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Better Photographs Every Time All the Time

Updated on June 1, 2015

Let's keep the ideas on all things photographic flowing!

This is the place for ideas, techniques, tips and tricks for photographers - whether beginners or keen amateurs.

I shall concentrate on topical issues and the things that photographers seem to worry about most. If you have a concern - just post your query below. Alternatively you can contact me (if that is more appropriate) via the web site

This lens really is about the issues that YOU face in your photography.

So, let's get on with it.

PHOTO CREDITS: All images Copyright John C Doornkamp.

Image of the month: June - (Copyright: J.C.Doornkamp)

Esztergom Basilica Dome, Hungary
Esztergom Basilica Dome, Hungary

Each month a new image will be shown here. They will come from a range of categories of photography (e.g. landscape, people, plants, flowers etc.).
They are here to stimulate your ideas and thinking about what and how to photograph. Leave me a comment (at the end of the lens) if these photographs help you in any way.

My background in photography

For many years I took photographs as a part of my professional life as a Physical Geographer. Now I am taking photographs for entirely aesthetic reasons. "Why the change?" you may ask. This change was stimulated by an invitation to join a photographic society. The images that I saw there were mind-blowingly good. Here were ordinary people, just like me, taking photographs that brought the beauty and wonder of the world to life. I knew straightaway this was for me - so long as I could master the skills and have the "eye" to see the "really stunning picture".

Very quickly I learned my limitations. The only route to greater success was practice, advice, practice, advice, and yet more practice and advice.

Now, after 20 years of practicing and hearing advise I want to try to pass some of that on to others.

For those of you interested in photography this is the place where that will happen. For those interested in specific aspects of photography I have prepared other lenses (just refer to the list of my lenses).

I want all of you to enrich your photography by feeling more and more in control of what you are doing. Just keep practicing, and don't be resistant to taking advice.

Soon it may be your turn to try to inspire others. In the meantime - good photography!

Photo Tips - a varied set of ideas for you to consider.

Photo Tip 1: BIG ZOOM CAMERAS AND LENSES - Take control of that fuzzy image

Big zoom lenses, whether built in to the camera or as a lens for your DSLR, are great to play with but hard to control.

Here is my suggestion for getting rid of that awful camera shake in your photography.

  • 1 Camera shake occurs because the shutter is open long enough to pick up camera movement during the exposure - increase the shutter speed.

    2 There is a limit to the amount of adjustment you can make to shutter speed because your maximum aperture limit is reached.

    3 To further increase shutter speed you have to raise the ISO value - but the higher the ISO the more the image may tend to degrade. So, there is a desirable limit here as well.

    4 Go for a maximum ISO of 800, set the lens at maximum aperture (i.e. lens as wide open as possible), and let the shutter speed look after itself.

    5 That is probably the best you can do to counteract camera shake

    - EXCEPT for the obvious answer: USE A TRIPOD for those really long focal lengths.

Photo Tip 2: Will Photographs Taken On A Camera Phone Ever Match Those Taken On A Dedicated Camera? - Quality or Convenience?

The popularity of camera phones has caused some to abandon their camera, and others have never bothered to acquire one.

Why? - "My camera phone does everything I want from a camera."

  • TIP: You will never get consistent quality from a camera phone simply because you do not have access to the controls provided on a camera. To take a good photograph in (almost) any situation you need to be able to control focal length of the lens, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (sensor sensitivity) setting. Usually the camera phone user has no control over these things.

    You may also need time delay, cable release, the ability to use a tripod, to connect to a remote flash, and so on.

    So, what is my conclusion?

    There are two things that you can determine on a camera phone:

    1. the composition of your photograph, and

    2. the light in which you take the image.

    Care with each of these will allow you to take photographs that you would like to share with others.

    But, if you want to be able to take good photographs in a variety of situations you need a good camera.

    So, you tell me what you think is a good camera that can competently do better than your camera phone.

A Note on Cameras in Phones

How versatile are they?

Many people rely on the cameras in their mobile phones to take all their pictures. Fine - I have no quarrel with that, so long as their expectations are satisfied.

However, as soon as you change to a camera - even a low-end model - you gain so much more control over the pictures that you take. Here is a quick review of the amount of control that you have with a camera in a phone so that you can judge if that is enough for your purposes.

1. Phone cameras can record images up to (and even beyond) 16 MP (mega pixels), though 13 is more usually the upper end of the range.

2. All have autofocus - though you can rarely determine the point of focus.

3. All have flash built in.

4. Some have built-in optical zoom.

5. Some have image stabilisation.

6. Many allow video recording.

These features are fine for general purpose records of events, people or places. However, with a camera you can expect to also gain control of depth of field (through aperture control), the length of exposure (through the shutter speed control) that is so useful in poor light or when faced with a moving object, the sensitivity of the sensor (through the ISO setting), exposure bracketing (when you set the camera to take shots on either side of the one you think is correct), and so on.

As the saying goes "horses for courses".

However, as new products on display at the Berlin Technology Expo show, smartphones are being developed with up to 41MP and increased control of exposure settings. These are now available in the shops and on the internet. One manufacturer has created a phone that takes a separate lens mounted on the front of the phone (as needed).

In time smartphones and compact cameras may become almost indistinguishable. That time is getting ever closer.

Photo Tip 3: Focus Stacking: Give it a try - How to overcome the problem of shallow depth of field. (For the more advanced photographer.)

The simple idea is to over-come the problem of shallow depth of

field by taking a sequence of images with each one focussed on a

different distance setting to cover the full depth of your picture.

Here is an example. You want to take a photograph of a flower but

you cannot get all of it in focus at the same time - you just

can't get the required depth of field.

  • Focus Stacking in a few easy steps.

    Place your camera on a tripod. Then do the following:

    1. lock the exposure by switching to Manual exposure

    2. Take the first frame - this will be with the part of the flower

    that is closest to the lens in sharp focus. (Look for the point at

    which the focus is starting to fall away.)

    3. Take the second frame, making sure that the point of lost

    sharpness that you identified when taking the first frame, is now

    completely sharp.

    4. Repeat until you have covered the full depth of your subject.

    5. Upload the files to Photoshop (File>Scripts>Load Images into


    6. Browse the resulting folder and check the box that says "Attempt

    to automatically align source images".

    7. Click OK. Photoshop will open the images and stack them into


    8. Hold 'Shift" and click on the first and last layer in order to

    select them all.

    9. Go to: Edit>Auto-blend Layers. Select Stack Images and tick

    "Seamless Tones and Colors".

    10. Any further editing that is required is down to you.

    Give it a go. Best of luck.

Find more tips in this eBook (on Kindle)
Find more tips in this eBook (on Kindle) | Source

Photo Tip 4: Gardens

Photographing plants and gardens

I have greater success in getting good pictures of gardens and plants if I take them just after it has rained.

Worst of all is taking them in bright sunshine. This may be the opposite of what you would expect, but it does work.

Bright sunshine burns out the subtle colours of a garden, and it throws heavy shadows that look terrible on most garden photographs.

So, when it rains - rejoice!

Photo Tip 5: Image Stabilizers and Tripods

You will always get a more stable, and hence sharper, image if you mount your camera on a tripod rather than relying on the image stabiliser within the lens.

However, you must remember to turn OFF the image stabiliser when you take a photograph with the camera mounted on a tripod.

Also, remember to turn it ON again when you go back to hand-held photography.

Photo Tip 6: Polarising Filters - Enhance colours and cut out some unwanted reflections.

Polarising filter has cut out the reflections in the water and enhanced the colour of the sky.
Polarising filter has cut out the reflections in the water and enhanced the colour of the sky.

(Photo: Copyright John C Doornkamp)

I was going to write about the use of a polarising filter when I came across this lens:

I cannot improve upon it as a good explanation of the uses of a polarising filter, and it is well and fully illustrated with examples. Do go to it and see what is possible with a polariser.

In this photograph (taken on the North Devon coast, England) I have used a circular polariser to cut out some bright reflections from the surface of the pool of water and to enhance the blue of the sky. This combination of effects is very hard to replicate in image processing software (indeed it is probably possible).

The other use for a polarising filter is to enhance the colour of leaves and to remove bright reflections from their surfaces.

I always have one with me when I am out doing landscape or garden/plant photography.

Be aware that a circular polariser works at its maximum effect when the camera is facing at right angles to the direction from which the sun is shining (i.e. the sun should be in line with your shoulders as you hold the camera if you want the maximum polarising effect).

Photo Tip 7: Join a Photographic Society or Club

Nothing stimulated me more than the images I saw when I joined a photographic society and saw the work of other photographers. These were images shown by guest speakers, and images submitted by members for the monthly competitions. They opened my eyes to the range of subjects and techniques that ordinary people like me were using all the time in order to get superb images.

Sure there was also some rubbish, but that aside joining a society brought my photography to a new level.

Search the net for a photographic society/club near you.

If nothing else consider becoming a member of the Photographic Society of America ( no matter in which country you live.

Photo Tip 8: Use the Histogram

Don't review the picture, review its histogram

When we have taken a picture we habitually look at it on the camera screen in order to make sure everything is alright. Don't stop there. Whilst looking at the image press the INFO button on your camera and a histogram should appear. This tells you wether or not all of the light reaching the camera has been recorded within the visible range of the sensor. Any sign that the values are crowding against the right-hand side of the histogram means that you ought to take the picture again, but this time with a reduced exposure. If, conversely they are crowding against the left-hand side of the histogram it means that the image is under-exposed and you need to take it again, but this time by increasing the exposure.

So, it is not just a matter of looking to see if you have captured the subject, it is also a matter of seeing whether or not you have captured it well. Reviewing the histogram is the only way to do so, and you must do it on the spot - while you can take the picture again if you have to.

Photo Tip: 9 Don't be afraid to alter the ISO value

Use every assistance that your camera provides

"What is the ISO value?" I hear you ask. In brief it is the sensitivity of your sensor to record light. The poorer the light the greater the sensitivity should be (i.e. set the ISO at a higher value), the stronger the light the lower the ISO value can be set.

"Why go for a lower ISO value - ever?" I hear you reply. "Because the lower the ISO setting the better the quality of the image."

As you take the ISO above a setting of 400-800 image quality can fall away very quickly. When ever you can (especially - but not exclusively - in landscape photography) set your camera on a tripod and keep the ISO down to a low number.

However, if you need a high setting in order to capture a low light image - just go for it. I am constantly amazed at what a digital camera can do in poor light. Take this beach scene in Spain as an example. Without a tripod I had to turn up the ISO setting to 1200 and select as slow a shutter speed as I felt that I could hold still. Though not award winning, it still turned out to be a lasting memory of that night on Tossa de Mar.

Photo Tip 10: Black and White Images can still be effective - Don't be lulled into thinking that everything has to be in colour.

In my eBook Series "Popular Guides for Great Photography'" (See DOORNKAMP in Amazon Kindle Bookstore); there are two volumes (11 and 12) that describe how you can create Black and White images from a colour original.

The book is in two separate volumes - one for Photoshop Elements (Vol. 11) and one for Photoshop CS (Vol.12) users.

The image shown here was taken as a colour original near Zion National Park. However, I was absorbed by the shapes of the hills and the way in which the different slopes reflected the light. It seemed to me that the only way to capture this properly was to remove the colour content of the original. So, here is the result. What do you think?


Step by step guides - whichever version of Photoshop you have these guides will get you there in a simple, straightforward and logical way.

Ansel Adams - the father of modern black and white landscape photography.

Ansel Adams is generally recognised as the father of black and white landscape photography - though he did work in colour as well.

Ansel Adams: Classic Images
Ansel Adams: Classic Images

There are several Ansel Adams books, but this one has a low price and yet contains some of his best images.

Every now and again looking at this book provides a valuable reality check.


Your top 10 photo tips - Give us your photo tips - write them in the Guestbook at the end of this lens.

Please use the guest book to provide your comments on black and white photography.

SELECTED IMAGES FROM CHATSWORTH PARK, ENGLAND - When you wander with your camera it is amazing what images you can capture - as here in Chatsworth Park (UK)

All photos Copyright John C Doornkamp.

Image processing and photography. - Are you confused or just nervous?

Image processing of digital photographs can seem to be very daunting at first. It need not be that way. There is one simple comfort: - you cannot destroy or damage your photograph so long as you work on a copy and save the original in a spare folder.

There are several "free" image processing programs available on the web (do a search). You can always start with one of these to see how you get on. If necessary you can move across to a paid-for program once your confidence has risen.

In practice there is a logical way to approach image processing. Taking one step at a time soon encourages confidence, and fear turns to pleasure.

Give it a try - but remember to work on a copy of your image and NOT on the original.

How about in this case. Cover the people with your finger and see if the result is better or not. (Do the same with your own photographs.) (Photo: Copyright Joh

Do landscape photographs benefit from having people in them?

See results

Photography as an Art form. - When does a photograph become a work of art?

The magic of light through a waterfall.
The magic of light through a waterfall.

(Photo: Copyright: John C Doornkamp)

Some subjects can yield a photographic image that can be legitimately seen as an art form. Does this one cross that boundary? I think so.

Sometimes, however, art involves imagination as well as a picture. Some editing in computer was necessary to get to this end point. In my mind I was using the computer more like an artists palette than as an electronic machine.

I imagined the result before I tried to achieve it. Soft and pastel was the aim.

Other photography eBooks that relate to landscape photography. - Photography eBooks for all electronic platforms - Kindle, eReaders, PC and Mac.

There are many good photographic books available through Kindle Books. However, I saw a need to write a series of books specifically for the beginner and keen amateur - all at a low price and packed full of advice and photographs.

As with most Kindle-based books they are incredible value for money. Remember, you can read them on any electronic platform, not just on a Kindle.

Images from Popular Guides to Great Photography - These images are from the eBooks listed above (All photos: Copyright John C Doornkamp)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The "KEEP IT SIMPLE" rule always works.Just make sure the light is right.Bryce Canyon : just reflected light from the rocks around adds luminescence to this landscape.Derwent Water in the English Lake District. A 30-second exposure on a tripod!Taken during a workshop with Tom Mackie.Sometimes it helps to include people within a landscape photograph - as here in Queenstown, New Zealand.Colour and light combine to make this an unmistakable New England scene.The trees are complimented by the foreground water.Water always adds an interesting dimension to a photograph. A photograph - such as this - can say so much about the interaction between man and water.I will close with this one (for now) - back to the "Keep it simple" rule, with a photogenic light.
The "KEEP IT SIMPLE" rule always works.Just make sure the light is right.
The "KEEP IT SIMPLE" rule always works. Just make sure the light is right.
Bryce Canyon : just reflected light from the rocks around adds luminescence to this landscape.
Bryce Canyon : just reflected light from the rocks around adds luminescence to this landscape.
Derwent Water in the English Lake District. A 30-second exposure on a tripod!Taken during a workshop with Tom Mackie.
Derwent Water in the English Lake District. A 30-second exposure on a tripod! Taken during a workshop with Tom Mackie.
Sometimes it helps to include people within a landscape photograph - as here in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Sometimes it helps to include people within a landscape photograph - as here in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Colour and light combine to make this an unmistakable New England scene.The trees are complimented by the foreground water.
Colour and light combine to make this an unmistakable New England scene. The trees are complimented by the foreground water.
Water always adds an interesting dimension to a photograph. A photograph - such as this - can say so much about the interaction between man and water.
Water always adds an interesting dimension to a photograph. A photograph - such as this - can say so much about the interaction between man and water.
I will close with this one (for now) - back to the "Keep it simple" rule, with a photogenic light.
I will close with this one (for now) - back to the "Keep it simple" rule, with a photogenic light.

YOU be the JUDGE - Make your assessment of this image. From time to time a new image will appear here for you to pass comment.

Tree in sunlight at Ayers Rock, Australia
Tree in sunlight at Ayers Rock, Australia

How would you rate this photograph? (Copyright: John C Doornkamp)

See results

FROM MY LIBRARY - Some of the modern masters and one that is now a part of the history of photography.

I have a large library of books on photography. Many of them have instructed me, some have inspired me. The two listed here would definitely come with me if I was isolated on a desert island.

Let them inspire you - and become a better photographer by following these examples.

Sebastião Salgado. GENESIS
Sebastião Salgado. GENESIS

From one of the best modern-day photographers. Graphic, informative, creative, challenging, and humbling. Wonderful.

Light on the Land (Earthsong Collection)
Light on the Land (Earthsong Collection)

The importance of light in landscape photography is beautifully and inspiringly recorded in a classic that every landscape photographer will want to own.


Have you got a comment or observation that will lead to better photography?

Give us all the benefit of your photographic experience.

Guestbook for you to make your comments - This lens is meant to be interactive. A place to share ideas and information. Its yours.

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    • john-doornkamp profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Andy-Po: Thank you for that - coming from someone with first-hand knowledge is great support.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Useful tips and thanks for visiting my lenses too.

      I agree with your points about camera phones. I was actually involved in the design of mobile phones (or at least the silicon chips inside them) when the idea of adding cameras was first discussed and as a photographer, I just couldn't see the point ("a waste of silicon" to quote me at the time) How wrong I was, at least from a marketing point of view. They are so much better now that they were then, but you do need a "real" camera if you want to have more control and be creative.

    • john-doornkamp profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @rhubarba: They are on their way. New lenses being created over the next few days.

      I will announce them on this lens when they are live.

    • rhubarba profile image


      5 years ago

      @john-doornkamp: Nice lense, I would definitely like to read more about the different topics in greater detail!

    • john-doornkamp profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @josh mendez: Glad you liked it. If it was yours, what would you do next? All (positive) suggestions welcome.

    • john-doornkamp profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @NatureFan LM: Still new to the "life of Squidoo" - but love it, and thoroughly enjoy sharing my interests in photography. I welcome your advice. My dilemma is that I don't know if people like one substantial lens or lots of little ones. Thanks again for your comments.

    • josh mendez profile image

      josh mendez 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for visiting and liking my lens. Interesting lens you got here. Very informative. I should have made lens like this a long time ago. Cheers!

    • NatureFan LM profile image

      NatureFan LM 

      5 years ago

      Great information here. Some readers, in order to benefit from your advice, may need a bit less jargon. You have such a good handle on your trade, and I can feel the passion in this lens. I would hate for such amazing advice to be lost in others. Keep sharing! But simplify and single out some topics in lenses of their own. Imagine haw many lenses you can create if each topic in photography had its own lens....


    • john-doornkamp profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @darkflowers: Glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for your comment. As time passes the technical content will span a wide range of experience levels. It always helps me if readers ask me direct questions, then I can deal with them either in a TIP or as a reply in this Comments section.

    • darkflowers profile image

      Anja Toetenel 

      5 years ago from The Hague, the Netherlands

      Hi fellow Dutchy ;-) I enjoyed your Lens, great photos. Some things were a bit too technical for me, but that's because I'm not an experienced photographer! I wish you happy writings and photo taking of course.


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