'Those are great pictures!.....What kind of camera did you use?'

June 27, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


I cannot tell you how many times I and other photographers hear those words.  It seems that some people believe that the more expensive camera you own, the better the pictures.  And while it's true that more expensive cameras have more features and probably use interchangeable lenses, it's more about the technique of the photographer and most importantly...their creativity! (Don't tell the camera manufacturers who want to sell more cameras)  So, how can someone with a point and shoot or basic digital SLR make pictures like the pros?  That's what I'm going to discuss in this blog. 


First some basic info about photography and cameras in general.  Cameras work by exposing something to light.  Whether that's traditional film or a digital sensor, all photography is done in this manner.  Photographers control this by adjusting three elements: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. 


  • ISO is simply the sensitivity of the sensor or film to light.  The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor.  So if you increase the sensitivity of the sensor, you can take pictures with less light.  But, the higher the ISO, the lower the quality of image is captured so you need to be careful with this.  With the newer cameras, such as my Nikons, this is almost a non-issue as they can produce images with very good quality at higher ISO's. 
  • Shutter speed controls how long the shutter, or curtain, is open.  A shutter speed of 1/60th is slower than one of 1/2000 since the shutter is only open for 1/60th a second versus 1/2000th of a second.  Faster shutter speeds of 1/800th a second or faster are needed to capture moving subjects such as the one at the top. 
  • Finally, aperture is the size of the hole that light is allowed to come through before reaching the sensor or film.  Without going into a huge explanation of this, basically, a smaller aperture such as f16 will allow you to keep more of the image in focus versus f4 where only the subject is in focus.  (f4 is my basic aperture for shooting sports such as Gymkhana) 


So, knowing these basics, I can make some recommendations for better pictures from any camera:


Take it off automatic and try different settings!  With digital, we no longer have to worry about buying film and processing.  If you don't like what you see, just delete it.  Practice, practice, practice... it applies in everything we do in life.

Use good shooting technique to steady the camera.  Shooting pictures is very similar to shooting guns in that is the camera is not steady, you may get blurry photos or miss the target.  So, hold the camera in close to your body, use your left hand to steady it underneath and use a rest whenever possible.  If you've seen me shooting at a show or other place when I have a long lens on the camera, I eithe r have a monopod or am using something to steady my shot.  This is key for sharp pictures. 

Remember to check your background.  Distractions and objects in the background will detract from your pictures since it draws the viewer's eye to the background instead of the subject.  Try to use an angle that eliminates distractions.  This includes making sure their isn't a tree branch "sticking out" of the subject's head.  Sometimes, using a larger aperture will allow you to keep your subject in focus and throw the background out of focus. 

Along these lines, using a lower vantage point when shooting subjects will make them seem more imposing to the viewers.  Children should be shot (no, not really) from their level.  Looking down on a small subject just makes it appear that much smaller.  So, the next time you take a picture of your child, get down on one knee or the floor.

Use good composition.  There are volumes of books written on this subject alone.  This essentially involves trying to compose a picture that will be pleasing to the viewer's eye while including the parts of the photo that are important.  A good starter is to avoid "bulls-eying" the main subject in the middle of the frame.  Try moving the subject to either side or up or down and see what you like better. 

Finally, remember to look at the direction and quality of light.  The most pleasing pictures will usually be taken either early in the morning or later in the evening.  This is because the light at those times is lower in the sky and is softer.  The harsh light of mid-day can put shadows on a subject's face and cause them to squint.  If you have to shoot in these conditions, try to find shade or face the subject away from the sun. 

I hope this is a quick guide to taking better pictures with any camera, including the one you already have.  Even a cell phone camera can take some really nice photos if you use great technique.  And remember, pro photographers don't just use more expensive cameras, they have the knowledge to use them to take the best pictures.  Now get out there and shoot! 




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