How to be a great photographer without buying a new camera.

I’m sometimes asked what kind of camera I recommend someone to buy.  I usually ask them a couple questions about what they want from a new camera and typically people just want to take better photos.  A new camera will not take better photos for you!  A photo is a mixture of composition, lighting, and subject.  A camera is just a tool to piece those things together.  The camera does not make the photographer.   The best camera is the one in your hands.  Use your camera phone, your point and shoot, or your digital SLR; it doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is that you’re shooting and enjoying it.

Public Domain: Tetons by Ansel Adams, 1942 (National Parks Service/NARA)

Ansel Adams took this photo in 1942 and remains incredible with time. A photographer took that photo, not a camera.

Here are 5 things you can learn with your current camera to make you a better photographer.

1. Composition is how the visual elements of your image are arranged.  With even the cheapest toy camera you can practice some of the techniques.  There are no rules in art, but there are plenty of guidelines that can be applied to different scenes to add impact.  The details of them are beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re interested, just do some research about “rule of thirds,” framing, leading lines, symmetry and patterns, and balance.

2. Lighting is understand light levels in a scene and how they will be expressed on camera.  With practice you will be able to look around your immediate area identifying color temperature, light sources, angle of shadows, as well as any lighting issues. Use the sun to your advantage.  The golden hour refers to the time of day one hour after sunrise, and one hour before sunset.  This is when you will see extreme color changes as the sun sits on the horizon.  Lighting has to do with artificial lighting as well.  Using flash can add to a photo or take from it.

Rays of light in Guatemala.

The low lying sun in the early AM let me capture these sun beams in San Pedro, Guatemala.

3. Understanding the limits of your camera will let your use it to full potential.  Learn about all of the settings on your camera.  While it may seem intimidating, reading the manual for your camera can teach you a lot!  Sit down with your camera and take the time to learn about each of the settings.  Each one is doing something different and each one can be used to capture your moment exactly how you see fit.  Don’t be afraid of manual controls if you can access them.  Figure out what each setting does and learn to apply them to different scenes.

4. Processing is what puts the final touches on your images.  The digital photographer has this much easier by being able to simply plug in a USB cord and start working on their photos.  Post processing doesn’t necessarily have to deal with extreme changes in software like Adobe Photoshop.  I recommend newbies download a free program like picassa to get their feet wet in post processing.  Simply adding a bit of saturation, or adjusting white balance can go a long way to making your images pop.  Sometimes we’re limited by our hardware and these programs help us overcome that.

 5.  Taking lots of pictures is the best thing you can do to becoming a better photographer.  All skills require practicing in order to improve them and photography is no different.  With digital cameras being small and portable, it’s easy to always have one with you.  With improvements in technology, camera phones have given us the ability to capture stunning photos without the hassle of carrying around tons of gear.  There are even a slew of smart phone applications that can give you a wide range of post processing results.  I really like instagram because it gives me the ability to process and post online with simplicity.  It lets me just take photos.

photo of a camera taking a photo of someone else taking a photo of starry night

A photo of a camera taking a photo of another person taking a photo of a painting of a starry night.

Make a conscious effort to implement these into your photography routine and you will start to see improvements right away.  Practicing will make them become second nature and you will find yourself with a lot more keepers.  Open yourself to the art and don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques.  Share with others for feedback and encouragement and lets all help each other succeed.

  • Doc

    Ahhh THAT’S where I go wrong!!!