You have thousands of pictures on your phone (or in that cloud up there). But when was the last time you printed and displayed one? Follow these tips to take images of the people, places, and things you love of the tiny screen and put them on your walls.

By Elyse Moody
September 23, 2019
Kirsten Francis

You don't need fancy equipment or a class to take display-worthy pictures. Just follow your instincts, says Los Angeles photographer Max Wanger, who works with clients like Target, Gap Kids, and Nike. "If you trust your eye, you're going to get a cool shot." Not convinced? Start by setting your phone or camera to take (and export) photos at full resolution. On an iPhone, for example, go to Settings, Camera, and Formats, and select the Camera Capture mode "Most Compatible." Before taking your shot, Wanger adds, "look for clean backgrounds," like a solid wall, a clear blue sky, or even a bright window. "Just tap your phone screen to adjust the exposure, and the window light will give you a blown-out, open, airy effect." Then, when sharing photos by email or text, always send them at actual size. For crystal clear prints, photo files should be 300 pixels per inch (ppi).

Next, get your subjects in the right frame. Photography is all about experimenting, but pros swear by the rule of thirds. Picture three lines dividing the frame horizontally and vertically (or just turn on your camera's grid), and put your subject(s) where they meet—not smack in the middle. Not 100 percent satisfied? Apps make it a cinch to crop a photo or apply a filter: Our photo editors use VSCO, PicTapGo, and good old Apple Photos. But before you tweak anything, save an unedited version. Once you have pictures you're proud of, here's what to do with them.

Related: Seven Tips for Taking the Best Family Photos

Create Your Own Triptych

Split a horizontal photograph of a landscape into three panels, a format called a triptych, to turn a big, blank wall into a sweeping panorama like in the picture above. A successful triptych has seamless continuity, says Artifact Uprising design director Barrett Brynestad. When you crop the image, factor in the space between frames, so your hills (or waves, or buildings) roll smoothly from one to the next. 

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Kirsten Francis

Immortalize Your Child's Art

Kids are famously prolific artists. To immortalize their 3-D masterpieces without sacrificing a shelf, try a mixed-media approach: Edit clay figurines, string sculptures, and putty puppies down to your top picks. Snap them against monochromatic backdrops, print them, and intermingle them with paintings, drawings, and collages, all in simple white frames. To elevate any kids' art exhibit, take cues from our resident expert, Living photo editor Joanna Garcia.

Tape poster board, construction paper, or kraft paper to a flat surface, like a kitchen table, and push it against a wall; hang paper on the wall for the "set" backdrop she says. "Use two different colors or shades—our pup is set against a white backdrop and a red 'floor'—to create depth." To nab good details, like these turtles' shells and the hollow letter T, Garcia says to zoom in or shoot from above. You should also play around to find an item's (or creature's) best angle. Mr. Penguin prefers his right side. Finally, vary the horizon lines. A low one makes these string sculptures pop.

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Kirsten Francis

Hang a Gorgeous Mix of Family Photos

Before you line up your brood in matching button-downs, consider a looser, artful approach to family portraits. Pick a quartet of candid images that hit different notes but coexist nicely. Then convert them all to black-and-white, and boost the contrast a bit on your phone or desk-top program. "It will make the images feel hyper-real—more heightened and suspended in time," says Living photo director Dawn Sinkowski. Then have them blown up, and hang them in a grid, framed in a single dynamic color.

Another tip: Play with perspective. Combine photographs shot from a range of distances (some with the subject close up, others farther away) and with different depths of field (the size of the area in focus), angles (overhead, straight on), and horizon lines. Finally, "don't discount what you think are throwaway pictures at first," says Dawn. "A sun spot or blurriness can be magical. And spontaneous—even accidental—family photos are often the best."

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Martha Stewart Living, September 2019
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