7 Tips for Better Digital SLR Photos: How to Take Pictures like a Pro

Improve Your Photographs with a Digital SLR Camera

Have you wondered how to take great digital photos? If so, you certainly are not alone. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there on how to take great photographs, but who has time to go through all the guidebooks and pamphlets that have been published - let alone the directions included with your camera? And when you do, you probably feel like the authors are speaking a foreign, technical language that you'll never understand.

There are 7 simple steps to help you take better SLR (single lens reflex) digital photos. You'll immediately see a difference in your prints, and you may even become inspired to take it to the next step - whether through photography lessons, or a more technical book.

You don't have to be a professional photographer to take impressive shots. Nor are you required to buy lots of expensive equipment. Take your photos to the next level and you'll get a lot more enjoyment out of your photography.

Believe me: you can take photos like a pro, without much of the added cost, expense or hassle.

Tips for great photos with your digital SLR camera
Tips for great photos with your digital SLR camera | Source

The Difference Between SLR and Point and Shoot Digital Cameras

The reason why this hub is aimed at SLR digital cameras, and not regular point-and-shoot, or even phone cameras, is that there are some built-in features on the SLR cameras that you may not have with smaller, more compact models. Once you learn how to use the built-in features, you'll discover how easy it is to improve your shots.

We're going to minimize suggested additional equipment, to keep costs down and operation relatively easy. That is, these are tips how to use the parts of the camera that are already there. After all, you probably invested a good deal of money for it!

Again, there are plenty of technical books and advice out there. They can definitely help you take wonderful, professional-looking photographs. But for the general public, most people just want to learn how to avoid simple mistakes and improve the quality of their shots.

That's why you're in the right place!

Suggested Equipment:

  • Digital SLR camera (any make/model is fine)
  • Tripod
  • Polarizing filter
  • Independent flash attachment
  • Free photo editing software (iPhoto, Shutterfly, Photoscape, Picasa, and many more!)

Even if you only have the SLR camera itself, you can learn how to improve so that you can have better SLR digital photos.

On the other hand, if you want to try your hand at Stock Photography, or even make some money as a more traditional professional photographer, you'll need to invest additional money on equipment and spend more time going over technical details.

There are hundreds of websites, books and articles devoted to the particulars of how to take portraits, how to photograph landscapes, and how to be a wedding photographer.

A word to the wise: its difficult (but not impossible) to break into the craft.

Personally, I love taking photographs of nature and my kids. Photographing children is actually a huge passion of mine. It takes a lot of work and time, which is why its great to have a digital camera, where you can delete photos that do not turn out well, as opposed to a traditional film camera.

Tips for better Digital SLR Photos (image courtesy of mikebaird on Flickr Creative Commons)
Tips for better Digital SLR Photos (image courtesy of mikebaird on Flickr Creative Commons)

You Don't Need to Invest a Lot of Money to Take Good Digital SLR Photographs

Sure, you can invest a ton of time and money to take your photographs to a professional level. But what if you just want to improve the quality of your shots? That's what I'm going to show you.

Let's work with what you have, and make the best of it. And, while we're at it, I'm going to explain the process in easy-to-understand language.

If you want to know more about shutter speed, focal length and bouncing light, please take a photography course!

Ready? O.K. Let's start reviewing the 7 tips for better digital SLR photos.

How to Focus Photographs

Tips for Better Digital SLR Photos

1. Avoid using the built-in flash. Usually, the flash will make your subjects less, rather than more, flattering. Remember that the range of a flash is only about 10 feet (and most of us stand further than that from our subjects). Turn off the auto-flash, slow the shutter speed, and use a tripod, if necessary to stabilize your camera since the shutter will be open longer to let in more light. Even if you are shooting closer than 10 feet, a built-in flash is too small to properly illuminate the subject. Your photos will look more natural if you rely on natural light. Place your subjects near north-facing windows, if possible, because they allow the most natural, beautiful illumination.

2. The "Rule of Thirds" is just a suggestion. Many photography books suggest a rule of thirds, pursuant to which you think of a tic-tac-toe board on your view-finder and place the subject at the top, bottom or side of the middle of the frame. Sometimes, however, the best shot is straight on, or with another composition. Take multiple photos with your digital camera, and then review later to see which one looks best to you.

3. If you are going to use the flash, dial back the power. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I didn't know that you can reduce the power of your flash on a digital SLR camera. Yes, its true. Most models allow you to program the flash at 50% or even 25%. My suggestion is to experiment and also take lots of photos to see what works best for you. Harsh light from built-in flashes is never nice. If you don't want to invest in a dedicated flash - and you don't need to - then learn how to take pictures in lower light.

Dialing back the flash power is also perfect for situations in which you need a fill flash. Often when you are outdoors and your subject is illuminated from behind, you'll lose features on faces or details of flowers. Program your flash to 50% or 25% and be sure to stand within 10 feet so that it reaches your subject. Notice the difference!

Pentax SLR Cameras

Digital photography
Digital photography | Source

Do you experiment with settings on your digital SLR camera?

  • No, there are too many settings and I don't understand them
  • Yes, I love to see how changing a factor or two improves my shots
  • Sometimes, but I usually shoot in auto mode
See results without voting

More Tips for Better Digital SLR Photos

4. Slow down shutter speed. You can do this manually on your camera. Usually, when you have it set to "auto," the speed at which the shutter opens and closes is set based on the amount of light in the room. Slow this down a bit (taking care to keep your camera still when creating the photograph) and extra light will be let in, resulting in a more natural looking photo, particularly when using flash.

I said I wouldn't use technical terms, but for this tip, I'll reference an actual shutter speed to illustrate. Let's say you take a photo and you reference the shutter speed on the viewfinder. It says 1/60 (that is one sixtieth of a second). Slow it down to 1/15 (one fifteenth of a second) and see what happens.

5. Sun over the shoulder is another "rule" to be broken. You'll read this rule often - you know the one that requires the photographer to stand with the sun behind him or her, with the subjects squinting straight into the sun. Talk about harsh, unflattering light! There are several ways to rectify this.

First, try moving your subjects fully into the shade (not dappled shade, but full shade). Second, wait until later in the day, or shoot early in the morning when the sun is lower in the sky. Third, choose an overcast day - as opposed to bright sunshine. The light is considerably more flattering. Finally - if none of the above options work, use a fill-flash and change the settings, and positions of your subjects to try to deal with the lighting situation.

6. Use "Rear Sync" when you're shooting with a flash. Again, this one was such a surprise for me. You have to change the settling on your camera to use this feature, but it makes a huge difference. When you use rear sync, the flash will fire at the end of the exposure, rather than the beginning. This will illuminate the background more and also cut down on the harshness of the light on your subject. Because the shutter is open slightly longer, you'll need to keep the camera still to avoid blur.

7. Get in close to your subject. Many snapshots are not well composed. Too much cluttered background or too much space between the subjects can ruin your shot. Get in close, or use a zoom lens to minimize distractions (unless they are critical to the photo). Focus on the eyes, if you are shooting people or animals. Another tip is to use a longer lens, zoomed in close, rather than a shorter lens that will require you to get closer to your subject.

Again, you should experiment to see what works best for you under the circumstances, considering your equipment and your subject(s).

Equipment for Digital SLR Photography

Take Better Photographs

Think about these 7 tips for better digital SLR photos next time you pull out your camera. While every "rule" is meant to be broken, you should definitely see what happens with a "before" and "after."

Perhaps one or several of the tips won't work for you. Or maybe they work great on one day, and not so well another time. This is one time when you'll definitely learn by doing.

You can read hundreds of photography books and learn from the masters. But frankly, my eyes start to cross when I consider focal length and f-stops each and every time. It can be a lot of work to take professional quality photographs.

But just a little bit more thought and a few adjustments to your camera's settings can dramatically improve your photographs.

Happy photographing!

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Comments 19 comments

Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 7 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Thanks for this resource. Hopefully one day I will own a SLR digital camera...


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Thanks for the great tips and great hub.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Susan - yes, I love my camera! Got it on eBay a few months ago, used, but it came with the camera bag and tripod. :)

Hi Gypsy Willow - thank you! I hope its helpful. I've noticed a difference with many of my photos.


Bob Ewing profile image

Bob Ewing 7 years ago from New Brunswick

Shopping for new camera and the digital SLR is what I want/need to do the work I am interested in, thanks for the photo tips.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

We just purchased a Nikon D300 a few months ago, and have since purchased a bag and tripod. My husband is really looking forward to getting into photography. He's signed up with the NY Institute of Photography and has his first course materials, he has a video I purchased for him. Now with your tips, he should be on his way! Makes me want to get involved as well!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hey Bob, I am in the market for a new lens, too. If I was rich, I would invest quite a bit of money in the photography hobby.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi KCC, that camera is sweet! I have a Nikon D40, which is nice for what my needs are, but I'd love to get a better model one of these days. Good luck - you should get involved too! :)


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

I don't have an SLR (yet!) but some of these tips would work for point & shoot digitals as well. Turning off the flash, for instance.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Right on! Definitely - the last tip on getting close to your subjects, too.


David Verde profile image

David Verde 7 years ago

Good Hub, the flash tips are good, I shoot a lot of people so slower shutter speeds doesn't always work (people are never still) so controlling the flash is important. A lot of these tips will work with point and shoot cameras too. You can control all the same things if you did into the manual. Here's a link to an awesome camera lighting blog, it's got tips, hacks, cheap equipment, etc I've found a lot of really good lighting tips there. http://strobist.blogspot.com/


chandanakumarct profile image

chandanakumarct 7 years ago from Bangalore

Thanks for the Good Tips and Good Tip.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Great tips. I'm wanting to take up photography and am just too hesitant.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Go for it, RGraf! The best thing about a digital camera is that you don't have to worry about bad shots or wasting film. Just delete and try again. :)


Singular Investor profile image

Singular Investor 7 years ago from Oxford

Excellent tips Steph - yes digital cameras are great ! We now have kids who have no idea how expensive film used to be !


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Singular Investor - I have to laugh, too. We picked up a disposable camera one day when we forgot our regular digital version. Everyone kept looking for the preview after snapping shots. Hard to explain that we'd have to first develop the film....


Big Brother profile image

Big Brother 5 years ago from Earth

Thanks for the tips. Great Hub.

I will try to test with my camera all of your tips...


Alladream74 profile image

Alladream74 5 years ago from Oakland, California

Very good tips,I had no idea about the rear sync option.Thank you


battery4 profile image

battery4 5 years ago from USA

Thank you for this article ,I like take photoes everywhere


catchadream profile image

catchadream 4 years ago from Lakeland, Florida

Thanks for the information. I enjoy experimenting with my camera setting and learning what works best.

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