You don’t have to be a pro to take great photos for your academic website.

I know budget can be tight sometimes, and when that happens, aesthetics is usually the first port to take a knocking.

Yet, you don’t have to forgo a beautiful website in favour of other research factors; good photography (even on your mobile phone) is within your reach.

A Stylish Academic reader sent in a kind email asking how to take good photographs…


I have a suggestion that I know would be helpful to me and probably many others.

As a starting academic, I know I need to build a nice looking website, but it can be really expensive to hire a professional photographer to take photos (and we all know what a PhD student’s budget is like).

This is why I think it would be really helpful to write an article about how to take a good photo (what it should look like, and what it should NOT look like) that can be taken in an affordable (or possibly free) way.

Thank you for this awesome website!

Karen** (not real name)

…so we reached out to Tim, from Timothy James Photography for a crash course.

Tim writes:

Living in a media saturated society where everyone is a photographer can be an inspiring and creative world to be a part of.

Everyone now has the ability to shoot, edit and publish professional looking images all from one device kept right in their pocket.

However the endless exposure to images across all our channels can quickly leave us feeling intimidated by the seemingly high standard of photos we see everyday.

Suddenly the idea of picking up the camera becomes a daunting prospect.

Indeed when we start taking photos of our own we are almost pre-programmed to criticise our efforts before we even begin which can leave us thinking, how do we contend with what’s out there?

Well the process of taking better photos comes from following simple yet easily overlooked steps which are true across all subject matter, even when shooting on your phone.

#1 Light

Where it all begins.

Photography wouldn’t exist without light and so light should always be on your mind when taking photos.

When looking for where to take photos, try to find a source of natural light and ideally diffused light – such as through a window.

Avoid harsh light such as direct sunlight, as areas of your image may be overexposed.

If you can’t escape shooting in direct sunlight then expose for the brighter areas of the shot – cameras do far better at retaining detail in the shadows than they do in the highlights.

#2 Flash

Avoid using flash, specifically built-in or pop up flash.

The effect of these type of flashes flatten your image and can cast dark looming shadows across the frame.

It may even wash out the colour in your shot.

If you need to add light use ambient lighting such as lamps – position them to build atmosphere as well light the scene and when lighting people try to have the light pointing down at a forty-five degree angle, it’s much more flattering for portraits.

#3 Framing & Composition

How and why we frame an image is just as important as the time it took to find, craft or experience something worth photographing in the first place.

A great starting point for composition is the rule of thirds.

Imagine there is a grid of nine squares over your image – created from two lines going down the shot and two lines across the shot.

Where those lines intersect each other is where you should try positioning the subject of your shot.

The majority of shots will be stronger if you avoid centre framing.

Another important element here is camera angle – try taking the photo from a lower angle or higher angle – try anything but head height.

We see everything from this perspective so it doesn’t excite or entice us in photos. It shows a lack of thought about what you’re trying to say.

Tourists stand shooting away turning on the spot capturing everything all around them then move on continuing the pattern.

Sure they have a lot of shots but do they tell us a story or show us something different? I doubt it – don’t be a tourist!

#4 Attention to detail

After spending the time taking a photo don’t let it be for nothing because you left unnecessary or untidy items in the background.

Common culprits are clothes on the floor, dirty mugs and glasses on the side, trailing wires and messy spaces such as cluttered desks and shelves.

Take ten seconds to check your background, removing distractions can help enhance the focus on what you really want people to look at.

#5 Shoot with Purpose

Don’t just take photos for the sake of taking photos.

What’s the theme or reason behind the photos?

It may come from your blog, inspired by your research area, a particular concept or it may be an ongoing visual style you follow such as colour scheme.

In any case, aiming to fulfil a particular idea will yield better results than snapping away until your phone memory is full.

Think about what you want to say with your images and then shoot with a purpose.

So grab your camera phone, build your confidence and start taking better photos for your academic website!

I’m Tim and I’m a wedding and location based photographer. I love photographing people. It’s as simple as that.  You can find out more about me on my website:

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