Everything I Know About Photography

I take pictures every day.  And I've taken pictures for years and years.  But I have so much yet to learn.  I'm definitely an amateur, but I know a few things gleaned from trial and error, and from studying other people's images that appeal to me. 

I'm going to share a couple of my favorite tips here for several of reasons: it helps me remember, I have a new camera on the way, and I want to take full advantage of Ellie's workshop on Saturday.  (Still time to sign up, BTW.)  And you can use all of these things right away to improve your photos.  I know more about composition and content than the technical stuff, so that's where I'll concentrate.  Relearning all that stuff about F-stops and focal lengths and ISOs and whatnot will just add to my ability to accomplish the content I want.

 One of my favorite JRF shots ever - Moses and Aaron on a frosty morning.  This copy is a bit pixelated because it has been processed up and down too many times.  The original is better.

As in all subjective artistic disciplines, the rules are really just guidelines... like the pirate code.  There are times and places to break the "rules."  Accomplished artists know when to break the rules.  But just as general suggestions, here's a helpful list:

Take outdoor pictures in the morning or evening - your colors will be more richly saturated and won't be washed out by too much sun.  Taking outdoor shots with overcast skies or in light shade eliminates harsh shadows that can detract from your image. 

Shadows aren't bad if they are the subject of your photo.

Focus: if nothing else in your photo is in focus, make sure your subject's eyes are in focus.  That's how we connect to your image.  If your subject is inanimate, make sure it is in focus rather than the foreground or background.  Focus tells us where to look and what's important.

Emma got this great shot of one of our Americauna hens.  The focus is perfect.

Crop!  Get rid of extraneous, distracting elements in your photo by cropping them out, either when you are taking the picture, or afterward, in editing. 

 This photo has a lot going on - what should we focus on?

 Ah, cropping down to a single point of interest is better.  In this case, the close cropping looks out of focus, but you get the idea - keep the composition simple so we don't have to work to figure out what to look at.

Cropping is very simple with modern photo software, as long as you are using...

Digital.  Digital photography has revolutionized the world.  Remember when we had to pay for, and then wait for our film to be developed to see if we got the shot?  Torture!  Now we have instant gratification.  We can see if we got it or not Right Now.  If we need another chance, we can take it.  Take a million pictures.  Since it is so inexpensive and so immediate, there's no harm in taking lots of pictures and choosing your favorites back at home, in front of your computer.  Don't hoard pixels.  You'll thank me. 

I took this picture about five times before I got the composition I liked.  I was so afraid I was going to disturb them and lose the shot.  (Samson is really asleep with his chin on Jethro's back.)  The deep shadows here help frame the subject and eliminate any distractions.

When photographing animals, small kids, or short things, get down on an eye-level with them.  Or even look up at them.  This helps your viewer see them in a different way than usual, and increases the appeal.  In fact, it's a great idea when you're taking your million shots, to change angles and levels often.  You may just find an incredible way of seeing your subject that everyone else misses.

 Judah was moving, so the focus could have been better, but you don't often see a dog from this angle.

Get close.  Modern cameras usually have macro settings as well as decent zoom capabilities.  Bring us close to the action and let us enjoy the detail.   Help us "be there."  We want to see texture and shape, and squeeze everything we can from an image.

Macro shots help us see everyday objects almost as graphic designs.

Use the Rule of Thirds.  Mentally divide your image into nine squares by "drawing" two vertical and two horizontal lines through it.  (My iPhoto software temporarily draws these lines automatically when I'm in the "crop" mode, to help me compose my picture.  Very cool feature.)  Put the most important point of your photo at one of the intersections of these lines.  Unless you are making a strong statement by centering your subject, we find it more appealing if the focal point is not dead-on.  Again, unless it's for a particular effect, keep your horizon lines from bisecting your shot... higher or lower is usually more appealing than dead center.  Sometimes, I'll allow more space around my subject in the photo so that I can make the decision later about what to cut out and what to leave in.

The pink sunset is the subject of this shot.  Everything on the horizon is just there for scale.

Look for strong graphic elements in your shots - circles, triangles, bright colors, lines converging toward a horizon - to add interest.  Frame your subject with stuff in the background - tree branches, furniture, buildings, whatever makes sense.

This is a concrete pond at the botanical garden in San Antonio, around Christmas.  Most of the "weight" of this shot is in the upper third of the frame.  The bright colors and vertical reflection draw your eye away from the center.

Look for scenes that tell a story.  Is something compelling happening in your image?  These are the pictures we remember and enjoy over and over.

I rejected this shot because of the bad color and focus, but it's compelling because of the interaction between Emma and Ruth.

OK - that will get you started.  As I say, I have tons to learn and I can't wait to hear more from Ellie Ivanova on Saturday.  Hopefully, I'll have my new camera in hand and can begin to explore it's technical features.  But I'll always apply these simple guidelines to my photo work.

Good luck with your photos.  Please add any other helpful tips I've neglected to mention.  I still have a lot to learn.


  1. Anonymous8:47 PM

    Excellent, I learned lot and I thought I did pretty good with my picture taking but you put me to shame. I am going to re-read this blog several times. Alpacamama

  2. No shame, Peggy! We're all still learning and growing as photographers!


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