Some quick amateur advice on getting a good photo

David Shane

I’m not a fancy photographer, but I’ve placed in a couple local photo contests (winning one), and other photos I’ve taken have been seen and shared by thousands of people thanks to social media, local (traditional) media, and Creative Commons licensing on Flickr. So I thought hey, why not write down a few things I’ve learned from my own personal experience about how to increase your likelihood of getting a good photo. Note that these are tips for “getting” a good photo, not “taking” one — I’m not going to talk about how to frame the photo or how to adjust the color, these tips are more basic than that (appropriate for an amateur like me).

Tip 1: Be in the right place at the right time. To increase your odds of being in the right place at the right time, be in the right place often. We take a lot of bike rides and walks, and often bring along a camera. (I have found that the best way to guarantee that I will see something I want to photograph is not to have a camera on me — hence my wife jokes that we shouldn’t bring a camera, because then we’ll see something cool.) If you’re out in the world, you’ll see things happening in the world. Obviously biking and walking have an advantage over driving here, inasmuch as it is easy to stop and grab a photo.

Tip 2: Take a lot of photos — throw most of them away. Well, delete them — thank goodness for digital cameras because this would have been terribly expensive advice with film. And you can tell I’m an amateur here, because rather than telling you how to compose that perfect photo, I just do what intuitively feels good, or play around and have fun, and just take a lot of photos. (But I also photograph a lot of wildlife, and I can’t really make them stand where I want them to.) The title photo here came from a set where I took about 150 photos in quick succession — they weren’t all throw-away photos, but I have only shared a few of them.

Tip 3: Bring along a good camera. In a world filled with cell-phone cameras that seem to do a decent job, you might think that’s all you need — but if you want to take your photos to that next level it really will help to spend at least a few hundred dollars on a removable lens camera and a few lenses. You can save money is you buy used — be sure to check about CCD damage or scratches on the lens if you go used. My current camera, which I did purchase used, is a Sony NEX-5, and I use it with three different lenses — the mid-range kit lens, a macro lens, and a telephoto lens. As you can see that particular camera with one lens is about $630 new — I can’t remember how much I paid for it used, actually.

Tip 4: Purchase some photo-tweaking software like Adobe Lightroom. If you’ve never used software like this, you’re going to be impressed by just how much it can improve the appearance of your photos. Now Lightroom is not Photoshop — you’re not going to be adding in people not originally present into your photos! But what Lightroom will do is to make adjustments to parameters like the brightness, contrast, and color very easy for you — and it can also do things like add vignetting to a photo. Your photo will still look like your photo, but hopefully an improved version of itself. (Note that Lightroom has a lower-cost edition for students and teachers.)

Thus ends my quick advice — have fun playing, and best wishes for your photography!

    David Shane

    Written by

    Christian, Physics Professor, East Lansing resident. Let honesty in all things be our first concern. Opinions are my own!

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