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Top 5 tricks for taking professional looking photos with your digital camera

May 10, 2007 @ 11:41 pm by Samir Bharadwaj  

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It’s great when technology in a field advances to a state where the field suddenly opens up to the masses in a way that was never possible before. You could say things like YouTube have done that for the world of video, but long before that development, photography was brought into the mainstream in a whole new way with the popularisation of the digital cameras. Sure the film camera was very popular before then, but there was the developing and the waiting, all of which went out the window with digital. Now you didn’t need to think too much before taking a photo because you weren’t wasting precious film. And that is the crux of the matter. You know what the best thing is about digital photography? Anyone can now take photographs. You know the worst thing about digital photography? Anyone can now take photographs.

It shows. Most photographs taken by the average guy or gal is not quite hight-art, to put it mildly. In fact, if you’re honest with yourself you could even get yourself to admit that most people take photographs which are absolutely BAD. Now wouldn’t it be great if there were some simple tricks you could use to make your photos look better? These are the cherished memories of the people you love (most of the time), after all. They deserve to be good. If that’s the way you feel, try out these basic techniques to take your holiday snapshots and party memorabilia to a whole new level.

1. Use the vertical

Landscape vs portrait format photographsThe handheld camera has traditionally been a horizontal or landscape instrument. It is the way cameras are designed to be held, one of the reasons being that it is easier to hold them steady that way. But it is not the only way to take a photograph. Regular snapshots are often plagued with a boring consistency of being in the landscape format and sometimes it pays to think differently.

If you think the shot doesn’t look quite right, try turning your camera on its side and you will be surprised at how much of the difference it can make to your pictures. The camera might be designed in a landscape format, but unfortunately the world isn’t always suitably wide to fit into the frame. In fact, if you think about it, you probably spend most of your time behind your camera taking pictures of people, and the last time I checked people are most certainly not built in a landscape format. Make this simple change and you might be able to stand taller the next time you are sharing your holiday photos with friends.

2. Switch off that flash

Flash on vs off in photographsOne of the best developments in modern photography for the lay person has been automatic cameras. With auto-focus, auto-exposure, and auto-flash, you can safely take photos without a thought. Unfortunately to take good photos a bit of thinking can sometimes help, and the cameras can’t do it for you. They can only calculate. A camera doesn’t decide to turn on the flash because it thinks the picture needs more light, it just turns it on because a mathematical calculation shows that it needs more light. That mathematical calculation is not always right, and right or wrong the flash almost always ruins the final result.

Dead white faces, blue tinged scenes and people who look like they were caught in front of the blazing headlights of an oncoming truck. These are all symptoms of the photographs that relied too much on the camera’s judgement on flash usage. Try second guessing your machine, and rely on the miracle of natural light on some occasions. You might need to take a little extra care in holding the camera steady for longer exposure times, but you will marvel at the results.

3. Get close to your subject

Distant vs close-ups photographs

An instant way to recognize the clueless photographer is that they stand too far away from their subject. This is fine when you need to take a wide angle shot of the grand canyon with your friends dwarfed before it for effect, but most of the time it’s not. The majority of the photos you take will be about the people, and even if you want to include some of the cool background for posterity, you will find that you need less of the background than you think.

Use the miraculous zoom lens you have on your camera. Better yet, take a few steps towards those wonderful people holding maniacal grins on their faces just for you. Don’t worry, they wont bite. And what you’ll get will be photos that are much more dramatic, much more personal, and much more beautiful than those shots you’ve been getting of whole famous buildings where you need to convince people that that tiny speck at the bottom is indeed you.

4. Use the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds used in a photograph

All good images come down to good composition. Artists and designers can spend years understanding and practising the nuances of what makes a good visual composition. But since you don’t have years to take that shot as your wife/girlfriend/miscellaneous family member balances precariously on some ledge, you need a quick fix and this is one of the easier ones. The rule of thirds isn’t so much of a rule as it is a guide line. The idea is that if you drawing lines over your image to divide it into three equal horizontal rows and three equal vertical columns, you are most likely to get an attractive result if you place your major points of interest at the intersection points of the lines or along the lines.

We don’t need to analyse why this works, but know that it does in the majority of the situations. If you’re used to putting everything smack dab in the middle of the farme and turning up some very boring shots, try this out. It can be a good rule of thumb to decide on a shot, and it rarely makes things worse. Like all rules though, once you truly learn and master it, you will have a lot of fun breaking it in creative ways.

5. Save face with telephoto

Wide angle vs telephoto photographs

By default, most cameras have a wide-angle lens. This basically means your camera can look at a very wide view of the world around. Our own eyes are not as wide-angled and a bit more “zoomed-in”. These zoomed-in views are possible in a camera using a telephoto lens. The problem occurs when you try to take close up shots of people with a wide-angle lens. Their faces end up looking funny because this is not how you can see them with your eyes. Heads become distorted, faces seem to bulge, and arms and shoulders that are closer to the camera begin to look too large in proportion.

The way to solve this problem is to use your zoom lens and step back a little from the person when taking a portrait shot. This way you get a close up of the face without all the wide-angle distortion. Now you won’t have to hear all those complaints about you always ruining people’s faces in your photographs. Another relationship saved by the power of good photography!

Hope you enjoyed these quick tips. What are your secret formulas for taking good shots? Please share them by leaving a comment here. I would love to hear what you do to dazzle your friends with your photographic prowess. Keep on clicking.

This post was inspired and instigated by the Top 5 group writing project over at Problogger.net.


183 Comments & links »

  • LearningNerd says:

    Great post! The example photos really make it stand out from the many other photography posts I’ve seen from the Problogger group writing project. :) Thanks for the tips!

    • Samir says:

      Thanks Liz. Glad you liked the post.

      The example photographs were an absolute requirement in my mind when I thought of writing this. What’s a post about photography without photographs? Thankfully, I could find a very co-operative model at on short notice. :)

      BTW, great site you have there. Inspiring stuff.

  • mrscrumley says:

    These are great tips! I have a 12x optical zoom that really lets me get good pictures from afar. And I get to catch people when they don’t know I am taking their picture.

    • Samir says:

      A 12x optical zoom! Excellent. I’m assuming it’s a Canon S3 or something similar. Those kind of large zoom lenses can be extremely useful to take candid pictures of people, as you mention. They are also useful for animals, large events, and when you’re on the road and taking pictures from your car along the way.

      Glad you liked the tips, and hope you find them helpful during your photographic adventures.

  • Travis says:

    Awesome post and great tips! Thanks! I am going to defintely give the Rule of Thirds a try. Looking at some photos that I find interesting I can see where this tip pays off. I love learning new tricks and now I have. Woot!

    • Samir says:

      Hi Travis,

      Glad you like the tips. It’s always fullfilling to see people finding your writing useful.

      You’ve quite right in singling out the Rule of Thirds as a good trick because it is. It is the most subtle and seemingly esoteric of the five but that single trick is the most likely to easily give you “good images”. It forces you to think of composition which forces you to actually look at your subject, and the better you look the better your resulting pictures.

      I would be very interested in seeing the results of your experiments with these tips. And that goes for anyone else reading this. If you try out some of these tips please do post links to your photo experiments in a comment here. A tip is only as good as its practical applications, and it would be great to see how different people use these to improve their photographs.

      Thanks again for the shout out. Hope to see you reading and commenting here often.

  • One of my favourite tips for taking better photos is “Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty”.

    No, I’m not suggesting we all poledance with our monopods. I’m saying don’t be afraid to seek out weird angles, either down low or up high.

    Don’t be afraid to get dirty to get the perfect shot. You can do laundry when you get home, but if you miss that perfect shot, it’s gone.

    Hope you like it! :)

  • Thilak says:

    I always wonder why my digital camera has those grid lines. Previously, I considered them to be a waste. Thanks for teaching me the rule of thirds.

    • Samir says:

      Happy to help Thilak.

      Thank you for bringing up the in-camera grid lines. That is something I forgot to mention in the article, because it’s still not quite a standard feature. But I have seen it in some cameras.

      It’s an added help when you are beginning to explore this rule, but once you’re used to it you will have your own mental grid lines overlaying the frame when you need it. Intuition takes over.

  • santhosh r Nadiger says:

    I Like the flash on and off example, itz very helpfull for lay person they dont know when to switch it on they really miss nice colors(specially orange cut lights) during sun rise… sun set,…:)
    Very nice article.

    – Santhosh R Nadiger

  • Matt says:

    a few REALLY simple tips that when kept in mind can make anyone’s pictures look a lot better.

    Light balance is very important so when taking photos of friends outdoors try doing it on a slightly overcast day rather than a sunny day, it provides a more diffused light so you don’t have to worry about bright sunlight casting shadows on your subject or making them all squinty-eyed. or take the picture with your frinds standing in a light shade with the sunny background behind them,say under a tree for example. can’t do either? if you have a flashlight in your glove compartment (survival kits can be for more than just survival) it can be used to help cancel out shadows. Also, some cameras like Cannons have a feature in the manual settings that allows you to control the strength of your flash output.

    taking a photo without flash can be tricky, it may look better in certain light, but as you mentioned you have to hold the camera still, a couple quick tips to help out when you find the light looking better but now the details are coming out a bit fuzzy:
    1. invest in a mini tripod. you can find these for about $10 at a department store like Target or Walmart, and they are small enough to fit into a regular camera bag.
    2. no tripod? learn to use the timer! set the camera on a steady surface, frame up the shot and engage the timer you won’t have to worry about shaking the camera.
    3. don’t have a timer or just don’t like waiting 10 seconds? use the same flat surface steady your shot by resting your hands on it. not quite as effective since you’re still holding the camera, but it does help steady the hands a little bit.
    4. if you are close to your subject try turning your macro on! it helps pick up so much more detail close up. it’s a very powerful, but so often forgotten tool.

    also, one quick thing on angles. the angle can sometimes be just as important as where your subject is in the frame. anyone can stand eye-to-eye with their subject when taking the shot, but crouching slightly or moving a good 20 degrees left or right can put an interesting angle on the shot and make the difference between “every vacation photo you’ve ever seen” and “worthy of being framed and put on the mantle”

    wow that turned out to be longer than i thought. but neat little tidbits that can really help amateurs get into taking great looking photos. :D

    • Samir says:

      Excellent tips Matt. Thanks for explaining them so patiently, and adding to the page.

      And about writing long comments, they are welcomed and encouraged here. I do it all the time (on this blog and elsewhere), and it’s good to know I’m not the only one who suffers form that particular affliction. :)

  • Crimefaction says:

    Haha im going to pwn at photo class now

  • Sacx says:

    Nice post. I just bought a new camera (fuji finepix 6500) and I will try some your tricks :)

    Regards

  • eyeflare says:

    Great tips, I’m now taking out the digital compact to take some better shots!

  • Singh says:

    This is a really cool stuff man….Didn’t know that becoming a pro can be this easy.. Cool site
    http://www.gadget9.com

  • dylan says:

    thanks for the info, but might I suggest getting rid of that dreadful thing that moves up and down with the page? How annoying! Cheers!

    • Samir says:

      Thanks Dylan. Glad you liked the info.

      I’m a bit surprised you found the sliding graphic annoying because thus far I’ve actually received a lot of messages from people seeing the site who specifically mentioned liking that bit in particular.

      That just goes to prove you can’t win them all. :)
      For now I will keep it around, because it was part of my vision for the layout of the site and because I’m a bit “religious” about it. ;)

      Thanks for the feedback and keep it coming. Hope you enjoy the rest of the site.

  • MARK EVANS says:

    For variety and effect, move in really close or zoom in really close and fill the frame with the subject. you don’t have to make it a photo report of how someone looks. a more artistic approach might to be to in so close that the subjects head, and not even all of the head is filling the frame.

    when using wide angle, try to keep the camera at the height of the midpoint in a room, about 4 feet from the floor for an average room to minimize distortion, and then keep it level.

    use the smallest iso number that light will allow for crisper shots.

    get your subject talking and making their normal ‘unique’ expressions and your images will tell more of a story than just the ‘this is my appearance’ type of shot, such as is common with a subject standing in front of something touristy, like the eiffel tower or gg bridge. get some life into it. get your subject laughing or mad, or anything other than a pasted on smile.

    expect 1 good shot for about 30 mediocre shots. pros get 1 for about 50, and at that, they take the same shot over and over again and simply use different settings each time until they have ‘exactly’ what the client wanted *excepting for people type shoots. be even then, you can practice bracketing (using various zoom settings snd f stops.

    play with it.

  • Dave says:

    Good info thanks man :)

  • Claudia says:

    you all smell bad

    • Samir says:

      Claudia, aww you noticed! It’s always nice when your reading public notices the little touches you put effort into on your blog. I am one of the beta testers for the new WP-StinkBomb™ plugin that will be released shortly at the official WordPress plugin repository. I’m so glad to know it’s working!

      Thanks for the comment, and I do hope you come back often. We might all smell bad, but it is all in the interest of science and good PHP coding practices. :)

  • I just wanted to comment that you have a great blog, excellent design and I love your writing style.

    Although I have rarely used a camera, this post makes me want to buy one and start taking some pictures while keeping these very helpful tips in mind.

    Best of luck to you Samir.

    • Thanks for the glowing review Jason, it’s always a pleasure to know you’re on the right track.

      As far as cameras and taking photos is concerned, I know how you feel. There have been many times in my life when I have been totally cut off from the camera, and when I’ve simply not had any interest in photography. But eventually I would see something or read something that sparked my interest again and I always kept coming back.

      So, if you have any interest at all in photography, I strongly suggest you scratch that itch. With digital cameras today photography is not a very expensive hobby anymore and the ability to endlessly experiment often imrproves the quality of your work much faster than it was possible before. But above all, I suggest photography because it will help you look at the world in a whole different way, and as far as I’m concerned, the more ways you learn to look at the world the better.

      Thanks for the comment, and I do hope you visit here regularly. Maybe I can convince you to try out some other things you were not interested in before. ;)

      Samir

      P.S. If you do take up the camera and need any further help with that, feel free to contact me. I’m always glad to help.

  • Christine says:

    Samir, Thank you so much for all of your tips. I love photography, but have never really paid much attn. to why I didn’t like the way many of my pictures looked.

    The information on zooming in and stepping back from the subject when taking a portrait makes good sense. I have a Canon SD 800 IS and the wide angle definetely distorts up close face shots.

    I look forward to trying out the “low light” tip as well. It is very frustrating to get back blurry pics because I turn the flash off but can’t hold it still enough to get a clear shot. I will try the mini tripod I received with my camera.

    Wish me luck with taking a few shots of my niece for her senior year. I am very nervous, but have told her I can only do my best:) Thanks again for your tips!

    PS Do you recommend a certain on line professional film developer. I would like to find a easy to use, high quality site…any suggestions?

    • Hi Christine, happy to help. I’m glad you found these tips useful. Once you do this stuff often enough it becomes second nature and I’ve started taking it for granted. So it’s absolutely wonderful to find others responding to it with so much enthusiasm. Makes me feel useful. :)

      You want luck? You got it! Here is one official and industrial-strength good luck wish coming your way over the ether. A bit of nervousness is good to keep you on your toes, but I’m sure you don’t have anything to worry about, your niece is bound to get some quality shots for her senior year. It’s never as tough as it seems.

      If you want a further ego boost in addition to the preceeding good luck wish, let me give you another gift (The blog that keeps on giving!). After reading your comment and your problems with blurry pictures without the flash, I thought it was about time I put together another bunch of photography tips. This time something to help people out with that particular problem. So I present to you: Go Steady With Your Camera & Take Shake-free Photos Without a Tripod

      I hope you enjoy reading that and pick up some more useful tricks for your further adventures in photography. See, you have nothing to worry about. You’re a photographer, an article muse … who knows what other talents you haven’t discovered yet?

      Enjoy!

      Samir

  • Wow, That is the best post I’ve read on any subject for sometime and I learned a lot from reading your five points. I take photos for my blog ( need to take more) this gives me a good grounding on how to take the picture and improve it. The tip about the flash is worth money. I have often been annoyed with the flash going off but just assumed the camera knew better.

    Thanks this is a keeper.

    Nick

  • Rahul says:

    Hey Samir,
    This is a very useful post. Liked the way you illustrated your point with examples. And I do agree about the non-use of flash in photography.
    Keep up the good work.

    best regards,
    Rahul

    ps: flora looks good. can be a bit distracting at the start, but one can get used to it. :)

    • Rahul, thanks for the kind words and happy to know the post was useful.

      As far as Flora is concerned, what can I say … perhaps you can look at her as a a good friend’s slightly irritating significant other. Glad you’re getting used to her, and hope to see you around often. ;)

  • Melissa Barker says:

    Reading this helped my alot, I love taking pictures and I just got a Fujifilm FinePix S9000. This camera is becoming a royal pain though because when I take a picture of moving subjects they blur bad and I have tried using every setting on my camera. Sometimes the subject don’t blur and I’ll use the same setting for another picture and that one will blur. I hate using flash all the time, especially in the house because like you said it makes the subject look like there is headlights shining on them, but if I don’t use the flash the picture is to dim. Do you have any recommendation? Thank you!!

    • Hi Melissa,

      Sorry for the long silence. I’m on holiday and haven’t been keeping up with the site as often as I would like.

      Now on to your specific problem. The problems of blurring are just part of the challenge of photography, but understanding a bit more of the technical side of your camera and some of its features can usually reduce these issues.

      The longer your camera shutter remains open, the more likely you are to get a blurred image, either because your subject moves, or because your hand shakes. In normal lighting, a exposure of up to 1/30th or 1/60th of a second will usually get rid of the effects of hand shake. Anything longer can be problematic, so the aim in low-light and natural-light photography is to reduce the exposure time as much as practically possible while still getting a good image, or to hold the camera steady enough to get a clear shot from a long exposure. Holding the camera steady either involves using a tripod, or using some other tricks to get a steady shot.

      One way many cameras deal with low light is to change something called the ISO setting. This is a throwback to film technology where different speeds of film allowed for different exposure needs in the same lighting conditions. While ISO 100 or ISO 200 were the normal film speeds, larger ISO speeds allowed for faster exposures. Digital cameras use a similar effect where larger ISO settings allow quicker exposures but at the cost of noisier images.

      The good news for you is that the Fujifilm Finepix S9000 is a very capable camera, allowing some very high ISO settings. I haven’t had a chance to study its features in detail, but a quick online search reveals many features that could solve your problem. One option is to increase the ISO setting manually to something higher like 400 or 800 for indoor shots. Keep in mind that this will produce noisy images, but often noisy images are much better than blurred ones. I believe your camera also has a natural light and an anti-blur program setting. I suggest you try enabling these through the menu and try out their effect. In theory the camera should automatically adjust ISO settings and other exposure settings to reduce your blurring problem.

      That’s all I have for now. Once I’m back from my trip I’ll look into the S9000 further and let you know if it has any other tricks up its sleeve that you can use. In the meanwhile, hope these tips were useful. Let me know how your experiments go.

      Best of luck,

      Samir

  • Lacey says:

    Very informative article. I just use a point and shoot kind of camera, but I do have several different settings and the ability to play with the flash and whatnot. You have inspired me to go take some pics! I look forward to exploring more of your blog.

    And, I like the sliding graphic,lol.

    • Thanks Lacey. Always happy to be of service. And always glad to inspire people to take more pictures, especially good ones.

      Not that there aren’t enough pictures out there, but let’s face it, most of them are horrible. So it falls on us to correct the wrongs and balance those out with beautiful images. Welcome to the tribe! :)

      Point and shoot cameras are perfectly fine, and even preferable in many circumstances. You don’t have to have a high-end professional camera to take stunning images. Of the 6-7 cameras I’ve owned in my life time, only one of them has been a SLR. In fact, my first proper camera was a plastic, fixed focus, completely battery-free, 35mm film camera that cost about 8 dollars. My brother and myself had matching models in different colours, and we used the sprokets off those, learning almost everything we know about photography in the process.

      Compared to that one, even the puniest of the modern digital cameras is a space shuttle, so I’m sure you’ll do fine with your experiments.

      I do hope to see you around more often, and while this is always an open invitation to all my readers, you get special treatment for saying nice things about my sliding graphic ;) — so, if there’s anything you need to know more about during your explorations, or any particular photographic conundrum that needs solving, or if you just want to say hello, feel free to send me a message through my contact page or through the comments here. I’m always happy to help, and see people’s progress.

      Thanks for dropping by, and keep in touch,

      Samir

  • Husac says:

    Well done, an nice photos;)!

    see my work at http://freeartisticphoto.com

  • Hang says:

    your tips are good and funny. i really like them!

    thanks!

  • Hayleigh says:

    These are amzeing tips! Thanks!

  • Cherri Eliza says:

    thanks for the wonderful tips. Here is my summary.

    1. Different angles
    2. Natural Lights
    3. Make your subject a major part of your pic
    4. Tic-tac-toe
    5. Use zoom for close-ups

    i have a few more tips
    1. Try different horizontal/vertical positions
    2. Make sure the background is interesting
    3. Give the pic some depth by carefully choosing background
    4. You may use foreground objects to blend with subject

  • Ricardo says:

    I’m need to replace the Pic in my web site. Need to look Professional, Serious, Confident Etc. I’m sold insurances. Can you bring me tips to take this photo?
    Will appreciate your help.

    • Hello Ricardo,

      Thank you for your question. Who wouldn’t want to look professional, serious, and confident in a photo? It is a constant challenge to get good personal portraits, especially for people like me who always think they look strange or dorky in pictures. :)

      I had a look at the photograph you have on your site. It’s not too bad, but there are ways you can improve it:

      1) The main problem with the current photo is the artificial light. Notice how you can see the lights reflected of your head because they are very high? Try taking some photos in natural light. You could try some outdoors with a nice even background. Make sure there is nothing too noisy behind you. You could also try taking some shots indoors, but near a window during the day. The strong light coming from one side can make your face look much stronger.

      2) Try some shots where your body is slightly at an angle to the camera. When we see pictures where the person is standing straight and facing the camera, it reminds us of passport photographs and that can look a bit boring. Just turning a little away and then looking at the camera can make for a much more dynamic shot.

      Try these tips one at a time, and also in combination, and then look at the images you get. I’m sure they will be more interesting and you will find what you are looking for.

      Hope this helps, and let me know how it goes. I would love to see the results.

      Samir

  • magali says:

    Hi Samir, it´s me visiting, thanks for sharing all your tips and adivices, the class was clear and as I see greatly aprecciated

  • It’s amazing the capture of the digital camera from an ordinary figure. I always take picture close up more than anything. I don’t really far off from the object. Nice argument here on this matter.

  • Misao says:

    Thank you very much! These are great tips.

  • Great photographs you have here. I love the ways you describe on angles for the best picture takes.

    Regards,
    Jermaine

  • Magnus says:

    I’d suggest turning flash on is another one, especially outdoors. Forcing the flash to fire outdoors in bright light can save a photo where someone’s face might otherwise have been in the dark, for example. Fill-flash is what it’s usually called.

  • maria says:

    Thank you !!

    :0)

  • Annabelle says:

    Lol that helped alot :)

    GOOD!

  • for number 2:
    when i have the flash on, it comes out brighter, it looks better that way to everyone i asked, which was better, and i showed them one that with the flash and one without the flash and they all agreed to the one with the flash and they said it looks more life like, while the one with the flash off looks like it is from a fairytale book. I just wanted to let you know you might want to like, change it or something just for better publisity, just a little advice though you don’t have to follow it, other wise all the other tecniques were helpful, thank you!

  • Samir Sharma says:

    I have a camara Nikon L20 Coolpix 10mp with 3.6x zoom . but i could not get a sharp picture from this please tell me that how can i get more clear and sharpen picture forom this.
    and could u suggest me that which camara is more suitable for personal use at the cost of rs 10000.

    • Hi Samir,

      The Nikon Coolpix L20 is a simple point-and-shoot camera with not too many settings you can change, but from what I’m seeing around the net, it is a pretty decent camera. Have a look at these test shots that show how much detail it captures:
      http://www.trustedreviews.com/digital-cameras/review/2009/04/02/Nikon-CoolPix-L19-and-L20/p6
      That’s more than enough for most needs.

      The only thing I do suggest is that you take pictures at the full 10 megapixel resolution and at the highest quality setting. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of really sitting down with the camera manual and understanding all the features. I’m pretty sure you can get some good pictures with this camera with a little work.

      Best of luck,

      Samir

  • Samir Sharma says:

    thanks samir i m fully satisfy with your help. thanks

  • Dear Samir,

    It’s indeed a very helpful and nice site. Can I use one photograph in my book “Practical Filmmaking” to explain The Rule of Third? Im writing this book in Hindi for those passionate film lovers who cant afford to join Film Institute. I’ll be obliged if i get it free. I can assure you to acknowledge your name below or right bottom of the photograph.

    Please reply

    With best regards!

  • Amy says:

    Thanks for the great tips! I don’t have a professional camera, just an EasyShare c633, but I love taking pics. The tips helped me take some much better shots and they don’t look boring with your information. Thanks :)

  • Lauren says:

    I thought this was very insightful, but was wondering, Do these work with nature photos? Because I take some pretty good ones (sent one to NatGeo) and only the rule of thirds actually works on lets say, sunsets, or trees.

    • Hi Lauren, thanks for dropping by. What I’ve suggested here is certainly skewed towards taking photographs of people, purely because that’s what most people are interested in, but I wouldn’t dismiss them for nature photography.

      The points I’ve mentioned here are not so much rules as they are elements to think about when taking a photograph. There might be only one case where some of these tricks don’t directly apply, and that’s for landscapes. For the sunset example you mention, the idea of getting closer to the subject (#3), and the tip to use telephoto to avoid distortion of near subjects (#5) don’t apply at most times, but the other three tricks are still worth considering. For other nature subjects which are not landscapes, like a tree, I would still think of all of these elements to get the best pictures you can.

      Thanks for your question. It is a valid concern and I hope this has cleared up some of your doubts about this.

      Samir

      • Lauren says:

        Thanks for replying! Unfortunately I lost the connector cable to my camera when I first got it, so I need to buy another before I can post photos online. But when I buy one, I’ll be sure to let you know where I posted them.

        Oh I had another question I forgot to ask: When the subject of the photo is moving, lets say on a bike, or a Ripstick, what would be the best/easiest way to capture the subject without blur?

        • I look forward to seeing them, Lauren.

          Now on to your question. There are two major ways to capture a moving subject without blur. The first is to get the camera to do a quick exposure and freeze the shot. This can be accomplished with the “Sports” mode in many compact cameras and the “Shutter Priority” mode with a fast shutter speed in more serious cameras.

          The second way is called “Panning”, where you follow the moving subject with the camera as you take the shot. This way the camera and subject are moving. With a bit of practice you will get a fairly still subject with a blurred background, something you will often see in sports photography.

          Hope that helps,
          Samir

        • Lauren says:

          Thanks that does help!

  • Kimberly says:

    Thank you for your easy to understand 5 rules. I am an amatuer and know nothing about cameras. I am willing to spend up to $1500 on a camera. What kind of camera should I look at and what features do I want. My main reason for doing this is that I want great close ups of my kids in large print for my walls. My neighbor is a professional photographer and has beautiful pictures of her children, but she won’t offer me any help. I realize I need to learn more about taking pictures, but I was hoping if I have a nice enough camera I could take some good shots even if I don’t have a clue about photography. Thanks Kimberly

    • Glad the tips helped, Kimberly. Your confusion over which camera to buy is perfectly natural. It’s a question I’m asked quite often through the site.

      You are right to think that getting a good camera will help greatly in getting good pictures. This is especially true if you don’t know much about cameras and how to get the best out of them. Your budget of $1500, however, opens up the possibilities of what you can buy to a very wide range of cameras.

      To keep things simple, I’ll stick to Canon cameras. I don’t consider them to be the undisputed best at everything, but I do own a Canon G9, and they usually give very dependable results even if you’re not sure what you’re doing. I also hear their service in North America is very reliable, which is always a plus.

      Canon has a very wide range of cameras, but I’m going to ignore the low level consumer cameras, since you’re looking for the best in image quality and performance. There’s a range here too, but I’m going to suggest one of two extremes.

      1) Canon S90 Compact
      It’s a beautiful little camera that can fit in a shirt pocket, but produces very professional level results for. Its 10 megapixel resolution is more than enough for most enlargement needs, and it can take VGA size video, which is sufficient for recording some memories in motion when you need to. It also fares quite well in low light conditions, which is very useful.

      2) Canon 550D SLR
      This is big and heavy semi-professional SLR camera. It’s 18 megapixel resolution is quite a step up from most cameras. And it can also take Full HD (Hight Definition 1920X1080 resolution) video. This camera is used by professionals, so it also requires a little more investment in learning how to use it.

      The S90 can never have the high level professional output of the SLR, but it comes quite close for most uses, and it costs half as much as the SLR. The S90 doesn’t shoot Full HD video but it fits in your pocket or handbag, while the SLR will require it’s own carry case. The S90 is not as quick to capture fast moving subject (which you kids can be), but then it is easier to handle.

      Since both these cameras combined would still fit within your budget, I would suggest starting with the cheaper and more portable S90. You will get a lot out of it, and even if you feel the need to graduate to an SLR later, a good compact is always useful and not wasted.

      Even the S90 is a lot more expensive than most compact cameras out there, but you do get what you pay for and the S90 will serve you well to get some high quality pictures.

      Beyond this, as I will always suggest when buying a camera, go to a store, pick up these cameras and try them out. See how they feel in your hands and whether you like them. Ultimately those subjective and personal judgements do matter a lot when you need to use a camera regularly. Don’t get stuck with what doesn’t feel right to you.

      I hope this helps. If you have any further question feel free to get in touch.

      Best of luck,
      Samir

      • Kimberly says:

        Samir,
        I am sure you are very busy. Thank you very much for thoroughly answering my question. I really appreciate your help and advice. Kimberly

  • Lorenzo says:

    Nice post! Thanks, your tips were very helpful.. I will definitely practice some of these tips.

  • ron says:

    ok those are really good but my camera is fuzzy and i dont know how to change it and when i turn off flash then its blurry. and when its on flash and i take a picture close up then the pic is white. i wanted tips on stuff like that. can you tell me what to do?

    • Hi Ron,
      Your blurry pictures are caused by the camera or the subject moving during a long exposure. This means there isn’t enough light for a quick exposure, which is solved by the flash.

      Without using the flash, there are 3 ways to solve this:

      1) Get more lights on your subject. This should reduce the exposure time and get you crisper photos.

      2) Use a tripod to hold the camera steady during the long exposure, or use one of the other tricks to hold your camera steady.

      3)Reduce the exposure times using camera settings. Very simple cameras may not allow you to make all these changes, but most allow at least some. You can use a negative value for Exposure Compensation (EV), or you can increase the ISO setting (usually settings like 100, 200, 400, 800 and up). Negative EV settings will produce darker pictures, and higher ISO settings will create noisy pictures, but both these can often be improved on a computer later. Better to get a slightly dark or noise image than a blurry one.

      Hope this helps you with your problem.
      Samir

  • Hannah says:

    Loved the tip on veritcal and on flash. I always thought the camera knew better when it came to the flash. I would love to figure out how to really use the manual setting on my digital camera.

  • Effiong Emmanuel says:

    the tutorials were quit explanatory. would love to get more related topics to my email address. thanks

  • thanos says:

    awesome post man very usefull kep em coming

  • Cristine says:

    How do I get the background to look more blurry than the subject?

    • Hi Cristine,

      The short answer is: By using a wider aperture. i.e. a smaller f setting on your lens.

      This is a fairly complex topic if covered complete, which I will at some point in another article, but for now here’s a quick introduction.

      Camera lenses focus at a particular distance. If your subject is 10 feet away the lens needs to focus at a distance of 10 feet. The camera lens also has a depth-of-field, which is the distance in front of and behind the focus distance that is also sharp in the final photo.

      In the above example a shallow depth-of-field would be if everything between 9.5 feet to 10.5 feet were in focus. A greater depth of field would be if everything between 5 feet and 20 feet were in focus.

      To directly tackle your question, if both the subject and background were within the range of a large depth-of-field, they would both appear sharp and not give you that blurred look you’re after. Depth-of-field increases with larger f (aperture) settings on your lens, so f16 would put a lot more into focus than f4, for example.

      So, to get blurry backgrounds, try using a smaller aperture setting, if your camera allows you to set these things manually. If you have a camera with shooting-modes, try the portrait mode to achieve the same results in most situations. If all this setting-stuff makes no sense and you have a decent auto-focus camera, try getting closer to your subject and keep the background as far away as possible. A near-by subject with a distant background will often result in the sharp subject and blurry background look you want.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Samir

  • Renchia says:

    All the posts are great, however I wonder if anyone can assist me. For the past 2 years I’ve been taking pictures of a company at a year end function and everyone usually likes the end result. Nevertheless I always struggle a bit taking photos at night with people especially if there is not surrounding light to work with and unfortunatley I don’t know what additional photography equipment I can use (or need to get) to take better photos of each couple. My other situation is sometimes the background is dark and various people all come out looking rather dark (especially if most people wear black clothing) and I have to do all sorts in photography programme to fix it which I really hate to do. Can anyone give me some tips – I have a Canon EOS 400D
    Thank you

    • Renchia, thanks for stopping by an for your question. When photographic events, and especially if they are at night, it helps to have either some sort of fixed background to work with, and/or to have a reasonably powerful external flash unit for your SLR. You actually don’t need anything too fancy, and with a few simple steps you can get quite decent results, without needing too many computer adjustments.

      The details of exactly what to use and how to use it really depends on the specific kind of place and crowd you’re going to be taking pictures of. I can’t give any short and general advice without knowing more. Feel free to contact me (http://samirbharadwaj.com/contact-me/) and I can give you more specific tips.

      Samir

  • Chloe says:

    Hi. I now this is a bit off topic but you seem to be quite an expert in this field and I need some help. My sister and I want to by a camera since we love taking pictures and we are lucky enough to travel a lot. So, my question is what type of camera should I get? A digital camera or should I really spend a few extra bucks on a SLR? Thanks.

    • Hi Chloe,

      Which camera to buy is actually quite a common question put to me. Something I’ve been planning to write a more general article on for a while, but it is a complex topic and each person’s needs vary.

      You choice of camera really comes down to 4 things:
      How much you want to spend
      What’s available
      How flexible and easy to handle it needs to be
      How interested you really are in tinkering with new equipment and techniques later

      SLRs are technically better and allow for more experimentation later, but they are more expensive and even the smallest ones are bulky things to carry around. Compact digital cameras can be cheaper (not always, depending on the model), are easier to carry around while travelling, but you’re generally limited to the equipment you buy and its capabilities with no possibilities of add-ons and modifications.

      While most people who are religious about photography will automatically tell you to go for an SLR, I don’t think that’s always necessary and there are some great compacts around. I myself have been using just a Canon G9 compact for a few years now, not an SLR.

      As I said, this is a complex issue, so if you want more detailed advice about specific cameras and models, I will need to know more from you. Feel free to drop me a message through my Contact page or Facebook to discuss this further.

      Samir

  • all says:

    i have a samsung s570 coolpix camera … and i want to know how to set it for better photos. i have a chanse ? thx

  • saurabh says:

    nice tips bhai.
    Will you please tell me from where have you bought that cooperative model ?

    • Saurabh, glad to be of help.
      That particular artist’s mannequin was bought from IKEA , where it’s fairly inexpensive. Similar figures can be bought from art stores in most places at a variety of sizes and levels of detail. Very useful for practising things with your camera.

  • nimmagadda srinivas says:

    hi, samir nice to be with u.Ienjoyed ur all tips &suggestions.recently with comparision nikonL120 i purchased fujiS3300 is my pick is correct?keep on giving valubles from u

    • Thanks for dropping by and good to know the tips were helpful. After a quick look, the Fuji S3300 does seem like a good choice. Fuji cameras in general are usually pretty good performers. Like all cameras they have their quirks, and Fuji is technologically different in some ways than the other brands, but once you learn to work with those differences, they produce good results. Best of luck with your new camera.

  • Lucy says:

    Hi. i want to become a model. but to do that i need to take prefesional pictures, of my self in the woods and outside etc. well any advice on that?

  • Andre says:

    Awesome tips mate…

  • a.b.s.manian says:

    Nice tips. Thank you. I have Olympus camera and I would like to take snaps at night( in candle lights) without using flash. But How do I switch off the flash mode off. Please help me.

  • felicia says:

    Hello i love taking photos period i have a camera that is worthless what camera would you recommend of me getting i would like it to have several features on it i like edited photos with effects please help

    • Felicia,
      That question is not an easy one to answer unfortunately, and depends on many factors. Such as what sort of photography you enjoy, your budget, and also what you find lacking in your current camera. Send me a message with some more details using my contact page and I’m sure we can narrow down your choices.

  • Shirish Naik says:

    Dear Samir,
    Thanks for great tips, what is your opinion about Sony HX100V and Fuji HX20,
    I bought this camera few days back and result are very good.
    Can I have tips for this cam.

    Thanks
    Shirish Naik

    • Shirish,
      I don’t know a lot about these specific cameras; It’s really impossible to keep track of all the new models that are constantly being updated. In general super-zoom cameras like these are good all-rounders. They are great if you need one camera that can do absolutely everything. The lens quality is usually not the best, purely because of the large range (30x zoom etc) that need to be fit within a small physical dimension. But, learn how to use all the features and these cameras can serve you well and for a long time.

      All the tip sin the article hold true whatever camera you’re using. If you’re looking for pointers on some very specific aspect of these cameras, drop me a line from my contact page and I’ll see what I can do.

      Happy clicking.

  • Cflores says:

    Hi Ilove taking pictures i own a sony digital camera i was wondering if you would be able to tell me of a good computer program that i can use at home to enhance my photography that involves both people and nature.thank you for the post

    • At most times I use a combination of two pieces of software for editing and enhancing photos:
      http://www.irfanview.com/
      http://www.gimp.org/

      IrfanView is simpler and quicker to work with, but is limited to global adjustments, which is perfectly fine when you have a good picture which you want to tweak a little. GIMP is fairly complex if you’ve never used it before (similar to Photoshop), but once you get the hang of it, you can do a lot with it. You can see my description of using GIMP to correct over exposed pictures to get an idea of the level of adjustment possible.

  • Meme says:

    i currently use a canon a590 is point and shoot camera, however I like taking pix of family and want to get into taking more professional looking pix. Can you suggest a camera that is good to invest in but be budget friendly as income is issue. I have been looking at canon, and Nikon if there is something you can recommend I am looking at point and shoot as well as dslr

  • Paulina says:

    Hello, I wanted to buy myself a good quality camera, that is not too expensive, e.g. around or less than £200. I have found lots of cameras on internet around this price and I’ve looked at the reviews from people, that bought them. Unfortunately there are lots of cameras, that I like and I cannot decide :( . I wanted to buy SLR/DSLR but I’m a begginer and I want to improve my skils first. I’m interested mostly at bridge cameras. I’ve looked at Fujifilm Finepix, Olympus SZ and SP types. The prices are reasonable, but I’ve also looked at Nikon Coolpix and Canon Powershot, but they are quite expensive. I’m looking forward from hearing from you.

  • Deon Dsouza says:

    Hello,I have seen a lot of photographs which have blur in the background with a smart focus on the subject.I was wondering if i could do the same with a point and shoot camera.I have a Sony cybershot DSC-W650.I would really appreciate your help.

    Thank you.

  • Sourabh says:

    Hi Samir,

    A wonderful blog!!! I was head over heels after finding it. Have downloaded all the recommended books by you. will go through them.

    And yes I need tips of what can I do with my newly bought fujifilm s2950 digi cam.

    I am novice so your tips are much appreciated :)

    Thanks again !!!

  • Ashleigh Catherine says:

    Hey great tips :) i love taking photos but they always seem distorted, bland, or just unflattering but thanks to you I can take quality pictures :D….i had a question, i love it when a photo has the blurry background and focus on the subject, how do I do that effect on my photos?

  • meme says:

    hi Samir,
    I have been take a lot of photos with my canon g12,I am trying to get in taken more pro pix of family. I purchase templates off of ebay to edit in adobe or corel.My question is would it be better quality to take photos with a green, or blue background and then remove drag the photo over the template I want. also do you recommend filters when taking photos for a more pro look?

    • Hi Meme,

      I’m not completely sure of what kind of templates you mean to use with your photographs. Feel free to share more details here. I will assume they are either border or frame styles, or some sort of background imagery, like a studio backdrop. A green background, or ‘green-screen’ as it’s called in the movie business, is used in cases where people need to be pasted on to backgrounds that don’t exist in the present location, or don’t exist at all, as in the case of computer graphics and such. So yes, if your templates are backgrounds, a green background might help you cleanly separate the person from the background and paste them on a new one. Keep in mind though, that a green background for this needs to be a particularly bright green and very well and evenly lit to be most useful.

      Your question about filters is a tricky one, because there is no universal answer. Most professional photographers will use ‘filters’ of some sort to make their final photo better. But this can range from tiny adjustments of contrast to specific visual effects. With filters, I find the best rule-of-thumb is to be as frugal as possible to create the image you want. I personally like to err on the side of caution while using filters, but some enjoy the over-filtered, heavily-modified look in pictures and that can work too. Filters can’t guarantee a better, more professional looking, picture, but they are sometimes essential.

      Samir

  • Rob says:

    I am a firm believer in taking portrait photos with a blurred background. They make the subject much more interesting when it doesn’t lead the viewer’s eye away into a distracting background. Try it yourself. Take two photos of the same subject. One with and one without a blurred background. You’ll be surprised at the difference.

  • albeir says:

    How i can take professional single photo for passport at home?

    • Passport photo rules and requirements vary from country to country, so make use you are following the ones you need to, for example, some places need a white or light background, some don’t have a norm and so on. In general, you’ll need some good light. Tungsten light bulbs will usually give you too yellow a result, which you’ll then have to adjust with white balance settings and such. You can do very well with just natural day-light through a window, as long as the person is evenly lit. A face lit from only one side will not usually be acceptable as a photograph for passports and identities.

      On the camera side of things, make sure you are not using too wide a lens as it distorts faces. Traditionally something around a 70mm focal-length has been considered a portrait lens. This forces you to step back and gives you results that look more like the person. If you have a zoom lens, try zooming in to replicate the longer focal length.

      That covers the basics. Good, even light, and a slightly longer lens should give you a good start with taking passport photos. All the best.

  • Amber says:

    Hey. Thanks for all the good tips. I normally shot nature photos, but my sister is expecting her first child in one month and she asked me to shot her. I love doing black and whites, but for her I wanted to do a blurry looking back ground so focus is on her and her belly. Is there a product to put on lens of the camera to blur the top of the photo? I don’t want to do just close up cause I have beautiful autumn as my back drop but I want focus on her. Any tips?

    • Hey Amber,

      The way to get blurry backgrounds in portraits is to use a very wide aperture setting on your camera. If you have an SLR, you can set it to Aperture Priortity (Av) and change the aperture to the lowest number you can (f2, f3.5 etc). Some higher-end compact cameras will also have an Av mode. If you have a simpler camera, you are likely to have a ‘portrait’ mode which is likely to do the same thing.

      How blurred you can get the background depends on the lens you’re using. For maximum effect, keep your subject (your sister) fairly close, and let the background elements be as far away as possible. Then make sure the focus is on the subject and you should do well.

      All the best with your project, and my best wishes to your sister. If you have any more question feel free to ask.

      Samir

  • Lorenzo says:

    I actually read this article a year ago and came back today for a fresher upper. Great job with this article Samir

  • Ali Albahar says:

    Dear Samir …
    I’m so proud to see an Arabic person like you .. !
    you are so professional and love to help , God bless you

  • hasan says:

    please tell me what is dept of field. thanks & GOD BLESS YOU.

  • Thank you Samir, a very well written article with important, easy-to-follow points!

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