23 February 2009


How to take great point-and-shoot photos

Behind the Gare St. Lazare, Paris by Henri Cartier-BressonVia Jason Kottke, here is a useful article on how to make great photos using your point-and-shoot digital camera—by learning from the great photographers who shot film decades ago with even more limited equipment.

You can only learn so much from people who frequently work in ways that are impossible for you. What if there were truly masterful photographers who worked with cameras with all the limitations of yours and more? Couldn't they be role models? Luckily, there are boatloads of them: every documentary photographer working from the 1930s to the 1980s.

The basics? Learn to compose, let black be black, use black-and-white when appropriate, photograph near windows with natural light, and take lots of pictures, then edit—pick the best shots from the many you have. If you get really good, you might regularly capture the decisive moment in single shots like Cartier-Bresson, but that will take time.

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One thing that you wrote at the end of your post, (Great Pic BTW) is Edit Edit Edit..

Here is what I think is the problem, Most people are thrown by the "editing tools" that are out there, be it Adobe Photoshop, or Photoshop elements.

There are so many buttons, gadgets and whistles, and there really isn't a "comprehensive Newbie How-to" on how you should edit them, or what makes a good edit.

I would say most use the "AUTOFIX" method on the program, but to be true, this usually comes out looking like "ASS". :-)

I just uploaded my photo's to Google, this weekend, while I am not like you and I am sure I have not taken near as many as you, I was amazed to see i had almost 5 gigs of Photo's uploaded. I am no photographer by any means, so this seemed like a lot to me.

The Camera and its software are a intimidating thing. I have read your articles with great interest, and catch bits and pieces of what your saying, but the F-Stop etc.. and other things you go over.. are really really hard to understand.. Will keep reading though as I do learn a little each time from both your Podcast/Music mussings as well as your photography stuff..

Just wanted to give the NEWB side..

I should have been clear. When I wrote (or summarized) "edit," I meant "pick the best photos from the many you take." Those that really work won't need much, or any, fiddling in iPhoto or Photoshop or whatever. Photographers decades ago certainly didn't have anything like that to work with -- while some, like Ansel Adams, considered making a print as much a part of the artistic process as taking the picture, others, like Cartier-Bresson and many news photographers, were never involved in the developing and printing phase at all.

If you do choose to work with software, the main thing you should try first is adjusting the Levels settings. Here are basic and more detailed tutorials about that.
Thanks so much Derek for the info!!
But still, don't be afraid to crop if it improves the photo ... in fact, the photo of Henri's you have shown is cropped from what he actually took (though usually HC-B didn't do any cropping).

But in essence, to take better photos, take more photos and learn from each one. and only show the good ones! ;-)

Steve Taylor (aka The_BigBlueCat)
Melbourne, Australia
I crop extensively. It helps if you can compose well in the viewfinder, to get the maximum resolution from your camera and lens, but I'm not one of those crazy purists who doesn't want any image editing.