How to Take Good Pictures

One of the questions that I continuously get from some of my friends and blog readers that just got into photography is “How can I take good pictures with what I have, without spending too much money on new cameras and lenses?”. Ever since DSLRs became more affordable and people started buying entry-level DSLRs, there has been a great interest in photography from the general public. One big obstacle everybody runs against at one point or another, is the fact that when most professional photographers show the equipment they used to make great-looking images, it creates an impression that only expensive gear can produce great photographs. What happens from there, really boils down to the wallet and how serious a person wants to get into photography – some start buying expensive gear and thinking it will help them to take good pictures and improve their photography, while others hold off and just keep their DSLRs as “point and shoots”, realizing that they can’t do any better with what they have.

Sunset SunflowerNIKON D3S + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 38mm, ISO 3200, 1/50, f/8.0

It is not necessary to have expensive gear to produce great-looking images. I always tell people when they purchase their first DSLR camera, that “an entry-level DSLR will get you 90% there”. Sure, professional equipment is always going to be better and faster than entry-level gear, after all, that’s why it is called “professional”. However, some entry-level cameras such as the Nikon D5000 get very close or, according to some reviews, even surpass professional cameras such as D300 in terms of image quality and noise. The biggest difference between non-professional and professional gear nowadays is a set of advanced features, not necessarily just the quality of the camera sensor. Compared to entry-level DSLRs, professional DSLRs typically have the most options, have more durable shutters and faster frame rates, can handle abnormal temperatures/humidity, have faster processing speed, better auto-focus, etc. “Top of the line” professional gear (such as Nikon D3X/D3S/D3) provide lower noise levels, better dynamic range and higher image quality – all due to a larger full-frame sensor, whereas all entry-level DSLRs in the market today have “crop factor” sensors. Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs have 1.5x crop factor, whereas Canon entry-level DSLRs have a 1.6x crop factor. But forget about crop factors, sensor types and other technical junk – ask yourself one question: who would have a better painting, a great artist with a mediocre brush or a newbie with the most advanced brush on the planet? The answer is obvious…a camera is just a tool in a photographer’s toolbox. Now, give that same advanced brush to the great artist and he will create even better paintings. That’s why professional photographers buy the best gear – because they know how to get the most out of it.

Anyway, this article is not about discussing camera gear. Let’s move on to how you can utilize what you have today and learn how to take good pictures.

1) Don’t Leave Your Camera at Home

This might sound awkward, but how good is your camera if you leave it at home? I have missed so many great photo opportunities just because I forgot to take the camera with me. Whether it is something silly or totally unique, having a camera with you might get you those rare, once-in-a-lifetime moments.

2) Take Lots of Pictures

The more you photograph, the more you learn – as simple as that. Use every opportunity to capture images, whether it is early in the morning or late at night. By taking lots of pictures, you will start to understand how to use your camera in different lighting conditions and what works and what doesn’t. At the same time, when your pictures do not come out as good, you will start doing more research and reading articles, books, magazines and online forums to try to find a solution to your problem. Eventually, you will learn from your mistakes and will gain a great deal of knowledge on how to use your gear effectively.

3) Visit Local Zoos, Botanic Gardens, Butterfly Pavilions and Animal Sanctuaries

Photographing wildlife can get very expensive and potentially risky. If you do not own a long telephoto lens, you can try checking out your local zoo or animal sanctuary for great photo opportunities. Bigger zoos with plenty of open space are great for photography, because fences and other man-made objects are not as noticeable. You can get pretty close to some animals and capture great moments.

Great Horned OwlNIKON D300 @ 200mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/5.0

Botanic gardens and butterfly pavilions are great for macro/close-up photography. You can experiment with flowers, butterflies and other insects at different times of the day and not only learn a lot during the process, but also capture beautiful images. Everybody loves flowers and butterflies!

4) Join Local and Online Photography Clubs and Shoot with the Pros

Search online for photography clubs in your area and you will most likely find at least several local photography clubs. Many of those clubs are either free or have very small monthly membership fees. Join one or several of those clubs and not only will you learn from other photographers, but also you will get access to valuable information on local events that might be worth attending and photographing. Find advanced photographers and pros, who are really good at what they do and ask if you can assist them in any of their jobs. You’ll be surprised by how friendly and helpful many of the photographers are and you will learn a lot from those folks.

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