Digital Photography Tips

“The difference between great photographers and a not so great photographers is that the great ones don’t show their crappy pictures.” – Bill Boem

We’re often asked how we’re able to get good shots with our point-and-shoot cameras (older & newer). Here are a few pointers I’ve accumulated.

The Basics:
  • Learn how to use your camera. Read The Friendly Manual. Then read it again with the camera in your hand, trying stuff. Some tech writer poured a year of their life into that manual. Don’t settle for automatic modes. Someone as good-looking and intelligent as you is surely smarter than the camera’s software.
  • Now that you’ve read the manual, set the camera’s date and time.
  • If there’s more than one camera in the crowd, and you’re going to pool pictures, synchronize the date and time. More fun to sort pictures and easier to make movies if you hit the jackpot on an outing. If you neglect to synchronize, here’s an easy-to-use tool to correct the times.
  • No need to put the picture date in the picture (like you did for your film pictures) – it’s in the EXIF data stored with the image – along with a lot of other interesting data.
  • Vary the camera’s point of view. The eye level shot  has it’s place, but there are more possibilities. Get on your belly. Get on a chair or ladder. Use silhouettes. Get the camera underwater.
  • Learn the rule of thirds. Try it. Learn some other compositional techniques. Try something you haven’t heard of. It’s digital – try it and if it doesn’t work out – you have a delete key, right?
  • Take lots of shots. Let’s define “lots of shots” – hundreds (it’s digital now). Vet them harshly. Show only the best 10% or so. If you get better ratios than that, I want to learn from you.
  • Learn how to do simple photo editing. Crop. Rotate. Change the lighting. Go crazy. Think  you can’t afford a photo editor? Picasa 3 does a lot of stuff for free. GIMP is also free and offers a Photoshop level of ability for your more sophisticated editing needs.
Advanced Concepts:
Stuff I do all the time:
  • Outdoors, the camera is carried in Landscape mode with the focus set to infinity. Infinity to my camera is anything over 10 feet away. I’ve been burned too many times by auto focus. Landscape mode ensures maximum depth of field.
  • Playing with depth of field can be fun. Having a near object in focus and the background out of focus can make for dramatic shots. Try macro mode.
  • I know where to find the EV compensation quickly. A stop or two down in exposure often makes shots more dramatic. It’s also possible to go overboard with this.
  • A quick trick to use instead of EV compensation – if a scene is too bright, point the camera up towards the sky and press the shutter button halfway down. The camera has now metered the extra light and adjusted. Then frame the picture you want and press the button the rest of the way. This works the other way too – to lighten a picture, focus on a darker area. This could get tricky if you’re using auto focus.
  • In technical terrain, I have the camera tethered to me.
  • In low light (canyons, caves, dawn or dusk) rest a corner of the camera against something solid – like a rock – and press the shutter button gently. If you have people in the shot, they need to hold still.
  • Last trip we learned how important it is to keep the lens clean – easy to overlook amongst the sunblock, bug repellent, sweat, etc. Also when you take your camera out from underwater, it’s important to get water drops off the lens – unless you like the  dreamy look they give to photos.
  • First thing when I download pictures is to burn them unchanged onto an optical disk (CD or DVD) a thumb drive. Then I always have the originals. I worked on hard drives for 20 years and I basically expect them to crash at any moment.
  • After I  have the originals preserved, I fix the time stamps (if necessary) and rename all the files with this free-and-easy-to-use utility. In addition to quicker sorts (by NAME is much faster than by DATE), you can add a descriptive name to the picture file name.

Hope this little epistle helps. At the end of the day, the main thing is to have fun and make memories.

Professional Help:

It turns out that I don’t actually know everything. Here are some good links:

9 Responses to Digital Photography Tips

  1. Nice job Rick. Well written and informative.

    Come on though, do you really need to tether the camera in technical situations?

  2. Well, “need to” is subject to such subtleties in interpretation – and personal experience…

  3. Good photo tips. I especially liked the quote by Bill Boem and the great links in the Advanced Concepts area…learned some new techniques. Not sure about the black background or was it the small print…a little hard for me to read.

  4. Ah, young Grasshopper, luckily for you Master Po exists only to serve!

    Try “Ctrl +” a couple times and your small print woes will disappear.

    As you might guess, “Ctrl -” does the opposite. Those silly, logical programmers.

    And “Ctrl 0” (zero, not O) resets everything.

    This works for every web page I’ve tried it on.

    Alternatively, down at the drugstore, they have those really charming looking reading glasses…

  5. Avatar Deb Taylor
    Deb Taylor says:

    Thanks, for the tips. Especially the links to the info on histograms. When you and Anna were trying to explain them the other night you may as well have been talking to the wall… or perhaps the dog. I am such a visual learner, the pictures with the corresponding histograms and explanations were great. Now I get it! Thanks for the inspiration. I spent all afternoon playing with my photos on Picassa. I actually tried some of the special effects and came up with some really cool artsy fartsy photos and was able to correct a few that I thought had no hope. You may have created a monster. My next goal is to learn how to use photo shop elements. Oh, glad to hear you are enjoying the shirt. We knew you would… sick sick sick! 🙂 The tip for making the writing on this page bigger was also very helpful. Geez, I think my brain may explode. Those synapses are doing the cha-cha Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? 🙂 Deb

  6. Outstanding – learning new tricks make this worthwhile. Thanks for letting me know. 😉

  7. If you want to be fancy, hold control and scroll the scroll button on your mouse forward or backward to increase/decrease font size on most websites.

    I did not notice any mention of white balance. IMO white balance should not be neglected.

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