What exactly does modern photography do?

Take professional photos: These 8 factors really make the professional picture look

A reader recently asked me how a professional image look is created in wedding photography. But these factors are usually important in many areas of photography. So in this blog post I would like to go into general terms about what is important when you professional photos wants to achieve.

What does actually mean in this context professional? That would primarily mean that you get money for these pictures. Of course, this is not always the case automatically. But it should be about how to approach an image look that professional photographers produce with their images.

You quickly notice when a photo is well taken. Self "Non-photographers" usually recognize this subconsciously and talk about a professional photo. By subconscious I mean that you cannot actively say what is causing this - but still have a good feeling when you watch it. It is good for photographers to keep these points in mind when taking pictures.

And no, it is not just an “expensive camera” that is responsible for the professional look.

Now a few tricks on how the professional photo look works. And unfortunately it is not with that“The photographer just presses the shutter button” - statement some people did.

Table of Contents

1. Basis for professional portraits: The (hit) sharpness

The first thing you usually notice in a picture is the sharpness. Or that too hit Sharpness. In portraits, this is usually on the eyes. When taking a closer look, usually on the eye that is further forward. The effect of the sharpness is of course also intensified in post-processing. It is important that you can reliably hit the focus when taking photos.

There are a few tips for this in the links below. Suffice it to say that you have to work with different focus methods in different situations.

But not only the focus is responsible for a crisp sharpness. Shake can also lead to a decreased sharpness to lead. This happens if the shutter speed is too slow when taking photos with the hand.

Depending on the selected lens focal length, the shutter speed must be short enough to avoid blurring. As a rule, one chooses the reciprocal value of the focal length used for the shutter speed (e.g. 1 / 50s with a 50mm lens). But even that is often not enough. If possible, double this value to be on the safe side.

More details on focus, sharpness and everything that goes with it can be found here.

Further articles on the subject of image sharpness:

2. Depth of field: More than just a blurry background

Where there is light, there is also shadow. And where there is sharpness, there is also blurring. The two words shadow and blurring sound a bit negative at first. But just like the sharpness, the blurring must also be dealt with consciously.

The so-called depth of field is an important element in photography: it can be incorporated into your photo as you wish and directs the viewer's gaze to what he should see. You can deliberately "blur" where the photo should not attract attention.

Another point is that the depth of field can clarify a spatial depth. In a once three-dimensional scene the depth of field on a subsequently two-dimensional photo forms the Z-axis, so to speak, and clarifies the distances to the camera.

Keyword: blurred background.

That's why it's incredibly important to develop this photographic parameter. Many forget that not only can the background be blurred, but also the foreground and other layers in the photo. So use the depth of field to consciously design your photo.

Further articles on the subject of depth of field:

3. Image quality counts in the end

Finally, there is the point where many are the first to think of a professional photo: the image quality. Everything is getting faster, bigger and better. So do the cameras in professional use.

But it's not just the number of megapixels that counts here. Rather, image quality is about an interplay of the following factors:

  1. Sensor resolution
  2. Sensor size
  3. Sensor properties
  4. Used optics

The sensor resolution determines how many megapixels or what dimensions the photo will later have. A few years ago, 16-18 megapixels might have been sufficient here. Today (as of 2017/2018) most sensors record between 20 and 25 megapixels. The current exotics in the full format range often create up to 50MP. Medium format sensors often even more. The standard of approx. 25 megapixels is completely sufficient for most applications and a “professional image look”. In the end, it depends on what should happen to the photos later.

Full format? Medium format? The words just mentioned relate to the next point: The sensor size. A larger sensor does not always necessarily have to lead to better quality (it also depends on all other factors, area of ​​application and the recording conditions). The size of the sensor does not only play a role in image quality: larger sensors can also work better with depth of field. In terms of image quality, the possibilities increase when used in low light (noise behavior) and what you can still get out of the files afterwards.

That brings us to the third sub-item: the sensor properties. For me, in addition to the noise behavior directly when taking photos, the ability to edit afterwards would also be important. Or how low-noise the image then behaves. Whenever you brighten an image in poor light, there is noise. Regardless of whether you are taking photos or post-processing. As a second point, I name the dynamic range, i.e. how many brightness levels a sensor can accommodate.

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In bright sunlight in particular, it is often easier with a large dynamic range to be able to depict the very light and also very dark shadow areas.

Last but not least, what many forget: The optics used. This has to do justice to the growing megapixel craze of sensors.

What is a modern ultra-sensor supposed to transform into an image if it only gets mud light from the € 100 kit lens?

Conversely, you can also increase the image quality of cheaper APS-C cameras enormously by using high-quality lenses. So rather a "bad" camera with a good lens than the other way around.

Related links:

4. Take professional photos: the necessary or appropriate equipment

We have already touched on this point: the equipment. Even if I am an advocate that good, horny photos are possible with cheap equipment (they really are), I have to say that the equipment still has an enormous influence on it.

Above all, the sensor and lens used are decisive. But that alone doesn't make a camera good. All other specifications must also match. And please take literally:

They have to suit you and your area of ​​work.

A sports photographer needs a reliable and fast autofocus, high FPS rate, etc. A landscape photographer may not need autofocus at all, but instead needs a high resolution and a good dynamic range. A travel photographer needs a light camera and a reportage photographer needs another camera.

With regard to the topic of this post, I would mainly like to underline that the equipment certainly plays a role in a professional image look. It is required to be able to (more easily) fulfill the listed points:

  1. E.g. a full-frame sensor and fixed focal length lens for more depth of field
  2. Higher resolution for more sharpness and more flexibility in post-processing
  3. Reliable and fast autofocus to quickly capture unique moments
  4. A good camera strap (this can also provide increased speed)
  5. Fast memory cards for fast series
  6. Reflectors and flashes to intervene in the existing light flow

I hope I haven't forgotten anything - but I think it will become clear what I mean and how suitable equipment can support the photographer in different situations.

Links to the most important parts of my current portrait camera equipment:

Links to gadgets and other resources:

Links to M42 adapter for using analog lenses:

5. See and use light and shadow

If "Professional" If you want to take pictures, you also have to learn to deal with the light accordingly. Especially outdoors you are not only confronted by different places with different lighting conditions. No, the time of day also plays a role.

So you have to analyze again and again from which direction and with which properties the light comes from this. In terms of properties, roughly speaking, a distinction is made between hard and soft light. However, there is a smooth transition between these two states. Ideally, you will find soft light (or manipulate it to make it soft).

By cleverly positioning the model, you can achieve good illumination even in difficult locations without aids.

If you know what kind of light you are dealing with, you have to direct it. This happens either passively by positioning the model. You can then take photos with or against the light, for example. These two directions are usually the most grateful.

Letter note on our own behalf: Useful blog posts like this one only live with some advertising. With my Lightroom presets you not only improve your post-processing, but also support the blog at the same time:

Or you can actively intervene in the lighting design and use aids such as the above-mentioned reflectors or flashes.

But you should not only pay attention to light. As already described at the beginning, wherever there is light, there are also shadows. And this is at least as important in photography. Because of it, forms can often only appear three-dimensional or “three-dimensional”.

How exactly you deal with natural light on site is described in more detail and yet clearly in my e-book “Available Light Primer - The Secret of Lively Outdoor Portraits”, which I would like to recommend to you at this point in self-promotion . In it you will really find out everything I consider for attractive outdoor portraits.

But it's not just seeing and using light and shadow that makes your picture appear more vivid. Generally it plays Seeing topic an important role.

6. Develop the photographic eye

The photographic gaze is enormously important and is (unfortunately) not really developed at the beginning. Basically, it's about not only seeing good motifs and light, but also finding image ideas. Then there is the implementation of appealing compositions. And you also need a good “feel” when selecting the pictures you have taken.

Photography is seeing.

Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for creating such a look overnight. This often takes years and requires experience / practice.

How I myself come up with new places, ideas and motifs for my photos or portraits, I describe in my free e-book “In 4 steps to a unique available light portrait”.

In addition, in reports there is the ability to foresee moments, to have the best possible location for them and to see the moment in front of your eyes before you then photograph it.

In summary, "to be seen photographically" means the following for me:

  • Recognize light and shadow
  • Discover exciting backdrops on site
  • Work out picture ideas
  • Composition / division of the photo
  • Being able to choose the best pictures
  • Anticipate moments and be ready

7. Communication while taking photos

When it comes to what you photograph, the model also plays a crucial role in portraits. And as a result, communication with you is extremely important

Only you as a photographer look through the viewfinder of your camera and can say which pose or movement looks good or bad from this point of view.

Communication with the model is therefore very important. And not just in terms of how it should be positioned. Rather, it is generally advisable to tell the model what is important to you for the next photo, what is bothering you and how the picture can be improved.

So it is worth working together and making the picture better together. Constant communication is essential for this.

Further links on the subject of communication with the model:

8. Post-processing: What makes sense anyway?

Even if a good photo should already be taken in the camera: In my opinion, it is no longer possible to do without post-processing (unless you take analogue photos, but that's a different story).

Post-production is now not about being indiscriminate any effects to hit the picture in the hope that it will eventually be good after all.

Rather, you should already know when taking the picture what you want or have to edit on the picture later.

The post-processing should further promote the original image concept.

For example, the desired sharpness or the sharpness point when taking photos can be further developed. Or a color look can be used, which further underlines the prevailing mood. Or the section can be determined a little more precisely so that the intended composition looks even better.

I hope you know what I mean by that. So avoid working on it indiscriminately and “by chance”, but think carefully at every step why you are doing it. Often less is actually more - and to come back to the topic of the article: Currently, many photographers and smartphone clippers are endlessly raving about their pictures and don't even know what they are actually doing.

So nowadays viewers are quite used to it, many "Photos with Effects" to see. In contrast, you can often shine if you keep your editing subtle and refine your photos with a few but effective steps.

If you really want to edit moody color looks with Lightroom, I want you my THO preset and profile package recommend in self-promotion. You can find out how I can use it to work on really cool looks in seconds in the following video:

I would also be very happy about a subscription to my YouTube channel ;-)

Related links:

Conclusion: take photos like a pro

As you can see, the oft-made statement is that "The photographer just presses the shutter button" not even close. In fact, for upscale photographic work you have to keep a lot in mind and consolidate it through appropriate practice / experience.

This often takes years, if not decades.

I hope, however, that I was able to teach beginners, advanced users and one or the other professional at least one theoretical idea of ​​what is important in a “professional” photo from my point of view. There are many more tricks for high-quality portraits in my post Portrait Photography - Comprehensive Guide to Vivid Photos from the Start.

And the professional camera is only one of the eight main points. Knowing how to use the technology is much more important in most areas. If this knowledge is missing, even a 5000 € camera is of little use.

Then there is the post-processing, which is often associated with a learning phase that is just as time-consuming as the photography itself.

Model of the images in this post: Enisa Medar

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Markus Thoma

My name is Markus and I write about the creative art of photography from my experience as a professional photographer. I prefer to take portraits outdoors - in natural light. Because less is usually more. Every now and then I like to travel. When I'm not taking photos, you can find me at Metalcore concerts, in nature or at the buffet. Take a look at my social media channels: