Jan 4, 2009

Making Pictures vs. Taking Pictures

What matters most when you are trying to get a good picture? The camera? The light? The subject? Color?
How about the mind of the photographer?

If you want to make better pictures, the first thing I can recommend is to consider your active participation in the process.
I tend to break my photos into two categories...

Let's say it is birthday party time, you want some photos to document the festivities and maybe something for the scrapbook. No problem, pull out the camera and blast anything that moves! If you take enough pictures, some of them will probably be fine, you will get everyone, and at the end of the day you will have a lot to look at. Nothing wrong with that, and it is easy! Unfortunately, this is what we do most and end up with positively average pictures most of the time.

This is definitely a snapshot. No thought about the distractions on the table or decapitating people in the background (sorry Julie), and overall just not a nice photo.

Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85, f4.5, 1/60, iso400, built in flash

Intentional Pictures
When taking snapshots, there are sometimes those wonderful little surprises, pictures that I really like. Taking the next step to intentional photography makes that happen a lot more often! As with most situations, it is usually wise to avoid the tendency to "shoot first, ask questions later." It may be just as simple as waiting an extra second before taking the picture, changing angles, or zooming in a bit... but you will only know if you think first about what you are trying to get.

This is a little better than a snapshot... a little consideration about the light, and zoomed in enough to minimize background distractions somewhat.
Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85, f5, 1/60, iso 200, 580ex Flash bounced off ceiling

This sounds simple enough, but when you really start thinking about the picture before you take it tends to cause more questions than answers. Having that vision in your head prior to pushing the button also allows for failure when the picture turns out nothing like you thought. It is easy to go back to just snapping away mindlessly.

Like any exercise, it does get easier with practice and knowledge, which is what this is all about. We'll cover the details as we go along.

My favorite birthday cake shot last year...
Canon 5D, 70-200, f4.5, 1/45, iso 800, off camera flash to the left of the camera for just a little fill.

Don J


  1. I am guilty of taking a lot of snapshots, and I always hope one turns out decent. I also like to play around with the settings, trying different things. I have just a point and shoot, so the options are limited.

    What I hate, is finding a picture that turned out good, then trying to remember what setting I used. Any suggestions? Or does that come with just using the camera and getting used to the settings?

  2. Hi Jim, Thanks for stopping by.

    No guilt for snapshots! That is what most pictures are, and there are a lot of times that you don't have time for more. I think it is just a matter of thinking about it when you want to really make a picture. I also find that the time spent intentionally making pictures helps make the overall chance of a good snapshot go up as well. Just a theory.

    For recalling your settings, the software that came with your camera should be able to get some of the exposure information from the exif file attached to the photo. You can also download exif reader programs like this... http://www.snapfiles.com/get/exifreader.html although some of the information varies by camera brand.

    I love the daily photo idea.. that is a labor of love.

    Thanks again,

    don j.

  3. Hello! (you told us to stop by and say Hello, so I did, so there!)

    I need to actually start taking pictures someday, so this will help me learn something :)