Do you often find yourself flipping through your various social feeds, wondering when all your friends learned to compose magazine-ready photographs while your blurry party pictures glow with so much red eye that people suspect you only associate with demons? Have friends recently stopped accepting your dinner invitations after spying your meals on Instagram? It's time to start taking better pictures.

1. Master the Basics

Taking a good picture doesn't have to be complicated: a few easy basics make even the most casual snapshot an image that actually does justice to the moment.

  • The art of composition is one that you can spend a lifetime mastering, but getting the hang of a few compositional principles, like the rule of thirds, doesn't take long and can make a huge difference in how you think about framing a photo.
  • Know your subject, and make sure it stands out. When you have a busy background, it doesn't always pay to rely on autofocus โ€” but that doesn't mean you need to lose your shot while you twiddle with knobs and dials. With touch-controlled manual focus, you can easily pull out the important part of the picture with just a couple taps of your thumb.
  • Equip yourself properly! In olden times, you needed to drop a ton of cash to get a serious camera. Not anymore. Phones like the Lumia 1520 come equipped with killer cameras that belie their affordable price, so you can take pro-grade pictures in beautiful 20-megapixel HD while spending like an amateur.


2. Get the Shot in the Dark

When it comes to taking a good picture, certain conditions โ€” like low light โ€” can present special challenges. When the perfect shot presents itself under less-than-perfect circumstances, take a few things into consideration:

  • First, increase your aperture and slow down your shutter speed. The Lumia's Pro Camera functionality gives you total control over all your settings without having to pull out a light meter and a tape measure.
  • Remember that while a slower shutter speed will let in more light, it also means that you'll be increasing the amount of time the image is exposed for โ€” so when light is scarce, try to keep your subject as stationary as possible to avoid a picture that's one big blur.
  • If you get home and review your pictures to find that they're still not quite what you hoped, never fear. Tools like the Smart Cam app will help you clean them up after the fact. (Smart Cam doesn't just color correct: it even lets you select the best faces from a series of group shots so no one's caught mid-blink.)


3. Hit a Moving Target

If 2014 taught the world anything, it's that a good picture of your dog or cat can make you a millionaire. But getting an animal to sit still long enough for you to capture the money shot is easier said than done.


  • When photographing anything that's moving quickly, you'll want to use a high shutter speed. Which also means turning on every light at your disposal.
  • When in doubt, turn on burst mode. When your subject streaks by, your camera will catch every microsecond of the action as a series of individual images. That way, you can go through later and select the best shot.
  • Want to delete moving objects (or creatures) from the frame? IMPOSSIBLE. Except, wait, totally not. In Lumia's smart sequence mode you can tap a button to banish potential spotlight hogs back to the sidelines where they belong.


4. Or Just Make the Picture Move

Sometimes, even the greatest still image won't do justice to the true swirliness of the moment. That's when it's time to take a video.


  • Yes, there's something about shooting in portrait mode that just feels so right. But when it comes to video, it's very, very wrong. Slowly rotate the phone ninety degrees in your hand to landscape mode, and watch your video magically get ninety times better. See how easy that was?
  • HD is worth it. How else are you going to see all those zig-zags in the ice?
  • Videos are great, but GIFs have the power to change the world (or at least rack up a million reblogs). With Smart Cam, turning your video into a hypnotic GIF is no longer the multi-step headache it was in the past. (And when you've got it ready, share it using the Storyteller app, which lets you organize all your photos and videos together as "stories," and then share them with your friends as videos or interactive web pages.)


No longer will you have to be an also-ran in the photography arms race. This year, with the Lumia in your pocket, your vacation photos will finally inspire jealousy, your food pictures will have your friends banging down your door to beg for scraps, and your tossed-off party snaps will remind everyone of exactly how much fun you're having without them.

Photo Credits: Andrei Mihai Cristian, Ping Tanamontol, Hieu T. Nguyen, Alexandra Cannon.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between Microsoft and Studio@Gawker.