Tip Tuesday — Great “Pics”

I hate it when people type “pic” or “pics”.  I just thought you should know.  Pictures, photos, shots, anything but “pic”?  I don’t know why that abbreviation grates on me.  It just does.  I’ve tried it a few times.  It seemed like a cool thing to type but once I saw it there on the screen, knowing it had come from my keyboard, I was sickened by the result.

Okay.  So, it turns out that someone noticed I’ve been a tip slacker this summer.  Please feel free to go over and give that someone mad props for bringing back this magical Tuesday tradition or you could just go and burn her blog down if you hate Tip Tuesday and my cutesy blogeriffic alliteration makes you want to hurl.  Either would be appropriate.  (I just noticed she didn’t leave a URL.  Oh well, no internet flames today.)

This portion is completely unrelated to the tip — Magoo frequently wakes up 30 minutes after falling asleep in a state of panic, a piteous wail escaping from the baby monitor.  Sometimes it dies down quickly but other times, like tonight, he becomes frantic in his screaming and one of us goes to check on him.  I was folding laundry while Dan read mommy blogs for me.  I said, “That cry is so sudden and so sad.  Whenever he does that, I think there’s a bug in his crib…or a rat…or one of those worms that crawls in his ear and eats his brains out.”Â  Dan’s response as he went up to check on him?  “Oh come on now.  We all know what that cry sounds like and this isn’t it.”Â  He’s a keeper.

Today’s tip topic is photography.  I rarely claim any sort of authority about the tips we discuss but today is an exception.  I am qualified to lead this discussion because I took a photography class in high school, took several people’s engagement photos in college, including one couple who paid me in the form of a Red Lobster coupon, I took at least one photography class while working on my film major, found a great wedding photographer, and I have many pet peeves where amateur photography is concerned.  I see these pet peeves crop up in my own photography so frequently that I have become an expert on them.

Here are my 4 best tips for beginning photographers.  I hope you like them and add many more.  (Please do not say “pic” or “pics” in the comments section or I may be forced to delete you.)  

1. A little less wall please — When you’re taking a picture of something, take a picture of that thing and not the 10 miles of nothing that surround it.  I refer to all the unnecessary junk as “wall”.  Many times I have asked some unsuspecting stranger to take my picture at an event or tourist attraction and spent 10 minutes explaining to them about “wall”.  Here is an example of too much wall:

pictures bad wall

The remedy:

pictures bad wall fixed

Now sometimes you can break the wall rule on purpose:

pictures good wall

But it also makes a very pleasing close-up:

pictures good wall closeup

2. The magical rule of thirds (which can be broken, but it should be on purpose) –
It’s often beautiful to divide the picture up into imaginary thirds and line up the major elements of the photo along the thirds (eyes in portraits, distinct lines, the major action).  This rule is really important with horizon lines.  I have rarely seen a decent photo where the horizon was right in the center, even if the horizon is only in the background.

rule of thirdsrule of thirds 

3.  Perspective and framing — When you’re taking a photo, just like when you’re writing, you want to think about the perspective you’re taking it from.  There’s no real right or wrong answer here.  Do you want to be an observer?

pictures perspective2

Part of the action?

pictures perspective

An ant about to be crushed by the giant monster baby ?

pictures perspective3

Frame your shots in an interesting way.  This hallway going on and on out of focus is a gorgeous background, much better than if I’d shot it against a plain wall.


4.  De-light-ful — If available in abundance, natural lighting is best, giving the most true-to-life colors.  The very best light comes from a bright overcast day, where the clouds act like those giant umbrellas in a portrait studio, diffusing the light perfectly.  The shot above was taken with only natural cloudy light through an open window.

Here is an example with a flash:

pictures flashfull


pictures flashless

Notice the improved color, depth of field and facial expression when the flash is absent. Some shots do look better with a flash fill, especially if they are back-lit. 

Without the flash-fill:

pictures flash fill

With the flash-fill:

pictures flash fill2

Decide which you like best but don’t forget to remember to choose: pictures think light 2


*Bonus tip — Lay off the antlers -  Look closely at the background of your picture.  How many times have you taken a great picture, only to notice later that the giant tree in the background makes your brother look like he’s got antlers sticking out of his head?  Just last weekend we took this photo of Magoo that looks like he has a great manicure and a sleek cell phone.

pictures antlers

This entry was posted in tip tuesday. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Tip Tuesday — Great “Pics”

  1. Abigail says:

    Love the photography tips!! I am just like you in that I despise bad amateur photography. My husband is a very, very smart man but he takes absolutely horrible pictures so full of “wall” that the subject is almost out of focus (therefore every picture of ME is totally crappy). And I’ve also always found the bright overcast days to be so picture-rific but I never thought about it being like the photography studio umbrellas – of course!! You’re a genious! Thanks again for your advice, your photos are beautiful.
    p.s. – have you ever read dooce.com?, she also takes some great photos and occasionally has some really interesting tips

  2. Nettie says:

    Look, I’m first! If I type this fast….My tip? After taking photography in college and not remembering ANYTHING I learned from it, I say just go digital and take LOTS of pictures. Then you get lucky and get a good one now and then. And I find pictures of kids are much more interesting if you catch them having fun, instead of posing with cheesey forced grins.

  3. Sketchy says:

    Great shots!!

    Mmmm choices choices – Personally I think the backlit photo has the most character. But if I was going to use it as a card to show how baby has grown the fill flash…

  4. Susan says:

    So where DOES Magoo get his nails done?

  5. Tigersue says:

    Some great tips. My dad gave us his old camera but not the book to go with it. Can you imagine, so I have no clue how the use the features. So my pictures are not ever that great. Like you I hate many of the abreviations out there.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Great tips! I failed photography twice in college, but that was pre-digital photography days. Now I’d probably only fail photography once.

  7. Reva says:

    Hi! I’m a lurker, finally with something to say other than “of course!” I’m okay with the word “pics” but the one that gets me is when I’m IMing friends or the husband and they type “LOL.” I tried typing it once and I looked at it… yes, it said what I needed it to say – but good golly it looked so wrong. I have to go with “heehee.” And with the picture thing – what I can’t get is people who take pictures of animals at the zoo – or fill an entire almum with pictures of their dog or cat, and then show them to you like their interesting. maybe I’m not so much an animal person, but I sure do like looking at pictures of humans instead:) Anywho, thanks for the sweet reads!

  8. Tammy says:

    I love these tips! I actually learned- or re-learned a few things! 🙂

    On the tunnel shots, I did like both…but will have to choose the second.

    And I only type p-i-c when I’m e-mailing. Does that count?

  9. sarah hart kingston says:

    I once took a beautiful picture of The Bay playing in a puddle, with droplets on his little head and gorgeous natural light from the lowering sun. I was so proud of this picture that I showed it to my mother-in-law. She looked at it and said, “Now, why do you like it?” It wasn’t a full-frontal of the face with a character-less blue background done in a studio. It was the back of his head, and had, in fact, no face whatsoever. I am a passionate believer in the “portrait” as a representation of personality, tastes, something related to the person(s) in the portrait. I HATE the ones done at Sears. Or wherever. With the blue/brown dappled background, with everyone gathered on everyone else’s knee. (I do realize that I might be alone in my hatred of these, and am not trying to offend anyone.) I just think that composition should include some forethought, and I don’t mean a morning at the hairdresser and matching flannel shirts.

    The picture of Laylee in the tunnel is fantastic. It has a point of focus, the tunnel directing the eye right to her. It has nice light. It shows her doing something she enjoys, but leaves us guessing what that might be. It has nice rhythm. This is the kind of portrait I love.

    (Also, the one of her next to the wall with the faucet – gorgeous shadows and intersecting diagonal lines with the brick pattern and the angle of the sidewalk. I’m gonna stop now. But I like the pictures.)

  10. jeana says:

    These are really good. One question though: do most amateur cameras have the ability to turn off the flash? I mean if I don’t have the foot-long lense thingy bopper or the strap around my neck, just your average Kodak 5.0 digital, should I go diggin for the manuel to figure out how to do that, or should I figure chances are, that baby won’t do it?

  11. Shalee says:

    Very helpful tips, DYM. Thanks for putting it in layman’s terms too.

    Jeana, we’ve got the Cannon cheapshot and after 5 years, we’ve just figured out that we could turn off the flash, all without a manual. Now turning it back on is a whole nother issue…

    So I think it can be done on a Kodak too.

  12. Jeana – I should have pointed out that all but 3 of those shots were taken with the cheapest Kodak digital point and shoot ever. There is an easy button to turn the flash on and off at will from picture to picture. 

    On Kodaks, it should look like a little flash of lightening.  You press it and it takes you through several settings the lightning with the line through it means no flash.  There should be one with just a lightning flash that means always use flash and then there should be an automatic setting.  On my $80 day after Thanksgiving special, it is an A with the lightning beside it. 


    The other 3 (beach photos and the one in the hallway) were taken with my grandpa’s old 1970s Pentax. If anyone has questions about using one of those older models, let me know.


  13. Margaret says:

    I am SO GLAD that you told about the “wall” thing – that drives me NUTSO! And i’m with the “digital take lots and lots and lots of pictures” comment, but I’m also obsessive compulsive enough that I DO go through and label all my pictures – names of people (first AND last), location, and date. You think you will remember, but friends, YOU WON’T.

  14. wendy says:

    Thanks for the great photo lesson. My husband just bought a fancy new camera and we are having fun playing around with all the cool things it can do. I am hoping to be able to take a class or two and become comfortable using the camera.

    The one thing that makes me crazy online is when someone says that they are “venting”. I hate that. It makes me think of chicken poo-poo. I don’t know why.

    I like both tunnel pictures – They would be fun framed together.

  15. Alissa says:

    wonderful. my tips are along the same lines as yours…

    1. get in close. no closer. even closer.
    2. TURN OFF YOUR FLASH! Hideous beast!
    3. Rule of Thirds
    4. Focus on the eyes of your subject… that’s the most important part.

    Love the shot of Magoo in the hall!

  16. Ginger says:

    I loved this!

    You ought to be a teacher. I’m serious.

  17. *snort* I have no tips, because I take sorry pictures, but I’m hooting at Magoo’s manicure!

  18. abc momma says:

    So have you banned Go Diego, Go from your home? Because Click the camera always says ‘pic’. I admit, I have too, but I will stop it now.

    These were awesome tips. I had no idea, and I wish someone would have taught them to the photographer of my wedding day.

  19. Love your pictures. I had no idea from reading your blog you where an avid photographer. Have you ever thought of entering some of your pictures on http://www.photofriday.com/ ??

  20. Great post! In my next life I’m going to be a photographer. And a musician. And an artist. And a writer. And a …

  21. grammyelin says:

    Did you all see those pictures? They are awesome because my kid is the photographer and my GORGEOUS grandkidlets are the subjects. I did none of the work, but would like to claim ALL of the credit! Love you, Daring!

  22. Woo hoo! Someone finally says it!

    As a photo nerd myself, I must say I loved this post.

    I would also recommend some equipment to newer parents…

    1) Digital SLR with good low-light (high ISO) performance – Canons tend to be better at this, but Nikons aren’t so bad…

    2) 50mm f/1.8 lens – for $100, you get a lens that lets you take pictures in most light and lets you avoid all of the bad effects of flash.

    As kids grow, get a wider variety of lenses (fast wide angle, some Image Stabalized, later a nice image stabalized telephoto…), but stick with the basics – an SLR with a 50mm lens. A match made in camera heaven.

  23. KYouell says:

    My Sony has a lightening bolt for the flash on/auto/off as well. Perhaps it is a standard symbol?

  24. Tess says:

    my bran’ spankin’ new hp m425 el cheapo has several flash settings, easy to get to b/c the button has a lightening bolt. I also have several photo mode settings like close up, photo, sunset. the portrait setting actually blurs the background for you. I’m pretty pumped about the awesome photographs I will be posting. Hey, I was pumped about the disposable photographs I was posting before…. i’m easily amused.

  25. Pieces says:

    That is a great post! I love taking photos but don’t know anything about it. I can tell you live in my area–isn’t the new Zoomazium awesome?!

  26. Heather says:

    Great tips!!! I plan on using them, I love to take pictures, but often do not think about them too much before I take them. Thanks!!!!

  27. KimC says:

    Thanks – we needed these.
    My tip? If you have a costco membership, order and pay for your prints online and have them delivered to your home for FREE.
    No minimum order and no shipping on anything up to and including 8×10 or 8×12.

  28. krista says:

    Those are some great pics pictures. Really. Thanks for the tips. Did I already tell you I am glad you switched to wordpress, it rocks. The site looks great.

  29. irene says:

    I love this post, Kathryn! I’ve decided that there are either a lot of bad photographers out there, or else it’s just that many of my friends are bad photographers. Because, when they take pictures of me, I always end up looking terrible! I am SO vain… but I feel qualified to comment on picture-taking abilities because I take great-looking pictures… most of the time, and after 100 shots of the object from 100 different angles! hehehe.

  30. Stella says:

    I. just. can’t. do. it. Type pics or pic. I type it. Type the rest of my email…and then I. must. go. back. to fix it.

Comments are closed.