How to Take Good Pictures with ANY Camera

January 5, 2020 posted by

Let’s start with what we know. The camera
doesn’t make the photographer, right? You can take good pictures with any camera –
and, believe it or not, bad pictures too. So then, really, what does make a good
picture? How do you take that abstract concept of a successful photo and
achieve it with any camera? That is what I’ll cover today. This is not a ruler.
It’s a balancing device – and this eraser is the fulcrum. So what happens when I
set it up and then put a coin right in the center? Well, nothing too exciting. It stays balanced. And the same is true if I’ve got two coins and I put them
equidistant from the center. But what about three? Well, let me take these and then
stack this one on top. So, a stack of two, and then just one. And if you’ve ever
been on a seesaw, right, the answer is probably obvious: You put the heavier
stack close to the center, and the lighter stack farther away. Perfectly
balanced. And all of this has extreme relevance to photography. We like balance. It looks natural. Even people are roughly balanced. So is it really any surprise
that we also like it when it shows up in photography? Let me show you some
examples. Here’s a very centered composition – lots of balance. Now, the Sun
is in the middle (from left to right) and it’s definitely the most sucky part of
the frame. Right? It pulls in your attention. That’s the photo equivalent of
something heavy. It’s kind of like the coins; in this case, it’s like the very
first example with just one coin. The photo is balanced because the heavy part
is centered. And I’ll show you one more example like this: mountain, cloud, center. It’s balanced because pretty much everything in this composition is in the
middle. But things get a bit more complicated when there’s more than one
visually heavy item in your photo. Here’s a case with two of them. Now just like
with two coins I placed the sun and the rock stack
equidistant from the center. Each one balances the other. But what about even
more subjects? Well, when many different parts of your photos suck… visual
attention from your viewers… you’ll have to pay careful attention to how you
frame the image. Let’s take a look at this photo.
One main subject, the waterfall, but lots of little details that might draw your
eye. But I would say that this photo still feels pretty balanced. Now the
waterfall is heavy, but it’s pretty close to the middle of the photo. And this rock
is much lighter, but it’s also closer to the edge. Then the nearby tree shifts
things back a bit to the right, and then the distant trees, plus the water at the
bottom left, shift them back. Now one thing that I did do in post production
was darken this area of the water just a bit so that it doesn’t draw as much
attention. Otherwise, to me, the photo was leaning slightly to the right. As is, I think it’s very balanced. And here’s where things get a bit
philosophical. We like balance, yeah? It’s one of the best ways to compose a lot of
photos – but why? I think it all comes down to emotions. Balance feels peaceful,
stable, harmonious… and those emotions very often meld well with your subject
and with the message that you’re trying to convey. But what about cases when they
don’t? Not all your photos need to feel grounded, and that’s where imbalance
comes into play. Imbalance is not peaceful. It’s not stable. It’s dynamic;
it’s more intense. Take a look at this photo. Clearly, this is a harsh landscape.
Foreboding. It looks like that world where you fall into the mirror, and you
emerge, and everything’s evil. And that’s exactly what I want. That’s my goal. A peaceful, balanced, harmonious image would totally take away from the message
here. It works better when it’s imbalanced. But I will say, this is kind
of rare. At least personally, I almost always aim for maximum balance when I
compose my photos. It just feels more comfortable – more intentional. And usually,
that’s what I want. So, next time you’re taking pictures with
your camera, your phone, your secret spy pen with a camera in it… go for balance.
Try to analyze every part of your photo for visual
weight, and pretend that the image is on a fulcrum. Compose it left to right so that
both sides weigh the same. And when they do – most of the time – your photos are
going to look much better. What is something that everyone hates about the
modern world? Too many distractions. Everywhere. And the way that we feel about things in the outside world is very often how we feel about them in
photography. That was true of balance, and now it’s true of distractions. Everything
in your photos should be there for a reason.
If you internalize that, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a phone, DSLR, mirrorless, whatever… simplifying is the key. And I don’t want you to confuse
“simplifying” with “empty.” This photo has a crowded composition – almost no empty space. And that, believe it or not, is what makes it simple. My message was crowdedness. Empty areas just
would have been distracting. So, simplifying does not
mean that you need a basic Instagram photo of a person with the sky above
them and nothing else. Simplifying means streamlining your
message. That’s it. If you’re on the sand dunes, and you want to show how isolated
everything is, then you’d exclude any plants or footprints that are nearby. And
if you’re in a forest, and your message is peacefulness, then you’d exclude any
tangled messes of vines off to the side. And I actually have an example for that
one – bad photo. Why is it a bad photo? Well, too many distractions. Especially in the
area off to the right. And now, a good photo. Fundamentally, they’re very similar.
Same subject, same time of day… except I got rid of every distraction that I
could in the second shot. That’s simplification. Exclude anything that
makes your photo weaker. It sounds stupid simple, but you’ve got to think about it
in the field, or you just won’t do it. Most people never do. Next up is visualization. Visualization
can be summed up with the most important advice I’ve ever gotten in photography. And that is just: Put your noggin into it. Think!
Don’t let your decisions make themselves. Because when you boil it all down, what
makes a good photo is emotion. And the way to get emotions into your photos – at
least, one of the best ways – is to make a thousand little decisions correctly. I’ve
already given you two of the big decisions (first, balance versus
imbalance, and second, should you exclude “that thing” from your photo, or should you
include it?) – but there’s way more than just those. Crowded versus empty
composition. Time of day that you take the picture. Black and white versus color.
Bright photo. Dark photo. Camera settings. Should you or should you not whisper
words of encouragement to your camera before taking the picture? I don’t know!
All of these are decisions that *you* need to make on a photo-by-photo basis. I
almost have a mental checklist I like to go through to make sure that I’m
deciding all these things consciously rather than just letting them happen. And
the main reason why I take awful photos with my phone has nothing to do with the
quality of the camera. When I take pictures with my phone, I just don’t
consciously make any decisions. I pull it out of my pocket, snap a photo, put it
back. When I actually think about things, I do occasionally take phone photos that
I like. Here’s one of the very few. Now, I took it with the mighty iPhone 5, which
is many generations obsolete by now, but it still works. By comparison, with my
regular camera, I’m almost always on a tripod. Then I’m composing carefully,
examining the photo I’ve just taken, taking some variations, refining my
composition, moving around… and I’m putting conscious thought into what I
want to say. So here’s one more of the, we’re popping up a photo… and then same
landscape, same day, different emotions. These differences didn’t happen by
accident. I made conscious decisions both times to achieve that version of the
photo I had in mind. And some of that’s in the field, like the composition; I
included the Sun and then I didn’t. But a lot of it is also in post-processing, like
the black and white conversion. Now, how do you know which direction to go with
the emotions? Because this just showed you can kind of go either way.
Well, usually what you want to do is identify the emotions of the subject in
front of you. Maybe it’s a sharp-edged mountain, or
maybe it’s a nice field of wildflowers. Doesn’t matter. Then, try to unify the
rest of your photo around the subject’s emotions. That goes for every decision
you make: light, composition, camera settings. Try to synchronize them with
the emotions of your subject. That’s why, personally, I like the first
of those two aspen photos better. I did my best the second time to take kind of
a gloomy photo, and it sort of worked, but to me, bright, yellow aspen trees are just
a very happy subject. I’m gonna end this video with a series
of five photos. Let me first cycle through them, and then
I’ll explain, but each one is a refinement of the previous. One, two, three,
four, five. Back to Photo 1. There’s a few problems here. The subject and the
light don’t really match, for starters. And the composition… it is kind of
balanced, but it’s also empty and honestly kind of boring. With such an
amazing landscape in front of me, that’s really not what I want.
Photo 2, at least, is more dynamic. I found a better piece of ice, got some more
appropriate light, and I filled the frame with my subject. But now, the composition
is starting to get kind of complicated, and I really need to simplify things.
Photo 3 is the best one yet. The light here is right on point. The blocks of ice
aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty interesting, and this is also a more
streamlined composition (although there’s still some room for simplicity). Photo 4
just doesn’t work, but I wanted to show it to you for a couple of reasons. First,
the block of ice is the best one yet, and the light is still fantastic. But I went
back to the mistake of the first photo. It’s a very static composition, with a
lot of distracting, empty space, and no real sense of movement. So, what do I do?
Well, I combine the amazing piece of ice from Photo 4 with the composition from
Photo 3, giving me photo number 5 – my final, portfolio image. And that’s the
process. Now, it works best when you’ve got an image in your mind’s eye of how
you want the photo to look. When I was here at this location, I thought about
what emotions I wanted the photo to have, and I just kept changing things around
and making decisions until I got there. Now, is it time to close this one out? I’d
say so. I took the photos throughout this video with the iPhone 5, again. This
really cheap Canon point-and-shoot camera. Nikon’s most entry-level DSLR.
And, naturally, my regular, advanced camera. I’m not going to tell you that the
camera is irrelevant, because it’s not. But, compared to things like balance,
simplicity, emotion, and visualization… it’s practically a blip on the horizon.


9 Replies to “How to Take Good Pictures with ANY Camera”

  1. Kuntal Halder says:

    this channel is alive!

  2. Amit Chattopadhyay says:

    Outstanding video in the midst of distracting gear reviews by so called photo pundits. Nice one looking forward for more videos like this

  3. Hans Ernst says:

    I'm following PL for many years now and think that both Nasim and you do a fantastic job. Like the site your simple but profound way of explaining things, definitely has a place on YouTube. Thanks for sharing and a very good 2020.

  4. Natalia Skorokhod says:

    Awesome video! I'm so excited for this weekly series 🙂

  5. Michael Vail says:

    That was great – three coins for you! Looking forward to upcoming videos. Thanks for your many gifts.

  6. xander107 says:


  7. Marko Marko Marko says:

    Thank You man for this excellent video. I'm a beginner in a photography (I'm doing it because I love it, not to make money) and this kind of advices I love to hear. I'm going to apply them the next time I'm with my camera 🙂 P.S. I liked the third photo of the ice, not the fifth 🙂 And yes, I'm going to share this video with my friends

  8. Sk Firoj says:

    This video is amazing 😍

  9. boatman222345 says:

    Excellent and crystal clear discussion of the most important aspect of every image, content! I've listened to a lot of phot of photographers wrestle with this topic and I'd have to say this young fellow did the best job!

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