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Taking Better Photographs: Tips for the Amateur

Updated on January 13, 2018
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Ms. Parker is a senior paralegal from Alabama. She earned her Bachelor's from Millsaps College in Mississippi. She freelances on the side.

Photographer, Vicki Parker

Allegory of the Cave II
Allegory of the Cave II
Allegory of the Cave I
Allegory of the Cave I

Allegory of the Cave I and II are probably my two favorite all time shots and get this, they were taken with a disposable camera.  I actually sold Allegory II twice -- on Shutterpoint and to a private individual. When I snapped Allegory I, the Kodak disposable had some slight condensation on the lens, but I think it actually enhanced the photo.

What I learned from these photos is to ALWAYS have a camera with you, whether 35 mm, digital, or even disposable. The disposable used for these photos was a 400 speed which was well suited for the light conditions. The downside to disposables and low megapixel digitals, is the limitations on print size without sacrificing quality. Generally speaking, you need a 4 megapixel to get a good 8x10 print, a 7 megapixel to get a good 11 x 14 print, and higher if you want poster sized prints.  Allegory I and II, though taken with a disposable, still made a GREAT 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 prints. 

Butterfly Free
Butterfly Free

This photo was taken in a butterfly zoo with a Sony digital. It seems canned, but who would know where it was taken -- the imaginiation might lead the viewer to South America!  The point is, there are a million commercial places to get great nature photos, so don't assume you need to be in the perfect place at the perfect time like some National Geographic award winning photographer (all due respect, of course). 

Old Glory at Dusk
Old Glory at Dusk

This photo was taken off of the back of a ferry boat in Mobile. The sun was setting and the light was perfect. It sold on Shutterpoint, so someone saw the same thing in it that I did. Dusk and dawn are fabulous times to catch ambience, but knowing how to use your shutterspeed is important. You cannot rely on your flash to bring it home, even in auto mode. Generally speaking, use 30 secs or higher for night shots and you must use a tripod. 15th/30th sec can be used if you have image stabilzation, as I did in this shot (this is close to your limit without a tripod.)

For more detail about shutterspeed, Hubber Dougsphototips gives about the best laymen's explanation for it that I've ever seen.

Pink Lady
Pink Lady

Although this photo is a bit blurry, it points out one of the biggest mistakes amateur photographers make with flowers -- taking the shot looking down into the flower. There is so much more dimension and character to a flower from a side angle shot. I always include additional foilage to give my photo life.

Field of Yellow
Field of Yellow

If you want to try and get your name out a bit, photographs can be used to make great calendars or coasters for friends, family and fundraisers.  I made a similar photo into coasters for Christmas gifts.  You can even have your name applied to the coaster.  See http://www.waterstonecoasters.com/ for ideas of your own.  You can also do watermark impressions on calendars.  Whenver I sell a photo print (if it's not framed with my name on the matte), I make sure to sign it.  You can buy permanent markers in all colors and they adhere well to photo paper.  Silver and gold work great for signing most photographs. 

Magic at Oz
Magic at Oz
More Magic at Oz
More Magic at Oz

These two photos were taken at a ski route in North Carolina called Oz.  The first one was just a rare photo op because this ski route is closed unless there is sufficient natural snow to make conditions ripe for skiing.  Another reason why you should ALWAYS carry a camera, if nothing but a pocket digital camera which is what this photo was taken with. 

The second photo is the same ski route and what appealed to me about it, was the natural monochromatic scheme.  You can also alter photos to a monochromatic scheme which is great for accentuating the harsh cold.  Sergio is a great photo enhancer as well, but carries a rust tint to it so it's best for people or landscapes without snow. 

Basking Laurel
Basking Laurel

I have trouble with waterfalls. They are difficult to shoot and you can find a myriad of articles and books about how to do it. Varying your shutterspeed and aperture gets all different kinds of results. Just keep snapping until you're happy with it. While I loved the waterfall in this photo, I decided to make the waterfall a backdrop and bring out the laurel instead. It was a two-fer. The sun made the laurel crisp and made it stand out. The slight blur on the waterfall made it stand out as well. A blurred background can make a huge difference in a photo. 

Did you find some helpful advice here for amateur photographers?

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