How to take better pictures

5 Simple Photo Tips from a Camera Dummy

I am not a photographer. I don’t play one on TV or pretend to be one on the internet. I’m an old fashioned camera shooter- the kind that used to have a Brownie for taking family shots and couldn’t be bothered to carry a bulky SLR with multiple lenses. I point and shoot. Sometimes I get lucky but most of the time my pictures are bad. Times change and with some effort I change with it. These days pictures have value for bloggers and marketers and technology has improved. The new digital pocket cameras make photography easier. It’ doesn’t mean, however, that just because it is easy, your photos will be any good.

Photographer of Shooter?

Photographer or Shooter? Which are you?

These days, any fool can buy a camera smarter than they are. Getting good pictures, however, requires that you study the manual. It is true that the camera will automatically make many adjustments but unless you have a basic understanding of the settings and use some judgment you won’t take the pictures your want.

As I said, I am no photographer. But now that I understand the value of photos. Digital images are useful on websites and blogs and having my own photos in digital form ensures that I had the pictures I want under my control. I started taking pictures with a small Canon that my wife had bought for some reason and seldom used (she is a real photographer with the high end Nikon’s and lenses to prove it.). The Canon was small enough that I could carry it easily and simple enough that I could point and shoot.

I was happy.

I thought that I didn’t need to do anything more until my wife took a look at my results. She tried to educate my in the finer points of F-stops and the like and I might have gone along except that my Canon didn’t allow me to set F-stops and exposures. All I needed to know was whether it was day or night, indoors or out and the camera was prepared to do the rest.

Sometimes the shots were good, other times not and I didn’t know what made the difference. Eventually my wife did persuade me that making a few changes in my photo practices would increase the quality of my shots. I had more acceptable shots and the quality was more consistent. These tips aren’t rocket science but for me the small bit of extra effort paid off in a big benefit- higher quality photos. If you are a shooter with a camera smarter than you are, maybe you will find them helpful as well. Here are:

 Five Photo Tips for Camera Shooters

Tip One: If your camera has a viewfinder, use it.

All modern cameras (and cellphones) have screens which display the scene you intend to capture. These are attractive but have a few problems. In bright daylight it may be difficult to actually see the screen. Aiming the camera to shoot is less precise. You cant aim the camera and frame so easily using a view screen, If your camera has a viewfinder, you don’t have those problems.

The view finder is that little eyepiece, usually on the top of the camera which you look through to set up your shot. It is simple and easy to use. It works in any light condition and allows you to frame your subject precisely. You are much more in control of the photo when you use the view finder.

When you buy a new camera, look for a model with a viewfinder even if it not your normal practice to use one. If you have a viewfinder now but never use it, I recommend that you give it a try. If you don’t find that you get more acceptable pictures using it then stop. It made a big difference for me and I never even think about using the screen any more (except for checking the focus which on my phone only shows on the view screen). I think you will find the same1. Focus.

Tip Two: Focus

This was a second revelation for me because I thought that the camera would focus automatically. My wife straightened me out when I complained about my fuzzy shots. It seems that smart as the camera is, it doesn’t know what I care about when I point it and shoot. Is it the fountain in the foreground? Is it the arch over the door. I need to make sure that what I want focused is in the box on the screen. On my camera this means I have to look at the screen because the boxes don’t show in the viewfinder. On more expensive cameras you won’t, But take the trouble to let your camera know where to focus and you will be much happier with the results.

Tip Three: Don’t take just one picture

It’s probably a vestige of the old days when cameras used film but, being cheap, it is hard for me to snap several shots. These days with digital photos and huge memory cards, it costs virtually nothing to snap a multitude of shots so increase your odds and keep shooting. You can cull later. I have learned that when I take only one shot, it is often a dud. My wife, the professional, routinely takes 20 or more to my one. Later on she culls those back down to one or two good ones while I am stuck with my single dud.

With a digital camera and a good sized flash care only a fool takes just one picture. So long as you traveled thousands of miles to get these photos, try some variations. Changing the angle or framing. Shoot close and far off. Your digital camera can capture 100’s of pictures so use that ability and shoot. You probably won’t keep any more pictures but the ones you select will be better than if you only take one to begin with.

 Tip Four: Tell a Story

Good photographers tell a story. Sometimes they can do it with one picture. More often they use several pictures. When you lift your camera to shoot, ask yourself what are you trying to capture? Is it a feeling? Are you showing people having a good time? Is it the intricate details of a wall carving? Is it the serenity of an old church? What pictures do you need to tell the story best? Figure out a beginning and an end. Then fill in the blanks. I continue to work on this one.

Mastering story telling goes a long way to improve your photography. I’m still struggling with this one but I understand its value. When your photos tell a story you won’t need to explain them.

Tip Five: Take Notes

How many times have returned from a trip and been bewildered about where you shot a photo. I always believe that I will remember where I shot the photo. When I get back however, things aren’t so clear. We saw so many churches in Rome that it is impossible to remember them all in detail. Was it St, John Lateran or Santa Maria Maggiore? I can’t be bothered to carry a notebook and take notes about my shots. Now I make it a point to photograph signs that identify the place I am shooting. At least when I get back I’ll be able to know to which church the photos belong. In a pinch you can make a note on scrap paper and take a picture. It will work just as well.

Bonus Tip:  Charge it

Finally, nothing is worse than aiming your camera and discovering that the batteries are dead. With a built in battery, you are out of luck. If it takes standard batteries, you are better off because you can look for someplace to buy new ones. In either case, your photography and sight seeing is interrupted. My wife charges her camera every night. I carry an extra set of batteries. If your camera charges, then hook it up each night so that every day you start out with a fully charged battery and if your camera takes disposable batteries keep a reserve supply on hand.

These are my basic photography tips from a camera shooter. These tips may not take you from shooter to photographer but I’m sure that they will help you take better pictures and be happier with the results.


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