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Advice on Taking Good Pictures

Secrets to Good Photos

  • Planning
  • Attention to detail
  • Observation
  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Timing
  • Proper equipment
  • Experience
  • Luck

Outdoor Photography Advice

  • Lighting is everything; find the best lighting.
  • Best lighting: morning or afternoon, avoid noon
  • Take advantage of clouds, weather, sunset, water
  • Shade lens if shooting towards the sun
  • For backlit shots, adjust exposure, use fill-in flash, reflector
  • Take multiple pictures of each scene, vary angle, framing, exposure
  • Hold camera with both hands, brace elbows against body, push shutter smoothly
  • Use tripod/monopod for wildflowers, wildlife, low-light, telephoto shots
  • Shoot wildflowers on windless days
  • Watch horizon, hold camera level
  • Use long exposures for flowing, falling water
  • If you’re serious, study the masters: Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, David Muench, Rodney Lough, etc.


  • Photography means “light drawing.”
  • In photography, lighting is everything.
  • In indoor photography, you make your lighting.
  • In outdoor photography, you choose your lighting.
  • Great pictures require great lighting.
  • Mid-day lighting, the good:
    • Best for beginners with simple cameras.
    • Brightest light of the day, most accurate color.
    • Can use fastest shutter speed = less motion blur.
    • Can use smaller aperture = greater depth of field.
    • Easiest to focus and auto-focus.
    • Less shadows, easier to expose properly.
    • Less chance of lens flare.
    • Most activities happen mid-day.
    • Some flowers only open in mid-day sun.
  • Mid-day lighting, the bad:
    • Harsh lighting
    • Can’t capture extreme dynamic range
    • Lighter colors get washed out
    • Flat lighting: scenes lack depth
    • Shadows on faces are unflattering
    • Avoided by experts, pros: pictures look ordinary, amateurish
  • Better lighting
    • Golden Light: within an hour of dawn, sunset, best for landscapes
    • Pre-dawn, dusk, for unique landscapes
    • Open shade, best for portraits
    • Light overcast, good for flowers
    • Stormy weather, for dramatic landscapes

Photo Composition Tips

  • Decide on picture’s purpose, message
  • Keep it simple, concentrate on subject
  • Get close to subject
  • Use wide angle for landscapes
  • Use “rule of thirds
  • Direction of movement into picture
  • Diagonals add dynamism, depth
  • Watch your shadow, don’t get it in picture
  • Avoid/hide distracting elements
  • Watch your horizon, keep camera level
  • Frame picture with foreground objects
  • Use contrast – light, color, texture
  • Balance objects
  • Portrait/landscape orientation based on subject
  • Sense of depth

Tips for Photographing People

  • People add interest, sense of scale
  • Use mild telephoto for portraits (2X magnification)
  • Watch background behind people (poles behind heads)
  • Don’t pose subjects staring into sun
  • Overcast day, open shade, or backlit with fill-in is best for portraits
  • For portraits, concentrate on face, avoid background clutter

Seasonal Opportunities

  • Winter: storm clouds, clear views, snow, winter sports, whales
  • Spring: green hills, wildflowers, creeks, waterfalls
  • Summer: outdoor sports, mountains, gardens, beaches, picnics, festivals
  • Fall: autumn leaf colors

Gallery: Photo Advice

Click on the thumbnails below for bigger pictures, use your browser's "Back" button to return.:

Bad Picture Watch background Mine Trail, Santa Teresa Park
What's wrong with this picture? Picture tilted, overposed, motion blur, tree growing out of subject's head, subject is dead center, trash can in picture, cluttered background, picture has no clear point or purpose Watch background behind people's heads Use of "rule of thirds," people provide interest, sense of scale
Pueblo Area, Santa Teresa Park Poppy on Fortini Trail, Santa Teresa Park Coyote Peak from the Stile Ranch Trail, Santa Teresa Park
Use of natural objects to "frame" the picture Use of light-dark contrast to highlight the main subject Foreground objects add a sense of depth.
Fishing floats, Inverness Coyote Peak, Santa Teresa Park
Use of color variety, contrasts Use of foreground people in a long shot to provide depth, scale, interest Use of telephoto with wide aperture opening blurs the background, emphasizing the subject
Stanford University fountain Tree at Stanford University Tomales Bay
Shooting portraits with subjects looking into the sun causes squinting and harsh contrasts Shooting portraits in the shade provides softer lighting, subjects won't squint Backlit portrait with flash fill prevents underexposure of subject or overexposure of background
View from Bernal Hill Loop Trail, Santa Teresa Park Rocky Ridge, Santa Teresa Park Sunset from the Joice Trail, Santa Teresa Park
Late afternoon lighting adds warm cast and long shadows to scene Cloud picture: primary subject is the cloud pattern. Clouds can add interest and variety to any outdoor shot. Sunsets can provide dramatic lighting and coud formations, but exposure is tricky. Take mulitple shots with different exposures.
Waterfall, Uvas Canyon County Park Coyote Peak, Santa Teresa Park Cottonwood Lake, Hellyer Park
Use of long exposure for flowing water gives a soft, silky effect. Use a tripod. Experiment with different exposure times. Effect of Polaroid filter (right): darkens sky, removes blue cast from hills and vegetation Effect of Polaroid filter (right): cuts reflection on water, allows seeing more underwater

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Created by Ronald Horii 9/14/05, revised 5/26/10