I recently sent a friend some photos and they said "Wow they look good, what camera did you use?". This is the sort of question I hate, given that I was using my old beaten-up compact digital camera which I keep meaning to replace with something better.
The simple fact is that, while having a better camera will help you take better photos, there are many other things you can do to take much better photos.
Time: 1 minute for the basic techniques, a lifetime of experimenting to master them.
Materials Whatever camera you have now.
Just take the photo
The advantage of digital technology is that taking photos is free. If in doubt take the photo. Here is one of my favourite photos. I took it while hiking with a friend who was carrying his new expensive and bulky camera.
Just take the photo, it might turn out okay
Looking up at this tree in the mist he started debated whether he should take the trouble to remove his camera from his bag and take the photo.
In that time of course I had already whipped out my phone and taken the photo. Turned out to be one of my favourite photos.
Take lots of photos
A friend once had the opportunity to visit the home of a famous photographer. What he took away from this was all the boxes of photos just lying around his home.
Even professional photographers take lots of photos to get one that is right. Digital photos are free now so take lots of them. One or two may work out well, even by accident.
Rules of basic composition
There are a lot of strangers in my photos and while I often like to take photos of interesting people the main reason these strangers appear in my photos is because of composition. In the example photo, this father with his twin daughters turns beautiful scenery into classic country photo using a composition that invokes many famous historic landscape painting.
Another trick occurs to give it a painting fee. They are on a steep hill, so the background is actually far away but in the photo our eyes get confused and as a result the image feels flatter like a painting.
Used a classic landscape painting composition for this photo
Here are some simple rules to make better composition.
1. A background looks more interesting with a foreground. This is where the strangers come in. But I also use trees, boats or anything to have a foreground to go with the background.
2. Have a dominant. This is the item in the photo your eyes are first attracted to. If there is no dominant or more than one potential dominant we are not sure what to look at first.
3. Keep things a little off centre.
4. Interesting angles. Sometimes getting up high or down low can give you a better photos.
5. Symmetries and repetition.
There is a lot more to composition than this. The trick is to look at paintings, photos and illustrations that you like and think about why they work.
Open your eyes and look around
I went hiking with a professional photographer. He was always spotting things that we missed. An owl disturbed by our presence taking flight, a tree that stands out in from the forest and so on.
Photography is the art of seeing. I don't believe we take photographs, I believe that we find them and we can only find them if we look.
If you want to take photos you have to be there. You have to hike up that mountain hoping to see a great sunrise, you have to go to events and travel to places others don't go.
I was there
Most of my best travel photographs come from just getting away from the crowd. Incidentally this is always where my best travel stories come from as well.
Once I was on my way to a writers festival in Sydney. This was many years ago when I was learning to take photographs with an old manual Canon camera. Before leaving home I debated whether to lug this camera along or not.
As I was early I stopped in Iron Cove and beforehand to walk along the waterfront. Now on this day there was a beautiful silver cloud layer speckled with lower level dark clouds. As I walked along I was thinking, this would be a nice photograph.
Then I saw a post in the water and I thought to myself, with that post in the foreground of the photo it would be a good photo.
Then along came a cormorant and landed on the post right in front of me. I was thinking that would make a great photo.
Then the cormorant eyed me, and decided to pose with is wings out like cormorants like to do. I was beside myself seeing what would be an amazing photo.
Then God, maybe in jest or as a lesson to me, reached down and parted the clouds a little, so that a stream a silvery light reflected from the water just behind the cormorant.
As you might have guessed, I didn't have my camera with me. A cheap portable camera in your pocket is better than an expensive camera at home.
Learn about your camera's settings
The camera does make a difference but really what matters is how you use it. One of my favourites settings found on nearly everything but phone cameras is a long exposure setting. Do a 1 or 2 second exposure while tracking a moving object or person and you get an amazing effect.
Long exposure tracking shot
Photoshop is your friend
Actually I usually don't use Photoshop but I do use a range of image editing software packages. The only skills you really need to master are crop, brightness, contrast, levels and hue. With brightness, contrast and levels there is usually an automatic settings.
Just these few things will make your photos much better.
Actually I don't delete that many photos, but what I do is only show people my best photos..
Clean your camera's lens
I was travelling with a friend who had an iPhone while I was taking some photos with my cheap Samsung S3 Mini which doesn't have a good camera. She complained to me about how my phone's camera was better than hers as most of her photos looked blurry and unclear. I simply took her phone and cleaned the gunk off her lens.
Sometimes a dirty lens can give you a cool effect
Please clean your phone's lens every time you go out to take a photo.
Do you need a better camera
Yes, definitely. The better the camera the better the photo will be. You will be able to photograph smaller details, long distance shots, action shots and in lower light conditions. Just as the music is not in the instrument so too the photograph is not in the camera and you won't take great photographs unless you learn how to take better photos.