How To Take Good Photos

How to take good photos involves camera knowledge, composition and photography skills.

Do you love making photos, but are not always happy with the results you achieve. Do you want to learn how to take good photos that document not just what you see, but how you feel about what you see?

To be able to take good photos, on a consistent basis, you need to be familiar with your camera, have adequate photography skills and understand how to employ them quickly and creatively.

But the same is also true for folks who like to continue the creative journey on the desktop. It’s here where a good image can be turned into something quite remarkable.

To do so you need a fairly deep understanding of one or more photo editing applications. This would normally take many years of dedicated pursuit.

However, when well taught, it’s possible to dramatically reduce the time it takes to master the most fundamental aspects of image processing within just a few sessions.

All you need is the right software, the right teacher and the right frame of mind.

Add in a reasonable amount of practice and you’ll be amazed just how quickly your photography will improve.

By the way I recommend Adobe Lightroom. Here’s a link to a post I wrote that outlines how to rate photos in Lightroom.

Rating photos is essential to an efficient workflow. It helps you better organize and categorize your photos.

Street Photography in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Street Photography - Documentation and Discovery

This photo features a classic street scene showcasing an ornate shop front in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

If you look closely at the photo you'll see there's a lot going on, with heads and faces (not all of them human) dispersed throughout the image.

It's really quite a surreal photograph, which you’ll be able to appreciate by double clicking on it.

Street photography is fun and it’s available to all of us. While it’s amazing to be photographing in far away exotic locales, there are many options for great street photography in your own city, town or village.

After all you don’t have to travel all the way to Buenos Aires to photograph the outside of an antique store.

The fact that you’re out and about exploring the world around you will allow you to document what’s there and, through a closer examination, to discover alternate realities that exist beyond what’s immediately evident.

Great photos have a way of allowing us to explore our own world view at a deeper level than what’s normally possible through the average snapshot. I feel that great photos enable us to see

  • Underneath the surface

  • Behind the facade

  • Beyond our normal, everyday experience in a way that’s, somehow, outside of time and space

By learning how to take good photos you’ll find yourself doing just that.

Post Processing Photos - Is It Right For You?

But being a Lightroom and/or Photoshop wizard isn’t for everyone. For most folks the whole point of making photos is tied in with the experience of being in the moment when the camera’s shutter is released.

You shouldn’t feel like you need to post process your photos on the desktop if you don’t want to. It’s a personal choice that only you can make based upon your own wants and desires.

Just because Bob’s doing it doesn’t mean you should as well.

Two Icelandic Horses

About To Travel?


Good Photography Starts in the Camera

But if you’re not actively trying to improve the quality of your photos on the desktop then the need to be able to achieve good photography results, in camera, becomes even more important.

You can do so in the following ways:

  • Improve your knowledge of fundamental photography principals of exposure, focus and sharpness.

  • Demonstrate an ability to consistently make images that demonstrate your ability to control these principals.

  • Gain a better understanding of the principals of composition.

  • Construct your photos around these principals of composition.

  • Think often and deeply about why you’re drawn to photograph certain subjects or scenes and the message or meaning you’d like to explore by doing so.

  • Experiment and have fun making photos.

As you can see the way forward, whether based solely around how to take good photos in camera or through enhancements made to images on the desktop, is going to rely on a combination of education and practical action.

Beautiful color along this backstreet on a rainy day in Salzburg, Austria.

How To Improve Your Photography Skills

One of the great things about photography is that the best way to improve your photography skills is by making more photos, more often.

What’s more, unlike in the days of film based photography, whether you take ten, one hundred or one thousand photos on any particular day the financial cost of doing so is unchanged.

In saying that it’s also important to note that your progress will be swifter and more profound when you take the time to do the following:

  • Critique your photos and take action to ensure you adapt how you approach the subject or scene in question so as to ensure better lighting and expression.

  • Change your in camera workflow to avoid making the same technical or composition based mistakes, again and again.

  • Think deeply about the motivations behind making the photos you do and what you can do to better realize the outcomes you’re wanting to achieve.

What Is A RAW File?

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are key to my workflow. Unlike most folks I photograph in RAW, though not always in a state of undress.

All digital cameras (including mobile devices) record images in RAW mode. It's basically the original, unprocessed data that’s recorded by the camera during the exposure.

The problem is that RAW files look pretty ordinary often displaying low contrast, weak colors and a lack of sharpness. They simply need to be processed before they look any good.

Serene scene of houses around a lake on Suduroy, Faroe Islands.

RAW Or JPEG - What’s Right For You?

However, just as it was in the days of the darkroom, most folks don't want to spend their life at the desktop processing each and every image. And, even if they do, who has the time.

To resolve this problem cameras are preset to JPEG mode. This means that, within a split second after releasing the camera’s shutter, the RAW file is automatically converted into a reasonable rendition of the subject or scene in question.

Your digital camera is now operating as both a recording device (i.e., camera) and a photo lab.

The obvious advantage of this is that you no longer need a third party, like a photo lab; or an extra step, like post processing your images on the desktop (digital darkroom) to achieve a good photo.  

Mobile phones, until very recently, automatically converted the raw data into a JPEG file.

There's now at least one phone where you have the choice between holding onto the RAW file or allowing it to be converted into a JPEG.

Mirrorless and DSLR cameras, while they're preset to JPEG, do give you the option to photograph in RAW mode. That’s what I do.

While JPEG is the most appropriate mode for the vast majority of folks it's not for me. My background is with film photography and printing my images in darkrooms.

Frankly, I set very high standards for my photography and want to make the best images I can. The Master American landscape photographer Ansel Adams said the following:

"The negative is the score. The print is the performance."

Once you have control over how the image is processed you are freed from the constraints imposed by the so-called reality of the scene.

You’re now able to concern yourself with the needs of the image and the meaning that can be derived from that.

Built in apps on your mobile phone are a basic example of this concept.

Most DSLR and Mirrorless cameras allow you to influence the way your camera processes files. This allows you to indicate to your camera the kind of result, within basic parameters, that you want to achieve.

The theory is that, by doing so, you can achieve better results based on the way most folks would, most often want commonly photographed subjects like portraits or landscapes to look.

This is also where you can instruct your camera to render the scene in question into black and white, though it’s usually called Monochrome or Monotone in most camera menus.

  • In Canon cameras you’ll find this feature inside your camera’s menu under Picture Styles

  • Nikon cameras refer to the same feature as Picture Controls

If you’re still unsure about the best way to proceed this post should help you decide whether RAW or JPEG is right for you.

Photography - The Future Is Now

Photography freed painting from the constraints associated with mere documentation of our physical world. The darkroom and, to an even greater extent, the desktop has freed photography in a similar way.

There's reality and there's abstraction. I'm fascinated by such dualities and am mostly concerned with the space and ambiguity that exists between the two, which I refer to as suggestion.

When looking at my photography it's up to the viewer to create their own meaning, their own story and their own reality from the experience of viewing an image.

Isn’t it time you invested in your own creative life?

  • Do you have an upcoming trip planned?

  • Are you unsure how to use your camera?

  • Do you feel your creativity is being held back?

Perhaps you want to Master Lightroom. I can help you, and I can do so right now.

Do you want to know how to take good photos and seriously improve your photography skills? You can do so by learning how best to use your camera or through learning a simple, yet sophisticated approach to post processing.

It’s time you considered signing up to one of my Melbourne based one-to-one private photography sessions.

It’s amazing what you’ll learn in 3 hours and how much that new knowledge will improve your photography and enhance you own travel experiences.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.

Think about it, but not for long. It’s time for action. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru