sequence, ensure that you take photos of every step or stage. Consider using a tripod to maintain a consistent point of view. Keep the orientation of the camera (see Consider other key elements) the same throughout the series. Take more photos from more viewpoints than you think you need – this allows you or your designer to choose the most useful photo for a particular layout.

Taking group photographs

Look for a location that is adequately lit with different light sources or good natural light. Every face should be equally visible, regardless of their position and distance from the light source. Consider:

  • arranging people in a staggered, triangular or semicircular formation, with shorter people at the front and taller people at the back
  • using different levels, via stairs or chairs, to give different height and depth to large groups
  • using an external flash unit if the setting is too dim (angle it up so that the light bounces off the ceiling and not directly off the subjects); use a diffuser to soften the harsh shadowing
  • using your camera's continuous burst mode to shoot several frames.
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Consider other key elements

Isolate the subject from the background

Be aware of what is in the background of the photo – change your angle or position to eliminate things that do not need to be in the photo and could be distracting, such as a pole behind someone's head. Use a short focal length to blur the background while keeping the subject in focus. Flash can help to illuminate the subject against a darker background. For shots such as close-ups of fruit or first-aid techniques, try to use a white background (eg a sheet of paper or a screen) behind the subject. This will highlight the subject matter and prevent background distraction.

Ensure even lighting

Avoid bright sunlight and heavy shadow across the subject or in the background, as it can be very distracting. Check your exposure level, and adjust ISO, shutter speed, aperture and white balance settings to suit the situation.

Experiment with and without the flash. Flash can help fill in shadowed areas, particularly if you cannot avoid backlighting or high-contrast lighting. On the other hand, being too close with the flash can overexpose the subject, so also experiment with distance.

Control unwanted reflections on the subject by repositioning lights; using flash; or using white cards below, behind or in front of the subject to reflect or block light.

Ensure that the subject is in sharp focus

Check your shots, zoom in on your preview and ensure that the focus is crisp. It is better to stand further away from the subject and get a good, high-resolution shot that you or your designer can crop than to stand closer than the camera’s focal length. Use a tripod to hold the camera steady to avoid motion blur.

Ensure high resolution

Take photos at the highest resolution your camera is capable of.

Consider the orientation

‘Landscape’ and ‘portrait’ refer to orientation, not visual content. ‘Landscape’ means horizontal – that is, wider than it is tall. ‘Portrait’ means vertical – taller than it is wide. Consider which is most appropriate for the subject and the publication when taking the photograph.

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