28 December 2010

Take Better Pictures

This little tutorial-slash-list of tips is a personal collaboration of things I've learned in my comparatively short stint as a photographer. The first section is about setting up and taking shots; the second is about editing the photos once they're on your computer. I hope it's helpful... enjoy!

section one : start with the good stuff
Even the best photo editor can't help a picture that's beyond repair. So let's have a quick run-through of how to take photos that are good SOOC (straight out of camera; that is, unedited).

Lesson One: Use Your Gear
A good photographer can make something beautiful with even the worst disposable camera. But let's face it: better cameras take better pictures. You can take a peek inside my camera bag to find out what I use personally.
But whether you have a DSLR or a point-and-shoot, one thing that I strongly recommend is to never use flash. True, some pretty cool shots can be taken with flash, but overall I never switch my camera from the "no flash" setting. It can make an otherwise pretty photo look tacky and amateur. Natural light is always best. (Of course, I mainly photograph nature; I'm not in a studio setting.)

Lesson Two: Play the Weather
Pop quiz- So it's a sunny day and you're at the beach. Or perhaps it's winter, overcast and snowing. Which is better for photography?
Answer- both. You just need to learn how to play the weather.
Sunny days cast harsh shadows, so it's better to photograph the subject so they're not in shadow. Sun-photos are generally more cheerful and warm-toned; backlighting is always nice too.
Bright overcast days make the sunlight diffused and colder. I personally prefer these days; the natural light takes on an ethereal quality and it's flattering to everyone and everything.

Lesson Three: the Rule of Thirds
I'm sure you've heard of this before. Photographs are divided up into nine sections. It's best to have your subject aligned on one of the thirds rather than smack-dab in the middle. Of course, with photography rules are made to be broken, and some truly amazing shots have been taken without the thirds. But it's generally a good idea.
By the way, the Rule of Thirds generally wants you to align your subject on one of the lines. I feel that as long as it isn't front-and-center, it's okay.
As you can see, the cardinal is tucked neatly into the 2nd third down and 1st third across.

section two : edit to perfection
Okay, so now you've got a reasonably good photo... now what? Well, in some cases you won't need editing. In fact, most of the photos I post on HorseFeathers are SOOC — I just add a watermark, resize, and post. (Mostly because I am too lazy to spend an hour editing every photo to perfection.)
But sometimes there's a photo that seems beyond repair. The only thing to do is try editing it. Sometimes it will work; sometimes it won't. But here's my tips for bringing back a photo that should have gone to the big darkroom in the sky. (Or computer trash can, rather, since we aren't working with film here.)

Lesson One: Start Basic
Let's start with this photo. It's pretty dark and the bird disregards the Rule of Thirds. Due to the wind, it's also slightly blurry. So it's salvageable, but not amazing.

The first thing I always do is crop.

Next, adjust the curves of the image so it's lighter. (I use Photoshop by the way.)

I used Pioneer Woman's "Sharpen This!" action to make the bird pop... and there you go! Much better.

Lesson Two: Act It Up
In Photoshop there are these handy things called "Actions." Other programs have similar things, I believe. If I do edit my photos I either use my own actions or those from Florabella. They're top-notch.

Lesson Three: Collage
Another fun idea is a collage. I like collages that tell a story, like these:

I guess that's it! Of course, the best thing to do is practice. So get out there and take some pictures!


  1. Thank you so much for the tips! I'm looking forward to trying them out. :)

  2. Lovely tips, Olivia! And a gorgeous shot. :)

    (I emailed you. ;))

  3. great tutorial! I was wondering if you would make a tutorial on how to use actions in photoshop, i downloaded your actions but then i had no idea how to get them into my photoshop and use them/find them... I just got photoshop not long ago from my uncles girlfriend and she gave it to me for free so it would be helpful to know how to use it maybe. :)

  4. Great tips, Olivia. I can't wait to get out there with my new Canon Rebel and practice taking many different shots! I've never thought about the 'thirds' concept, but I can see why it works and is something you should aim for in your photo taking.

    Thanks again for your lovely tips, dear!

  5. Thanks! I totally agree with lesson one. I personally hate flash, so it's nice to hear that from someone else. Especially when I've seen a lot of flash photography lately. I love your collages as well!

  6. Nice tips. My camera actually has lines on it for the rules of thirds, I love that feature and always try to use it.

    P.S. this is kind of random but... your cat has really cute eyes! :)

  7. Those are great tips! I've done all but use the nine sections. I'll remember that though. I'm still new to my camera so I don't know all of the things it can do.

    Yes, flash can be very annoying. Taking pictures at night isn't even my 'cup of tea'.
    I love nature photography (at day time) so I rarely have to use it.

  8. Thanks for posting this Olivia! It was a great basic outline. :) I'm getting quite good at picking the subject matter for pictures, angling the camera, and actually taking decent shots, but I usually never edit, since I don't really know what to do.

    If you don't mind me asking, how do you get your watermarks to look so... "fancy?" There's the image, and different fonts. Do you just change font as you go? Is there a way to save a certain watermark, or text in Photoshop to easily put on each photo?

    Thanks, and thanks for making this post!

    ~Liz B :)

  9. I have several different brushes in Photoshop that I use for watermarks. Just google "make a photoshop brush" and you should find everything you need. I use the "Soft Light" layer style so they aren't so blaring.

  10. Hey Olivia,

    :) I loved this tutorial/tips. I have a point-and-shoot and it takes great pictures (when I actually follow the photography 'rules'), but this definitely helped.

    I hope to purchase a DLSR someday in my future but am content with my plain and simple point-and-shoot right now.

    Blessings, girlie!

  11. Good tips! I never really edit my photos at all, and I think most of them turn out okay for no editing.
    I have a question... which version of Photoshop do you use?

  12. Love those pictures!

    By the way, this is SO random, but what commercials are you in? I just want to see if I've seen one :P


  13. Love the post, Liv dear! I know what it's like to be using a point and shoot. And I'd love it if you did a little non-resolution post! But feel free to link back to me. :)

    Have a lovely day!

  14. i olive, i really like the collage of daisy: she's out in the snow! i'm going to try and get a canon 60D for shooting video and i'm going to add color clarity and better sound so it will probably end up around 1500 to 2000 dollars. but it's worth it, in my opinion.
    also: i have a question. on LuLu, what is the difference between lulu traditional paper and publisher grade (aside from the price)? is lulu traditional the shiny, thicker paper and the other the off-white novel-type paper?

  15. I don't like using the flash at all. Your photos are beautiful especially of the Cardinal as that's a bird that we don't have here in Scotland. Thanks for the links to your actions - I must have a little look at those. :) Rosie

  16. I've tried the collages before on my photos! It's really cool :)

  17. Hey there! I found your blog through Adori Graphics, and I LOVE your pictures. Awesome tutorial, by the way!!

  18. Thanks for the tips! Just one thing I'm a little confused about though... I thought that the rule of thirds was to align the subject where the lines intersect, not where in the box?

  19. *where there is a gap, I mean, sorry :)

  20. Oh wow I feel dumb. I always thought it was a good thing to have the subject in the center of the picture. Maybe that's old school or something. I guess I need to do some research. Is there a reason why it shouldn't be in the center? Or maybe you know of a place where I can learn more about this? Thanks for the post!


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