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A behind the scenes look at the photography process.

Here are a few tips that can help you take better pictures if you are using a high-tech digital camera or your smartphone.


Let the light in the environment (whether natural sunlight or lighting in a room) light your subject. Try to get as much as possible without overexposing your subject.

Three images showing under-, correctly and overexposed photos

Avoid a flash if possible. However, use a flash if necessary. It is better to have a properly lit picture with a flash than an underexposed picture.

The Whole Picture

Try to capture the whole scene when taking pictures to give your picture some context. Have your subject clearly in focus, but try to add some background.

Students swings golf club during golf practice

Try Different Angles

It is amazing what a difference changing angles can make.

Reese's peanut butter cup at different angles

Avoid Wide Shots and Backs of Heads

Try not to take these shots. They do not tell a story.

wide angle of classroom
Bad back of heads example

Get Close

Smartphone cameras, in particular, function better if you get close to your subject. Zoom usually hurts the quality of the image. It is better to shoot without zoom and then crop.

Focus on Your Subject

For most smartphones, touching the screen where your subject appears will focus on your subject.

smartphone focus

Group Pictures

Don’t line everyone up. Try to get people looking at you while they are in a natural position/situation. Just ask people to look and smile. While group photos do document who is involved to document the experience, make sure to also take engaged or candid photos. The candid or engaging photos that work best on our website and social media.

group shot of Vietnam delegation

Rule of Thirds

The most compelling parts of a photo are found along the third lines, and the peak points of interest are where those lines intersect.

rule os thirds example

Candid Photos

Capture people while they are doing things without eye contact. These are the best types of photos to take for our website and social media.

Woman preparing food
=Woman preparing food
=Instructor shows student how to put equipment on another student
=two people dancing together
=researcher places equipment on subject

University Photo Guidelines

Penn State's photo guidelines can also offer support for better photos.

Style of Photography

Photojournalistic, candid moments of action, not camera-aware

A great photo evokes an emotional response from its audience. We aim toward capturing candid moments to show our ‘inspired doers’ in action. The photography should be able to tell a story on its own as well as support and strengthen the message it delivers. Subjects should not be looking at the camera.

Thinking with Photography in Mind

As you prepare for your trip or activity, think about your agenda with an eye toward active photos. What will you be doing that evokes the trip’s lessons learned? What will you be doing in settings that evoke a sense of place? Putting those two things together is the key to a great photo. Always try to keep diversity and equal representation in mind.

Composition and style tips

  • Natural lighting is best—try to shoot for photos outside or in bright, airy rooms
  • If you don’t have a camera, iPhone photos can work—make sure to turn it horizontally to get a wide shot.
  • Ideally, your subject will have someone or something to interact with. Your subject should be actively doing something and not looking at or posing for the camera.
  • Photos should represent the unique educational aspects of your trip. For example, if you’re traveling to Panama to work with sea turtles, make sure that’s represented; or if you’re in Italy studying luxury retailers, capture a student working with or examining a product.
  • Particularly with international trips, the best photos will also evoke a sense of place. Try to set your photos in a location that exhibits the unique landscape of your destination.
  • Experiment with different angles and perspectives, taking photos from both high and low vantage points.
  • Pay close attention to the foreground and background of your image. Make sure there isn’t anything distracting that would take away from the strength of the image.
  • Use objects in the environment to frame the subject and make an interesting composition.
  • Keep in mind that we want to represent excellence, innovation, passion, collaboration and inspired doing.
  • Be patient and keep shooting! The more we have to choose from, the better.