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Simple Tips for Taking Better Pictures

Updated on October 9, 2013
JohnMello profile image

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Rievaulx Abbey near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park, once one of the wealthiest monasteries in Britain
Rievaulx Abbey near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park, once one of the wealthiest monasteries in Britain | Source

What's a Megapixel?

A pixel is a word formed by combining pix (pictures) with el (element) to denote the smallest identifiable part of an image. A megapixel is equal to one million pixels, used to define the number of pixels in an image and the display potential of cameras, screens, TVs, and so on.

Good Cameras Make Good Pictures

Taking pictures is a satisfying hobby, the results of which can be used to spice up your articles or even create a separate income stream. Whatever motivates you to piont and shoot, you want your photos to be as powerful and dynamic as possible. After all, the better your efforts are the first time round the more time you have to take even more pictures.

As technology advances in leaps and bounds, t's easier than ever to capture memorable scenes in high-quality color. Good cameras come in all shapes and sizes, available online and off, with features that take almost all of the hard work out of the equation. The secret is to select one that does what you want it to do, no matter how inexpensive it might be, and stick with it. You need to feel comfortable with the camera of your choice and confident it will do what you ask of it.

Regardless of how much you pay for your camera, you'll want to make sure you're using it to its full advantage. Here are a few tips that will help bring your snaps to life no matter what type of camera you own.

Get a decent camera that's within your budget
Get a decent camera that's within your budget | Source
A good lens will ensure quality photos
A good lens will ensure quality photos | Source
Zoom lenses help you get closer to the action
Zoom lenses help you get closer to the action | Source
For steady shots every time a tripod is essential
For steady shots every time a tripod is essential | Source

Buy the Best Camera You Can Afford

Although prices for cameras have come down in recent years, there are so many models on the market that it can be confusing. You want to get the best quality for your money, but you don't want to fork out for extras that will make little difference to the quality of your photos. Here's what you need to consider:

  • Get Lots of Megapixels

Make sure any camera you buy has plenty of megapixels. In simple terms, the more megapixels the better. More megapixels means higher quality, so if you want to be able to enlarge your pictures and hang them in your living room - or the local art gallery - you need lots of megapixels. Even smartphone cameras these days have at least 5 megapixels, so that gives you some idea what to expect from a dedicated camera.

If you take pictures to sell online, the more megapixels the better. Some sites will specify maximum upload sizes (such as 5M or 2560 X 1920 pix), while others like HubPages merely limit the amount of pics you can upload at one time (20, for example).

  • Look for Quality Camera Lenses

Again, get the best quality lens you can afford. There's no point having a 6-megapixel camera with a cheap lens in it.

As you'd expect, some cameras will include lenses made by the manufacturer. A Canon camera might come with one of Canon's own lenses; likewise with a Nikon. That makes it easier for you to know what you're getting. But it's not always the case, so be sure to ask when you buy.

  • Keep Accessories to a Minimum

Depending on what you want to shoot, there's an almost limitless supply of camera accessories out there. But you don't need it all. In fact, simplicity is probably the key, at least in the first instance.

A zoom lens is ideal for shooting things you can't get close to, such as wildlife or distant landscapes. A tripod is essential for taking close-ups, portraits, or when you want to take a shot of something over a longer period of time than normal. A steady hand is not always possible, so take the hard work out of it and buy yourself a tripod. They're cheap and one of the bits of gear you'll use over and over again.

Zooming in helps capture details crisply and clearly, and a tripod ensures perfect focus and stability
Zooming in helps capture details crisply and clearly, and a tripod ensures perfect focus and stability | Source
Rievaulx Abbey again, taking advantage of the late afternoon sun and the shadows it creates
Rievaulx Abbey again, taking advantage of the late afternoon sun and the shadows it creates | Source
Canal in Amsterdam on a cloudy day
Canal in Amsterdam on a cloudy day | Source

Cameras Need Light

Taking great pictures is all about capturing the light. That's why the most successful pictures are taken at dusk and dawn, when the natural light is at its best.

If you need to take a picture when the sun is high in the sky, even if it's just to remind yourself about a place you've visited, that's fine. But remember to go back to the spot if you can and take another picture either last thing at night or first thing in the morning. The difference it makes is worth the extra effort.

Another thing to remember is to use cloudy weather wisely. You might think an overcast sky would be lousy for taking pictures, but actually it's just the opposite. Just as the sun at noon is too bright for most pictures, these cloud formations help give the exact amount of light needed for clear, sharp pictures.

Also keep in mind that a cloudy sky isn't always much to look at. A far better use of your time is to take the picture on a cloudy day, but keep the sky out of the frame. That way you've got a good picture focused on the subject and not overwhelmed by all those different cloud colors and shapes.

Overcast weather produces perfect light for great snaps - then you just need a good subject, like these bikes piled up alongside the canal in Amsterdam
Overcast weather produces perfect light for great snaps - then you just need a good subject, like these bikes piled up alongside the canal in Amsterdam | Source

Picture Takers' Poll

When do you take your best photos?

See results
Make sure your subject's eyes are in focus for a perfect portrait
Make sure your subject's eyes are in focus for a perfect portrait | Source

Cameras Love Eyes

They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. Whether or not that's true, they can certainly help you take better pictures.

When you take pictures of something with eyes in it, human or animal, always focus on the eyes. If the eyes are in focus, you'll get a great picture. If the eyes are out of focus, your picture will be ruined. It's one of those unwritten rules of good photography: it works, and that's really all you need to worry about.

There are lots of other tricks to taking good portraits, but this is one of the most important things to remember. Focus on the eyes and your shots will always turn out well.

What Megapixels Really Mean

Megapixel Camera Setting
Resulting Image Size in Pixels
Size when Saved to Computer
1M
1280 x 960
286 KiloBytes
2M
1600 x 1200
452 KB
3M
2048 x 1536
693 KB
5M
2560 x 1920
1.17 MegaBytes
8M
3264 x 2448
1.81 MB
14M
4288 x 3216
2.98 MB
This shot of my clock is about as interesting as watching paint dry... but check out the second attempt below
This shot of my clock is about as interesting as watching paint dry... but check out the second attempt below | Source
Take Your Best Shot (Popular Photography): Essential Tips & Tricks for Shooting Amazing Photos
Take Your Best Shot (Popular Photography): Essential Tips & Tricks for Shooting Amazing Photos

A full-color how-to book with the best photo tips from professionals and amateurs and advice on how to use the latest technology.

 

Cameras Love Action

Ask yourself which of these two pictures would make a better shot:

  1. someone about to jump out of an airplane
  2. someone who's just jumped out of an airplane

Which do you think will produce the most satisfying result? If you guessed the second one, you're probably right. That's because actions speak louder than words. A pic of you or your friend about to jump isn't as exciting as a shot when the jump is in progress.

Here's another example...

One picture shows a dog standing next to a Frisbee: another shows the same dog leaping into the air and catching the Frisbee in its mouth. But which is better?

Action tells a story all on its own. Seeing the dog jump and catch the Frisbee is exciting. It's interesting and demonstrates what's going on. Words are not necessary, because the picture tells us what we need to know.

Capture the action for photos that tell their own story
Capture the action for photos that tell their own story | Source

The picture with the dog standing next to the Frisbee, on the other hand, is static, stagnant, and uninteresting. There's nothing happening, even if it's just about to happen. The moment of excitement hasn't been captured.

Most digital cameras these days have automatic focus and settings to make picture-taking as easy as possible. Often these include a sports or action setting, so you can take pictures of moving things with confidence, knowing that blurring or distortion won't be a problem.

Another way to think of action is to think of "something going on" -- but it doesn't have to be anything dazzling or spectacular. For example, I took a picture of the clock on my mantelpiece (above). Dull, I think you'll agree. But then I took a pic of the same clock at an angle with the reflection of nearby windows (below). Suddenly, it's a lot more intriguing.

This clock pic now has depth and character, hinting at what lies beyond it through the reflected images
This clock pic now has depth and character, hinting at what lies beyond it through the reflected images | Source

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    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Thanks Kristen for reading and voting it up. Really appreciate it!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Lovely tips John on how to take better photos. When I get my digital camera, I'm going to take lots of pics as well. Voted up!

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Thanks brownella. They say the trick is just to take lots of pictures :)

    • brownella profile image

      brownella 2 years ago from New England

      Nice hub. I am a horrible photographer so I usually just bring a journal/sketchbook when I travel but the older I get the more I regret not taking more pictures (particularly of people). Thanks for the lesson, I'll be sure to use your tips as I set out into the brave new world of actually carrying a camera :-)

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Absolutely right, Alise- Evon, just as with any other skill or art. Thanks for pointing that out! And thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      Alise- Evon 3 years ago

      You are so right about taking photos on cloudy days! Always makes the shot better. I would argue, gently, though, that a good camera does not necessarily make a good photographer.There's that mysterious gift some have that a camera just can't be given credit for...

      Beautiful photos you included. Thanks for sharing them.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks jill. I do my best!

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 3 years ago from Philippines

      Great and informative hub! I love your pictures!

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks giftrin and FlourishAnyway, for reading and sharing. Really appreciate it!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This is very helpful information, and I appreciate your sharing your expertise. Voted up and more.

    • giftrin profile image

      giftrin 3 years ago

      like

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks Diana Lee! Someone once said that pointing and shooting is all any photographer does... I guess it's what and how you shoot that counts as much as the equipment you use :)

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 3 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      You have some good tips here. I enjoy the simple point and shot variety. I just updated my easy share camera because I dropped my old one as I was getting in the car. I was unaware I dropped it until I backed out and saw it lying on the ground. I had ran over it and smashed the screen. My new one should be here any day.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks for the tip, Jafar Alie!

    • Jafar Alie profile image

      Jafar Ali 3 years ago from Malappuram, Kerala, India

      I can't totally agree with that Megapixel thing, although it'll improve the quality of the image significantly, we also need to consider the size of the Sensor of the camera, which have great role in capturing each detail in the picture. A big Megapixel count with a small sensor will be of no use. That is where DSLRs stands out from point-and-shoot cameras, the perfect balance of sensor size and Megapixel count.

      Good hub anyway! (y)

    • Nikkij504gurl profile image

      Nikkij504gurl 3 years ago from Louisiana

      Thanks!

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks for reading Nikkij504gurl. Depends on the camera, and whether you're shooting inside or out. There are some great tips about wedding photography online at http://digital-photography-school.com/wedding-phot... or you could check out the Hub on the subject at http://nrjberg.hubpages.com/hub/Wedding-Photograph... Hope that helps!

    • Nikkij504gurl profile image

      Nikkij504gurl 3 years ago from Louisiana

      thanks for the tips. When taking pics at a wedding what would be the best mode and settings to use in your opinion with a 10 megapixel camera and little lighting,

      ?

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks JessBraz. I take dozens of the same shot too... I think of it as a learning experience. If only I could remember what I did when they turn out really well!

    • JessBraz profile image

      JessBraz 3 years ago from Canada

      Very lovely hub!

      I'm somewhat of an amateur photographer... My worst photo habit is taking about a million shots of the same thing. lol.. Mostly because I'm still not quite sure how to use all the settings on my camera (Canon.. I also have a Fujifilm... I hope to own a Nikon some day.). Practice makes perfect, I guess.

      I really liked your table explaining the sizing of megapixels. Very helpful information for a newbie photographer. I liked the way you demonstrated how to make shots more interesting by looking at them from a different angle.. Your photographs of your clock demonstrated your point perfectly! Good job!

      Voted up!

      Cheers.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Glad you liked it Vishakha Bajaj!