Creativity digital storytelling Learning Photography

I Love People: How To Shoot Them Properly

I completely redid this post. You can find the new version here.

One of my favorite movies is Harold and Maude. If you haven’t seen it, you should. I’ve shown it to my seniors from time to time when I think they or someone in the class needs it. One year I even had a student sing a song from the movie as her graduation speech (so brave and inspiring). It’s one of those movies where you can quickly tell something important by how the person watching it reacts.

Harold and Maude

In the movie there’s a quote that I slightly adapt, as needed. This movie sums up how I feel about people:

Harold: You sure have a way with people.

Maude: Well, they’re my species!

I like to say:

I like people- they’re my favorite species.

In college I dabbled in photography. I took pictures at punk shows, for fun, for albums, and for fanzines. My brother’s friend lost a three-ring binder with a bunch of the negatives of these shows (the Agnostic Front pics were awesome) and I still need to digitize most of these photos. I had a nice rig: Nikon SLR with speed shot attachement, external flash battery and flash bracket. My favorite lens was a fast 28mm. I loved to shoot with slide film Kodachrome 25.

But more than the gear I loved the darkroom. Developing a style was part gear, part media, part vision. I loved Ilford paper- the black it developed was so inviting. I remember spending a summer in the darkroom of Orange Coast College watching Akira Kurosawa films with the professor Arthur Taussig on a TV cart pulled in the hallway. (Professor Taussig is one of the most brilliant minds I have EVER encountered- watching him deconstruct a film was extraordinary.)

Because I lived on my own in college and paid my own tuition, car, insurance, food etc… I ended up selling all my gear on the cheap one trimester to pay for tuition at U.C. Irvine. I rarely took photos after that until my son was born. Even then my main camera was an all-metal silver body Canon compact, because “the worst shot is the one you didn’t take.” That was my camera until I bought a Galaxy III phone that had a better camera than my compact.

I’m not an expert photographer, but I can spot a good image and I love looking at photographs because it’s the fastest way to see how someone thinks and feels about the world. I have a cousin who is a great photographer in Canada:

Remi Self

Remi Theriault’s website

This next photo is not an example of great photography, but it shows how Remi and I are connected. This is the color of our shared Acadian blood. Some people call it Molasses.


and I have an uncle who spent his whole life as a professional photographer. He lived with us in Huntington Beach, with his young son, for over a year. I enjoyed talking to him and seeing how he saw the world.


mon oncle Marcel

THE other day I posted a photo on Instagram that people appreciated. It was a simple how-to photo talking about the difficulty of capturing someone making a presentation while keeping both the screen and the presenter well lit.

Presentation Photo

If you need to read anything on the photos, click on the photos- they load bigger after the click.

Then three days ago Sean Ziebarth came in my room saddened by some photos he has recently seen by some “amateur photographers.” Sean and I have such a cringe reaction when we see people make the mistake of taking portraits instead of landscape photos.

Portrait vs Landscape fixed

Portrait on the left, landscape on the right. How’s the pic on the left going to look on a computer screen or YouTube?

Alice Keeler actually sends me tweets whenever she sees some teacher taking a portrait shot with their cell phone.

Portrait of Me2b

So earlier this week I posted a blog post that showed you How I Learn. You can call this post: How I See or How I Show the World What I See.

Hopefully this will come in handy during the holidays. Feel free to share your Instagram or Flickr links below in the comment section. Let’s DO THIS.

The acronym we are going to use to find and make better photos is T.R.I.P..

T:ake (and find) many, share only what matters to you, your subjects, your audience

R: etell the story of the moment

I: nteractions (between objects, using contrast, using focus, using lighting)

P:op (make it pop using color, lighting, focus, various filter settings and effects)


(and find) many, share only what matters to you, your subjects, your audience


Point 1: Does your family share photos of your kids? Do your friend share moments that matter to them online? I’m guessing the answer is yes. Well… then why aren’t the admin at your school, in your district, the teachers in your classes sharing the moments that matter to them? You would never do that to your family… why are you doing it to your school?

Fear? There should be moments at school that inspire such joy, such happiness, such pride, that you HAVE to share them with others. Look with love and discovery in your heart, not fear in your mind. You do not need to SHARE every pic you take, just the ones that matter. And the pictures matter. I have a dream….

One day teachers and schools and admin will share so many pictures and video of the amazing things that our students do in school, that we won’t need test scores to prove their worth.

Just the act of taking a picture shows your kids that you find something of value in the moment. They may act shy, but they SEE just by the act of you taking out your phone and taking pictures that YOU see something worth sharing.


Point 2: Many of my students struggle to find good pictures for their blogs, but I have found that students who are active on Tumblr have a better eye for what looks good. Just as reading helps your writing, looking at photos helps your photographic eye. So don’t just take photos, look at photos. Get an Instagram account, find a few good photographers, or friends with a good photo eye and just lurk, look, comment, ask. Find professionals who use their cellphone cameras, not fancy rigs.

Point 3: My friend Urbie Delgado (I’m going to hope he considers me a friend) had a great tweet the other day. Great, because I feel the exact same way and tell my students this often:


The best way to make sure you are not violating the copyright of a photo is to use your own photos. Once you have published tons of photos, how easy is it to find one that works for what you want to say.

Point 4: While we may take and find lots of photos we do not share that many. We are not spammers.

  • We care about the subject of the photo. Do they look good in the photo? Can we make them look better?
  • We care about our audience, we share the photo in the right place with the right people. The photos I share on Facebook are different than the photos I share on Instagram.
  • Why is this photo worth sharing? If we don’t care about the story behind the photo, then why share it? Which leads us to the 2nd part of T.R.I.P.

R: etell

the story of the moment

So you’ve taken lots of photos, you’ve gone back and looked at the photos, finding some that matter to your subject, your audience, yourself.

A photo shared is a story. What is the story you want to tell?

There are many kinds of stories, but your best photos should make that story evident. Stories are memorable and you know how I feel about the importance of making things memorable.  The story can be

What you love Drama of Two Composition Color

An inspirational story of a hero overcoming all odds

Fun Passion Memorable Moments

A story of man vs. gravity or man vs. boredom or the contrast of natural and man-made beauty.

Dogs Too

Or a nostalgic look back at childhood.


(between objects, using contrast, using focus, using lighting)

Catch people as they interact with the things they love or hate. Emotional engagement is a powerful visual statement. Interacting is a form of dialogue, it is how a photo shows a conversation. You want conversations between your subjects and between your subjects and their environment.

You can use lighting as an interaction. Just a week ago students at my high school hosted an actual TEDx event, it was completely student run. Two of the students running the sound and lighting board were in the coolest light. I wanted to grab everyone I ever knew and throw them in that light. Well at least I captured two students I like in this coolest of side lighting. The interaction between the dark and light caught my eye.



What makes the photo above is the contrast of Karl and I trying to capture a moment and John trying to mess up the moment (in the future.) I guess photo-bombing is a form of time travel.  Karl and John’s good looks help the photo. Nothing like taking a picture of an attractive subject to make you look like a better photographer.


Another example of structure, contrast, visual conflict

Here are some more examples of Interaction




Our last step is making your photo POP


(make it pop using color, lighting, focus, various filter settings and effects)

You can make a photo POP by:


using color or increasing the color of the photo using filters and photo tools


finding something unusual and unexpected


You can find a focus point and blur out the rest


You can add a spot of action. 


you can create #want


you can get CLOSE

My favorite POP tools for my phone are:




Both of these tools are free and both work on iOS and Android. Just pick ONE and start using it. Have fun with them, they will work on a copy of the photo and you can always find the original and mess with it again. You can’t break a photo if you work on a copy of it. Experiment!

My favorite free tool for using on your computer is: PicMonkey

pic monkey

You will love this program. Download it in the Chrome store and start messing around with it.

IF you want to follow two photo pros on Instagram who also give presentations/classes on the subject I HIGHLY recommend:

Nicole 1

Nicole Dalescio: Known on Twitter and Instagram as @magrelacanela basically a Goddess of mobile photography

Nicole 2

If I could just get her to do this (or figure out how to do this) for one of the photos of my family on the beach I’d hang it on our wall in a second.


Stephen Davis: the black and white master of Hipstamatic. Known on Twitter and Instagram is @rushtheiceberg

I also love:


The whimsical work of @cintascotch

and an artist that Nicole introduced to me in her mobile photography class

crying june

@cryingjune on Instagram

If you are ever at the library or have money to burn I suggest getting these books if you love photography.


I own all three of these books, probably the greatest three books written on photography ever. Complete photo nerd stuff here by the master Ansel Adams.

Can’t wait to see your photos online. Feel free to share your Instagram or other photo spaces in the comments below. Lastly, if the worst photo is the one you didn’t take, then the second worst photo is the one you shouldn’t have shared. Don’t be spammy with your photos and don’t post things you shouldn’t post. Be nice, be compassionate. Thanks.

PS: I love how Remi (my cousin) never uses his professional photography gear to take his Instagram photos. Instead he lets his heart and his talent find pictures worth taking. You could learn a lot about photography and what pictures do to our lives by following the Instagram account of Remi Theriault :

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 8.31.55 AM

If you want to follow my Instagram account, you can see and follow the Instagram account of David Theriault by clicking on my the link.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 8.39.12 AM


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