BOULDER — Five or six years ago, something happened to the way we take photographs.

Everyone started getting smartphones, carrying in their purses and pockets a sophisticated digital camera wherever they went, said George Lange, a commercial photographer based in Boulder.

"We went from being event photographers, shooting birthdays and weddings and holidays and vacations, to shooting every day," Lange said. "But we really didn't have a discussion about it."

For most people, those photos, streamed out on Instagram and Facebook like a visual journal, only skim the surface of their lives, he said.

"People are so much more interesting than their photographs," Lange said. "We're photographing surfaces and we're living lives that have much more depth."

"Most people are smiling in pictures. I don't think we're smiling our whole lives," he said. "Most people are connecting with each other in ways that are really profound and beautiful — but we don't photograph that. We do posed things and obvious things."

But before you delete your camera apps or pawn your point-and-shoot, Lange also believes better photos are within reach, for everyone.

You don't need to have an expensive, top-of-the-line camera or be a professional like Lange, who has photographed presidents, actors, business tycoons and other famous faces over the course of his career.

In his new book "The Unforgettable Photograph," Lange shares hundreds of practical tips — 228, to be exact — for photographers of all skill levels, as well as examples from his own personal archives, many of them photographs of his family and friends.

"I strongly believe we are all special," Lange said. "If we can embrace how we see the world in a unique way, a special way, an extraordinary way and take pictures out of that place, that's when it gets interesting."

A Pittsburgh native, Lange first picked up a camera when he was 7 years old. He never put it down.

He studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and apprenticed under art photographer Duane Michals. For a year, he traveled the world with Annie Leibovitz, assisting the legendary photographer.

Today, his clients include major magazines, entertainment studios and corporations. His portfolio includes Sophia Loren, Honey Boo Boo, Jim Carrey, the cast of "Seinfeld," Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Glenn Beck and President Barack Obama.

He moved to Colorado with his family about 18 months ago.

Lange's brother lives in Boulder and after he suffered a heart attack, Lange came from New York to be with him as he recovered.

When his wife, Stephanie, arrived for a visit, they decided, "almost randomly and very quickly," that they had found their new home.

Lange moved his offices to Pearl Street, and he is artist-in-residence at Boulder Digital Works, an outpost of the University of Colorado.

Boulder has been a revelation, said Lange, who works both nationally and locally.

"I can't imagine that there's any place more beautiful to come back to," he said. "I come back and see the mountains and I can't believe this is home."

It was Scott Mowbray, editor of Cooking Light magazine and a serious amateur photographer himself, who suggested Lange share his experience in book form. The result of their collaboration, "The Unforgettable Photograph," is part "how-to guide" and part "self-help book," Lange said.

Among the book's key ideas is to "keep it real," to capture honest, raw emotions; to embrace intimacy; and to shoot the moment, not the subject, "fighting the impulse to take a picture that will memorialze something you're already projecting into the future with nostalgia."

At home in Boulder, Lange photographs his two young sons every day, if just for five minutes.

His biggest tip, "photograph your experience," may be on the abstract side, but there are smaller, more concrete things that can also make a big difference, Lange said.

Start by figuring out where the best light is in your house and how it changes during the year. For special events, photograph around that great light — sit the birthday boy or girl and the cake in the spot with the best light. Same goes for the Christmas tree, he said.

It's also important to keep moving when you're photographing. A lot of times, people take photos with "lead feet," he said. Instead, move above, move beneath, move around — "try the angle you would never try," he said.

Next time you're watching a sunset, turn around and photograph the people with you — everyone will be bathed in a beautiful light, and it will make for a much better photo than the sunset itself, he said.

"If you can appreciate what makes each day special, what makes your life special, the photography is just documenting that," Lange said.

Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457, erusch@ denverpost.com or twitter.com/emilierusch

Tune in

George Lange will be on NBC's "Today" show March 7 to talk about his book "The Unforgettable Photograph."Today airs from 7 to 10 a.m.

For more information, including where to buy the book, go to unforgettablephotograph.com.