QUICK GUIDE ON HOW TO TAKE AMAZING PICTURES
Do you ever get frustrated when taking pictures of an amazing sunset? You look at that beautiful scenery in awe, you shoot as that sunset were the last one you’ll see in your life, and when you check the results all you have is a bad copy of what your eyes are witnessing.
SO DISAPPOINTING, right?
If you ever felt this way, don’t worry! In this article, I’ll give you some step by step instructions for taking amazing sunset pictures that could easily be featured in National Geographic magazine, even if you are just an amateur photographer. Don’t you believe me? Keep on reading!
To convince you that it’s possible, I will use some of my pictures and tell you what I did to improve them.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional, I simply love photography and I’ve been experimenting for years and I want to share my tips with you, as many people pointed out that my photography has improved a lot during my travels. Thank God, that bloody camera on my backpack is destroying me!!)
I will be talking about sunset pictures as well as giving you a general overview on how to improve every type of picture!
WHAT IS CONSIDERED A “GOOD PICTURE”?
There are so many variables to define a good picture. Not considering the obvious “technical aspects”, a quality photo (in my opinion) must have the incredible power to tell you a story, to move your emotions.
You can achieve this result in many ways, sometimes even with a shot taken from a crappy mobile phone. All you need to know is when/ how to take it and a few simple post production tricks.
Let’s start with a comparison between an average shot and a really good one. I’m using my travel pictures as an example because I know what kind of light there was when I took the shots and how I edited the images in post production.
So, should I have thrown away the average picture? not at all. The image has a great potential. Let’s see in detail how I improved it.
STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO IMPROVE AN AVERAGE PICTURE:
- Adjust the horizon line
- Improve the colors
- Crop to make the main subject stands out.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR POST PRODUCTION EDITING:
COLOR SATURATION: Don’t overdo it.
On my edited photo the colors are very intense because I was trying to recreate the scene as it was in real life, and the colors were THAT intense. Some people may even prefer the original one, but the colors were totally washed off. It all depends on personal taste but as a general rule, I think that less is always better.
CHOOSE OVER EXPOSED PICTURES: They are easier to edit.
I always choose the brighter picture and add some contrast to revive the colors. I rarely use the saturation tool, as most of the times it gives a “fake” look to the image (you can play with both and see what is the best result for you). Trying to edit under exposed pictures is more difficult as when you add brightness to them they will look grainy.
DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT: Choose the sharper image.
When cropping a picture pay attention to the details, if the image is not 100% sharp when zoomed, the result are not very good/professional. I’m very picky when it comes to sharpness but I still need to improve on that. This is especially true if you want landscape or sunset pictures that really stand out and look amazing.
MANUAL SETTINGS TO TAKE GOOD PICTURES:
Going back to my favorite photography subjects: Sunsets. The light at sunset is one of the most beautiful and soft to get some great pictures, the only problem is that if you don’t know exactly which settings to change, you risk missing that “perfect light”, as it gets dark very quickly.
Here are a few examples of how I changed 1 parameter, in this case, the shutter speed for different results. If you don’t understand the wording, don’t worry: I put together a detailed chapter to explain the different settings below.
THE 3 MAIN MANUAL SETTINGS EXPLAINED:
Very important to master especially for shooting in poor light conditions
1| SHUTTER SPEED:
Defines the “length of exposure”: how many seconds (or fraction of sec) the shutter stays open. The more it remains open, the brighter the picture will be. Example: I used 1/60 and 1/80. A lower the number means a brighter picture.
Downside: In poor light conditions you always need a tripod, or a surface to keep the camera still when shooting. When the shutter remains open for a long time any movement can result in a blurred picture. It would be wrong to give you fixed parameters, as it all depends on how dark it is. I always start my trials at 1/80, going up or down depending on the result.
Below are some cool examples of what you can achieve using the shutter speed option. I like the “silky effect” on water, but there are so many other nice effects. Just play with the settings and enjoy the results!
For this picture (a fantastic resort with ocean view) I placed my camera on a table and I set the shutter speed at 3 seconds to get the “silky” effect on the water and a brighter image as it was getting dark.
Indicate how sensitive is the camera to the light. It starts from 100 (less sensitive) and goes up to 3200 (not for all the cameras). I am referring to the setting of my beloved DSLR camera, a Canon 550D , but the settings are similar for all the DSLRs.
You should use the ISO combined with the other settings to find the perfect balance. Lower ISO means less light but also less noise (sharper image). Higher ISO means brighter picture but less sharpness. I rarely go over 400/600. Unless it’s night and there are no lights, but even in that case I prefer to use a tripod and leave the shutter opened for 5/10 seconds.
It defines how much the lens is opened ( how much light enter the lens). It works like our pupils: they get larger in the dark and smaller when it’s bright. The aperture is very important when it comes to deciding if we want the background in focus or out of focus (also called “depth of field”).
In English: a smaller aperture (f 8/9 up) both the subject and the background are in focus, a larger aperture (f 3.2 or down) only keep the subject on focus, blurring the background.
For landscapes/sunsets pictures we want everything in focus, so you should choose a smaller aperture (f 8-10 and up). If you decide to use this setting alone, the camera will set the shutter speed automatically. If you want everything in focus, you choose a small aperture which means less light and the camera will give you a longer exposure. Meaning: you need a tripod to avoid blurry pictures!
I use a large aperture for portraits or to focus on a specific detail, below are some examples:
For this picture I finally got all the settings right: I placed the camera on a flat rock, I left the shutter opened for 0.5 seconds (for the brightness and silky effect) and set the aperture at f/12 (to have everything in focus). A note: I didn’t edit this picture at all. This is what happens when you use the manual settings right!
Now let’s see some pictures where I totally screwed the settings. I will explain what I did wrong and I will give you some more tips to improve and learn from my mistakes.
POOR QUALITY PICTURES, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE PICTURES?
In these pictures I used only one setting: the shutter speed and I left the same ISO and Aperture. So let’s see the mistakes I made:
1| WRONG APERTURE (f 5.6): If you could zoom the pic, you’d see that the focus is mainly on the boats, and the sea is slightly out of focus. Since I chose to use only one manual setting (the shutter speed), the camera chose the other settings for me. I could have used the full manual options to have total control on the shot.
2| ISO TOO LOW: I used 100, which is the minimum and it was very dark, so I should have used at least 200/400.
3| NO TRIPOD: Controlling the shutter speed manually in poor light conditions without the tripod? Terrible mistake! If I had one I could have used full manual settings and get much better results.
This is a good example of how challenging it is to take good shots when it is already too dark, this is why you should know how to use the manual settings.
When you know how to use the manual settings properly, you’ll take much better pictures! 100% guaranteed!
8 VERY EASY TIPS TO TAKE BETTER PICTURES
And avoid too much editing
This is not rocket science, unfortunately, and it takes a bit of practice to master it. To avoid totally wrong sunset pictures you need to consider the following points:
1| TRIPOD: There are no shortcuts here, ALWAYS use a tripod if you want a perfectly sharp picture. Don’t you have one? find a rock, or some hard surface and shoot from there.
2| REMOTE CONTROL: If you don’t have one, use the delay setting to avoid any unwanted movement.I stress the point: a less than a perfectly sharp picture will not make a good sunset picture, to begin with. I know, I’m PICKY!
3| MANUAL SETTINGS: In the beginning just change one setting at a time: you need to understand how it affects the picture. When you master one setting, move on and try the others to finally combine them and find the perfect balance.
4| MANY PICTURES – DIFFERENT SETTINGS: Take as many pictures as you can, changing the setting every time. Don’t worry too much about every picture you take. I was shocked to discover that even the best photographers in the world take at least 300 pictures to get the “perfect shot”, so don’t get discouraged. Plus, this exercise will help you to find out the right settings quicker.
5| COMPOSITION: find something, an object or a special perspective to give the picture a “meaning”. Find the “main subject” and try to get themost outt of it. Try different angles, go down to the ground, search a different angle or an unusual view. The rule of thirds is always a good start when it comes to understand composition.
6| OBJECTS IN THE FOREGROUND: a rock, a tree or anything placed on the foreground will give a sense of depth and perspective to the picture.
7| CLOUDS ARE YOUR FRIENDS: Sometimes the lights are even better when it’s cloudy. Arrive at least 20 minutes before the sunset and stay up until 30 minutes after. I took some of the most incredible pictures after the sun disappeared over the horizon. The light get softer and the colors are brighter than ever!
8| PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: trust me, there is no better way to improve. You can read a million books, but if you stay in your room staring at a computer screen you’ll never improve. I’m not a professional but oh boy did i improve from my first pictures?! I am almost embarrassed to show them around now. And these are exciting news as it means that I can still improve a lot! I see it as a good thing, we never ever stop learning and improving!
MY PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT:
For the newest additions and to check out all my electronic stuff, you can also visit the
dedicated page by clicking the image below
Many people asked what kind of camera did I use when I started and which one I use now, so I listed my Photo equipment below. Warning: I’m a REAL FANATIC here! I wish I had the money to afford the super professional gear..but I’m working on it!
When I was a total beginner (back in 2008) I bought a Canon Point and Shoot ,which is totally great as it has automatic and the manual settings so you can practice a bit before spending some serious cash on a DSLR.
This camera takes amazing shots (even the Macro photography is good!). It’s perfect for beginners, and it’s cheap!
My first DSLR camera:
This is the Canon EOS 500D , the better version of my current camera, a Canon Rebel T1 (now discontinued by manufacturer). This is a very decent camera, professional enough to take great shots BUT, when someone asks me for advice on DSLR’s I always suggest to buy the body and the lenses separately.
A zoom lens: Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS for landscape pictures and sometimes also for portraits.
A fixed lens: Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 for portraits and details. I LOVE this lens, it’s cheap and takes amazing sharp images!
One of my dreams was to buy the Wide Angle lens but I spent some serious money on something maybe more amazing than anything else:
MY FANTASTIC GoPro!
Click here to know more about the GoPro3+ Silver Edition (update as we speak: I’m switching the silver Edition with the new version! Sooo excited!! )
Click Here to see a video I realized with my GoPro in the Philippines! Since I discovered the GoPro, my life (as a Photographer) has changed forever! 🙂 To tell you that I LOVE it is an understatement.
It’s fantastic for videos but the quality, but the resolution and colors of the images are spectacular too. It is not cheap but it’s worth every penny.
TO CHECK OUT THE BOOKS I HAVE READ AND HIGLY RECOMMEND FOR EXCELLENT TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY SKILLS GO HERE , OR CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW.YOU WILL THANK ME FOREVER:)
MY PHOTOGRAPHY BIBLE
This is what I’ve learned during more than 2 years of practice. I obviously couldn’t cover everything in this article but you will find many of the notions I’ve learned (plus a million more) by reading these amazing books!
I have read them several times and they are the only books I would NEVER SELL under any circumstance. They changed completely my approach to Photography.
Do you want to know how to organize and improve your travel pictures? Read my article by clicking on the picture below!
In this article I will give you very practical and straight to the point tips on the best ways to organize and find the pictures you want within seconds. I will also explore some of the coolest editing programs available (and it’s way shorter than this one I promise! :). Check it out!
Let me know if you have other tips and tricks or if you want to discuss some of mine, just leave me a comment! It would be great to share our knowledge!
Thank you! 🙂
Great share on how to take amazing pictures and gorgeous sunsets! really worth it to read, I also find that If you must use hot, hard, bright light. Always try to control the direction, use some kind of reflector, and try to mimic a studio light. Putting the sun directly behind your subject isn’t a good idea, unless you are trying to make a silhouette. Hope this also make sense, Thanks.
Thanks for the extra tips Eissac! The light is SO important for great photography! I was reading some of the tricks you suggested on the books I mention in the article and it definitely makes sense!
Nice trick definitely will try this, wish me luck and thanks for sharing.
You’re Welcome! 🙂
Thanks a bunch for your very-helpful tips. Photography has been hobby most of my life. and your tips have provided me with new and improved knowledge on how to take the best photos. Your sunset pictures are amazing. Thanks for great share.
Thank you Pavitra!
Whooooa! Those are amazing, love at first sight pictures. They are all perfect. I also do have a collection of sunset pictures taken from different tours that I’m with. We do have the same thing in common 🙂
Thanks John! Sunset pictures can be very addictive (at least for me!) 🙂
thanks for the nice sharing
Pingback: PHOTOGRAPHY DAY: Why you should visit Indonesia in 15 Pictures - KEEP CALM AND TRAVEL
So helpful tips, great post, love love love
Thanks a lot!
I am a travel photographer from North East India, these tips will help me further. Thank you very much.
Glad you found them useful! I will update the post with more tips as I’ve learnt a lot more since the first time I’ve published 🙂
Great post! I had been using Canon my whole life but have to admit I recently sold-out to Sony. Their SLRs are the smallest in the world and very economical. Instead of lugging around these huge body SLRs from Nikon or Canon I bought a Sony A-5000 which has been nothing short of amazing. The photos are truly incredible and the camera with a lens is incredible small. Sorry Canon!
Interesting comment as when I decided to switch and buy my new Full Frame 6D, I was not quite sure whether to buy a Sony instead. During my trip to Africa, I’ve met a guy with a Sony and the pictures were impressive indeed. I’m still happy with my Canon tough, but I can’t say that I envy those who carry a lot less weight than I do!
To each its own I guess 🙂
Pingback: How to move to UK / England / London: The Ultimate Guide. - KEEP CALM AND TRAVEL
I have the Canon 70D and really recommend it if you were ever considering moving up your gear a little. I like it for travel photography because it can shoot video and pictures well, and has a flip LCD screen that comes in handy. Autofocus is sickly good too!
Thanks Jack! I actually went very wild lately and I upgraded to a Canon 6D (finally FULL FRAME!!), a wide angle lens 16-35mm 2.8f, a zoom 70-300mm and my beloved 50mm 1.8f.. can’t wait to experiment with the new gear! <3 For the Videos I actually use my GoPro, still learning but I'll get there one day 🙂
Pingback: Sri Lanka: 8 Days Between Heaven and Hell - KEEP CALM AND TRAVEL
Pingback: Photography advice : RENT MORE WEEKS
Thats a super helpful post, photography skills is something I lack and am always trying to learn. I usually set my sony Nex5 to “intelligent auto” mainly because I assume the camera is more intelligent then me! A couple questions if you don’t mind..
1. I assume it is photoshop you speak of when you talk about photo editing?
2. What are you thoughts on the DSLR vs the mirrorless cammeras?
Look forward to reading more and will save this one!
Thanks for stopping by! Don’t worry, we all started with a point and shoot camera!
Regarding your questions:
1) I started using Photoshop only recently, but just for a few minor adjustments. If you don’t need to completely change the picture, even Picasa is good!
2) Honestly? I can’t give you a straight answer on that, there are specific websites on the topic so I’d say you better check them out, they will have more information!
Very useful guide, Clelia! Your explanations are simple and straight to the point. Well done! We would like to invite you to participate in the next edition of our Travel Photography Competition. Every week we publish 3 winning shots on our website and write a nice bio with a link to the photographers’ websites/FB/G+/Flickr pages etc.
Find more details here: http://hitchhikershandbook.com/your-contributions/travel-photography/
Thank you… I had a look at your website and it’s very cool!I will definitely submit one of my shots. My only issue is…which one?? I have so many now, in more than one year I took more than 50.000 pictures. I know, insane! 🙂
I just love your photography tips. I have one question, how do we get that silhoutte effect (Shadowy subkects) during sunsets.
Hi Hugh, sorry I totally missed this message, I reply anyway as it might be useful for other readers..
The “silhouette” is quite easy. If the subject is directly in front of the light, you don’t need to do anything really. The subject will be naturally a shadow. The real problem is when you want to take a picture of a sunset and also show the traits of the subject.
In that case I use a flash from at least 3 meters away. This way the sunset colors won’t be too bright and you can still see the face of the subject.
Yes. Those shots are beautifully taken!