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If you’ve ever been disappointed with the photos you take, you may have decided that only professional photographers are capable of making good photos. But, it is actually very simple to get good, even excellent, photos if you borrow a few tricks from the pros. Here are the five most important ones that will have you taking better photos as soon as you pick up your camera.

1. Camera Choice

The most important thing to remember is that you can get great pictures with almost any camera. The most expensive camera won’t get you the results you want if you don’t train your eye to spot a good picture through the viewfinder.
But, you do want the quality of those photos to be the best they can be, so I recommend a 35mm camera. They come in many price ranges, from the single use kind, all the way up to the more expensive SLR (Single Lens Reflex).
The problem with the single use camera is the wide-angle lens that sometimes takes in too much of the surrounding area. If you step up to a camera with a zoom lens, you can zoom in and cut out what you don’t want in the photo.
So, why would anyone want to spend the money on a more advanced SLR? One reason is that these cameras have interchangeable lenses so you can choose a wide-angle lens for landscapes or a long lens that brings a subject in closer. What I like most, though, about the SLR is that you are actually looking through the lens when you compose the picture, so what you see is exactly what the film will record. With a viewfinder, which is not always lined up perfectly with the lens, you may find that you have included something in the photo that you hadn’t intended.

2. Film choice

As you probably already know, your film choices are color, black and white or slide film. This decision in fairly easy, depending on the type of photos you have in mind.
The more confusing choice is film speed. The most common speeds are ISO 100, 200, or 400. One hundred speed film is for bright light, 400 for low light, and 200 is a general purpose film that is good for all conditions. The higher the number, the quicker your camera takes the picture, so you can think of these numbers in terms of fractions: 100 as 1/100 of a second, 200 as 1/200 of a second and so on. So, for sports you would need the 400-speed film because it is fast enough to stop the action.
Another consideration when choosing a film is the grain in the final photograph. All photographs are made up of tiny dots too small to see, but when you enlarge a picture, the dots, or grain, are more pronounced in some film. A good rule to go by is “the higher the number, such as ISO 400, the more grain will appear in the photo”. So, if you plan to enlarge your pictures, use the slowest film (lowest ISO number) possible for the best quality prints.

3. Lighting

Another key to good photographs is the available lighting. As you know, a flash will help in low light situations. Just remember that a flash has a short range and may not reach your subject if you are too far away. So, take the photograph as close to the subject as possible.
What you may be surprised to know is a flash also comes in handy in bright light situations too. A very brightly backlit object, such as a child in front of a bright sunset, will fool the camera into underexposing the photograph and the child will appear in silhouette. To avoid this, you can use a flash to “fill” in the extra light that is needed to bring the child’s face out of the shadows.

4. Focus

Most cameras have auto focus. This means that once you push the shutter button, the camera focuses itself.
Some, like the single use cameras, have fixed focus. This means that everything from a few feet in front of the camera, usually three to five feet, all the way out as far as the eye can see, will be in focus.
If you are lucky enough to have a zoom lens, you can use focus to your advantage when making a portrait. The longer the lens, the more out of focus the background behind your subject will be. This helps make the subject stand out from their surroundings.

5. Composition

Composition is the most important part of a good photograph. Following the simple rules of composition will make it possible to get an excellent picture out of any camera.
The first rule of composition is to make sure your main subject is the center of attention. This is another place where a zoom lens can help by making sure you cut out clutter in the background.
Secondly, remember your subject is the center of attention, not necessarily the center of your viewfinder. This is where you will learn to use the “rule of thirds.” Pretend your viewfinder has a tic-tac-toe grid on it. The best position to place your subject is at the intersection of any one of those lines, and off center.
And last, remember if you are photographing a person or animal, to give them a space to look or run into, instead of giving the impression that they are looking off, or about to jump off, the edge of the picture.

As you can see by these five simple steps, great photos are possible for anyone. And, with a little practice, your photographs will go from disappointing to dynamite in no time at all!