12 Ideas On How To Take Better Photographs

Bakari Chavanu 20-11-2009

Although I primarily photograph weddings and other special events, as a photographer who loves the craft of making photos I still need to get beyond my paying gigs and everyday family photos and explore other subjects to photograph. More-so, it’s important to tear myself away from browsing  and admiring wonderful and powerful travel photos posted by other photographers on the Internet, and get out and shoot my own.


So in the spirit of sharing, the following are some ideas for those of you who haven’t got out with your camera in a while and made some photographs. Your challenge of sorts is to shoot take 10 different photos in the next month or so. These ideas and photos don’t take a professional camera, nor do they require you to travel to some exotic place to take better photographs. As you will see, these photos are the kind that can be taken nearly anywhere.

Start At Home

Start at home with everyday objects. Shoot something simple, but capture it as aesthetically as possible. As always, don’t settle for one shot. You’re shooting in the digital age, so taking several shots, from different angles and in different lighting conditions is simply not an expensive problem.

This photo represents a part of my morning routine. A cup of black coffee. Nothing special. But what captured my attention were repeated circles of the white cup and saucer, and the black coffee inside. The light coming from the kitchen window was overcast, so I was OK in that area. I took a few shots from above the cup, moved the spoon over some, and settled upon this photo.

Look around your house or apartment. Maybe there’s an interesting clock, bookcase, or musical instrument that you can photograph from an interesting perspective. Don’t let the ordinariness of the subject keep you from shooting it.



Capture Rain Drops

I must have shot photos for like five years before I realized the beauty of shooting rain drops. I’m not the kind of person who likes getting out in the rain. I don’t like the itchy feeling you get from wet clothes. But with this image, when that rain settled I took out my Canon Powershot G9, set it to macro mode and tried to hold the camera as still as possible. I was too lazy to get a tripod, which would have worked better. But since the shutter speed was 1/125th of a second, I was OK. I of course increased the sharpness using Aperture 2.0 software.


Shoot An Out-Of-Focus Shot

Following up on the rain idea, try another shot from your car window. But in this shot, don’t focus the shot.  Just raise your point-and-shoot or 35mm camera and take several shots. Look for some color or shapes to seep through the blur. If your camera’s automatic focus won’t let you take an out-of-focused shot, then turn that feature off. Don’t let your camera boss you around and keep you from getting the shot you want.



Shoot Some Art

Some critics say that photographing art is not really photography. It’s like you’re cheating by making an image out of an image. But that’s not so. You can capture art in context. Or you can ignore the critics and just shoot art for arts sake, plain and simple. Don’t shy away from using one artistic medium to capture another one. I took this shot while at a stoplight. My camera was on the car seat; I saw the photo in my mind before I raised the camera and fired off several shots.


Street Portraits

Okay, this one is for truly brave shooters. For a year, I committed to a self-project of photographing 100 strangers. That’s right, people I didn’t know and would probably never meet again. I discovered the project through a Flickr 100 Strangers group. It is the most challenging photo project I have ever done. It got me out of my comfort zone when it comes to people. Stranger portraits are not candid streets photos in which you take photos of people when they’re not aware of you doing so.  Street portraits are about photographing individuals you find interesting. To get these shots, strike up a conversation before you ask to take a photo. Tell the person about your project and politely ask to take their photograph. If they reject you, don’t take it personally. Just move on and find someone else. The best places to do these type of shots is in busy downtown areas or crowded outdoor events.



Go To The Zoo

Having a hard time finding good subjects to take that better photograph? Go to the zoo. Take your kid or significant other along and see what you can capture. If your city zoo is anything like mine, the animals aren’t going anywhere, and most of the time they can care less about about how many photographs you take of them. So bring along a long range lens of a minimum of 105mm, and see what you can capture in the “wilds” of the zoo.


Old Buildings

One the things I most dislike about where I live is that so much public space has been given over to commercial interests. Old buildings have been torn down, and there are few places that have survived from the demands of modernity. So when I’m out and about, I try to capture interesting old buildings, especially old churches and cathedrals. I’m not religious or anything, but I like capturing the architecture of these buildings.

I captured this photo by driving up to the top of a high-rise parking lot, which gave me a parallel view of the religious crosses. That little extra effort in driving made a difference in the image.



Shoot Slow

Sometimes photos should show the motion of something moving.  If you put your camera on what’s called Shutter Priority, you can set its shutter speed to like 1/25th of a second to capture the motion of a moving subject.

Try this out on moving cars or trains, kids playing, or at a sports event. This is a great way to learn about shutter speeds and an equally interesting way to capture motion.


Shoot Fast

In the same vein as the idea above, shoot to freeze action. Again, use your Shutter Priority, but this time raise the shutter speed to 1/400th of second or faster. If you need to, raise the ISO so that you get more light into the camera. See if you can free action of a moving subject. This shot is another one of my street portraits where I asked the skateboard rider if I could photograph him doing his thing. After I showed him some of the shots I took, he asked me to take a few more.


Paint With The Shutter

Okay, this is the last one in regards to Shutter Priority. I got this idea from reading Understanding Shutter Speed, by Bryan Peterson. This shot is about lowering instead of raising the shutter speed to say 1/5th of second, in a well lit area. Raise the ISO to about 400-600 if you need to, to let in more light. As you take the shot, you, as Peterson says, “twirl, arch, jiggle, or jerk the camera in an up-and-down or side-to-side or round-and round motion.” In other words, paint with your camera. Because the shutter speed is slow, the lens opening will not close up so quickly. Do this several times and you’ll really learn something about slow shutter speeds, plus make some great art.


Faceless Shot

People shots don’t always have to include faces of the people you photograph. Take some shots of someone’s legs, a hand or arm, or a person’s back. Get the face out of the picture and take on the challenge of shooting a faceless photo. This photo was taken very quickly as I crossed a downtown street. I saw these two bikes roll by and took the shot.


Mix Black-and-White With Color

This one involves doing a little Photoshop work after the photo is taken. Select a photo in which you convert it to black-and-white  and then brush back in some of the color. The process in Photoshop is fairly easy: Open the photo in Photoshop. Click on the adjustment layer at the bottom of the Layers palette. Select the Black & White adjustment. Make adjustments to your liking.

Next, set the foreground color to black, and then select the Brush tool. Re-size  the brush tool enough to paint back some color on the image. If you make a mistake, simply change the foreground color to white and paint back in the black-and-white part. This photo is of a dance class in which students a public performance.


Hope these ideas for taking better photographs are helpful. If you decide to try a few out, shoot me a link to your posted image results.  Or perhaps you know some more methods to shoot some really great photos?  Let us know what they are in the comments.

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  1. Vampie
    February 5, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Nice tips.

    I recently bought a new camera and some of those tips will surely help me to discover possibilities from it. :-)

    tnx a lot :-)

  2. Sean Tobin
    December 6, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    You had me up until you said, mix b&w with color. Uggh. Way too played out.

  3. Maurício
    December 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Muito massa, parabéns pelo trabalho :D

  4. Vanessa
    November 30, 2009 at 2:33 am

    What camera was used for those photos? More specifically the skateboarding one? Fantastic.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      November 30, 2009 at 11:34 am

      Vanessa, that photo was taken with my Canon 50D, using continuous shooting mode.

  5. deepthroat
    November 24, 2009 at 2:26 am

    Pretty good, but the last one is very uninspiring and unoriginal.

  6. Jonny |
    November 21, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Great Inspiration. Mucho Thankos

  7. Roy
    November 20, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Yeah, the black and white with a little bit of color is one I've used for artistic wedding shots. Take a close-up shot of the groom slipping the ring on the bride's hand (works best if the ring is yellow gold instead of white gold or platinum), then paint the color back into the ring only. Or with a shot of the bride holding her boquet, desaturate it and then bring the color back to the flowers only. Once I did a shot of the bride being walked down the aisle by her father, turned it b&w and then made just the 2 of them in color. It sort of accentuated how surreal the moment was.

  8. Sean
    November 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I have to say, the black and white mixed with color image is very eye-catching.

    • Bakari
      November 20, 2009 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks, Sean.

  9. Bakari
    November 20, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks, aphrospice, for the feedback. One of the reason I dabble into studying design is that it influences the way I take photos. Thanks for adding that point.

  10. aphrospice
    November 20, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Love these ideas but not for just photography but for for digital art. Cropping, blurring, desaturating images I already have a love to breath in some new life. Thanks!