Taking Better Picures
I suspect many of you have taken lots of pictures, but secretly wish you could get better, more dramatic shots, so I thought I would do a post on how to take better pictures. Trust me, it is a skill you can learn! Here are my rules if you want to get great pictures:
- You might think you can only take great pictures if you have a very expensive camera. But that isn’t true. The quality of the camera is important, but nowhere near as important as your skill level. Some people have a natural eye, but I don’t. Over the years I have read dozens of books on nature photography and learned the rules and follow them (Rules like: having a main subject, rule of thirds, leading lines, depth of field, exposure control, having a foreground-middleground-background, white balance, grain, shooting in the “golden hour”, filters, etc.). With the knowledge, and lots of practice, will come an intuition into photography that gives you some amazing photos.
- Once you know the rules, 90% of the time you will follow them, but sometimes you need to break them. Once you get the shot you think you want, try new things. Shoot the scene vertically or from high overhead or down near the ground. Zoom in or out to change the central focus of the picture. Move the main subject to different areas of the picture. Just freely experiment!
- Control over the camera is critical. To be able to follow the rules, you need as much control over the cameras functions as possible. This is where most Point and Shoot (P&S) cameras fail. They can take great pictures but you can’t take control and mold the picture into what you want it to be.
- The quality of the light is extremely important. Learn the rules of when to shoot. But learn how to make use of poor light because there is so much of it! The key to taking great pictures in the harsh mid-day light (when we are most likely to be out shooting) is to use a polarized filter. Software simply can’t do it as well as a physical polarizer.
- The more time you spend outside, the more likely you are to take great pictures. A traveling, boondocking, vandweller is in the ideal position to build up a portfolio of pictures that make you say “Wow!” when you see it.
- Become a hiker. If you can only shoot from within 50 yards of your car, you are going to miss lots of great shots. Some of the very best days of my life have been when I was out for a hike to take pictures of a beautiful place.
- Carry the camera with you all the time. After some practice, you will see beauty all around you.
- Learn to take great pictures when you push the shutter button. My photo editor is Picassa, which is a free download from Google. I love it!! My goal is take a picture that needs nothing else done to it. But most shots are improved with some minor editing so the minimum photo editor is plenty good enough to me. I want to be in nature taking pictures, not sitting behind the screen of a computer!
- Buy Photo Guide books that are guides to locations where you can take great shots. See the Tip in the side bar to the right for my recomendations
The more manual controls a P&S gives you, the better your pictures will be. Having full manual control is best, but the minimum control you need is Exposure Compensation. The amount of light that hits the film or sensor of the camera is measured in “F Stops.” Inside all of today’s cameras is a small computer program that meters the light coming in and chooses the right stop to use. Most of the time they do a great job, but they are very easily fooled into giving less than ideal exposures. But if your camera offers Exposure Compensation you can override the cameras choices by two stops over and under, making the picture either darker or lighter than the camera thinks it should be. If your camera doesn’t have it, it shouldn’t cost too much to upgrade to one with it and your photographs will get dramatically better.
If you have the money, I highly recommend a Canon G12 Point and Shoot. I paid $379 for mine, but it was worth every penny for these reasons:
- It is the best P&S you can buy, has a great lens and gives you outstanding control over the picture.
- You can buy an attachment that allows you to put screw-on filters on it which is critically important to great photos.
- Best of all it has lots of physical controls so you don’t spend all your time sorting through menus to get control.
- The screen is big and bright and it swings out and turns in a 360 circle. I love this feature. I can hold the camera over my head or down next to the ground and just twist the screen so I can see it from above or below. I can even turn it around so I see the screen when shooting a self-portrait.
- It has a flash shoe, so it can use the full line of Canon external flashes and take advantage of their amazing abilities.
- It is much smaller than the DSLRs and I carry it in a bag on my belt 100% of the time. Since I always have it with me, if I find a shot, I can take it.
I would not use it if I wanted to make 3 foot by 5 foot enlargements, but for the web or normal size pictures you can’t see a difference between it and DSLRs. I bought mine from Best Buy and bought the 3 year extended warranty with it.
I wish I could go into greater detail on this, but I simply don’t have time. I strongly suggest you find some good books on nature photography and study them. I wish I could recommend some books for you, but it’s been a long time since I have had any of them so I can’t remember which ones I liked and which I didn’t, so you are going to have to do your own research. Bob