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How Does A Beginner Like Me Become A Better Photographer?

Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 5:56 pm
by ctyanky
Can you professional photographers please offer some simple hints/advice on how I even start to take better photos? After looking at all of your photos, I want to improve upon what I am currently doing or not doing.

I just don't want to take my camera out anymore, find a nice shot, point and shoot and then go home and not be impressed at all. :? There is always something in the picture that messes it up. ie. the rear of a car sticking out from the side of a photo, half a person, etc. For example, bm and I went to Richmond to the Round Church. I couldn't wait to take that shot! A photographer was there and told me to be careful from where I took the photo or it would come out like it was leaning backwards! And that it did! Things like this would help!!! :P (Like I said, I am A BEGINNER!!! :shock: )

I would at least like to have one or two "wow" photos. The only good ones I have are from sheer luck. I am cultivating an interest now so this is why I am asking.

First of all, should I spend an hour or so and thoroughly read my manual on my camera (Canon Power Shot SD1000) and then take an introduction to digital photography class? (offered this winter at my local community center). Also, Phil gave me a G9 last year and it's time to use it. I hardly used it at all this season. :roll:

For example, what simple things should I be thinking about before I even take a picture? Carol has talked to me about framing here and there and I tried it and enjoyed it. I love taking pictures of anything that is very New Englandy: farms, farm animals, farm stands, foliage, stone walls especially, and so on.

Can you offer a few steps and/or any easy-to-follow advice that might help someone like me, just starting out on the road you have all seemed to excel on? Or should I get to this class fast!!! :wink:

I want to keep up with the rest of you on the reunion next year and have something to show for it!

Please take me under your wing, I need help!

Or should I disappear now and stick to blogging! :wink:

Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 6:56 pm
by MrBumps

I think the first thing I would do is find some books of basic photography. Get a good understanding of "exposure". Learn how the shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO setting relate to, and effect your exposure. You will begin to understand that you will want a high shutter speed to stop action, or a slow shutter speed to give that flowing stream a "soft, silky" look. High ISO settings may be needed to get a high shutter speed, however that my introduce "digital noise" to your image. I could go on-and-on here. There are almost always trade-offs in the choices you make.

Whether using film or digital, you need to understand exposure! That is the biggest problem I have encountered with new photographers, especially when all they have ever used is digital. They don't understand exposure. They just use the LCD on the camera to see if the picture "came out", and don't understand how to change the camera settings to improve the shot.

You will also want to learn how to use whatever "tools" your camera provides you with to see if you are exposing your image properly. Does your camera have a histogram, does it have a "flashing highlights" screen? Can you set your exposure manually on your camera, or do you have to use a "pre-set" mode of some type?

Once you understand exposure, and how your camera works, you can work on your technique, and compositions. There are also many good books on composition. For some people it comes natural, others(like me) have to work at it.

Join a photo club if there is one nearby. Join some on-line photo critique groups. You post your shots, along with your exposure settings, and what you were trying to accomplish, and others can give you pointers. This way, if you aren't getting the results you wanted, or expected, you will find out why!

As you get better, you may want better equipment. At least a DSLR so you can change lenses. There are many DSLR kits out there for prices as low as point-and-shoots.

Keep shooting and don't get discouraged!

And if you don't have a tripod, get one! The best one you can afford!

Hope I didn't give you information overload!


Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 8:18 pm
by ctyanky
Rich: Thank you for your response. You are right. I need to get a basic book on photography first. I just looked through the manual for the first camera (not the G9 yet) on shutter speed, ISO, etc. and it tells me how to do everything but not why and when. I need to understand all these terms first and maybe a narrative in a book will guide me through what I want to do with my pictures. I found the manual confusing. I'm more of a hands-on learner. (I'll concentrate on "exposure" section).

There is so much to learn and I first need to start from scratch by simply knowing what all these photography terms mean! Once I do that, I think I can go back and understand the manual and experiment with some pictures. So with the monsoon coming this Saturday to New England, I'm off to the library to pick out one or maybe two basic books.

mmvt: Thank you for your response. Like you said, experimenting is probably the key here. I'll admit, I've been "afraid" to use the camera, the powershot as well as the G9, with all their settings, etc. Phil can attest to that! He actually took most of the pics on the G9 he gave ME, I'm embarrassed to say!

It may be because I haven't actually understood what he or anyone was talking about and just gave up! :wink:

Thank you both, again for these helpful hints. Maybe I'll get hooked like everyone else!!!

Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 8:55 pm
by autzig
CT, I'll add my 2 cents worth here and since you already have gotten some excellent advice about understanding your tools, here are some other things to think about.

So why was the church leaning? When you are shooting straight on, the sensor plane is parallel to the subject. When the church didn't fit into the viewfinder, you tipped your camera so you could get the entire building. When you tipped the camera, the sensor plane was no longer parallel to the building. It isn't the church that was leaning it was your camera. Making a shot of a tall building that isn't leaning is very difficult. You either need to shoot from a higher position, (like the hill in the church cemetery), carry a tall ladder or use a tilt and shift lens. As I said, there are few good options. You could use a wide angle lens and keep the film plane parallel to the subject, but then the building looks too far away. How about taking a photo of an interesting subject in front of the church. That way you get a great photo with the church in the background. In fact, it may be the church in the background that makes the great photo.

Here are a few more thoughts. Determine the subject of your photo and fill the frame with it. Too many people point their cameras at a subject and shoot. Most of the time the subject only fills about 25% of the photo. It should fill 80% of the frame. If your subject is a cow along Mack's Mountain road, fill the frame with the cow. (Actually, I think you did that pretty well.) But, is the subject really the cow? A photo of a cow is like a photo of a person. Portraits of people are usually of the person's face not just a shot of the person. Try filling the frame with the cow's face. That might well make a much more compelling photograph. It is no longer a picture of a cow, but a portrait of the cow, one that shows its personality, one that you might want to get to know better...well, you get the idea.

One of the key rules of photography is to place the center of interest in a thirds position. Here's what I mean. Imagine your viewfinder is a piece of paper. Divide it into thirds by drawing horizontal lines across it. Now do the same thing using vertical lines. There will be four points where the lines intersect. Put your subject in the viewfinder at any one of those four intersections. While that rule isn't absolute, applying it will generally make for far better photographs than when the subject is smack dab in the middle of the frame.

A tripod is essential. You can put your camera on the tripod and look through the viewfinder. Before making your exposure, look for junk that you don't want in the photo. If you can see a Coke can or other garbage in the viewfinder, pick that stuff up so it isn't in your photograph. Look at the corners in the viewfinder. If there is something there that you don't want in your photo get rid of it. If another photographer has his tripod in the way, wait until he moves or get in his face and tell him to get out of your way.

One last thought. Remember that the eye is drawn to the brightest part of the photo. Don't include areas in your photo that are brighter than your subject. For example, don't shoot a white lighthouse against a white sky. If it is a cloudy day, shoot against the darkest clouds. A white lighthouse against a white sky will prove you were there, but it won't generate a great photograph.


Posted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 5:43 am
by ctyanky
Hey Al: Thank you for all these ideas. There is a lot to absorb. I had to look up sensor plane. :roll: Now I know why the three shots of the church I took looked like the Leaning Tower of Pizza!

In the past I've always put the subject in the center. Guess I didn't know better! This "thirds" idea is great. I'll try it. With that cow on Macks Mountain I was trying to use Carol's framing idea and get the red leaves at the top and also the whole cow at the trough. Maybe the fact that I'm trying to get the "whole picture" for others to see is really not working. Getting too much in there spoils it. When I take a picture or look at others I often like a picture to tell a story. Now I understand what you mean by filling the picture with a higher percentage of the subject. For a beginner, I was intending not to lose too much, but in fact I really was.

Being a tourist, my thought on taking pictures was to take back as much in the photo for others to see "my vacation". I see your point of view now. These ideas you've given me will make for a more appealing photo.

Also, on the lighting, I'll remember that hint as well.

So much to learn!

Al, thanks for chiming in..............

I'll wait on the tripod until I pass the first few tests! :wink:

Posted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 9:44 am
by Andy
Well . . . . I am late to the show, here. You cannot learn from two better sources than Rich and Al. I haven't really ever taken any formal training. However, I have been exposed (pun intended, of course!) to some very good teachers. I have had the opportunity to have a portfolio critiqued by a "pro" some years back and I took 4/5 of the New York Institute of Photography correspondence course a few years back (I just couldn't get excited about the "glamour" and commercial portrait part -- so I never finished). But what I did do was learn -- alot (and that was after I had been shooting for over 20 years). We are all always learning. Its just a matter of where we are on the curve.

I will add my vote that "exposure" is probably the number one issue that a beginner must overcome. What has perhaps made it more difficult is that modern cameras do a much better job of making decisions for you than the equipment many of of started with (my first SLR did not have a built in exposure meter at all). BUT -- the important comment here is "the camera ......making decisions." That's really not what a good photographer wants. YOU should make those decisions and no matter how sophisticated the equipment -- or not -- understanding the fundamentals of how Exposure actually works is critical to proper use of the tools. I would bet that both Al and Rich could actually make a pretty good judgment of proper exposure without a meter if they absolutely had to. That comes from understanding the basic rules.

I will also add my vote that a TRIPOD is critical. I agree with Rich. Get the best one you can afford. But get one! The reason for a tripod is that when you start making conscious choices about exposure, you will often NEED to shoot at slower shutter speeds. This will translate the "shake" of even the steadiest hands to the image. The result will be a blurry image. Often you do not see that lack of sharpness until you start to look closely at the image at a viewable size back at home. But it WILL be there.

If you are going to shoot from a tripod, you might as well also plan to get a remote shutter release. To a large extent "touching" the camera which has been fixed to a tripod can defeat the purpose of a sturdy, fixed base. Sometimes you can use your "self-timer" but in the end, you will appreciate the remote. Plus, with a remote like the one Carol has, you can even do that "group photo" and be in it!

In my experience, the "TRIPOD" issue is the "deal breaker" for most people. I tried to help my sister move along from a P&S to more "serious" photography -- at her request. She bought a DSLR and I gave her a tripod. I don't think she ever even unfolded the Tripod. She is now looking at "trading" the DSLR for a G9 type camera. But frankly, in Landscape and Nature Photography, in my opinion, you are not going to get any of those "WOW" photogaphs without.

I am excited when someone decides they want to become a better photographer. Don't relegate yourself to blogging. Do come here and ask questions. And you know at least a couple of us who will gladly entertain your questions in PM. Have at it!

This is a great discussion and I hope we continue to dialog here! Thanks folks for your participation and support.

Posted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 3:46 pm
by faxmachineanthem
I'm certainly no pro but I was in your shoes a couple years ago, so hopefully I can help a bit. Fortunately in this hobby there's no shortage of people who are willing to teach. Probably because it's so hard to make a living with photography that even very talented pros have to earn some money through books and workshops.

Although it can seem intimidating at first with all the terminology, photography isn't rocket science. While there's always new stuff to learn, I think the most important fundamentals of landscape photography can easily be learned with a year of reasonable reading and practice.

This is the path I've followed, and I think it has helped me to improve pretty quickly. First, I've done a lot of reading. I'm fortunate (in some ways!) to have a desk job where I'm not always too busy, so I have time to browse photography sites both for inspiration and for learning. I've also read a few very helpful books. My reading suggestions are:

1) Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. A great beginners book that clearly explains the fundamentals of exposure. He repeats his themes often and applies them to different situations. It's not a long read, but by the end of it you should understand the basics very well. The one problem with this book is that it was written before digital, so it doesn't go into the most important digital tool for evaluating exposure which is the histogram. However, there are many good articles on the web to learn about using histograms.

2) Photographing the World Around You by Freeman Patterson. This book is all about composition. Which is as important as learning exposure. Another easy read that will give you plenty to think about when you're looking through your viewfinder.

3) An active internet photo forum. Try to read a few topics each day. I like the forums at There are tons of other sites such as the forums on Flickr,, etc. I don't read them as much as I used to, but as a beginner it was great to read the questions and answers. If you learn (or re-learn) one or two little things each day about photography, I think that's an effective way to learn. It just keeps your mind on photography on the days you don't have time to pick up a book or your camera.

4) Consider taking a workshop or two from a known photographer. I waited until I already had learned the basics to do this. It helped me a lot with a few practical things such as using my tripod and some filters. I also learned some really helpful techniques in post-processing software.

5) Finally and perhaps most importantly, try to schedule some photography based trips to apply what you read. I learn best by reading about a couple concepts and then applying them intensively for 2 days or more. It's tough for a concept to sink into my brain if I read it, snap a few pictures, and then put the camera down for a couple weeks. However, I feel that every time I go on a trip to a beautiful place such as Vermont, I'm able to solidify one or two new techniques or concepts that I have read about.

Some websites and articles that I like: ... rams.shtml

I hope this helps!

Posted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 3:59 pm
by faxmachineanthem
I should also add, that I agree with the previous comment about buying a DSLR. While I don't enjoy recommending spending hard-earned money, I think make the switch from a P&S to a DSLR was really important in my development. It doesn't need to be a high end camera. I use a Nikon D40 and it does everything I want it to. With the kit lens (which I still use for about 75% of my photos) it's about $470. Since then I've probably invested another $1,000 in a few lenses and a tripod.

That said, if you're P&S has manual controls such as an aperture priority mode, and the ability to view histograms, you can try to stick with it before making the plunge into DSLR. I just think DSLR's, on top of having some picture quality advantages. are set up better to learn photography.

Posted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 6:49 pm
by ctyanky
Andy: Thank you for all the information you have given me. I was hesitant to even pose this question on a forum I rarely visit to start with, but everyone here has such passion with their photography! I know that as your co-blogger on SOV, you've been pretty darn patient with me on some of my "very" basic internet questions! You are a great teacher. If you rolled your eyeballs just "alittle" on some of my questions, at least I didn't see it!!!! :wink:

You are also very inspiring and supportive and you have done a lot for the photography forum to get it where it is today.

FAX: Thank you for this list! It is very concise and organized. I agree with you that I have some reading to do. That's what I'm going to do first. Read, play around with the camera and practice. These websites are great!

I can't believe you've gotten to where you are now in just a couple of years! Your photos are amazing. Thanks for taking the time to answer here. Step 4 and 5 seem to be what I would pursue if I do develop this hobby. Only time will tell. But they are great ideas. I like how you outlined your thoughts from a simple to more involved scenario.

Thanks again.

Posted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:13 am
by Andy
CT: Thanks for your words. When I asked Tim to let me set this up, my vision was that it would be a friendly place where photographers who particularly had New England in common (in any small way) would come and discuss topics. It finally seems to be gaining some momentum, now with folks like Al, Rich, and now FAX and others. I think that is great and hope it continues.

An, Me too, FAX! Wow. It has taken me over 30 years to get where I am, and I can still see uphill ahead of me. But take heart, CT, because our friend Carol is in the same track as FAX. She shifted just in the last year to a DSLR, and judging from her recent Maine portfolio, it is clearly possible to become a very good photographer in a short time if you put your mind to it.

I agree with FAX. Its not rocket science. But it is science and you have to have an affinity for at least a little bit of that. That can be learned. The artistic part can be learned, too, but I think some have more natural talent in that area than I. I agree with Rich that I have to really work at that part of it.

I don't remember if he mentioned it, but there is a really good piece on histograms on the Luminous Landscape site (not at my own computer so don't have a link -- but there is a link in the "links" section of my website).

I like his thought. Learn one or two small things at a time. You are getting many votes for Bryan Peterson's book "Understanding Exposure." I would say thats a sure thing.

Posted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:45 am
by MrBumps
Speaking of books! One of my favorite photographers is Art Wolf. He has a book he co-wrote back in 1993 called "The Art of Photographing Nature". It pre-dates digital for sure, but I learned more about composition in that one book than everything else I had ever read. I highly recommend it! ... 064&sr=8-1

Posted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 9:26 am
by faxmachineanthem
Yes, Art Wolf really is great. I didn't know about that book-- I may check it out. Have you seen Art Wolf's travel photography tv show Travels to the Edge? I think it's on PBS. It's pretty inspirational.

Posted: Sat Oct 24, 2009 2:01 pm
by pwt54
Practice, Practice, and then Practice some more. Forget about all of the great tips these folks have mentioned for a the first month. First you have to get familar with the G-9. You have a point and shoot camera with a bunch of pre set shooting modes. The camera has a limited amount of manual settings. The most important setting for a foliage fanatic is the underwater setting in the "SCN" (scenery) mode. You will find the SCN on the dial on top of the camera. So first read the manual that came with the camera. Learn about the exposure setting. Don't worry about the F-stop setting because you only have few settings to play with. Shutter speed will be more important for a point and shoot. The Macro setting can be fun when shooting flowers and some times butterflies, if they stay still long enough. You will also need photo editing software. It doesn't matter how great the camera is, there will be very few photos that are taken that won't need a little touch up. You don't need to buy software right now. Download the free " photoscape" software. This is a great photo editing software for beginners and even advanced picture takers like me. It may look complicated, but don't let it scare you. In the filters section of this software, look for the "film effect" setting and try these effects on a photo. In the bright color section look for Erode and Dilate settings and try those. Just get in there and play around with the camera and software and have fun. Then when you feel confident try everything the folks above have suggested. You won't be able to do everything they suggest with then point and shoot G-9, but you will be able to do a lot. It wouldn't surprise me that you will get the "bug" and the confidence in no time and will just have to but a big DSLR before next foliage season.