In this blog I’ve mentioned that I love taking pictures. I mean, I really love it. That said, I am still in the learning process of taking decent pictures. You know, pictures you would be proud to post on Facebook (or one of the many sites for people like me who are addicted to wasting time) and not have to claim that somebody else took them. And, by the way, I’ve seen some pictures posted on these social sites that make mine look GOOD.
I am pretty decent at learning technical things, given enough time, and I am in good company when it comes to enjoying taking pictures and wanting to take good ones. Many people are not ready for the really technical side of taking pictures, and feel that too much of that, at this point in their experience, takes the fun out of it for them. I can sympathize, and have discovered some things that have helped my picture-taking ability without being overly technical.
Maybe (or not) some of my experience so far will be of help to others who just enjoy taking pictures of things they love but don’t have a degree in it or anything–here are a few things that I am trying to learn to watch out for:
With Outdoor Pictures–
If you like taking outdoor still pictures, you have to work around the fact that things outdoors do not stay still. Wind, pets, other people’s pets, cars passing by, etc., are things I sometimes forget to think about ahead of time that can alter the environment a person is taking a picture of.
I must have taken 100 close-up shots of a drop of water dripping off of a leaf on our front yard bush, and only got one picture that was barely passable. Wind kept shifting the position of the droplet, raindrops kept getting on my camera, the dog kept knocking me over, I had to stop to put the dog in the house, my hands were getting numb from the cold, and on and on. And, luckily, that brave little raindrop kept hanging on to that leaf.
Wind, Rain, Raindrops on the camera lens
Any time you take pictures of the great outdoors, you have to learn to be impervious to weather and repetition, and be patient. Be aware that you may have to take many pictures to get “the” picture, or at least one that is usable. And to make sure that you can take all the pictures you need to, invest in an SD card with a lot of room for your camera. Mine is an 8 GB one and I have rarely run out of room on it while I was taking pictures.
Speaking of outdoor photography, how many times have you tried to take a great picture of a scene along life’s highways and byways and caught a vehicle passing through your shot just as you pushed down the shutter button? Snap. And there’s your picture of a gorgeous sunset with a City Utilities truck on one side sticking out like a zit on a forehead. You get my drift–life does not hold still for the camera. Sigh. So be patient and keep trying.
With Indoor Pictures–
They can be a pain. One time they’ll turn out great, and the next time (same time of day, same camera settings) the picture will be washed-out, green, dark, blurred or whatever you don’t want it to be. Try as I might, I can’t always get it right, and sometimes I decide that my camera is the problem. Well, it makes me feel better to think that. And don’t discourage yourself thinking Photoshop will cure every bad picture and then be disappointed when it doesn’t. Some photos are just DOA right out of the camera, and that happens to everyone who takes pictures, even the pros.
Part of the difference is that indoor lighting can change on a day-to-day, or even minute-by-minute, basis. Natural light, incandescent light, fluorescent light, dim light, bright light, etc. Many cameras have adjustments to accommodate for these different light sources, and then some of the light variations have to be adjusted on your computer with a photo processing program that may be included with the software provided with your camera, or with programs like Photoshop or a popular free alternative to Photoshop, Gimp.
To increase your chances of getting a good picture to start out with, try to flood as much natural light into the room as possible. As far as I can tell, it is the most flattering light for photographs. I’ve also found that it matters where the light source is coming from. A window, for instance, which is located behind the subject you are photographing will create backlighting, which is more difficult to work around. A light source located behind the camera will flood light onto your subject, but since you are standing between the light source and your subject, watch out that you are not casting a shadow on your subject. Also be attentive to the intensity of light, and that the bright light may be washing out your subject if there is too much of it. Light coming from the side of your subject is generally the easiest to work with, if you are able to position yourself accordingly.
If you find that you need to process a photo on the computer, there are many programs available, including the two I mentioned above. I use the one that comes with my camera in addition to Gimp, naturally. If it’s free, I’m willing to try it! Copy your original photo, then try to alter the copy. It always pays to back up your originals.
Camera settings and photo software programs can be very daunting until one learns them, and lots of patience is required. For instance, I have used nonessential (dud) pictures to practice with Gimp, one feature at a time, until I learned what I could do with each feature. An example of this: To sharpen not-so-sharp images, I have discovered a great tool in Gimp called Unsharp Mask. The name fooled me for a long time because I thought that the word “unsharp” meant, well, less sharp. When I found out the opposite was true and started to learn how to use it, I got all excited and would get a little heavy-handed with it. By the time a processed photograph made every pore on someone’s nose sharply defined and environments were looking like eerie places far, far away, I knew I needed to calm down a little. It’s a learning process and one just has to allow themselves to make mistakes and know that many folks before them have made the same ones. Again, just be patient with yourself — it’s worth it. Later on, if you want to really get into indoor picture-taking, you can invest in professional lighting, equipment and software programs and learn techniques to use them.
Another huge help for the beginning photographer who wants to take decent pictures: Invest in a tripod. Even a rinky-dink one is better than nothing. I’m using my son’s telescope tripod that he left behind when he decided he was man enough to go live with his sister. Some of my pictures still come out fuzzy because that tripod does not have the stability made for taking pictures, especially on carpet, but I get more good pictures with the tripod than without. One made for taking pictures will cut down on the number of fuzzy pictures that come from camera shake. Some cameras also have settings for action photos, which also cuts down on blurriness from motion.
All of the crystal-clear, sharp, steady-handed photos that I see other people take puzzle me because I sometimes feel like I must have Parkinson’s or something. I’ve watched people just fling the camera up, snap the picture, and get results worthy of an award. Some of that comes from learning the best camera settings for the situation, some of it comes from just plain experience and getting more steady-handed with practice, some of it comes from processing the photo on the computer, and then some of it is just plain giftedness. If you’re a beginner like me, and especially if you want to take indoor still pictures, start by using a tripod any time you can until you get the hang of holding the camera absolutely still.
Great outdoor picture of Lucy
Indoor picture taken before learning about camera settings; fuzzy, yellow
As far as pictures of pets, that takes practice as well, because animals are unpredictable. Until I learn better techniques, I currently try to take pictures of our dog Lucy outdoors (my forte’), or sitting next to an open door with light streaming in. Take the course of least resistance, I always say. At least Lucy has stopped hiding from me when I get the camera out. She knows it’s futile.
When it comes to pictures I take, I end up processing them using the “delete” button so often I should have carpal-tunnel. That’s the beauty of the digital age. I do wish I had kept some of my out-takes to illustrate some of what I’m talking about, but then I guess the future will bring plenty more bad pictures I can show off.
Some of what I have learned was easy to catch on to, and some things just befuddle me no end.
Taking food pictures is about the toughest part of picture-taking for me. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, since it might call attention to the bad food pictures I post with recipes here. But I’ve started trying to observe other blogs that post food, such as Pioneer Woman, for one. Light floods her impeccably clean kitchen and ample counter space while she takes free-handed pictures of the food she prepares and serves lovingly in immaculate cookware and dish ware. I wonder why her pictures always turn out great? Oh, wait–I think I may have just answered my own question. I actually love watching Pioneer Woman and reading her blog, and suddenly now I need to go clean my kitchen.