About a month ago, TikTok users started a new trend: show a picture of your boyfriend holding a fish and then a picture of him and you. There ensued tons of photos of men gleefully hoisting up their dead, slimy catches next to photos of those same men, smileless and dead-eyed while holding the supposed love of their lives. The trend was all in good fun, but exposed something pretty pathetic: most men either don’t know how to take a nice couple photo, or really don’t care to.
And listen, I get it. You’re camera shy. Maybe you think you don’t photograph well or feel really embarrassed getting your picture taken in public with other people watching. It might be because there are a bunch of Instagram and TikTok accounts dedicated to making fun of people who try to get the perfect shot next to a landmark or popular art mural. We laugh at these presumably vain, vacuous people as if we have never once taken a photo ourselves. But these accounts are lame. Judging others for wanting to take a decent picture to post on Instagram just makes you a boring asshole, and acting like you’re too cool to pose and smile next to your significant other probably doesn’t make them feel too great, either.
An aesthetically pleasing couple photo, though, isn’t just about the acclaim you’ll receive on Instagram. Most importantly, it’s about capturing memories, says Carine Liberian, who, along with Derek Hamel, run the eco travel and sustainability blog and Instagram We Did It Our Way.
“At the end of the day, sure, they’re pictures, but these pictures are memories that you’re going to have for the rest of your life. So it’s fun to look back and say, ‘Yeah, that was a great moment,’ but also, ‘I have a great picture to go with it now,”’ she says.
And while taking high-quality photos requires a bit more effort, you don’t have to be a professional photographer to execute them. It’s why we tapped the pros — a few travel bloggers and Instagramers — for picture-taking tips and tricks, some technical and some that require attitude-adjusting, so you can give your S.O. the gift they really want: memories together that’ll last a lifetime (or at least until you have to awkwardly delete them from your social accounts).
Invest in a tripod
The first question we all have when seeing photos of two people romantically embraced is often: “Who the hell takes these pictures?” The answer is typically a handy dandy tripod.
With a tripod, you can easily adjust for desired angles and put your camera or phone on self-timer mode and snap as many pictures as you want. Continuous burst shots, for example, will take around 20 photos and allow you to strike a bunch of different poses until you get the one.
Especially when traveling, you don’t want to have to rely on strangers to snap your photos, because, for some reason, they always manage to screw it up. “When we travel and we want to capture ourselves in a place, we’re never going to trust a stranger because as much as we’ll spend the time to set them up perfectly, have the settings all right and ask them to take a picture, they’ll always do a few things that are just huge red flags and will ruin the picture completely,” explains Ryan Looney, one half of the popular travel blog and Instagram Our Travel Passport.
It’s all about movement (and having fun)
When faced in front of a camera, every inkling of how to act like a human being seems to fly right out the window. Where should you look? How should you smile? By God, what should you do with your hands?!?!
The secret to taking natural-looking photos is — surprise! — acting natural, which means moving around, interacting with your partner and having fun. “When you’re uncomfortable, it’s easy for that to show in the picture. The easiest way to get around that is to create movement in your poses,” notes Looney.
A kissing picture is a classic, but also try some walking. “Usually you get some good, natural-looking pictures, just walking together and doing some silly stuff so that you’re smiling and laughing,” adds Hamel.
Additionally, as the gentleman you are, don’t be afraid to take control and lead your partner. Lift them up, twirl them around, hold their hand and lead them in different directions to create spontaneous, fluid movements and genuine reactions. As Liberian notes, it kind of like a dance. And the more you try and discover poses you like, the more comfortable you’ll be in front of the camera and in front of crowds.
“One of the things that we’ve learned throughout the process is don’t be shy, take as many pictures as you want, change your angles, change the way you’re looking at things,” says Liberian.
Be mindful of the time of day
Photos taken in natural lighting are always going to turn out better, which means you should be mindful of the ideal times to shoot them.
“The best time is always one hour after the sun rises or one hour before the sun sets, which is called the ‘golden hour,’” explains Hamel. “The worst is high noon when the sun is beaming down on you, everything’s going to get burnt out and you’re not going to have detail in your shadows.” Of course, that won’t always be possible, but even a cloudy day around noon is better than a super sunny one, because, as Looney notes, sunnier days can cast unwanted shadows across your face. And when taking photos indoors, position yourself near (not directly in front of) a natural light source.
… and angles
As noted above, tripods are ideal for capturing your desired angles, because human error often creates weird ones. Photo-takers might kneel down to get whatever building or landmark is behind you, but as Looney explains, this creates more foreground in the photo. “And no one is looking at the picture to see the floor.” A low angle will also cause you to look down at the camera, creating an unsightly double-chin you probably don’t want in your photo.
On the flip side, positioning the camera at a downward angle is going to compress and make you look shorter, another thing you maybe don’t want. So play around with angles, and utilize the grid feature on your phone. “This will help you get a level picture, so you can make sure that your photo’s level with the horizon,” he adds. If you don’t get a level photo on your first try, you can also click the edit button, crop and rotate the photo to get it straight.
Easy-to-use, free editing tools
Even with all the right poses, lighting and angles, your photo still might need some zhuzhing. Liberian, Hamel and Looney all recommend using Adobe Lightroom’s free mobile app to edit your photos. The app will take some learning and a few YouTube tutorials but for a free app, it’s pretty dang good. Many creators, like Looney, also sell presets, which are basically filters you can slap over your photos and will give them that Insta-worthy look in a quick click of a button.
You don’t need the fanciest, high-end equipment
Liberian, Hamel and Looney also all agree that knowing how to take a picture is way more important than owning the fanciest, high-end gear, especially because your phone most likely has the ability to take bomb-ass photos already.
“You can essentially use your iPhone the same way you would use a DSLR or a mirrorless camera now. You can set it up with manual photography or you could pick all the same settings that you’d be able to pick in your actual camera,” says Hamel. (Just be sure to clean your grody camera lens from time to time.)
But if you are looking to go beyond phone photos, pick up a DSLR or mirrorless camera that fits within your budget. “You don’t need the top of the line to do it all. We use a Canon 5D Mark IV, but we started with the Canon Rebel T3i, and it worked great,” says Looney. “A lot of people want to just get the new, best equipment and think it’ll solve all their problems. It will help, but it’s not going to teach them how to use it.”
Get real comfortable with the manual settings, which will teach you shutter speed, aperture and how to control the lighting in your photos. But if you want some professional guidance, Our Travel Passport offers a four-part virtual course that’ll teach you everything about your camera settings, editing, lighting and even how to feel comfortable posing like a pro.
Fuck the haters
As echoed many times, don’t concern yourself with the judgmental masses: have fun taking as many good or bad, goofy or serious photos as you want.
“As a guy, you see this and you get kind of shy or nervous or you think, ‘Oh, this is silly. This is stupid.’ You need to block all that shit out and just do it,” says Hamel.
The truth is, whomever you fear is judging you while you take a photo in front of a sunset or at the top of a mountain is most likely minutes away from taking that exact photo themselves, so there’s nothing to be self-conscious about. But if you do start to feel nervous or shy in front of the lens, just remember who you’re doing it for.
“If you’re dating someone or you have a partner and you’re camera shy, it always helps me when I’m not feeling it to just look at my wife and smile at her,” says Looney. “It makes it way easier than looking at the camera and trying to put my best model face on or whatever. So, interact with whatever’s there, look at your significant other, let them make you laugh.”