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Taking better Photos

I take decent pictures but want to step up my game.

Any suggestions in how to get beyond the basics?

Posted by
9110 posts

It ain't the camera, it's the eye and brain.

Shot a lot and remember what you do and take a class or seven.

Posted by
115 posts

Actually, I'd love to hear recommendations of good cameras to take on a Rick Steves-type of travel experience. I took a wonderful tour earlier this summer, first one. I am not an experienced traveler but that's my goad. But my camera - a simple little Kodak Easyshare V550 was NOT sufficient. I deleted almost every shot I took of interiors. Outside shots were OK for the most part. I need more range and something that will capture the interiors of all kinds of spaces. Small, lightweight, very portable and easy to use come to mind. A video capability would be nice too. Would love to have some specific "name, rank, serial number" recommendations. I don't question my ability to see a good picture and compose it -- that I can do. I have a good eye, now need a camera to equal it. Ann.

Posted by
10334 posts

I just bought a Canon Power Shot Elph340 HS, specifically because it is supposed to do well in low light conditions. It records video (HD 1080) and is wifi certified. I've only done a couple of practice shots, so I can't really determine the quality just yet. It has good reviews. The Canon I've had for years was a good camera except in low light conditions. The new one is far better for zooming and has a lot more megapixels. I've had my old Canon at least 7 years.

Posted by
10344 posts

Good light on the subject and try to hold the camera very still.
In poorly lit interiors where a flash isn't permitted or won't work (like a cathedral where the flash won't illuminate distant points), point and shoot results may disappoint. That's where the digital SLR may be worth the significant step-up in price and the added bulkiness. Maybe.

Posted by
5687 posts

A digital SLR is larger than a point-and-shoot camera but generally allows you to take better pictures. There's no "shutter lag," and your indoor shots without a flash will be a little better. And you can get better-quality lenses to take better shots in some situations ("faster" lenses usually cost more but allow more light and better hand-held shots in low light).

But I agree with the sentiment above: there are basics to photography that are irrelevant to the camera you are actually using. However, I'd add that it's important to know the limitations of your camera and equipment. I know that when using my point and shoot camera (when I don't have my SLR), my low light shots aren't going to be great. If I care about that, I'll bring my SLR instead - and perhaps a tripod.

I would learn to ask yourself these pictures (assuming you mean shooting "travel" or "scenic" photos:

  • Where is the light? How is your subject being lit? If you are shooting outside: If the sun is blocked by clouds, look in the sky: maybe the sun will pop out of the clouds in a few minutes? If so, hang out a little longer; the sun lighting up your subject could make for a much better picture. Be patient.

  • If you will be able to photograph something at different times of the day (because you will be in town more than a few hours) - related to the light query above, figure out when the best time of day to shoot it might be. Mornings and late Afternoons often work best, when the sun can be almost behind you or at least not in front of you. ("Golden Hour" even earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon may be even prettier.)

  • Where should you stand? Should you stand far away and zoom in? Or should you walk closer? I think Ansel Adams was the one who said that the most important aspect of photography is where the photographer is standing.

    Often taking a wide angle shot of buildings or objects distorts them if you are too close; try to walk further away in those cases so they look more natural and not twisted at weird angles (though sometimes that can work as an artistic effect).

Tripods are really helpful for scenic photography, even though they are bulky to carry around when you travel. It's not just that they allow the camera to be still (so your pictures are sharper), but they allow you to compose your shot more carefully. I find it much harder to compose shots hand-held and I often get lazy about it. But when my camera is on a tripod, I am forced to be much more deliberate about composing shots.

  • If there are people in your shot (say at a tourist spot), are they detracting or distracting from the image? Often I like "clean" shots without people in them, but sometimes people add something (e.g. to a street scene). And sometimes you simply have no choice but to shoot pictures with people in them. Is someone with a bright red shirt walking by who might draw your eye in the final photograph? I wait for such people to walk by; I don't want them to draw attention from everything else in the shot. Again: be patient

I'm a stickler for "level" photos. I can usually see right away when a photo isn't level, and it drives me crazy. Yes, you can rotate your digital images on the computer to correct them later, but it's also kind of a pain, and it reduces the quality of the final photo (if you care to print it as I do; for web-only use it probably doesn't matter). I use a "bubble level" for my digital SLR that fits in the flash shoe, so I can shoot level even when I'm shooting hand-held. My point-and-shoot has a built-in level I can turn on.

Posted by
5687 posts

Digital photography allows you to do experiments, of course, so you can try shooting the same image different ways. Try to look carefully at what you did later and see what worked best - moving in closer, walking further way and zooming in or shooting a scene in the morning vs. mid-afternoon, so you can learn for next time. You can even present some of your images to friends and family and simply ask, "of these two, which one do you prefer?" instead of asking "Do you like this picture?" That way, you can get other people's feedback on your pictures, too.

Yes - take classes if you can. Getting feedback from experienced photographers can pay big dividends to help you adjust your photography routine and maybe improve what you have been doing.

Posted by
715 posts

I could take better pictures if all the damn tourists would just get out of the way!!! :)

When I take pictures I basically boil them down into two categories, one, is to document my trip, and two, is to take a photograph that i think is interesting. 99% of the time they are different pictures.

Look for details. For instance, and this is cliched, but if you took a pic of the David, the documenting trip pic would likely be of the entire statute, no doubt with some tourist heads at the bottom of the pic. A pic i would find interesting would be to zoom in on particular parts of the statute to catch the glory of Michaelangelo's work, his hand, his butt, etc. You can take a picture of the wonderful statute of Marcus Aurelius on his horse at the Capitoline, and you can zoom in and capture the horse's flaring nostrils. Capture the details with your eye and camera. Look for texture and designs and try to crop them in the viewfinder of your camera when you take the shot. Church ceilings, and church construction offer great opportunities for capturing amazing angles and designs that can create some abstractions in your picture that are wonderful. Look for the angles in your shots that would draw your eye to the subject you are trying to capture. Texture, Europe has great texture. The stone work is amazing. Smooth cobble stones to rough walled stone buildings, to flaking paint from stucco. All of that in one pic, again cliched, but still a terrific picture.

However, I should have prefaced all of this with saying look at your subject for a long while before you take the photo. Too many people view amazing artwork and scenery through their camera lens, rather then in the first person. I am astounded by the number of folks who walk up to artwork,etc., stop, snap a photo and move on, as if they will sort out what they were looking at later, at home.

I think photography is very spiritual. you have to experience the subject first, for a bit, before capturing the image. Photos of people can be snap shots or portraits. They become portraits when you interact with them and get to know them a bit.

boun viaggio

Posted by
1068 posts

Well, I think the most important question to ask is: Am I a photographer who travels or a traveler who photographs? If the former, then there are tons of books for you already..... they will talk about taking lots of gear, preplanning you shots and making photography the center of your trip. If you are the later (like me) there is decidedly less information for you. I stopped taking a DSLR on trips. I now use Sony RX100 and a Panasonic FZ1000. They have mid-sized sensors (which makes a huge difference in camera performance).... about the same size as some Micro four thirds systems. However, they don't require multiple lenses etc. etc. So they have been good for me, but no everyone's cup of tea. The big thing is to develop your eye. Taking "everyday" shots will help, so when you are abroad, your pics will reflect your newly developed photographic skills. You can also check out places like: Digital Photography School or numerous others online which will help to develop you eye and skills. I find it helpful to take lots of variety too. Sure, it is nice to have the "typical" shot of the museum and perhaps an artsy one as well, but people are also interested in food, street shots, close ups, cityscapes etc. In today's world, postprocessing is as important as taking the shot (well, not really, but close) so get a program like LR, PSP, PSE or others and learn how to use it. One last thing is that I do try and take a travel tripod. Many churches, museums etc. do not permit flash and if they did, flash would not help (really, your flash is going to light up the interior of a 10,000 sq ft cathedral??) a tripod is one answer. (others include sitting your camera on something, using the string trick etc.) I find tripods are also helpful at night and when catching the occasional gem (like getting "blended water" from the fountains in front of Hagia Sophia at night.) I am going to take one on my next trip to do a bit of time lapse photography. Well, that's my two cents and many will disagree with my opinion. Good luck and keep snappin.

Posted by
722 posts

I am a firm believer that good pictures come 90% from one's brain/eye and 10% from the camera.

There have been a lot of excellent suggestions here, and here are mine:

  • Practice. Try to make a habit of shooting every day. After your daily shoot, review your pictures, figure out what you want to do improve, and then try to do better the next day.

  • Light. I don't care how fancy your camera is, bad light makes bad pictures. Usually the light is best early in the morning and late in the day. Also, big light sources (è.g. windows) give softer and prettier light than small light sources (è.g - bare light bulbs or camera flash). Light is the most important thing to master.

  • Fundamentals. Try to keep the camera level. Hold the camera still.

  • Learn how to use your camera. Read the manual. This sounds silly, but most folks never bother learning much more than how to press the shutter.

  • Careful with the Flash. Try to avoid using the flash indoors. I know that sometimes indoor flash is unavoidable. However, indoor flash will flatten out the subject every time -- no exceptions. Outdoors, however, is another story. Flash can be very helpful for lightening shadows when the sunlight is bright and contrasty.

  • Pay attention the the background. Very often we concentrate so much on the main subject that we ignore the background. I very often seek out a good background first and then worry about the main subject.

  • Pay attention to the edges of the frame. Try to eliminate distractions toward the outside edges.

  • Get in close, if you can. (Getting in close also helps with background and edge distractions.)

Oh gosh, I could go on, but if you can master these concepts your photos will improve dramatically.

As for camera equipment ... You can take great photos with your cell phone. As you move up the food chain you get zoom, manual controls, bigger sensors, better low light performance, better ability to control light, better weather proofing, and better ability to shoot moving subjects. How much better depends on how much you are willing to spend. For travel photos, however, you don't need a particularly sophisticated camera. Low light performance and zoom are the two main features that would make me want something more powerful than a cell phone.

FYI, I shoot with an iPhone, a Panasonic LX7 (awesome little camera), and a Nikon D90 (dSLR).

Posted by
127 posts

I've got to thank all for the thoughtful and helpful suggestions!

Posted by
5837 posts

Ansel Adams would be ridiculed by many forum participants because he would not be able to do carry-on only. The one bag folks would appreciate Henri Cartier-Bresson's gear requirements

Ansel Adams once: took his first long trip into the wilderness in 1920, when he was just eighteen. His burro, Mistletoe, carried almost a hundred pounds of gear and food; he himself carried a thirty-pound pack full of photographic equipment.

Henri Cartier-Bresson on the other hand was a one camera body one lense photographer with no flash:
Photographic icon Henri Cartier-Bresson was known for using only one camera, a Leica rangefinder, and one lens, a 50mm, for almost all of his life's work.

Here's how Henri did it:
7 Things Every Photographer Should Learn From Henri Cartier-Bresson

Posted by
4535 posts

In poorly lit interiors where a flash isn't permitted or won't work (like a cathedral where the flash won't illuminate distant points), point and shoot results may disappoint. That's where the digital SLR may be worth the significant step-up in price and the added bulkiness. Maybe.

There really is no "maybe" about it. A DSLR is designed to work better in low light than a more standard point and shoot. My wife has a good quality P&S camera and I use a DSLR and the difference in those conditions is extremely noticeable. The DSLR allows for more zoom capability too. But other than that, for the average person that just wants nice photos, a good P&S camera is sufficient.

Of course the photographer is key and knowing tricks and techniques to taking better photos is key. And getting good light. Like others, I encourage you to practice as much as you can and read some books or online tips for composition.

Posted by
5837 posts

As Douglas notes DSLR is designed to work better in low light than a more standard point and shoot.

The big difference is speed and ability to focus in low light conditions. Henri Cartier Besson's Leica had a rangefinder focus mechanism generally good for focusing in low light. The DSLR and advanced P&S also have a sports predictive focus feature, something a skilled manual camera user could do.

Posted by
559 posts

Hi Sean,

I second all the tips you've gotten so far. I will add five quick ones.

  1. Take more than one photo of the same subject : zooming in, zooming out and somewhere in the middle. Like in the example above, take a picture of a whole statue, then a picture of a small section/details of the statue, etc. Then zoom out and get the statue with its surroundings.
  2. When you are taking pictures of people, zoom in!!! Do you really care what their sneakers look like? Nope! You want to see their faces, so shoot from their chest up. If you are trying to get them in front of a famous landmark, repeat # 1 tip above (do a series of shots).
  3. When shooting landscape/wide city shots, try and include something in the foreground to help give a sense of the scale of things. For example, if taking a shot of the hills in Scotland, try to stand so there are some flowers or a tree branch hanging down right "up front" in the photo. You can also use people for this (ask someone to take a photo of you with your shoulder and head looking out over the hills for example).
  4. If you're taking lots of beautiful landscape (or city, again) photos that have a similar color scheme - like green grass, green hills, etc. try to add an element of red to the photo - a flag, a person wearing a red shirt, a red car driving through the scenery. This works well in cities too when lots of buildings, etc are similarly-colored. Red livens up the shot and will draw your eye directly into the photo so you may even want to place the red in a spot which uses the rule of thirds.
  5. Don't forget to ask people to take photos of you, so you're in your own shots! I usually offer for a couple ( since they are never in their own photos together since one of them is always holding the camera) and then I ask them to reciprocate.

Enjoy your experimenting!!!