This is a list of a couple of tips that can make your snapshots much better. This is not a list of tips for accomplished photographers.

  • Get in real close.

This is the easiest way to make your pictures better. You know how it's rather difficult to figure out who's who in your pictures? That's because the person's face is making up approximately 2% of the total photo area. Get in real close, so that the face is the main thing in the picture.

Lot of the nice pictures isolate the subject by throwing the background out of focus. In order to do this, you need a fast aperture, something like f2 or so. Most point and shoot cameras don't have big aperature lenses. This allows smaller, crappier lenses to take decent photographs, but everything is in focus. It's a way of making sure the picture comes out right, even if the focus is off. Only bizarre point and shoots have fast aperature, and if you're going to pay that kind of money, you should just get a standard 35mm SLR.

If you have only shot with point and shoot cameras, borrow or rent a mid-prices SLR, and compare the photos you get from both cameras. The difference is usually night and day.

You can get crappy, but cheap zoom lenses, or really nice but really expensive zoom lenses. On the other hand, you can get a really good, cheap 50mm/f1.8 lens, which is what all SLRs came with before the zoom-craze. I bet I can take a better picture with the 50/1.8 than your 25-80/2.5-4 zoom.

  • Get the right film.

Stick with print film. Modern print film is very forgiving, so that a couple of stops worth of over or under exposure can easily be compensated during printing. That means your camera could be slightly out of whack and still take good pictures. Not so with slide film. But buy the right film. Taking pictures in bright sunlight? (like sporting events?) - Buy 100 speed. Pictures in cloudy environments? - 400 speed. If you want to take pictures indoors without flash, 400 speed or 800 speed is your best bet. Stay away from 200 speed film. It's not much faster than 100, but your result will be worse.

(A note to the un-initiated - Higher number means you can take the photo with less light, but the grain will be larger. But these days, unless you get huge 8x10" enlargements done, it's hard to see grain with even 800 speed film...)

Personally, I stick with Fuji Superia 400 speed film. 400 speed is about right for well-lit rooms and a lens speed of about f2 and a hand-holdable shutter speed. This film reproduces bright colors nicely. It's a little too bright for skin tones though, so makes blemishes stand out. The film is usually affordable, like $12 for a 4 pack of 24-exposure rolls.

If you want no skin blemishes, a proper photo store will stock film for wedding photographers, which tones down the color improving skin tone. Ask for some kind of portrait film.

  • Take lots of shots.

Expect to get about 2 good shots per roll of film. Even the best photographers waste film. This makes finding cheap film development important. I stick with supermarkets that have sales. Color print film is developed in big machines, so it shouldn't really matter who does the developing. If you get a negative with a photo you really like on it, get an enlargement done by a nice photo shop.

Taking good photographs, as I've learnt, is usually easier than taking the bad photographs.

Unfortunately most of the 'take good pic' lists end up suggesting expensive ways to do so. From my experience, I believe anyone who is new to photography should start by concentrating solely on the composition of the photograph. Only after you find your compositions are good should you worry about type of camera, film, filter, Aperture, developing etc you use.

Composition is the keyword.

Big question - how does one compose a good photograph?

I follow a few rules of thumb:

LOOK. Look at the viewfinder like you'd look at a picture. What you're looking at in the viewfinder is (more or less) what you're going to get in the pic. So consider your viewfinder as your window to the future.

Make sure your subject is looking good, its covered completely, the background is fine, there is no stray object you do not want in the background.

Make em smile. Make your subjects (when human beings) happy at being photographed. I usually spot something funny and show it to them, a small puppy, some kid playing nearby, or I remind them how beautiful their children are.

Sometimes some people look better when they are anything but smiling. I tell such people to smile and hold a pose, then I start looking at them thru the viewfinder and do not take their snap until their patience runs out and they look at me with a 'Hey !! what are you waiting for!!'

Often, a snap just after a snap helps. Soon after getting photographed, kids tend to make very funny faces. You can capture that by taking two snaps in quick succession.

Off center the subject. It really helps to compose a pic with the subject towards the right or left of the photograph. This gives a very nice depth of field effect to the photograph in contrast to the subject centered compositions.

This may not work very well in point and shoot cameras specially if you're standing very close to the subject. So take note.

And finally - experiment. Experiment a lot. Look at your flaws as artistic effects.

And don't try to be a creative photographer too soon, start by capturing the obvious.

So now you bought your brand new flashy SLR camera, a couple of nice prime lenses and a pocket full of film. You are ready to start taking better pictures. The very first thing you will want to do is


Chances are your new camera has many, many more buttons,dials and gadgets than your point and shoot camera did. You'd do well to know what they do before heading out.

Great! You now know all about aperture and shutter priority. You know about the automatic modes built in to your camera such as portrait mode, landscape mode and macro. You know about spot metering. You even know how to set the quartz clock on your camera! This is fun. You know how to operate your new camera, so now you can run out and take some pictures. Well, not quite. Turn off the damn date and time feature! Nothing is more distracting than a dayglow orange printout in the bottom corner of a print. It serously ruins the shot IMHO .

You head out to burn a roll of film. Nice flower! Set the camera to macro and Click! Did you see that car? Click! Awe look at little Johnny sitting there in the sun. How cute! It's nice and sunny, this should turn out nice. Click! Many clicks later the darn roll is finished. You bring it in for developing. To Wal-Mart. (It's very cheap and 1 hour to boot!)

Upon inspecting the prints you realise that you've turned Johnny's cute little face into a sundial. Next time you'll remember to pay attention to available light, it's strength and direction. Or use a flash to get rid of the nasty shadows. Yes, a flash will often help in outdoor, sunny shots. Shit there's a shadow covering half the flower! Hmmm, looks vaguely like the shape of a camera lense. You'll want to pay attention to the shadows you cast when taking macro shots next time.

Weeks pass, and you feel that you still could be taking even better pictures. What to do?

  1. Read, Read, Read: There are many online resources to help improve your technique.
  2. Look at other peoples' pictures: See what you like about them, and how you could apply that knowledge to your photography.
  3. Have other people look at your pictures: Not just mom and dad. Try and get honest, constructive critisism, from people who's pictures you admire. Mom and dad just love little Johnny; he's cute, he's in the picture and that's all they're looking at. There is often more to a picture than the main subject.

Other things to consider

Use a tripod: Many seemingly out of focus shots are caused by the photographer moving while exposing the shot, and even by some of the mechanics in the camera itself. A tripod eliminates the human element.

Quality Film: Buy names you know, like Kodak or Fuji. Try Quick-e-Mart film at your own risk.

Yes, shoot slides! You now have to worry about proper exposure with your new SLR. What you see on a slide is what you shot. You'll be able to examin the exposures to see if you got it right, Unlike with negatives and prints, where exposure is often compensated for during printing. Overexposed is overexposed, compensated for or not.Once you know your exposures are fine, use negatives. Besides, slide is cheaper in the long run to shoot as there is no printing.(I know this contradicts what was said above. It's a matter of personal opinion.)

Carry a notepad: Again, you are learning proper exposure now that you got an SLR. Write down the settings you used while taking pictures so you know why the picture didn't turn out right (or why it did) when you get it back.

Don't throw away the point and shoot yet: The very first step in getting any picture, good or bad, is being there. Keep the point and shoot and carry it wherever you go. Your $1,000 camera with the 600mm f4.5 image stabilizing ultra telephoto lense won't get that picture of Bambi grazing by the side of the road if it's at home. Something is better than nothing.

Consider using professional shops for all of your processing needs. Sure, the processing is practically completely automatic. It does however require human maintenance and intervention. I much prefer knowing that a professional handled my negatives from Christmas. It's still one hour processing, and just slightly more expensive. It beats the alternative of having Chuck from sporting goods at Wal-Mart scratch or get fingerprints on them. Besides, using terms like E-6 or C-41 with poor Chuck might confuse him into thinking you're taking a shot at his Battleship. You'd be surprised how often otherwise good exposures can be ruined by poor processing, old chemicals or damaged negatives at a generic one hour place. It's not always the photographer who ruined the shot. Sure, you can shop while you wait for your picutres at Wal-Mart, but are your memories worth the dollar you saved?

Don't POSE

The best photos are the candid ones. Don't line up your people in front of some great scenery. Boring. Those are not the shots you will remember. They are not the ones that will be made into 8 x 10's to hang framed beautifully on your walls. No. They are OK shots, but not WOW. You want wow?! Then watch. Pay attention. Be ready for the moment to capture it.

She leans against him watching the dancers on the floor. Head against his shoulder. He throws his arm around her comfortably, tips his head back to take a draw on his Heinekin, also watching the friends gathered for their day. Both are relaxed, content, sharing a brief moment away from the celebration. No longer center of attention, so they can drop their guard.


Congratulations, you've just captured a moment shared by the newlyweds. A moment for them to remember because you were paying attention and had the camera ready.

She spots a sunbeam streaming through the branches of a tree. She looks up into it to see the specks of dust floating in the air. She smiles at the sight, drinking it in.


You have captured the light dancing in her eyes. A shot you never would have gotten posed because she is self-concious in front of a camera.

She is sleeping on the reclining chair. Peaceful. Her head is tipped down, nose buried into the soft downy hair of your newborn son, breathing him in. Her own hair falls unkempt around her face, her hand lightly resting on his back. He is sleeping also, belly down against her stomach, head cradled on her breasts. Small smile on his face as he dreams sweet baby dreams safe in the arms of his mother. The late afternoon sun shines through the window behind them, soft lighting.


Do you see where I'm going here? These are the pictures that will be the keepers. Moments in time. Not posed shots but candids captured when the subject is unawares. These are the feelings that will make for a good photo. Not the false hesitant smiles of a person in front of the Eiffel tower, but the shot of young lovers wrapped up in themselves kissing beneath it. THAT is a moment. A good picture. A candid.

That is how to take a good photo with whatever type of camera you have. It's not what you put into the camera, it's what you see through the lens.

I've recently been going through old family photographs dating around 1850-1920. This was back when the photo emulsion was very slow, and the subject of the photo had to sit for as long as five minutes to complete the exposure.

These pictures are very obviously not candid, however, they have a very candid look to them. The expressions are natural and piercing, the eyes are clear. My theory is that they had to sit so long in one position that they could not afford to hold a forced expression, and so the result is that the picture shows their face in its natural, relaxed state.

This is in stark contrast to many of the modern professional studio photos I see. Most of the cheaper studios do not bother to try to get photos like this, and are more concerned with moving as many wiggly kids through as fast as they can.

Occasionally, you can accidently get that "perfect snap" just by being there and getting the candid shot. However, if you can manage to get your subjects to calm down, get their mind off the camera, wait a moment for them to relax, perhaps you can do as well as the old pictures did.

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