Taking better pictures

Lisa & Steven Wedding Day

I am in no way an expert. In a lot of ways I’m still learning. However, I get a lot of questions about photography so here’s some basics to learning to take better pictures. Whether you want to be a pro or just take better pictures, these will help.

Step one: Take pictures
Take them everywhere in every situation. Don’t wait until you can afford a nice digital SLR camera to start. So much of photography has nothing to do with the gear you are using. Take photos of every-day things. Look for new ways to make the mundane look interesting. Watch your angles. Look at your photos after your done and picture in your head what it would look like from a different angle.

Step two: Learn like crazy
There is simultaneously a lot to know about photography and not much at all. The basic concepts are pretty easy but it takes a lifetime to master all the nuance in those simple concepts.
Whether your goal is to do this for a living or just take better photos, I’d recommend starting at The Open Source Photo Forum. This is an amazing forum populated by some of the best photographers in the business. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned just by reading through the various threads. Part of my lunch time every day is looking through OSP to see if there’s anything new I need to know. Also almost every photographer has a blog where they post their photos. Subscribe to them and look at everything they do. Try to reverse engineer their photos and figure out how they did it.

Step three: Shoot in manual mode
Once you own that nice SLR the first step is to switch it to manual mode and never ever go back to automatic. Manual mode is not that hard to master (really only about four things to keep track of) and will make a world of difference for your photos. Automatic mode assumes the camera knows what you want and how best to get it. This is almost never the case. Just learn what the four major adjustments on the camera are (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance) and how each effects a photo and you’re set.

Step four: Pick gear that fits you
The Nikon versus Canon debate will probably still be going long after the Mac versus PC debate is settled (that’ll be when Bill Gates admits defeat through tear-filled eyes, by the way). That’s because unlike the Windows versus Mac OS argument, Nikon and Canon both make incredibly great products. Nikon users are going to recommend Nikon and Canon users are going to recommend Canon. I say before investing any money in cameras and lenses, test them all out in real-world situations. When we first invested in a digital SLR a few years ago I had spent extensive time using both the Canon Digital Rebel and the Nikon D70s in the field. I knew the ins and outs of each one. Based on that I went with Nikon. When it came to entry-level SLRs, there’s was superior to the Canon offering. It felt like it was built a little better and I just liked the layout of all the controls better. That’s just me. Try both out. I don’t think you can go wrong either way.

Step five: Learn lighting
Learn absolutely everything you can about lighting. Then dive into off-camera lighting. Learning lighting will make the difference between a good photo and a photo you can make money on. Start here for off-camera lighting. Zack Arias is basically the expert in this field. You may not want to drop the money for one of his workshops (you should, though, if you can) but he has a DVD coming out in a few weeks which will be a little cheaper and contain hours of great info. Even having not seen it, I’d recommend it. This guys knows his stuff and he knows how to do it without breaking the bank, which will be nice for most. After you learn the basics, lighting is the key to great photography.

Tomorrow: How to get into the business side of photography


  1. says

    I’m learning the basics of photography right now, so this post is timely. I haven’t graduated to an SLR yet, so I’m just working on the composition of my photos with the little Sony Cyber-shot I currently own. What’s interesting is that, as I look at the timeline of my Picasa photo album, I can see improvements I’ve made over the last year or so. Better gear won’t help me until I learn more, but I’m getting there. Thanks for a great post!

  2. mamapeter says

    Thank you for this post. Your steps make a ton of sense, and help to keep the photographers feet on the ground and yet still reach for the stars. I do not consider myself a photographer because that sounds a bit over my level, but I do think I take pretty good photos much of the time. My son has begun this venture, and I definitely would call him a photographer, just beginning, but what an eye! I appreciate your steps for him as well, so he can remember what it really takes to take good pictures. Thank you! (my blog of a few of my son’s pics is thrualenz.wordpress.com)

  3. says

    Great tips… you pretty much hit on the basics of what photography is, “painting with light”. I have shot for more than 15 years, sold a few here and there, and still feel like I can always learn so much more… hopefully not in the manner of “uncle bob”.


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