I was recently handed a memory stick full of images for a client’s website and I couldn’t wait to see what I had to work with – over 200 blurry and/or badly composed photographs, it turns out, mostly with flash. I was dismayed.

Believe it or not (in my opinion), 75% of what makes a website so slick is fantastic photography. It’s one thing to use a professional camera (not necessary) but you also need to know how to use that camera. I’m not saying you need to know all the ins and outs of your camera and how to set the f-stop for a perfect bokeh effect. Basically, if you simply angle it properly, focus on your subject, and move your finger away from the lense, you’ll do just fine – even with a smartphone.

It took me a few days in Photoshop but I managed to salvage most of my client’s photos by cropping out garbage cans and zeroing in on the subject. Thankfully the images were like 10 ft by 10 ft so there was lots of room to stretch out the ugly stuff. I also adjusted the contrast and tone in most images which helped to create some definition around the intended subject of the photo.

If you or your employees simply can’t/don’t want to take amazing photos for the company website there are several options including hiring a professional photographer (or photography student), or looking at stock images. There are thousands of free stock images available online and they look professional but I stop here. Even compared to a bad photo there is just something about a stock image that doesn’t quite feel authentic and may drive away potential customers faster than the trash bags in your photos.

Here are five tips to try when taking photos for your website:

1. Turn off your flash

Try taking photos with natural light, even if you are shooting indoors, like by a window. If you are shooting outside, it’s very difficult to take a bad photo during the hours after sunrise and before sunset. These are called the golden hours and beat the look of a flash any day.

2. Try a tripod

For professional sharp images, use a tripod (or even a stack of books) to keep either your camera or smartphone perfectly steady during shots. They’ll look great no matter what kind of lighting you have to work with.

3. Make Sure Subject is in Focus

Whether it’s a person, product, or place, professional looking images all have one thing in common: their subject of is in focus. Make sure that you are close enough to see details of your subject but not so close that the photo looks out of context or cannot be cropped later on. On most digital cameras, you can tap on the viewfinder screen to focus box. On an iPhone, you can lock focus by tapping and holding on your subject (on your phone’s screen obviously) until you see the yellow lock alert.

4. Maintain your composition

A basic photography tip for more professional looking photos is the “rule of thirds.” For the best composition, think of your viewfinder as a tic-tac-toe board and then place your subject on any intersection of that grid.

6. Stick to your resolution

For a resolution that works well on smartphones, tablets, and desktop screens, 72dpi is the standard – nothing less. Fortunately, you can achieve this with either a smartphone or a digital camera.

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