How do U… take better photos?

With the holidays approaching, photo ops are aplenty. But if your photography skills are anything like mine, you may… well… not be making the most of these opportunities. So, to help all who struggle to capture the moment, we asked university photographer Dave Titensor for some tips.

Titensor has been at the U for more than 15 years as a graphic designer and now associate creative director at University Marketing & Communications. About five years ago, he was asked to consult on some video photoshoots. “That experience inspired me to want to do more photography,” he says. “I always liked it, had taken a few classes as an undergrad at the U, and considered it a hobby, but it wasn’t until then that I decided I wanted to do it professionally as well.”

What followed was a lot of YouTube watching, portfolio perusing and countless hours of practice. Fast forward to 2020, and he’s become an award-winning photographer, perhaps best known for his dramatic Veterans Day portraits, Humans of the U photos, and featured photography in University of Utah Magazine (view portfolio here). “We’ve evolved into such a visual society that images matter now more than ever,” he says. “We can do more than just look at them, we can create them too, anyone can.”

8 tips to improve your pics

  1. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get the latest lens or equipment to take good photos. Have fun and experiment with what you have, even if it’s a phone. Learn about its features and limitations and work within those.
  2. Practice a lot. Try to shoot once a day or at least once a week, inside and out, and at different times of the day. Take off the auto mode and experiment with settings and natural light.
  3. Hold steady. We often hold our phones way out in front of our bodies, creating instability. Try holding it with two hands closer to your body like you would a traditional camera.
  4. Clean your lens. Wipe off those fingerprints or clear away the lint. Phones can get especially dirty without us realizing it.
  5. Be aware of lighting. If you’re taking photos of people indoors, place subjects near a window with natural light on their faces. Think of Rembrandt… he painted people in front of windows for a reason. On the other hand, if you’re shooting people outside in bright sunlight, look for a pocket of shade.
  6. Review the basics of composition—like the rules of thirds, leading lines, and symmetry. Google can lead you to some great explanations and examples of these simple guidelines that are easy to apply and make a noticeable difference.
  7. When taking landscape shots, put something in the foreground of your picture—a rock, a plant, a flower—something closer up that gives scale and leads you into the scene.
  8. Look behind you. Sometimes we get so focused on what’s in front of us, we forget to look around. Take a moment to turn around and see what’s there, you might see more action, get better composition or lighting, or just a new perspective.