I started taking pictures and working in a ‘dark room’ in the mid 1980s. In high school I traveled a lot, and took photos with my buddy Todd all over Europe. I’ve photographed weddings and taken portraits. A lot has changed over the years with regards to technology. But the fundamentals to taking good pictures are the same now as they were in the 80’s.
The biggest misconception is you must have a professional grade camera (Nikon D series or equivalent) to take great pictures. Photography is far more about composition and lighting than the camera.
The primary camera body I use is the Nikon D300s. Our second camera is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10, which we use for our point and shoot pictures.
By far, the most critical part of the equipment is your lens. Spend more money on excellent lenses and less on your camera body if money is an issue.
I have four lenses that I consider my ‘go to’ for almost any situation.
- Nikkor 85mm f1.4 – Portrait photography, best image quality and bokeh of my lenses
- Nikkor 35mm f1.8 – Versatile 50mm equivalent lens, excellent quality
- Tokina 12 – 24mm f4 – Wide angle lens, I use this 50% of the time (almost as good as Nikon equivalent but ½ the price)
- Sigma 170-500mm f5 – Decent quality zoom for wildlife pictures (Nikon makes a better, faster lens but it’s 3x the price)
|Sarah on beach - Nikkor 85mm f 1.4|
Unless I am shooting a landscape picture, I almost always shoot in ‘Aperture Priority’ mode on my camera. I want full control over the depth of field (f-stop) for better bokeh (background burr) affect.
You will only get good bokeh effects with a good fast (f 1.4 or f 2.0) lens. This is where you can spend big money. Is it worth it? Yes.
|f Stop Examples - Nikkor 35mm|
|My Sister - Bokeh Example - Nikkor 85mm f 1.4|
Light is critical to a good picture. If you have shadows on subjects it’s generally not good. I use a ‘fill flash’ most of the time when taking people pictures. This is very easy to do on almost ANY camera.
Point and shoot cameras have the option to ‘force’ the flash to flash. Use this. It will make a big difference.
On the Nikon, I usually use the ‘slow-sync’ mode of my flash. This allows proper exposure of picture and then ‘pops’ the flash to fill in shadows on subject.
The rule of thirds is another key component. The rule of thirds is a "rule of thumb" or guideline, which applies to the process of composing visual images. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.
|Rule of Thirds - Not Great Composition|
|Rule of Thirds - Good Composition - Cropped in Aperture|
As a helpful tool, most cameras now have the option to turn on a grid. You will use the grid for the ‘rule of thirds’.
In addition, if you forgot to properly compose your picture, it is usually easy to fix this by cropping the image in a photography program like Apple’s Aperture, iPhoto or Adobe Photoshop.
In conclusion, focus on lighting, at least one good fast lens and the ‘rule of thirds’. Do this, and you will have great pictures.