Introduction: Better Pictures. Now.

Picture of Better Pictures. Now.

Ever wanted to improve your photo skills to take better pictures? This instructible is my first, and i'm entering it in the "Digital Days Photo Contest." Throughout this instructible, I will be covering the most basic topics such as Choosing your camera, Camera modes, Camera settings, tips for indoor and outdoor photography, and a few more topics. Basically, this is all you need to get started in photography.

Step 1: Choosing Your Camera.

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It's easy to choose a camera that is either to simple or too advanced. I'm here to help. In the camera market, there are three main categories: Point and Shoot, Advanced Point and Shoot, and SLR's or DSLR's. Each has their own pros and cons. Lets start with the point and shoot cameras.

Point and Shoot camera's are the average, everyday camera. They are portable, affordable, but are weak in terms of zoom, image quality, and image settings. Usually costing anywhere from $50 to $200, these highly compact camera's don't pack a whole lot of punch. With zoom's of around 3x to 7x, you can hardly zoom any better than you can see with your own eyes. Additionally, point and shoot cameras lack manual settings to control various modes. Although these camera's have attractive LCD screens and bright colors, this may not be the camera if you really want to improve on your photography.

Next up are Advanced Point and Shoot Cameras. These may be the ideal camera to start off with for most photographers. Though heavier and larger, advanced P+S's are- you may say- more advanced. For example, the picture below of the Nikon P90 has a 24x zoom, 12 megapixels, extremely high image sensors, and more modes to choose from. Around $200-$600, advanced P+S's have larger lenses, pop-up flashes, and a mode dial (see next step).

Last, we have DSLR's. SLR stands for singe-lenses reflex. This is just some mirrors inside that other cameras don't have. Google it for more information. The D in front just means that it is Digital. These are the high-end, professional cameras. They are heavy, big, and expensive, however they pack many features. Interchangeable lenses, manual zoom, and manual settings. Coming in at around $600+, DSLR's aren't ideal for beginners, but, they have superior image quality.

Step 2: Basic Controls.

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If you've bought yourself an Advanced P+S, they are some letters and symbols on a dial on the top of the camera. Usually, there are 4 main ones: Auto, S, A, M.

S: Shutter Priority

First, let's talk about what a camera does. When you press the shutter button, light traveling through the camera's lenses onto a image sensor gets captured. Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter stays open, allowing light in. The faster the shutter speed, like 1/1000th of a second, you can capture faster moving objects like soccer balls, hockey pucks, dogs jumping over sofas, etc. Beware, if the shutter speed is too fast and there is not enough light, use the flash, lower your shutter speed. You will find speeds slower than 1/200th of a second work best indoors and sunny conditions can yield speeds of over 1/2000th of a second. On the nikon, you control the shutter speed by moving the function dial (see picture).

A: Aperture Priority

Once again, lets talk about terms. An aperture is the opening of the camera in which light comes through. Apertures are written as f/#'s. For example, an average range may be f/2.2-f/8. A large aperture number, f/8, is actually a smaller opening of light. So, f/2.2 is a large opening of light. In the (A) mode, the camera adjusts the shutter speed accordingly. If your image turns out too dark, consider moving the aperture to a smaller number. If you have enough light surrounding your subject, you can use a large aperture number to blur the backgrounds. A smaller aperture would yield a picture in which almost all the elements are in focus.

M: Manual

This mode basically combines (S) and (A) modes. It is easy to set your shutter speeds and apertures wrong first, creating underexposed or overexposed pictures, but practice will help improve that. Once again, use the function dial to control the settings.

Step 3: Basic Settings.

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The following are some settings that can adjust to improve any picture.

ISO: Image Sensitivity

ISO is your camera's sensitivity to light. With a higher ISO, around 800, you can enhance light indoors. With a lower ISO, around 100, you can control the brightness of sunlight outdoors. Beware: Low ISO's have higher grain which produces higher picture quality. High ISO's have lower grain so pictures will come out like a fuzzy television screen.

Focus:
First, find the focus setting button. This is usually a button with a small flower on it. The flower is macro mode. On most cameras, one click brings up the menu. In the menu, there are the following settings:
AF: auto focus
A picture of mountains: focuses to infinity
MF: manual focus
Flower: Macro mode
Auto focus is pretty self-explanitory. Infinity mode is great for taking pictures of far away objects such as mountains, the sky, horizons, etc. This is also good if you want to take a picture out of a window. A camera might focus on the window instead of your subject.
Manual focus. On the Nikon, Auto focus doesn't work the best sometimes. If you're taking pictures of fairly still life, manual focus can be used to focus perfectly and yield clearest results.
Macro Mode. This is the most fun. I've noticed on Instructables that a lot of close up images are blurry and unfocused. This is because your camera is too CLOSE to the subject. back up around 6 inches to 12 inches (depending on your camera's macro mode) and set your camera to macro mode. Remember, macro mode is your friend. Macro mode makes the camera focus to the closest possible focus. This will dramatically increase the picture quality of your shots.
If you want more information on Macro Mode, visit https://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Take-Great-Close-Up-Photos/. It is an awesome instructable that bloomautomatic made.

Flash:

This is pretty self-explainitory. One click brings up a flash menu. In there you can find different modes. One may be no flash, another auto, and a few more. These may be found in your camera's manual and are usually Backflash, which lights you background, and a few others.

White Balance:

White balance is the amount of white light/color in each photo. These can be adjusted to meet your current light conditions. Indoors, you may find that your photos are excessively yellow. This is a result of incandescent light bulbs indoors. On the Nikon P90 and most cameras, push the menu button and go to white balance. If incandescent lights are your problem, select 'incandescent light' and the camera will adjust to the setting. Other options are Fluorescent lights, Cloudy, and Sunny.

Timer:

If you do not already know, you can set your camera to take pictures after a certain amount of time following pressing the shutter button. Once again, press it once to bring up a menu and select the time. Usually it is 2 seconds for short pictures, and 10 seconds for large group pictures. On some cameras there is also a smile timer or an eye-blink warning. The smile timer takes a picture when your subject, usually a person, is smiling. Eye-blink warning takes 2 or more pictures and deletes the ones where the subject's eyes are closed

Exposure:

This is similar to ISO, but a bit simpler. On the camera, there should be a button similar to the one displayed in the picture. Press it and exposure settings should pop up. If you increase the exposure, the camera will just multiply the amount of light, making it brighter or vice versa.

Settings such as ISO and white balance can only be accessed in S, A, and M modes.

Step 4: First Picture.

Picture of First Picture.

It's time to grab your camera and go outside. I'm starting outside because there is much more light outdoors.

If you have a dog, cat, hamster, etc. bring him/her too.

Assuming your camera is a digital camera or one similar to the Nikon P90, your shutter button should have two phases. When you press it down halfway, you should hear a series of mechanical noises and then a focus sound. Usually, a blank, rectangular screen will turn green or blue to show you it is focused. If it is red, that means you are too close to the subject, there is not enough light, or both. Either back up from the subject, use a flash, or if the window is blocking a subject outside of the window, set the focus to infinity (see previous step).

After your subject if focused, press down the shutter button completely. The picture should be taken.

Now, press the playback button to view your picture.

If the photo has appeared blurry, unfocused, too bright (overexposed), or too yellow, see the next step to fix these problems.

Step 5: Corrections.

Picture of Corrections.

The Example pictures are taken of the same subject, an apple remote. Notice the clarity, brightness, etc. of the examples.

Fixing Blurry Instructable Photos.


I've read many instructables and a vast majority contain blurry, out of focus, over-exposed close ups of the instructable. There are a couple ways to fix this. First, get rid of the flash. If you can get your subject outside, then do that. If not, you can buy one of those new, energy efficient CFL's (the curly fluorescent ones). If not, a regular bulb would work fine. So, get rid of the flash, wait for the CFL to warm up, and try again.
If your pictures are still blurry, you are probably standing too close. Use macro mode (see step 3) and back up so the object is about one foot away, the usual minimum focus for cameras.
After trying these two options and your pictures are still blurry, use a tripod and set the timer (see step 3) for 2 seconds. You can also just prop up the camera on the table you are working on. After setting the timer, take a picture like you normally would, but back up after you press the shutter button. This steadies your shot and doesn't blur photos.

Dark Pictures.

In most indoor pictures in the evening, there is usually not enough light. On auto mode, you can see the camera automatically adjust by lowing the shutter speed to around 1/10 sec. This may not be enough sometimes. Because of the low shutter speed, the pictures come out blurred. Use the flash! This will raise the shutter speed to around 1/30 sec. Also, a tripod will help too. Sometimes, when you use the flash, people's faces or shiny objects reflect light, producing glare. To reduce glare, buy or make a flash diffuser. They are usually cheap, but many instructables already have instructions on how to make effective flash diffusers.

Flash can be used outdoors too. When your subject is in the shade of a sunny day, they are covered in unpleasant shadows. The objects behind them are too bright! So, use the flash to balance your subject and the background.

Yellow Indoor Pictures.


This has been explained in step 4 with white balance, but I will go over it again. First, use your flash. This adds extra light indoors and makes your pictures clearer. Next, stand a bit further away from your subject so the flash doesn't create glare. You should also consider a tripod. If you're using shutter priority or manual mode, never set the shutter speed above 120th of a second and keep the largest possible aperture (usually f:2.2) Then, set the white balance (step 4) to the appropriate mode.

Overexposed (Too Bright!) Pictures.

This usually happens outside in summer, when its sunny. There are several ways to fix this. First, if there is a tree, stand under the tree. Look for patches of sunlight coming through the leaves-- this creates great composition. If not, you can raise the shutter speed (always fun) and raise the aperture (smaller opening around f:8). This should fix the overexposure.

If you've been playing around with shutter speed and aperture, raise the shutter speed my increments of 1/5, 1/10, or 1/20 of a second. Also, you can raise the aperture to a higher f: number. This will create a smaller opening for light.

Step 6: Composition.

Picture of Composition.

Composition is basically the artistic aspect of photography. It's how you arrange the objects in the picture. Everyone has a different taste for composition so these are just to spark some thoughts.

People and Landmarks.

On vacation in foreign countries, I often see tourists standing smack in the middle of the picture, blocking the Leaning Tower of Pizza, the Eiffel Tower, etc. On some cameras, there is a display button (see step 3 for clarification). This either takes away the settings on the screen or brings up a series of yellow lines. It divides the screen into 1/9ths. For some landmarks, it is wise to stand to the right or left of it.

Lines (Trees, roads, beaches, bridges)

Personally, I enjoy taking vertical pictures (see Golden Gate Picture for what I mean) or horizontal pictures of things like shorelines. This adds a certain depth to the picture that is cool too.

Perspective

Perspective is basically the way you see the subject in a photo. Is the subject above, to the side, or below you? Experiment with a few to find the ideal one.

Step 7: Summary.

You've probably learned a lot by reading the past few pages of this instructable. Just a summary of what you may want to remember:

Cameras:
Point and Shoot: inexpensive, low quality
Advanced Point and shoot: pricier, great camera to start with
DSLR: Expensive, lots of modes, excellent quality

Basic Controls:
Shutter Priority: controls shutter speed/ time the camera records light
Aperture Priority: controls opening of camera (low f: numbers=more light)
Manual: control Shutter and Aperture

Basic Settings:
ISO: light sensitivity
Focus: Macro mode, auto, manual, and infinity
Flash: use it to brighten up pictures
White Balance: adjusts colors to current light condition. Fixes yellow, blue, green, etc. pictures
Timer: use for group portraits or for reducing movement in macro mode and low-light situations
Exposure: intensity of light

First Picture
Focus, Capture, Review, Retake.

Fix Your Picture:
Blurry
Dark
Yellow Indoors
Overexposed

Composition
How the picture appeals to the viewer. The key is to play with perspective.

I hope this instructable has helped you become a better photographer. As you will discover, photography is a valuable skill that is useful in numerous applications in your life.

For any comments and suggestions, feel free to contact me and I will try my best to answer your questions.

Comments

mweston (author)2010-06-12

This is great for the instructables community, I have encountered quite a few pictures I only wish would be sharp and crisp! Btw, step 3 should say at a high ISO pictures with be grainy, yielding bad results, and at a low ISO pictures will be clearer with better results.

chinnerz (author)2009-10-15

hmm, all nikons..... r they paying you :P

starwing123 (author)2009-10-13

You forgot messing around with settings and trying step.<br /><div id="refHTML"> </div>

inventorjack (author)2009-10-08

Great instructable. I learned a few things I hadn't known. Looking forward to playing with the settings with more confidence.

One suggection: perhaps you could add a bit of info on processing the picture once it's on your computer. For instance, adjusting the levels (in Photoshop, Paint.net, or other apps), can really bring out the vivid color that may initially be lacking from a point-and-shoot.

 Thanks for the suggestion: I'm currently creating an instructable using cheap image editing software that is predownloaded on macs (sorry pc's!)

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