I'm not a professional photographer. I'm an avid amateur. I don't own an expensive DSLR camera. I have a point-and-shoot that cost just over $200. I've never taken a photography class, but I've learned a lot through trial and error. I won't be using a lot of technical jargon in this article. I'll leave the f-stops and aperture settings to the pros. What I am going to do is share 10 things that you can do right now, with just about any camera that you have, to improve your picture-taking skills.
1. Get the best camera that you can afford. If you're just starting out, you don't need all the bells and whistles of the higher-end cameras on the market. All those features can be overwhelming, so keep it simple.
2. Use natural light whenever possible. If you're inside, try to position your subject near a window or other natural light source. If you aren't sure whether or not you have enough natural light, take one photo with the flash and another without it.
3. Get in close. If you want a close-up shot, the best thing to do is get as close to your subject as possible. If you can't get close, you can use the zoom function on your camera, if it has one. I know I said that I wouldn't get technical, but I'm going to make this exception. (This is as technical as I'm going to get. I promise.) An optical zoom will give better results than a digital zoom. A word of warning, though. You need to have a steady hand when using the zoom function, because any movement will result in a blurry photo. Here is where the next tip comes in handy.
4. Hold your breath. Seriously. Try it. You can breathe out after you've snapped the photo. It works for me almost every time. It helps you to keep the camera steady.
5. Take more than one picture of the shot. If I know that I want a really good photo of someone/something, then I take four or five of the same shot. Now that most of us use digital cameras, we don't have to worry about "wasting the film." We can print only the pictures that we want.
6. Be aware of your background. You know those photos of Uncle Joe that look as if he has a plant growing out of his head? We all have them, don't we? When you're taking a picture, take a quick look around to make sure that there isn't anything in the background that will make your photo appear strange.
7. Smile - you're on Candid Camera! (OK, I might be giving away my age here.) Honestly, though, the best photos I've ever taken are candid shots. Sure, you want to snap those family photos of the whole gang together; and they do have their place, of course. However, try taking some photos when your subject isn't aware that you've got a camera pointed at him/her. You'll be able to capture expressions and moments that just can't be posed.
8. "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be JPEGs." Don't keep your photos trapped on your camera and other devices. Print them on a regular basis. Even if you pick only a few each month, get them printed. Then they will be all set to go when you're ready to scrapbook, and you will have a "hard copy" of your photos, just in case something happens to the disk or camera.
9. Back up your photos on a regular basis. You don't want to lose all those photos if something does happen to your equipment. Although you will have printed the best, it's still a devastating experience to lose hundreds of photos because of an accident or a lost disk or camera. What I do is create a back-up file on my laptop at the end of each month, and I put all of my photos in a monthly folder. Every few months, I burn them onto a disk. Plus I have them stored on "the Cloud." (More on that, as well as cell phone cameras, in a future article.)
10. Take it off "Autopilot." I use the Auto setting on my camera for most of my shots, but I do like to experiment with other settings as well. I'm getting pretty good at using the Portrait and Action settings. I'm still having a little bit of shake with the Macro setting, but it's all about practicing. Try taking the same shot using the Auto setting and another special setting that your camera has. This is where reading the manual that came with your camera will be useful.
I hope that these simple tips will help you take better photos. Remember that you don't have to have professional quality photos to have good photos. Try to take the best photos that you can, and keep experimenting. Oh, and here are two simple bonus tips that I learned the hard way: 1.) Always carry an extra set of batteries with you. 2.) Make sure that you have a memory card in your camera before you leave home. Happy snapping!