Photography-the Guide to Great Photos




Introduction: Photography-the Guide to Great Photos

Learn the skills you need to start taking photos that will draw attention.
In this guide i'll take you through the stages leading up to becoming a good photographer.

Step 1: Step One-buy a Good Camera

-This is of course if you don't already have one.
If you do, you should consider whether the camera you have is good enough for the pictures youre aiming to take. This might be a hard decision and in this step i will take introduce you to the types of cameras and what each type could be used for to help you understand and choose the right kind.

Key: ***** (five-star, highest)

Point n' Shoot cameras- easy to use with good automatic controls that help you take a good picture.
(also: compact and energy efficient)
Point and shoot cameras are aimed at the general public who want a way of easily taking decent photos. These kinds of cameras are very rarely used by professional photographers as they don't have good enough manual operation modes. Good for shooting at parties. If you are a beginner and want to learn the basic scene modes and photo setups then a point and shoot camera will both be a good way to start as well as being relatively cheap.

Price: ** (large range of prices- usually below 300 USD)
Ease of use: *****
Photo quality: *** (depends on camera)

-Semi pro
Super Zoom cameras- provides the ease of use of a point and shoot and the functions and manual
control of an SLR while offering extensive optical zoom.
This new branch of digital photo cameras is growing popular among the general public for their ease of use yet multitude of functions. New features such as HD video recording, optical stabilization and higher resolution electronic view finders (EFV) have made these cameras worth their price.
Super zoom cameras cost more, but offer very high optical zoom (as high as x24) and have decent manual operation modes with adjustable exposure and aperture. These cameras are probably the most versatile as they are compact, have an easy shoot mode as well as manual.
If you are considering serious photography and have had some previous experience with point and shoot cameras i would suggest buying a super zoom camera as they still have an AUTO mode to take those difficult photos.

Price: ****
Ease of use: ***
Photo Quality: ****

Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera (D.SLR)- preferred by professionals for their optical viewfinders,
fast shutter speeds, large photo sensors and manual
The DSLR camera is most commonly used among professional photographers today. These cameras sport interchangeable lenses, powerful high-res photo sensors and a multitude of functions. But all this comes with a price. Some DSLR's exceed 5000 USD, and thats just the body.
I strongly discourage beginners to get a DSLR. A DSLR is harder to use and it's not like you can be at a party or hanging out with friends and ask someone to take a picture for you, as specific knowledge is needed to take good pictures. So you'll probably be stuck doing all the photography for the evening yourself. If you have had previous experience with photography and understand how to manually control a camera then a Nikon D60 or a Canon EOS Rebel 400D would be relatively cheap and easy cameras to move on to.

Price: *****
Ease of use: *
Photo quality: *****

I personally own a Canon SX1 IS Super-zoom camera with which i'm very pleased.
When choosing the type of camera first decide what you will be using it for and how much you are prepared to pay for good photos.

(all photos in this instructable are taken by me personally- (c) Daniel Feidal 2009)

Step 2: Learning Basic Controls

The controls of a camera vary by it's type. Point n' shoot cameras usually have very basic controls that most people know so i wont include them in this step but rather focus on teaching you the general terms used in Super Zoom and DSLR cameras. I won't go very deep as the best way for you to learn would be for you to pick up the camera and start experimenting with different settings.

The main controls of my Canon super zoom are shown below with labellings. The modes are common with most cameras, including DSLRs but may vary in name or annotation.

The controls of a camera are situated on the body usually on the top and on the back surrounding the LCD. Modes and settings may be changed using the buttons on the camera (usually the most important ones) or in the menus that can be browsed through on the LCD display.
The best way to learn these controls will be, as i already have said, to browse through them, changing them then seeing what effect that has on the picture you then take.
But some general knowledge of the annotations used for the settings is necessary so that you may understand what happens when you change them.

Shutter Speed-this is the term used to discuss the exposure time or the time length the shutter is open. A slower shutter speed will let more light in on the sensor, whereby making the image brighter. A faster shutter speed will do the opposite.

Aperture-this is the term used to discuss the opening through which light enters the camera. The
lens aperture is usually specified by a f-number. A high f-number meaning a small opening and a low f-number a large opening. Aperture is used to regulate the amount of light falling on the image sensor and is often used in combination with shutter speed to make a good picture.

Exposure value (EV) - is the notation given to the combined values of shutter speed and aperture.

ISO-or film speed denotes the image sensors sensitivity to light. A high ISO value would mean a high sensitivity to light, and a low ISO the opposite.

If you feel i'm missing any of the important features please feel free to comment below and i'll add them above.

Step 3: Additional Gear

If you don't already have the things in the list below you might want to consider getting them.
-Tripod: (will greatly reduce, if not all, vibrations causing blurriness in your photos especially if you
are taking long exposure photos.)
-Camera bag: (helps a lot if you get one with a few different sized pockets or compartments to
store SD cards, extra batteries or other stuff you'd want to bring along.)
-Protective UV filter lens: for expensive DSLR's or super zoom cameras with a lens hood/filter
mount.(both because UV filters are cheap, protect the lens and reduce the fogginess created by UV
-A lens hood: Very useful for reducing lens glare in DSLR's or super zoom cameras.
-A lens cleaning kit: Most point and shoot cameras have a small lens and don't tend to get dirty
easily. But this kit is essential for a DSLR, as their large lenses are easily dirtied by both
fingerprints and dust.

+ Extra batteries and more memory than you expect to use.

Step 4: Main Photo Concepts

Before you start there are a few concepts that should be considered.

-The rule of thirds-the rule states that if you draw two equally spaced lines both horizontally and vertically forming a grid on the image placing the most important components at the intersections creates more interest, tension and energy in the onlooker than centering the subject/components would do.

-Focus-make sure you decide what you want to focus on, usually the focus would be set on the main subject of the photo.

-Light-This is often one of the hardest things to get right in a photo. Refrain from using flash as much as possible, rather try to capture the natural light of the scene. If you have too use the flash because it's too dark then do so. If you are taking pictures in the dark you may want to use a tripod and use a long exposure time to get a good photo.

-Get close-I you can then get as close as possible to the subject. It is not fun for people looking at you're pictures if they have to search for the reason or subject of the photo.

-Communicate with the subject-don't just take random pictures of people or animals. Make sure you make contact with them, get them to look at you and smile or show some emotion-or none if thats relevant to the picture.

-Get Creative - Don't just shoot from the same boring angle or stuff that other people take photos of. Try to different angles, close up or far away and in different light conditions. Make good use of exposure control and shutter speed variations.

Step 5: The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is based upon the idea of dividing the frame/image into 9 equally sized boxes by placing 4 lines across forming a grid as shown below in the first picture.
It is believed by many photographers that placing the main subject on the intersections of the lines stresses the subject more whereby raising interest and excitement within the person viewing the image than a photo with the subject is merely centered.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't have any other objects situated at the other intersections not occupied by the main subject of the image, but that a good combination of distance and focus should be used (usually the main subject will be in focus and close up).

To demonstrate how all this works:

Photo 1- shows the grid lines as they should not be placed when taking the picture. The main subject (the kittens face) is centered and the object in the background is not rightly placed either.
You should also take note of unnecessary things that might come into the field of view- in this pictures case the pine needles of a nearby tree that protrude from the right top of the image. These are bound to attract attention, and will distract the viewers attention from the main subject.

Photo 2- shows the grid lines aligned rightly. The kittens face occupies two of the stress points
The field of view has also been adjusted to avoid unnecessary objects (the pine needles) from being seen.
Note also that the kitten is in focus whereas other objects in the stress regions are out of focus.

Step 6: Focus

Focus-i'm not going to go into the basics of what focus is and how it works as most of you would know that from middle school science lessons. (if you have no idea what it is click on the link below ) []

Let us rather look at some examples of photos and how the different focus points affect the viewers interpretation of the photo. (see the photos with notes below)

In general when you see a potential photo, you should be able to interpret the scene and decide beforehand what you are going to focus on. This is of course if there are more than one object that fall into the field of view-if you are taking a photo of a single object you would definitely focus on that one object.

A photographic scene can in most cases be divided into three "focal depths" .
In most cases you'd want to have the main subject of attention within the Close or at least the Middle range focal depth of the photo.
Photo 1-shows the most common setup for photos with a primary subject in either the close or middle ranges, and a background in the distance.
Photo 2-Demonstrates this in reality -i know the background isn't very far away, but it demonstrates how , when focusing on close objects in this case the poker chips-the distance is out of focus, meaning the poker chips are more important in this image
Photo 3-an example of distant range focusing-the viewers attention is drawn to the painting in the background which is in focus (yes the tray of poker chips also comes into focus as it is not so much middle range as i'd like it-limited space)
Photo 4-a demonstration of a scene where almost all points of the scene are at the same focus range.

Step 7: Light

Light- what photography is all about-capturing it!
It is one of the hardest things to get right in a photo, but mastering it gives great satisfaction.
Let me start by saying avoid using a flash as much as possible!! A flash will whiteout all the color of the picture, creating a very fake, cold image if the scene. Take for example photo one and two-photo 1 may be less blurry when looked at closely, but photo 2 captures the atmosphere and temperature of the scene much better.
If you're going to use flash less, that means that in low light conditions holding the camera in you're unsteady hands will not be adequate. Buy a good tripod (make sure it comes up to a comfortable height without having all of each section of the legs fully extended so as not to make it wobbly.) and carry it around with you when you know you will be taking pictures in low light.
Photography of moving objects in low light may be hard as they'll become blurry without the flash to freeze them. Learn a good combination between the fastest shutter speed and ISO control which allows for the right amount of light. Make sure you're aperture is at it's largest (f-stop value is at it's lowest). In full manual control you should be able to set all these values.
Sometimes low light scenes such as a street at night may be photographed using extended exposure times-low shutter speeds. This can often create the "fake" daylight effect, and create cool light trails from moving light sources such as cars as well as creating cool ghost effects from moving people.
Photo 3-demonstrates light trails created by car tail-lights, make sure you don't over expose some areas of the photo-bright light sources such as street laps or lighted signs are often over exposed as they make more light than other parts of the picture. Experiment with different exposure times for different results.
Photo 4-here i had to use a slower shutter speed of about 2s as the ride was moving very fast and there is a lot of direct light. People also turn out better thanks to this.
Photos 5-6 other examples of low light photography.
Light also has to be interpreted correctly in daytime or high light conditions. The shutter speed, ISO and aperture can of course be adjusted to fit high light conditions too. Experiment with these to find the best combinations.
In most photos the general rule for sunlight/light sources is, do not take photos directly into the light. Of course waiver from this rule to create a specific effect. But it will work almost every time if you take photos of the sunny side of objects. Make sure to avoid over exposure in high light areas-if the camera has a review mode where white areas flash, this means that the area is over exposed and white= no data. You want to avoid this. Work with the histogram function(the little graph that in most cameras appears if you multiple press the display function)-a level histogram without sharp peaks means a good range of exposure.
Photo 7 gives a good example of the light law being broken, as the photo is taken into the sunlight, but the effect it creates when shining through the leaves is spectacular.
Photo 8 shows how light falls on the object from the left side, creating an interesting light gradient effect-be creative when using light.
Photo 9 uses light to it's advantage to accentuate the bulge of the boats hull (the shadow cast).
Keeping light behind the camera also helps bring out the bright colors of the boat and still keeps the deep ocean blue of the sky behind. The photo has a overall good distribution of light, the most being on the main subject-the boat, whereby attracting most of the attention to itself.
(all photos in this instructable are taken by me personally- (c) Daniel Feidal 2009)

Step 8: Get Close!

Get close!-the name says it all.
Get as close as you can without chopping pieces off the subject such as arms or legs.
Nothing can express it as good as some pictures so just browse through them and have a look at the notes if there are any.

Step 9: Communicate With the Subject

Communication may not be that easy with inanimate subjects, but make sure you communicate with people or animals you take pictures of.
Emotion is something that everyone feels and reacts to-so the viewer will feel the emotion of the person in the picture if you can take it right. Make sure the person knows you're about to take the picture and make sure to capture the emotion of the moment. Try for sincere emotions.

Step 10: Get Creative

And finally- Get creative!
While it might be a good idea to imitate other photos when learning, it is also fun to diversify and to take lots of creative shots-plan your pictures don't just shoot randomly.
Examples again are the best way to demonstrate-after all we are talking of photos here :D

Step 11: To Sum It All Up

To put the full stop at the end of the story i'd like to say:
Learn from experiment-learn the controls of your camera by trying them out in different conditions.
Be creative-don't imitate-create!
Consult the pro's- don't hesitate to ask for advice from people who have worked with photography for a long time

Finally-if you have tried all the steps, experimented and tried again and your photos don't seem to amount to much-then Photography might just not be the right thing for you. It takes a good eye to see a good picture!

Here are a few more pictures.

Yet another reminder:
(all photos in this instructable are taken by me personally- (c) Daniel Feidal 2009)
Please feel free to contact me by if you are interested in purchasing, or seeing more of my work.

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    11 years ago on Step 7

    Flash is good, but flashing head on is never good. It's just done that way on point and shoot cameras because the people that use them only want to capture moments, the actual photo doesn't bother them that much. If a flash must be used, try not to flash directly on the subject, try bouncing it off the ceiling and get a more natural look to the image. (people are used to seeing light coming from above in real life)

    Taken at a party, flash aimed up, and aperture about f/2 for shallow focus and less need for extra light.


    I'm not trying to preach here, only to help and give pointers.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    hi, I tried the two links you provided but they didn't work. I'd like to look at the effect of the settings on the resultant photos, can you help me with that?


    11 years ago on Step 7

    Your treatment of the camera flashes is wrong. The flash will not wash out the photograph and can help create extremely vibrant colors if you use it correctly. Professional photographers (the ones that should be writing this article) generally use 3 or more flashes when taking photos in the studio.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I tried flash and flash less at low light condition. It's true pictures of shiny object taken with flash have "white lamp" in them (example here:
    what you pointed out is also true that Professional photographers generally use flashes when taking photos in the studio.
    Now what should I do?


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 7

    Yes but notice these photos are mainly all taken outside or in a confined, tight area... not exactly the place you want to bring flash stands along with you.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Detailed enough for me. Very helpful. I'll read your Instructables more times to benefit from it. Thank you for your time writing it.


    11 years ago on Step 2

    About aperture : When you go for bigger aperture you're letting more light through, but it also gives you a narrower field of focus. Smaller aperture gives you a bigger area of focus. When a lens is wide open it is not as sharp as it could be, usually a rule of thumb is that they reach their optimum image quality 2 stops above "wide open" but it's not a holy rule.

    ISO: High ISO also means that you are more likely to get "noise" that is grain in your pictures that you don't want. But In optimum ligh conditions ISO can also help you get more range of dark to light without losing info (burnt out whites)


    11 years ago on Step 9

    You can't have sincere moments if you are asking your subject to pose for you. Your best shots will come from candid photos taken when your subject is reacting to actual stimuli from the environment. Capturing real moments on camera is how you win pulitzer prizes. Not by asking your model to give a fake smile.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Fake smiles don't win anything. Pulitzer Prize winning photos HAVE been posed though. Sometime real moments have to be manipulated.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Which pulitzer prize winning photo was posed? Because I just flipped through the book I have with all of them, and I didn't see any of those photos.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Marines Raise the flag at Iwo Jima. Posed. Look it up.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    WAY beyond the subject of this instructable but here it is. A Pulitzer is the pinnacle of awards yes, many award winning photos are out there. Famous even. Candid shots are a dime a dozen. Everyone can TAKE a photo. When the subject gives back that is when the photo is worth looking at. So getting back to it, "Migrant Mother" was posed. You'll have to find the proof sheet of that shoot with the kids running around and having loads of fun. That wasn't going to sell the disparity of the situation during that time. "Look over there" "Turn your head like this" I think there is a bound book containing the proofs from that shoot. You can add that to you awesome book collection.


    12 years ago on Step 5

    how do i make sure that my lines are correct? is there a grid option on the cameras itself?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I think that will depend on the camera you have. I know a large number of them have grid options these days.


    12 years ago on Step 9

    Great Pic ! the natural light looks really nice.
    Do you think i can get close results with a Fujifilm S2500HD?
    I understand you took those photos with your canon powershot, am i right?


    Reply 12 years ago on Step 9

    thanks :) after a bit of research on the camera you mentioned i would say yes you could, it is a PowerShot SX1 , a camera that is in the same class as the Fuji with similar specifications. Just mess around with the controls...try manual and see how it turns out :)


    12 years ago on Step 11

    i read all the information and it was really helpful for me


    12 years ago on Introduction

     Awesome instructable!!! You can count on my vote!


    12 years ago on Step 1

    holy crap no way!!! i have that camera !!