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How To Take Better Photographs.

Updated on September 3, 2014
Common Buckeye butterfly photo by Bron Praslicka
Common Buckeye butterfly photo by Bron Praslicka | Source

Learning to take better photos.

I have enjoyed the hobby of photography for over 40 years now, and with the new age of digital photography it has only gotten better. The secret to great photography however has little to do with having the latest and greatest camera equipment. If you like taking picture, but you aren't happy with the content or quality of your photos then this blog is for you.

The goal of this blog is to help those who are new to photography, or those who are not so new but have struggled to take quality photos. In this initial series we will focus on how to create a great image. Although I will quickly talk about the type of camera you might want to use, the main focus of these articles will be how to take better photos - no matter what kind of camera you have.

Later on I plan on publishing a series of articles that will cover more advanced topics such as how to take stunning nature photography, how to capture night images, and how to use some of the more advanced features of your camera. But for now we will focus on how to compose a great photo.

One complaint that I often get is that most of the photography articles are geared toward individuals who have expensive SLR cameras rather than smartphone cameras or point-and-shoot models. To help address that concern I put together the following series on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Photographers which I believe will work well for all types of cameras.

What Type of Camera Do I Need?

The correct answer to that question is "It depends". In other words it depends on the type of photos you plan to take.

For general everyday photographs of your friends, your kids, family get togethers, vacation photos, etc, then just about any camera will work including a smartphone camera.

If you are wanting to take high quality photos of nature, or sporting events, high quality portraits, HDR photos, etc then you are going to need to purchase an SLR camera. Since not everyone knows what I mean by SLR let me explain.

SLR stands for Single-Lens Reflex. In short it means that when you look through the view finder you are actually seeing what the camera is seeing. On other cameras, like smaller pocket cameras, you have a small view finder that you look through which is separate from the lens. The other thing that is common to a SLR camera is that the lens can be taken off and replaced with other types of lens. The SLR concept is not new to photography. I have an Olympus OM-2 SLR that is approximately 30 years old, but it uses 35 mm film. The new digital cameras are labeled as digital SLRs.

The SLR camera gives us a superior lens, and the ability to see exactly what we are going to photograph, plus it gives us the ability to manually adjust some of the settings such as the f:stop, the ISO and the shutter speed. In all honesty you can take amazing photos with the camera on auto mode and never have to deal with these settings. However there are some specific conditions in which we will need to manually adjust the settings, and the SLRs will allow us to do that.

Because the digital SLR camera market is a very competitive market, the major manufactures (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Pentax) release a new and improved model every one to two years. Each of the manufactures offer several different levels of SLR cameras. Their low end entry level SLR cameras typically start out at around $500 and their high end professional models run as much as $15,000.

Who Makes the Best Camera?

I am often asked which manufacture makes the best camera, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax or any of the many other manufactures available today. The truth is they all make excellent cameras. I have used models from all of the top manufactures and I like them all. What I find however is that you tend to gravitate toward what ever manufacturer you start with. Since my first digital SLR was a Nikon, I tend to prefer using Nikon. If I had started with a Canon I am certain I would tend to prefer Canon.

The topic of manufactures and models could take up any number of blogs, but my personal opinion is that no matter what model or manufacture of digital SLR camera you might have I can show you how to take some amazing photos.

Get into a used SLR for less than $250.

If $500 still sounds like more than you want to spend on a hobby, you're in luck. Thanks to on-line sights like Amazon or E-Bay you can find a used entry level SLR for around $200 to $250. The entry level model SLR will give you everything you need to take amazing photos.

I happen to use one of the smallest of the digital SLR camera, but it still offers me all the functionality that I need for the photos I want to take. Most of my photos I have posted on the photography site Flickr.com. If you click on one of my Flickr photos it will take you to the Flickr site where you can actually see the camera model as well as the lens I used to take the photo. My camera of choice for over 4 years was the entry level Nikon D40. Although I am still happy with the D40 I recently purchased a used D40x simply because the D40x model offers a 10 Megapixel file over the D40's 6.1 Megapixel.

Subject and Composition

Once we have the basic equipment, the main ingredients to making an amazing photo are the subject and the composition. The subject should be self explanatory - I'm talking about whatever it is you are taking a photo of. Whether a butterfly, a wildflower, a person, or a sunset the subject is the main focus of the photo. The composition has to do with how you chose to arrange your subject in the photo and what you plan on having in the background of the photo.

In future blogs we will talk more about the subject and its arrangement in the photo, but for now let me emphasize one important criteria - pure and unblemished is best. The photo of the Buckeye butterfly at the beginning of this blog is one of the most pure and unblemished butterflies I have ever seen. Although the lighting and colors in my photograph are very good quality most of the praise needs to go to the butterfly. As I mentioned earlier, I post a lot of photos on my Flickr account (at last count I have over 1,500 photos posted and my photos have been viewed over 1 million times) and this photo is one of my most popular - or most viewed photos. There is no doubt in my mind that if this butterfly had a cut in its wing, or was missing part of a wing, it would not be nearly as popular.

So let me stress a major point regarding photography - luck and opportunity have a great deal to do with taking an amazing photo. If you have ever used a PC that was running Windows XP then you have probably seen the startup screen that is a picture of grass covered rolling hills against a clear blue sky. Most people thought the image was something created in Photoshop but in fact it is an actual photo of a green field under a beautiful blue sky.

That photo was taken in 1996 by a retired National Geographic photographer who happened to be driving down a country road in the Napa Valley area of California one spring day. He saw the beautiful pristine field of grass and the gorgeous blue sky and he couldn't resist pulling over to capture a photo. He later sold the photo to a stock photography company and forgot about it. At least he forgot about it until Microsoft called one day in 2001 and wanted to discuss including a copy of his image with every copy of Microsoft Windows XP.

My point is you never know when you might come upon that once in a lifetime photo opportunity - so plan on having your camera handy at all times.

The Background can make or brake a Photo.

Although most people do a pretty good job of capturing the main subject of their photo, one of the main items I find that most people overlook is the background. I know it may seem odd to worry about the things that appear behind your subject in the photo, but in reality it can make all the difference in the world.

In the photo above I came across a groups of small flags that had been put on display for a memorial day celebration a couple of years ago. Rather than simply take a photo of one of the flags or take a photo of all of the flags, I chose to zoom in on the one to the left and use the other flags to provide a colorful background to my shot.

In the photo below I took a photo of a limb of a tree one spring day while the leaves were still new and its blossoms were hanging down. But because I noticed a hedge of red-tips growing in the background I chose to use them as a background for my image. Because I took the time to plan the background, allowing for special lighting on the red-tips, I was able to capture a much more interesting image than just a limb with some leaves on it.

In both of these photos I am using a photo technic called DoF or Depth of Field. It simply means that I am focusing on one particular item or area and allowing the other areas to blur out giving the image a very dramatic effect. There are several methods of achieving the depth of field effect and since it is one of my favorite technics I will plan on dedicating a full blog on how to create this shot.

Spring Colors photo by Bron Praslicka
Spring Colors photo by Bron Praslicka | Source

It's a Start.

Okay, so hopefully I got your attention. If you don't have a digital SLR I recommend you get one. If you do have one (or you want to try using your pocket camera or smartphone) then lets get started.

In the coming blogs I will plan on covering a specific topic each blog. For instance on the technic of DoF I'll show you how to pull that off so you can try your hand at it. We will take time during another blog to look at something called Bokeh. You may not be familiar with the term but you have probably seen photos with Bokeh in them. Bokeh is the effect you get when you have tiny points of light in the background of your photo.

Rather than simply show you a photo and talk about it, I plan to show you some of the steps involved so that you can try the shot yourself.

It is my hope that this blog will give you the knowledge and the desire to create outstanding images yourself - and in so doing you will take the time to share your images with others to inspire them.

See you soon.

© 2014 Bron Praslicka

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    • J Henderson 91 profile image

      J Henderson 91 2 years ago

      Great info with beautiful photos. I look forward to your next blogs.