How to Take Good Pictures

One of the questions that I continuously get from some of my friends and blog readers that just got into photography is “How can I take good pictures with what I have, without spending too much money on new cameras and lenses?”. Ever since DSLRs became more affordable and people started buying entry-level DSLRs, there has been a great interest in photography from the general public. One big obstacle everybody runs against at one point or another, is the fact that when most professional photographers show the equipment they used to make great-looking images, it creates an impression that only expensive gear can produce great photographs. What happens from there, really boils down to the wallet and how serious a person wants to get into photography – some start buying expensive gear and thinking it will help them to take good pictures and improve their photography, while others hold off and just keep their DSLRs as “point and shoots”, realizing that they can’t do any better with what they have.

If you do not have a DSLR camera yet and need some help on purchasing it, I recommend reading my article on how to buy a DSLR camera.

Double Rainbow

As I pointed out in my DSLR Purchase Guide, it is not necessary to have expensive gear to produce great-looking images. I always tell people when they purchase their first DSLR camera, that “an entry-level DSLR will get you 90% there”. Sure, professional equipment is always going to be better and faster than entry-level gear, after all, that’s why it is called “professional”. However, some entry-level cameras such as the Nikon D5000 get very close or, according to some reviews, even surpass professional cameras such as D300 in terms of image quality and noise. The biggest difference between non-professional and professional gear nowadays is a set of advanced features, not necessarily just the quality of the camera sensor. Compared to entry-level DSLRs, professional DSLRs typically have the most options, have more durable shutters and faster frame rates, can handle abnormal temperatures/humidity, have faster processing speed, better auto-focus, etc. “Top of the line” professional gear (such as Nikon D3X/D3S/D3) provide lower noise levels, better dynamic range and higher image quality – all due to a larger full-frame sensor, whereas all entry-level DSLRs in the market today have “crop factor” sensors. Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs have 1.5x crop factor, whereas Canon entry-level DSLRs have a 1.6x crop factor. I won’t go much into what “crop factor” is, so if you want to read more about it, please check out this article. But forget about crop factors, sensor types and other technical junk – ask yourself one question: who would have a better painting, a great artist with a mediocre brush or a newbie with the most advanced brush on the planet? The answer is obvious…a camera is just a tool in a photographer’s toolbox. Now, give that same advanced brush to the great artist and he will create even better paintings. That’s why professional photographers buy the best gear – because they know how to get the most out of it.

Anyway, this article is not about discussing camera gear. Let’s move on to how you can utilize what you have today and learn how to take good pictures.

How to take good pictures with an entry-level DSLR

1) Don’t leave your camera at home

This might sound awkward, but how good is your camera if you leave it at home? I have missed so many great photo opportunities just because I forgot to take the camera with me. Whether it is something silly or totally unique, having a camera with you might get you those rare, once-in-a-lifetime moments.

2) Take lots of pictures

The more you photograph, the more you learn – as simple as that. Use every opportunity to capture images, whether it is early in the morning or late at night. By taking lots of pictures, you will start to understand how to use your camera in different lighting conditions and what works and what doesn’t. At the same time, when your pictures do not come out as good, you will start doing more research and reading articles, books, magazines and online forums to try to find a solution to your problem. Eventually, you will learn from your mistakes and will gain a great deal of knowledge on how to use your gear effectively.

3) Visit local zoos, botanic gardens, butterfly pavilions and animal sanctuaries

Photographing wildlife can get very expensive and risky. If you do not own a long telephoto lens, you can try checking out your local zoo or animal sanctuary for great photo opportunities. Bigger zoos with plenty of open space are great for photography, because fences and other man-made objects are not as noticeable. You can get pretty close to some animals and capture great moments.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl - captured in Denver Zoo

Botanic gardens and butterfly pavilions are great for macro/close-up photography. You can experiment with flowers, butterflies and other insects at different times of the day and not only learn a lot during the process, but also capture beautiful images. Everybody loves flowers and butterflies!

4) Join local and online photography clubs and shoot with the pros

Search online for photography clubs in your area and you will most likely find at least several local photography clubs. Many of those clubs are either free or have very small monthly membership fees. Join one or several of those clubs and not only will you learn from other photographers, but also you will get access to valuable information on local events that might be worth attending and photographing. Find advanced photographers and pros, who are really good at what they do and ask if you can assist them in any of their jobs. You’ll be surprised by how friendly and helpful many of the photographers are and you will learn a lot from those folks.

5) Consider photography workshops

If you have some extra money, consider investing in a photography workshop. Workshops can be as cheap as $20-50 for a session in a large auditorium or as expensive as several thousand dollars if you are in a small group with a well-known photographer. Workshops are good for those who want to learn photography quickly from real pros. Personally, I have never attended a workshop and didn’t mind spending extra time reading books/articles and learning from other photographers. There are plenty of workshops available online for free or in subscription-based websites such as Kelby Training as well.

6) Get down and dirty

If you are still taking most of your pictures standing straight, at your eye level, then you should start experimenting with angles. Try to get down on your knees or even try laying on the ground to get a different perspective. Getting low can yield great results, especially when photographing people and animals.

A different perspective

7) Learn how to take sharp pictures

I suggest reading my article on taking sharp photos and avoiding image blur. Soft and blurry images can be very disappointing and if you have a problem with creating sharp photographs, this article will definitely be very helpful for you.

8) Use a Circular Polarizer for landscape photography

I have just finished an article on how to use a circular polarizer that you should take a look at. This kind of goes against what I have said above about shooting with what you own, but I consider a polarizer to be an essential tool in every photographer’s bag, so I highly recommend that you try one if you have never done it before, especially for landscape photography.

Yosemite National Park

Scene captured with a polarizing filter

9) Use a tripod

If you do not already own a tripod, I recommend getting one as soon as you can. Why? Because a tripod will open up new opportunities for low-light photography for you. You can experiment with the light at night and capture really beautiful images of things that come into life at night. A tripod can let you capture sharp photographs of non-moving subjects and blur out moving subjects, creating very interesting and dynamic photographs.

Night Light Painting

Light painting with a flashlight

You can also use a tripod to photograph lightnings, photograph the moon, engage yourself in night painting with a flashlight, photograph fireworks and sunsets and much much more!

Blue Glass

Light painting with color gels

With a tripod, you can use very low ISO levels for highest image quality and lowest amount of noise. You can also use small apertures like f/16 to get a much higher depth of field or create HDR (high dynamic range) images.

Fireworks

Fireworks

10) Shoot early in the morning and late in the afternoon

Harsh direct sunlight can produce really ugly shadows not only on people’s faces, but on all other objects around you as well, resulting in bad photographs. The best time to take pictures is early mornings and late afternoons – that’s when the light is beautiful and soft. Obviously, sunrise/sunset times vary throughout the year, so just Google for “sunrise sunset times” and look up your city. For landscape photography, you want to be at the scene before sunrise and sunset, to catch the first and the last rays of light, whereas for portrait photography, two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset seem to be the best times. Obviously, you have to take into account the weather conditions as well. I love shooting portraits when the sky is covered with thin clouds, because clouds can diffuse the light and make it land very soft on the skin. On the other hand, very thick/stormy clouds can decrease the amount of available light, making it somewhat difficult to shoot fast-moving subjects, so try it out and see what works for you.

11) Shoot in RAW and use Lightroom for post-processing

If you are still using JPEG for your pictures, it is about time to move to RAW. Any DSLR today is capable of recording images in RAW format, so just set it to RAW and don’t go back to JPEG. A RAW image is called “raw” for a reason – it is an unprocessed image with a lot more colors to work with than a JPEG image. RAW gives you a lot more flexibility and is preferred for print, because you can convert it to any color space you desire. RAW takes more space than JPEG, but memory is so cheap nowadays, that it is not a big problem. When it comes to storage on your PC, a 1 terabyte hard drive can be bought for less than $100 and you would need lots of pictures to fill it all up, so PC storage is not a problem either. Other than that, there is no reason why you shouldn’t shoot in RAW!

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

If you are still manually storing your pictures on your hard drive in various folders, I highly recommend installing Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Before I started using Lightroom, I used to process all of my pictures in Adobe Photoshop + Camera Raw and the process was not only very long and cumbersome, but also my files were scattered everywhere and nothing was organized. After I started using Lightroom, I realized that I should have done it long time ago – it made a huge difference in the way I am able to store my pictures, process and organize them. By the way, for those who love Camera Raw – Lightroom has every single feature of Camera Raw integrated right into the Develop module, so you won’t be missing anything. And yes, I have tried many other imaging suites out there and none of them are as good as Lightroom.

12) Travel and find good locations for photography

Don’t just sit at home and expect great pictures. Find local and state parks or perhaps even national parks that might be close to you (by close I mean within an acceptable driving distance) and look for potentially good spots for photography. For landscape photography, you will have to develop an eye for what looks good and what doesn’t. For example, a still lake is a great way to produce a mirrored image that might look exceptionally beautiful during sunrise or sunset, when the clouds, trees and other objects get mirrored on the lake. So if you find a moderately-sized still lake, try to come there at sunrise and sunset a few times and see what you can get (a tripod might be necessary to get a good picture). For portrait photography, drive around and see if you can find locations that will look good in the background. The great thing about portrait photography, is that a good background is often easy to find – all you need to do is find something interesting, like an old building, a painted fence or an old tree. Use your imagination and you will soon be finding great spots all around you. If you can afford to travel, do it as much as possible and as I have already pointed out above, always carry your camera with you!

Maroon Bells - Reflection

Maroon Bells - Reflection


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Y-Media

    Nasim kulniyi u tebya guidi. Samoye glavnoye vse opisano legko i prosto i legko zapominayetsya, odnim slovom ZACHOT i RESPECT. Udachi

    • Azamat, spasibo! :) Ti sebe kameru uje kupil ili net?

  2. 3
    ) Y-Media

    Net kameru ne smog kupit’! Nemnogo bolshe ushlo deneg na oborudovaniya (( No skoro tochno kuplyu ))

  3. 4
    ) WebMonster

    This was really eye openning. I have to wipe out the dust of my camera and start shooting more. Thans for the very good quality “howto”

    • WebMonster, thank you for the feedback! I’m glad you liked it :)

      Hope to see some new pics from you!

  4. 6
    ) Dennis Laul

    I love your site..

    • Dennis, thank you for your feedback! Please let us know if you have any questions :)

  5. 8
    ) Huang TL

    really good article, thank you.

  6. you are great… :D love ur site.

  7. 12
    ) Huang TL

    hi, i follow your suggestion , using aperture mode, really good. but when come to event that the light not so good, this mode take few second to shot and without tripod, pic become blur, and if using mode A will have same result, so my question: what is the suitable mode for low light situation, without flash and tripod.. thanks

    • Huang, in low light situations, your camera mode is not as important – you just need to use maximum aperture (lowest number) and you will have to increase ISO for faster shutter speed. See my low light photography tips article for more information.

      • 16
        ) Huang TL

        just tried out, fantastic and thank you for your help. good article.

  8. 13
    ) Huang TL

    sorry using mode P will have same result as mode A

  9. 17
    ) Huang TL

    hi, Nasim, i follow your suggestion to lower the F number and increase ISO (even to Hi 1-Nikon D5000), still not able to get the good result in low light condition (using A mode). example in conference rooms, office etc that not so dark but also not so bright.

    • Huang, what might not seem so dark for your eyes, might be very dark for the camera. Remember, your eyes adjust to any lighting conditions, making you see everything clearly. Cameras need plenty of light to take good pictures. If your camera is already in Hi 1 ISO, it means that the amount of light is extremely low. Try taking pictures with a flash or open up windows to let more light into the room.

      • 19
        ) Huang TL

        thanks Nasim, will continue to try.

  10. 20
    ) Feodor

    Nasim, a short note on the “Shoot early in the morning or late in the day” part: it really depends on your latitude. The more north you go, the bigger window you have with much softer light. I used to live in Southern California, and indeed there were 2 windows of 2-3 hours each of good light per day – in the morning and in the evening. A few years ago I moved to the Nordic countries, and I realized that the light is much softer and except for a few hours during lunch, the rest of the day is perfect for taking pictures. Also, in the north you get sunrises and sunsets that last hours. (I am not saying this just to get more people to relocate to the cold north… :) )

    Another thing: thank you for the excellent site! I will put is on my blog roll. (http://www.feodorgeorgiev.com)

    • Feodor, thank you so much for the info, I’m sure other readers will find it very useful. You are right about the northern regions having softer light, since it is not so direct…sunrises and sunsets lasting hours – sounds like a photographer’s heaven! :)

      Good luck!

  11. 22
    ) Mia

    What camera do you use? :)

    • Mia, we use three different cameras for our photography, but mostly Nikon D700 and D3s.

  12. 24
    ) Anne

    I posted a question earlier but not sure if it posted correctly. So I’m posting again.

    I followed your advice about shooting in A mode and setting the AUTO ISO. I did this and I’m still getting blurry pictures. Well the background is in focus for the most part but not the subject (usually a person). I make every effort to stand still and avoid camera shake. Do you know what can be the problem?

    Its my understanding you can’t adjust the shutter speed in A mode but on some sites ppl are saying I must change the shutter speed if this is the case.

    Any suggestions?

    • Anne, I apologize for a late response! I believe I answered your question, but I apologize if I did not…

      So, while shooting in aperture priority mode, your subject is blurry while your background is sharp? Do you consistently get the same result? Have you tried half-pressing the shutter button several times to see if the lens would refocus and acquire correct focus? Also, what is the shutter speed when you are taking such pictures? It would certainly help if you attached a sample image for me to see. You can do it by replying to the automated email you will receive after I post this comment.

      In terms of shutter speed – you are correct. You cannot change the shutter speed in Aperture Priority mode – you can only do it in Shutter Priority and Manual Modes. If you consistently get bad focus, there could be a problem with your camera body, lens or both. That’s why a sample image would help.

      Sincerely,
      Nasim

  13. 25
    ) Anne

    Also I want to mention I am shooting at relatively low F stops, between 2 and 4. ISO is set on AUTO per your suggestion. Any help or feedback would be greatly appreciated!

    • Anne, I’m assuming that you are shooting with a fast prime lens such as Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. Auto ISO works well, but what are your settings? What is the shutter speed?

      Again, an example or a detailed description of the problem would help.

      • 28
        ) Anne

        How do I send you a sample image? I did not get any automated email after your reply. In fact, I just checked your website today to see if you wrote me back and you did.

        I have tried pressing the shutter button several times so it can autorefocus correctly.

        I use 35mm/1.8, as well as 55-200, 18-55. They all come out blurry with these lenses in aperture mode.

        • 31
          ) Anne

          I figured out how to reply. I did not enter my email address the previous time so I did not receive a reply but did the 2nd and 3rd time. I just attached sample images and wrote you back. Thanks!

        • Anne, I will check out my email and respond as soon as I can. I apologize for a late response.

  14. 29
    ) Anne

    Also, if you’re shooting in A mode, how can you tell what the shutter speed is? IS there a way you can see what shutter speed it is autogenerating?

    • Anne, when you shoot in aperture mode, you just look into the viewfinder and the shutter speed will show up there. While in aperture priority mode, half-press the shutter then point to a bright light and then point to something dark. You will see that numbers inside the viewfinder will change – those numbers are the shutter speed.

  15. 30
    ) Anne

    I also have another question. When you are shooting on Aperture mode, and your camera tells you the lighting is too low and you bump up your ISO to the max and it still says that, and you increase your fstop amd take the picture. The picture turns out blurry in this case as well. What are my options at this point? A flash?

    Thank you so much for your time and feedback. I really appreciate it.

    • Anne, looks like you are shooting in very dim environments if increasing ISO still says that it is too dark. In those cases, only a flash would be able to illuminate your subject. I highly recommend getting an external flash rather than using the built-in one if you want to get good results.

  16. 35
    ) Anne

    May I ask which flash you would recommend for a D90?

    • Anne, I would go with the Nikon SB-600 or SB-700 minimum. If you can afford the SB-900, that’s the best flash you can get at the moment, but it is not cheap…

      • 39
        ) Anne

        Nasim:

        I bought a SB600 flash. I’m trying to experiment with it and wanted to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind sharing.

        When using flash, do you have to get your exposure compensation to be at O/in the middle or does it matter since the flash will override it anyways?

        Also, when in low light situations and using flash, what ISO would you recommend shooting at? Lower or higher?

        • Anne, I am sorry for such a late response.

          Exposure compensation will affect your exposure when using flash, so I would keep it in the middle. Note that there is also flash compensation that you can change on your flash and on your camera.

          When shooting with flash, lower your ISO to base ISO, if possible. Only increase ISO if flash is not giving you sufficient power (such as when you bounce the flash off the walls and ceilings).

  17. 37
    ) DEEPAK ANTAL

    Hello Nasim,
    I am student from London. I have just bought a new Nikon D5000 with 18-55 VR lens. I love photography but Technically I know nothing about it. Could you please help me out and give some tips please?
    Cheers!!
    Deepak

  18. 40
    ) Anne

    Nasim:

    I sent this posting to you a week or so ago, not sure if you saw it. I’m sure you are super busy but just wondering if you can get back to me whenever you can. Thanks!

    I bought a SB600 flash. I’m trying to experiment with it and wanted to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind sharing.

    When using flash, do you have to get your exposure compensation to be at O/in the middle or does it matter since the flash will override it anyways?

    Also, when in low light situations and using flash, what ISO would you recommend shooting at? Lower or higher?

    • Anne, I apologize for the long wait – I posted a reply to your question today.

      I will be writing some tips on flash photography soon, just need a little more time :)

  19. 43
    ) Andris

    Hello from Latvia! Super! I love this site. Excellent! Ochenj mnogo informaciji! Sposibo

  20. 45
    ) Anna

    Hi Nasim,
    This is a really good article but I still have a question for you. How do you make sure that your oranges and reds show up properly? For example, when I take photos of red flowers, they seem to lose depth and appear “flat”. If I have an orange object next to a red object (like red and yellow peppers or red and yellow/orange tomatoes), they tend to appear one dimensional and really vibrant. They also tend to look like each other (so an orange tomato looks more red and a red tomato looks more orange).
    I know it’s virtually impossible to troubleshoot because there are so many variables (lighting, my skills, lenses, camera [I use a Canon Rebel XTi]). I’m at my wit’s end; not sure what to try. I tried different lighting (natural and indoor), different ISO settings, different everything…
    Any help would be greatly appreciated. If you need examples, I can certainly provide those (in RAW format, if you’d like).

  21. 46
    ) JP

    Hi Nasim,

    I got an entry level DSLR a year back with interest in photography, but never pursued it seriously due to lack of helping guide or clear instructions, always used it in Auto mode fearing that i might ruin my shots. I happened to come across your blog a couple of weeks abck and got hooked to it instantly… spending more time on your blog now reading all your beginer articles and tips.

    A sincere thanks for all your articles .. you rekindled my interest back in photography.

    I purchases a prime lens last week as a first step Nikon 50 mm f1.8D, and started photgraphing my son. They are coming about great.

    Thanks a lot once again?

    Ever thought of writing a book on photography? That would be great for beginers like me with your clear and detailed explanation.

    • JP, you are most welcome. Yes, I have plans to write a book. I might get started later this year…

  22. 48
    ) tapas kr shaw

    nasim,
    thanks for your good advice/tips on good photography.

  23. 49
    ) vincent

    I even don’t need to pay for such a fantastic site???

    thanks

  24. 50
    ) Jeff Zacharuk

    Is there a forum on website?

    Ive been browsing this site for awhile and find it very helpful.

    Im looking forward to talking with all of you

  25. 51
    ) Dale

    Love this blog. Got lots of good info and some great photographs (love the one at the top of the page).
    I always say it’s not the camera so much as it is the person behind it that makes the shot. Have a nice day.
    :-)

  26. 52
    ) gautama

    what a amazing article
    awesome , motivated me to move on

  27. 53
    ) Tobias

    bring a little more updated information. av learned something though.

  28. 54
    ) Sunil

    Good article, really your article will help full for taking awesome photos.

  29. 55
    ) Hazel Lau

    Hi Nasim, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. I bought my second-handed Sony Nex-7 Dec last year so I decided to put in good efforts and time to master the basic level of photography this year.

    I understand the importance of taking a lot of photos and learn from the mistakes. But as a really beginner, sometimes I don’t know what is the definition of a good photo in professional photographers’ eyes. I used to think photography (or arts) is pretty subjective. One might think it is a good photo while the rest might don’t think the same.

    But as I read and learn more, I believe there are at least a set of rules to define what is a good photo. For e.g. I know a photo is probably not a good one if it’s completely out of focus and has not main story to tell, even that I’m a beginner. I mean, I’m able to tell the differences in the case that it’s extremely good or extremely bad.

    I find it hard to pinpoint my own. Sometimes I don’t know whether I’m doing correctly or what possibilities I could do to improve my photos. In some cases, I know there is something “wrong” with my photos but I don’t know what causes that and actually fix that. I find it hard and less motivated to randomly take a bunch of photos and struggle to improve them.

    I set a rule to myself. I go slow. Instead of taking many scenes. I take one scene with different settings. With that, hopefully I know what to expect, for e.g. what will my photo becomes if I make the expose more and vice versa. Sometimes I can’t tell the differences with my naked eyes, but I believe this is a stage every beginner has to go through.

    I would like to hear your opinions: 1. how do you define a good photo? 2. if you agree with my learning method, what kind of major setting you would suggest me to try out, that could greatly improve my skills?

    Thank you!

  30. 56
    ) nil

    Hello Nasim. I posted this already in different topic but I think this is the right topic to post this question. Anyway thanks for this very informative site. I had a nikon d7100. I shoot in raw + jpg, because I use 2 sd card one for raw and the other for jpg. I wanna ask if I “turned off” all the custom settings in my camera does the jpg format in one of my sd card affect the settings? If it will affect the jpg files on my sd card when I shoot raw, so no need to shoot raw + jpg in d7100? I was confused please explain further.

    Thanks,
    nil

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