How to Take Better Pictures – Part 1

From time to time I have people ask for advice concerning taking pictures. I realized that even though a lot of the basics seem simple to me, that there is a whole world of folks out there who are just mystified by the whole concept of cameras and good photography. If you are one of those people then this post will be for you. If you are a Camel (and if you’re not sure if you are or not then you aren’t) move along; I have nothing to teach you.

The first and most obvious question I get is what camera is good. My answer is the one you have. You just have to realize that it has limitations. It will serve you well and give you excellent shots if you just understand that there are just certain things it cannot and should not be expected to do.

Now unless you are old school and still use a film camera, you probably own a pocket-size digital point and shoot that has a brand like Canon, Nikon, Kodak, Sony, Fuji, Casio, etc. All of these are well made and very capable little machines. But none of them will produce a great image straight out of camera (SOOC). My big professional DSLR will not produce it’s best image SOOC either. For that it needs to have a little basic photo editing done to it.

Now this sounds scary to a lot of people. For instance I use Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Lightroom 2.5, Photomatix, and several other very nifty Photoshop plugins. Photoshop is the industry standard for image editing. It also has a learning curve so steep that it might be easier for a ‘Bama fan to quit being obnoxious than for the average person to master Photoshop.  I promise you I haven’t even come close to mastering it, but after several years of using it, I can do a lot of things.

Fortunately you don’t need Photoshop unless you are going for advanced photo editing. My suggestion is to use Google’s free and excellent software called Picasa. It is easy to use and even the most basic tools can make a tremendous difference in your images. Did I mention that it is free?

I’m gonna show you just how easy using Picasa really is. Here is an image I took about a year ago that is SOOC. Nothing has been done to it at all.

DSC_1468

Notice that it looks underexposed. Now if you’re like me you see hundreds of these sorts of pictures everyday on Facebook. They’re dark, they’re in a nutshell just awful. But notice what happens to this image when I use the one click Auto-Contrast button in Picasa’ “Basic Fix” tab.

DSC_1468edit

See how my beautiful wife just pops out of the image while the background stays dark? All that from one click in Picasa. So easy that even a ‘Bama fan should be able to do it with no problem.

One other thing I like to do is crop my pictures. You can do that in Picasa very easily too. I cropped it to an 8 x 10 format and included everything in the picture I thought was important. I didn’t feel like I needed everything and cropping in tighter would only improve this image. Take a look:

DSC_1468crop

Some of the other thingsPicasa will do with one click is convert your images to B/W or sepia, add glow, sharpen, and saturation to your images. I’d play with some of this stuff because it’s a lot of fun, but one word of warning. An occasional picture which screams I’ve been manipulated is okay, but your goal is to make your images as realistic looking as possible so it’s best to avoid doing every image that way.

And I’ll end this on a note of caution. If you plan on sending off your digital image files to be printed, don’t downsize them. Leave them at full resolution. When you downsize them, the image drops out pixels and reduces your resolution. It’s okay to do for Facebook but for printing, be sure you don’t.

Next time I will discuss which lighting situations to avoid and which lighting situations to seek out.

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2 Responses to “How to Take Better Pictures – Part 1”

  1. I’ve never used any type of editing software….most people use it way too much.

    Raven
    http://cherokeebydesign.wordpress.com/

  2. theworldofmojo Says:

    Raven your work is excellent!!!!! I do think the majority of digital images can be improved by a little contrast or levels adjustment.

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