How to Take Better Pictures

Dear friend,

I wanna share with you some secrets on how to take better pictures.

I. See your photography as art.

First of all, I actually don’t like to call your photographs “pictures”– because it cheapens your art.

Instead, call each little photograph you make as a small masterpiece.

If anyone tells you that photography isn’t art, simply say:

Fuck off.

II. Make a lot of photos of interesting scenes.

It is rare that you see a good photo opportunity. When you do, take a lot of photos of the scene.

For example, if you see a scene that sings out to your heart, take 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 photos of it. Especially if you shoot on your phone or digitally, there is really no downside to making more photos of the same scene.

Even when you shoot on film (buy FILM NOTES), shoot more photos of a scene you find personally meaningful. For myself, I might walk around for eight hours and see nothing interesting. But when I see a good scene, I might shoot a whole roll of film (36 photos of the same scene).

Assignment: If you have photographer’s block, shoot 1,000 photos in a day. This will help you overshoot, and overcome any issue should have in your photography. I generally think by overshooting, it helps push you more creatively. And at the end f the day, choose your 1 favorite photo, and publish it.

III. Simplify.

Simplicity is the ultimate sign of sophistication (Leonardo da Vinci).

In photography, see yourself as a sculptor. Reality is your piece of marble, and you are trying to chip away the superfluous– to show your beautiful David within.

Therefore when you shoot, always try to subtract distractions from your scene.

It is hard to know what makes an “interesting” photo. But it is easy to know what is a boring photo.

So, in your photos, just subtract what you find boring in a scene.

For example, I try to channel my inner Richard Avedon by starting with a black canvas, or a white background. By having a very simple background I can focus on my subject, their emotion, mood, and soul.

Assignment: Find a simple white or black wall. Then ask your subject to stand in front of it. Then focus on capturing the soul of your subject.

IV. Capture hand gestures

To make better photos, capture more emotions in your photos.

The easiest way to capture more emotions in your photos is to capture hand gestures.

For example, photograph your subjects when they are doing interesting hand gestures. Photograph their hands against their temple, forehead, or chin.

Either ask your subject to make a hand gesture, or wait until they do it.

If you’re shooting street photography (buy STREET NOTES), don’t photograph people who are just walking without any interesting hand gesture. Rather, photograph subjects in coffee shops. People often drop their guard, and they show more of their spirit, soul, through their distant eye gaze, the way they lean onto the counter, or the empty look in their eyes.

Assignment: For an entire day, you are only allowed to photograph hands. Only photograph hands.

Assignment 2: Go an entire day and you’re only allowed to photograph hand gestures. If someone is not doing an interesting hand gesture, you’re not allowed to photograph them.

V. Get closer.

“If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” – Robert Capa

Bad photos are shot from too far away. To make better photos, get closer.

Don’t use a zoom lens. Use a prime (non zoom) lens. I prefer 28mm or 35mm. The iPhone has a default 28mm lens.

So when you want to make better photos, get closer to your subjects. When in doubt, take three steps closer.

A good assignment from STREET NOTES: .7 meter challenge. For an entire month, pre-focus your lens to .7 meter (roughly one arm length away), and shoot only at that distance. That will force you to get emotionally and physically closer to your subjects.


Don’t say “take” a “picture”. Rather, say, “make a portrait”. It sounds more intentional, more personal, and more artistic.

Never forget, you are an artist. Not just a photographer. So elevate your art, your spirit, and your soul in your photo.

And yes, if you shoot with an iPhone or Android phone, you are a photographer. And you are an artist. If anyone tells you that you need to buy a big or expensive camera to be a “real” photographer, just ignore them, and go out and make more art.

Be strong,

To make better photos, buy books, not gear. Buy the HAPTIC trifecta:


and learn Photography 101 >