A number of people have sent E-mail complimenting me on my photos and asking if I'm a professional photographer.  To those people, I say thank you for the compliments and that I am an "advanced amateur" picture taker!  I've also been asked for information on how to take better pictures without spending a lot of money for gadgets, so I thought it might be a good idea to post a web page giving some simple tips which can help any amateur photographer take pictures that will grab your viewer's attention!

The first tip is by far the most important, the remainder are not prioritized:

The first and most important tip ~ take a lot of pictures, then get rid of most of them!
Have you ever been looking at a friend's scrap book or slide show, then found yourself yawning after a few minutes?  Ten minutes after that you decide that sitting in the dentist's chair having a root canal would be more fun than looking at these pictures!  This is because most amateur photographers save every single picture.  Don't do this ~ save only the quality pictures and toss out (delete) the rest.  What's left will be much more interesting then what you started with.  Typically, I discard 50% ~ 90% of all my pictures, leaving behind photos that I think are reasonably nice looking and/or interesting.  If you're not sure how to tell if a photo is worth saving or not, read on ~ these tips will help.

Use telephoto when photographing people.
You may have heard that the camera adds pounds to a person.  This is true, generally the camera adds up to 10 pounds to the average adult's apparent weight.  This effect can be reduced by stepping back, then taking your picture using the 105 mm. (or greater) setting with 35 mm. cameras, or the 3X (or greater) optical zoom setting with digital cameras.  If you take close ups or portraits of your subjects, these setting become VERY important ~ you don't want your friends or family to have "balloon" faces!

Frame your outdoor pictures.
Take a picture of a mountain.  Now take a picture of the same mountain, but before you do move around so that a bit of greenery from a tree shows along the top of the frame.  Or move in a different direction so that the trunk of a tree or a shrub shows along the left or right of the frame, then take the picture.  This technique is called "framing" and will improve just about any outdoor picture.

Do not center the picture on a person's face.
I'm not sure why, but many amateur photographers seem to place a person's face directly in the center of their frame, typically yielding a picture that cuts the person off half way down and shows a LOT of sky or wall above the subject.  This tip is simple, just ensure that a person's face is near the top of the frame before pushing the button.

Divide horizons in thirds.
The typical amateur will center the horizon in the picture's frame.  To make the picture more interesting, divide the picture in thirds; i.e. 1/3 sky and 2/3 landscape, or 2/3 sky and 1/3 landscape.

Take portraits of animals.
Pictures of your pets, animals in the zoo, birds, etc., can be quite a bit more interesting if you take the picture of your subject only from the neck up.  Of course a telephoto or zoom lens helps immeasurably.  Reread the "Use telephoto when photographing people" tip, since this information also applies to animals.

Have your subject do something.
Pictures of people or animals are nice, but they can be much more interesting if your subject is doing something besides standing or sitting there looking back at the camera.  Compare a picture of a person standing there looking at the photographer to a picture of the same person catching a baseball and you'll see what I mean.  Or compare a picture of a dog sitting in the grass to a picture of a dog jumping into a pool after a ball.  In reality, all a person has to do is to wave at the photographer and smile to make a picture more interesting!

Use natural light for indoor photos.
Of course this isn't always possible, but if it's daytime and you open your blinds to let more light in, you'll be surprised to find that there is often enough light to take photographs without using your flash.  This natural light will add a much more complimentary lighting to just about all indoor pictures compared to flash.

Never use the digital zoom.
It's nice to get really close to your subject through the use of features provided with your digital camera, but the typical digital zoom moves you closer to your subject at the cost of picture clarity.  Use the optical zoom only when taking pictures, then if you want to enlarge any part of the picture use software such as Adobe's Photo Shop.  Tip:  If you're shopping for a new digital camera, ensure that you get a 10X - 20X optical zoom and ignore any specifications that apply to the digital zoom.  Note that zoom lenses this size often are "stabilized".  Although stabilization is a very useful feature, it is not an absolute requirement.

Use ISO 100 with digital cameras.
Digital cameras generally offer ISO settings of "Auto" though ISO 1600 or thereabouts.  Use ISO 100 only in order to prevent fuzzy (noisy) pictures.

Shorten the camera strap.
Shorten your strap so the camera doesn't hang too far below your chin.  The camera will seem lighter, as well as being a shorter trip to your eye when want to take a picture.  Additionally, it won't bounce around as much when you're walking.

Install a neutral filter.
Purchase an inexpensive UV or Skylight filter, clean your lens carefully using a lens cloth and camel hair brush, clean both sides of the filter, install the filter, then leave it in place forever.  The filter will have only a tiny positive effect on your overall photos, but it will protect the lens from "bumps", as well as being substantially easier to clean than the lens.  Additionally, you may now stop using your lens cap!  :)

Use software to fix and/or enhance your pictures.
I've come to the conclusion that every photograph can be improved with the right software.  Full featured programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel PaintShop Pro Photo, etc. are good choices for software that will help make your photos better.  Buy a suitable program, then learn all you can about it by checking the publishers web pages for tutorials, tips, and message forums; read the program help docs, etc.  Once you become proficient with your program, you'll be amazed just how much improvement you can get from all your digital pictures.  I use Corel PaintShop Pro Photo (version X9) and can highly recommend it.  As well as being inexpensive, it is full featured and easy to use.  The following is an example of how a few minutes spent with PaintShop Pro Photo can improve a poor picture:





If you're interested in seeing a before/after rendering from the scan of a particularly bad slide, take a look at the following pictures:






Review this page again periodically.

After you've shot a few hundred pictures or so, come back and read all these tips again.  This will refresh your memory, as well as pointing out why some of your pictures may be better than others.

If anybody has any simple and practical tips they would like to add to this list, or has any before/after pictures that would help me better illustrate these tips, please contact me by clicking here or on the "Send E-mail" link below.



You may use any of the above pictures or text for any purpose and may do so without giving me credit.  Note that these pictures have been downsized for those with slow connection speeds.  If you'd like copies of the original JPG pictures, send me an E-mail telling me which pictures you want and I'll be happy to send the original pictures to you at no charge!

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