Great Photo Tips From E

Who me? Take great photos? Nah.Yes you! You can take great photos with a few helpful guidelines.

It’s all about the light…

In photography there are two types of light: ambient (natural) or artificial (flash).I usually use natural light because, well, it looks natural. If you like the effects of natural light it’s important that your subject is well lit. If you have a subject that is back lit by light, like say this robin picture, then you might want to use flash for filler. Or else the subject will be too dark. Try using PhotoShop to rectify lighting problems with your photos. I have found it works fairly well. I used it to brighten this robin picture.

Best times of day for taking photographs

A general rule of thumb is to utilize a half hour to an hour before sunset and the same period of time after sunrise for taking scenic shots. Broad daylight gives you washed out pictures. Patience, my friend, will yield you great results.


Are very hard to get pictures of unless it’s your dog or cat, who will do anything to please you. Well, maybe not your cat…

If you want pictures of wildlife that are fairly easy to get close to try Yellowstone National Park. I find that the people there are more fun to watch than the wildlife, though, due to the fact that people seem to think they are in a large zoo and will do incredibly stupid things like get between a female elk cow and her calf. Please don’t ever do that. You risk serious injury and death. Don’t say E didn’t warn you!

If you know of special spot where you can find can find a particular animal you can set up a blind. Portable blinds are easy to carry around.


Are a lot easier to take pictures of. They aren’t skulking in the brush like mammals are. They are out being social and talking to one another. The key to taking great bird pictures is a long lens. This picture was taken with a 28 – 135mm zoom lens, right outside my bedroom window. I was taking pictures of a squirrel laying on top of our feeder in the most languid of fashions, when this robin flew up and started attacking the squirrel.

I have found that taking picures of birds during the nesting season are much easier to obtain than during the mating season. One of the reasons this may be is because they are worn out from constantly feeding their young. Screaming babies tire them out and they will often perch just out of reach with worms hanging out of their beaks. You don’t pose a threat as long as you can’t touch them.

The light in their eye…

When you are taking pictures of birds or mammals make sure that a glimmer of light is in the subject’s eye(s), or else they will wind up looking like stuffed museum specimens. And you don’t want a stuffed museum specimen when you have been working your photographic butt off trying to capture some great shots!

Flowers, Trees and Plants

Are best shot on overcast days. Or, make sure they are in shadow without any dappled light playing over their surface.

I find that white flowers are the hardest to capture on film (or digital flash cards) without compensating by stopping down (keeping the same shutter speed while increasing the aperture number) What this does is make the aperture hole smaller. It does seem counter intuitive that if the aperture number is increased the hole gets smaller, but this is how it works.

I always picture the camera’s aperture to be like a cervix. And if you have had any sex ed classes you know what I mean.


Humans are fascinating creatures and exhibit many amusing and bizarre behaviors (see Yellowstone example above). And you can capture it all on film!

Unfortunately, unless people are totally absorbed in an activity like playing sports or music they exhibit self conscious behaviors when a camera is pointed at them. I have found no good way around this problem. You also run in to problems of invading people’s personal space when you take their photographs. It’s always a good idea to inform them that you are a photographer (professional or not) and will be taking photos. Sometimes this is enough to make them feel relaxed when they find out you aren’t some kind of government spy compiling information on them.

Children do not usually exhibit these self conscious behaviors, and you can get great photos of them when they’re playing. They totally absorb themselves in play. So parents take note! Keep that camera handy! You never know when a great photo op is might present itself. I used to keep my camera handy on top of the entertainment center when my kids were little.

I haven’t addressed the techniques of photo composition, but Amy Palko recently had a great series on this aspect of photography at her site, Less Ordinary. Also, check out Chris Garret’s DSLRBlog, and Darren Rowses’s Digital Photography School for a discussion of the more technical aspects involved in photography.

You never know what will happen in front of your camera. But remember, you are a witness, so capture it all!

Photo Credit: © Ellen Wilson

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18 thoughts on “Great Photo Tips From E”

  1. Ha! You left out one thing, how to keep your thumb out of the photo! You and Amy are talented photographers. I’m so bad I don’t even own a camera! True artists make it look easy to the slugs. You my friend are an artist. 🙂

    Hope you have an awesome weekend!


    Karen Swim’s last blog post..A Divine Slap on the Head

  2. Ellen,

    That photo is so fabulous. A robin with attitude. Amazing! These are great tips on how to set up the conditions for a great shot.

    My favorite thing is to take a camera out when kids, grandparents, etc. are all having a great time, and shoot so long that everybody forgets I’m there. Like you said the kids act naturally pretty fast, but once the adults loosen up I start getting some good stuff. Plus when you shoot forever a few good ones will creep in even if lighting or angle or mood is not quite right.

    I was like that with film, too, until my 35mm died for good last year. I was a regular fashion photographer for how much film I plowed through.

    It’s a cheaper hobby now that I have my digital, but I’ll tell you I don’t get as many really awesome shots. Film was able to produce better shots under a wider range of conditions, at least for me.

    I never thought about sunset and sunrise, and now I feel silly. Such a simple tip I wish I’d known about that!



    Kelly’s last blog post..Guy Kawasaki Wrote Me an Email Today

  3. @Karen – C’mon, I know you have to have a point and shoot. Something. Yeah, I did leave out the thumb thing. That little slug has to stay out of the picture.

    I’m betting that Amy gives up teaching and goes pro photographer. We’ll see. Lot’s of good stuff in Scotland.

    @Darren – I never took a photography class. Okay, okay…I did in high school! But mainly I’m self taught. Everything I’ve learned has been on the job. I like it that way. 1. It doesn’t cost as much, and 2. I’m a damned good teacher. And student.

  4. Natural light is almost always best. I can’t remember when I last used the flash with my SLR, and I always turn the one on the point&shoot off. (The P&S has image stabilization, which helps a lot indoors.) You can usually get good lighting if you move your subjects close to a window and use it to light them from the side or “almost front.”

    A flash just blows everything out and makes it look harsh and flat. I hate ’em.

    Too much natural light can be a problem, too. Midday sun is awful to shoot in. Everything’s all harshly lit and your subjects are bound to be squinty or masked by sunglasses. Get ’em in the shade or–better–wait until sunset.

    Matt Tuley’s last blog post..The best branding book you’ve never heard of.

  5. @Kelly – I think digital cameras have the same capabilities that 35 mm cameras have, but I have yet to reach those limits. I hear ya. I’m still learning. I can still take really good pictures with my Canon 40 DSLR, but sometimes I do feel something is lacking. Subtlety?

    Thanks for your added tips on taking great photos. It’s true, you have to take ALOT of pictures to get a few good ones. Professionals know that. It’s the way it is. Now, thanks to PhotoShop, you can bring good shots next to better. But it’s no excuse for not learning the basics. You can’t fake it.

  6. @Matt – That’s what I’m saying, wait until the light is right, and everything will work out.

    Image stabilized lenses are a great thing, too. I love them. Don’t ever want to live without them again!

    Flash is always funky. Usually. There’s always a usually.

  7. I like to take my photos with natural light, it looks great when the object shows with light and shadows, it makes the photo looks so natural.

    Your tips are so great and helpful, thanks for sharing!

  8. @Ellen

    Thanks for these photo tips. I’m going to use some of them…(I never really had any lessons, either). I just learned by trail and error, but there is only so much you can teach yourself.

    I like the trick about taking photos in early morning or late evening. For water landscapes (lakes, rivers, etc). That’s when the water is like a sheet of glass and you get awesome reflections, plus that beautiful light (Which I call the “Golden Time”).

    During mid-day, with the breeze and ripply waves, I find lake scense are quite boring and the colors tend to be washed out.

    Friar’s last blog post..Friar versus the Gray Heads (Part V)…A Possible Truce?

  9. @Axe City – Thanks for stopping in. I really don’t want to turn anyone off from flash, I just don’t use it much because I’m not a portrait or fashion photographer. There is a way to use flash that makes it appear like natural light.

    @Friar – I’m surprised more people don’t know about taking pictures at this time of day. I remember teaching myself photography and thinking all the pictures I took will appear just like they did before I snapped the shot. Wrong. Most of that idea translated into feeling an emotion about the scene. You can’t photography emotion. Well, you can, but you have to translate it into light.

  10. Hi Barbara,

    Glad to be of service. Wishing you many great photos!

    I’m sure there are many scenic pictures ready to be had in your area of the country. I hope to get out to the Pacific Northwest one of these days.

  11. Great tips. Thanks.

    “Unfortunately, unless people are totally absorbed in an activity like playing sports or music they exhibit self conscious behaviors when a camera is pointed at them. I have found no good way around this problem.” – this is very true! I am trying to get rid of my own self consciousness when being photographed, but it’s hard.

    Vered’s last blog post..Best Shot Monday: Would You Put THIS In Your Front Yard?

  12. These are great tips Ellen. I love taking photos but I’ve never done much reading or taken a photography class. However, I’d like to someday. I wish I had one of those long lenses for my camera too as I understand they can help add depth to a photo. I hope you post more tutorials on photography 😉

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  13. @Vered – I know how you feel, I am very self concious too, and am always trying to portray my “best” side. It is hard.

    @Melissa – Anything for you! I will write more tutorials. And I still need to write about symbolism and archetypes. I haven’t forgotten.

    You can add depth to a photo by adjusting the aperture. It is easier with a long lens, though.

  14. Very interesting photo tips… maybe I should go to Yellowstone and take pictures of the tourists there!
    Seriously, your advice on light are very sensible, for instance the part about overcast conditions for flower photos. I have found it to be very true, I even made my best flower shots at sunset.

    The only part I didn’t follow was the likeness of the aperture to a cervix – I guess I missed the sex education in school or something….

    Photo-tips Dan’s last blog post..Photo Tip: the Old Rule of Thirds

  15. These are some good tips, primarily the one about grabbing pictures about half hour to an hour before sunset. The lighting will be fantastic and subdued at that point and make for excellent photographs.

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