Taking Better Photos~Even with a “Cheap” Camera

by adustyframe ~ February 16th, 2011

Since I’ve been learning about photography, I’ve been hearing the dreaded, “Oh your photos are so nice. What camera do you have?”

Here’s a huge secret--it’s not the camera.

I’m really really thankful that I was able to get a nicer camera and it DOES make higher quality photos. But people still take baaaad photos on “nice” cameras.  However, you too can take wonderful photos with your “cheap” camera. I did for a long time.

Ansel Adams never had a Canon 5D right? It can be done. (I don’t have one either!)

You need to do a few things.

1. Read your camera manual. I know I know! You want to say how boring that is or how you don’t have time. Well, if you don’t have time to read your camera manual and learn what your camera can do for you don’t complain about your photo quality!

Sit down with it and your camera and play around. You’ll be shocked at the stuff you’ll see on your camera.

2. Practice special features on unimportant photos. If you want to see the difference in white balance (white balance compensates for the type of light you’re in–incandescent, sunshine, fluorescent…), or quality settings play around a bit and upload your photos to the computer. Look at your photos and see what the different settings did.

Try taking a photo of a piece of fruit or a flower on a simple background. Use different ISO (film speed–this term is still used with digital cameras), different white balance, flash, no flash, etc.

**The photos always look different on the computer! Don’t delete “bad” photos before you look at them unless they are obviously bad.**

3. Set your camera to the highest quality setting. I used to try to get as many photos as possible on the camera card until I found out that meant getting lower quality photos. The higher quality settings captures more information for your photo and usually turns out much nicer.

4. Get an extra memory card if you plan to take tons of photos. Lots of high quality photos will make you much happier than a ton of mediocre quality photos. Trust me!

5. When you delete photos format the entire card. Do NOT do this until you’ve downloaded all your photos. Formatting “wipes” your memory card of the information. Deleting leaves stuff behind. Formatting makes your memory card last longer and work better. Read your manual to find out how to format.

Ok, so now you want to actually take some photos!

1. Pay attention to the background. Think about where people are standing. Check for trees or poles that appear to be growing out of heads. Move clutter behind your subject.

When you’re looking at your subject, your eye doesn’t really pick that up. The camera does though and it detracts from your photo.

2. Ask people to move. In the tree growing out of the head example, ask them to move to the left a couple steps or whatever.

3. You move! Step closer–even very close! Get down on a child’s level. Look up at people on a stairs. Don’t depend on the zoom. You be the zoom–move your feet and get in closer. Don’t just stand in one spot 20 feet away and plan to get great shots.

4. Pay attention to the light. The early morning and late afternoon are wonderful times to take photos. The middle of the day in bright sun is a lot more difficult.

If you have to take photos outside in the bright light, find a place in the shade that people can stand.

Pay attention to the light that filters through the leaves–you don’t want  a big splat of light across their face.

In the house have your subject sit facing a window or sitting where the light from the window is to the side of them. I get great photos near windows!

5. Use a sheet over the couch for a backdrop. I used to do that a lot. It works. If you use the flash you will get shadows if your subject is right in front of the sheet. Have them sit forward from the back of the couch.

Other backdrop ideas to try  **Brick walls **Gates **Colorful Buildings or doorways

6. Learn how to take photos without the flash. Flash gives you red eyes, shadows, harsh skin.You need to shoot in good light, and read your camera manual! 😉

7. Try different angles. ** Stand to the side of them ** get up above them–stand on a park bench or stairs–**lay down or squat** take a photo from behind**stand RIGHT next to them and get a close up.

You can capture beautiful photos when the subject isn’t looking straight at the camera. Get them looking at something–turned to the side–walking away from you. Don’t fall into the trap of hollering at everyone to look at the camera. Your children will run screaming when they see the camera come out unless you make it enjoyable for them.

The most important thing though is to get the shot. When you’re documenting your family life, you don’t have to take awesome photos every single time.

Sometimes a photo may be fuzzy or dark. It may have a funny color cast to it, or have harsh skin from the flash. But it may be a priceless memory that can never be replaced. So don’t hesitate to take the “bad” shot if it means you capture a memory.

Just don’t stay there! Don’t say bad shots are ok so you’re not going to read your camera manual.


Don’t depend on editing to “fix” your photos. Use it to spruce them up and make them awesome. Editing a good photo is a piece of cake and a lot of fun. Editing a bad photo is time and work!

1. Start with taking better photos

2. Sharpen a little–don’t go overboard with the sharpening! Sharpening reduces the digital “noise” that just happens in digital photos.

3. Crop out distractions if you can–although it’s better to pay attention to that when you’re taking the photo.

4. Try some of the fun stuff–black and white, sepia, dreamy frames, etc. Just don’t get carried away. Less is more you know? Don’t do weird colorizing–like colored eyes and black and white skin–that one creeps me out!

5. Step away from the editing! Don’t keep adding more and using every feature. Take it easy.

However, you can also literally step away. When I’ve been editing, I sometimes lose my “eye”. I get up and get a drink or whatever and then step back to look at the computer. Often I can see exactly what’s wrong, or I can see that it’s perfect.

Picasa is a free editing program. It’s limited, but you can do a lot.  I used it in the past.

If you want to spend a few bucks, get an old version of Photoshop Elements. If you buy a Photoshop product, buy Scott Kelby’s book for that version. He’s a great teacher and he simplifies the program tons!

Hopefully this helps you realize you can take better photos pretty easily. I shared these tips with my sister in law and her photo quality improved over night.
I asked her if she was using my tips. She said she was and was happy to be getting better photos.


3 Thoughts Shared to Taking Better Photos~Even with a “Cheap” Camera

  1. Janet

    I love these tips! I keep wishing for a fancy camera, but you have encouraged me to use the camera I have. Thank you!

  2. Amy

    Thanks so much! I will definitely be putting these tips to use.

  3. Jody

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    One thing that my oldest daughter, and you, have is an eye for a good shot. I don’t have that, my pictures look like pictures (to me), hers tell a story. My goal, with lots and lots of trial and error, is to teach myself a little of what comes naturally to her. And you’re right about the camera – she can take a million dollar photo indoors, no flash, with a disposable camera just by getting the angle, or the subject, or whatever just right. Blows me away. 🙂

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