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Secrets of good photography (07/24/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

Don't blame the camera. If it has a lens and a viewfinder, whether it's a 35mm, an Advanced Photo System (APS) or a digital camera, you can take good pictures with it. You just have to know the secrets.

The first secret of good picture taking is being satisfied with your camera. It should have the features you want, and feel comfortable in your hands. But that's just the beginning. It's the platform on which all other good photographic secrets are based.

Secret number two: You don't need expensive equipment to get good pictures. Many of the world's greatest photographs were taken before electronic cameras were ever thought of. Photographic techniques lie in the eye of the photographer, not in the lens of the camera.

Yes, the best quality pictures can only be obtained with lenses of superior quality, but that's only true if the photographer is a master craftsperson, and the negatives are to be enlarged to 11 x 14 or greater, and how many of us go that route? With moderate sized prints, if the talent is there, the quality of the camera will make little difference.

So don't buy a camera in order to improve your picture-taking skills. The only thing you can hope to accomplish with a new camera is to have more options.

Secret number three: You don't have to know much about photography to take good pictures. Knowing some technical stuff like depth-of-field and hyperfocal distance can't hurt, but having this knowledge won't improve a poorly composed shot that doesn't have a strong center of interest.

Secret number four: Photographic rules were meant to be broken. Probably the most important rule of photography to keep in mind is the Rule of Thirds. It states that you should divide the viewfinder image into nine equal rectangles by mentally "drawing" two horizontal and two vertical lines in the image frame. The center of interest should be placed at or near the intersection of any two of the lines; which spot will depend on the overall composition. The idea is to get the center of interest out of the center of the frame.

The concept behind the Rule of Thirds is great, but wouldn't it be boring to see every picture with this composition? If appropriate, place the center of interest near one edge, in a corner of the frame, or even dead center if you like it that way.

It's still a good idea to have the Rule of Thirds in mind on every shot, but then see if the picture can be improved by breaking it.

Secret number five: You can learn to be a better photographer. Get out a set of your most recent photos. Okay, now find a magazine that has lots of pictures in it. How do yours compare with the published ones? Are yours better? Worse? About the same? If yours are worse, what aspects of theirs do you like better? Do theirs fill the frame where yours have a center of interest, but also a lot of uninteresting stuff around it? Are theirs sharper because you moved the camera and they didn't? Did they tilt the camera for a vertical shot when you would have held the camera the easy way, horizontally?

If you're not satisfied with your pictures after having seen what others have done, then that's the time to do something about it. One way is to use the pictures of others as guidelines. Analyze their shots and try to duplicate their techniques. 


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