The Difference Between Taking A Picture and Making A Photograph

From Snap-Shot To Wow-Shot!

“How come my pictures don’t look like that?”

So, you stopped by your local camera store or big box retailer, bought the top-of-the-line camera, spending thousands of dollars, and then stopped by your favorite scenic view and snapped away.

And to your surprise and dismay your pictures aren’t any better than the ones you were getting with your inexpensive point-n-shoot.

But why?

Shouldn’t this expensive hi-tech camera, the one your favorite pro is using, take awesome pictures?

To be perfectly blunt, the answer is no!

Baxter Lake - Full Auto

Baxter Lake – Full Auto

Money Can’t Buy You Love

And it can’t buy you good photography either. Thinking an expensive professional level camera is going to take great photos is like thinking a nice pen will write a best-selling novel. Buying an expensive camera only means you’ve bought an expensive camera. The camera in and of itself is in my opinion the least important part of what it takes to make a photograph.

There is so much more than an expensive high-end camera that goes into the making of a photograph.

To paraphrase Ansel Adams, “The most important part of the camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

Let me offer you a few tips on how to move your photography beyond snap-shots.

Move From Picture Taker To Photograph Maker. Here’s How:

Learn it!

Learn how to use your camera. I cannot stress this enough! Read the manual from cover to cover, then read it again.

Read about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, as well as how each affects exposure to get the results you’re after. Such as how aperture affects depth of field, or how to use slower shutter speeds to create the silky flowing look to moving water.

Control it!

One sure-fire way to improve your photography is to never-ever-ever use your fancy new DSLR on the “Green Box” full-auto setting.

Ever!

Letting your camera decide which aperture or shutter speed to use is like playing the lottery. Sure you might come away with a few good shots, if the photography gods are smiling on you that day.

Seeing Is Believing

Below are a couple of examples of how, by me taking control away from the camera, I was able to get the shot that I wanted looking the way I wanted it to.

These next two photos show the same waterfall from pretty much the same vantage point. In the first image, the camera was set to fully automatic. I just framed the shot and pressed the shutter. The camera focused where it wanted to and the shutter speed chosen by the camera was way too fast to give the water the pleasing silky look I was after.

Mad River Falls - Hand-held.

Mad River Falls – Hand-held, full auto setting.

Mad River Falls, Farmington, NH

Mad River Falls, camera set on Manual mounted on a tripod.

Get Up, Get Out, Stay Out!

Get your lazy butt out of bed!

The best light occurs at the beginning and end of the day. You can’t photograph it if you’re still in bed, or home sitting on the couch. In the first photo at the beginning of this article, I slept in, strolled on down to the lake at about 8:30 in the morning, pointed my camera and pressed the shutter.

Not a very good photo is it?  The light is horrible. And light is what makes a photograph.

Now let’s take another look at the same lake, from the same beach.

Only this time I was up and at the water’s edge well before sunrise. Camera on full manual, securely mounted on a tripod, and giving some thought to the composition by including a good foreground, mid-ground, and background elements. Not to mention the beautiful golden light of early morning. A little better I think.

Brilliant Sunrise. Baxter Lake, NH

Brilliant Sunrise. Baxter Lake, NH

Not a morning person? The golden hours happen at the end of the day too. Remember, don’t be too quick to pack it in right at sunset either.

Magic can happen long after the sun dips below the horizon.

Stairs Mountain Autumn Sunset

Stairs Mountain Autumn Sunset

Get Low, Get Wet, Get Dirty!

Once you’ve learned to master the settings on your camera, now it’s time to get creative. We all see the world at eye level, use your camera to show a different perspective. Get down on your knees, or even flat on your belly.

Photographing waterfalls that has seen plenty of photographers? How about shooting it from the middle of the stream?

On your knees.

In The Stream, Shannon Brook Below Falls Of Song, Castle In The Clouds

In the stream, Shannon Brook below Falls Of Song, Castle In The Clouds

Do It Again, and Again, and Again.

The weather and light won’t always play nice, no matter how early you get there or how late you stay. So if you have a photograph in mind you may need to visit a place more than once.

I’ve been to the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge too many times to count. It is I think my favorite view in all of New Hampshire.

And I have yet to come away with the photograph I want. Here, in no particular order are a few favorites. I’m happy with all of them, yet none of them are the photograph I’m after. So I’ll return again and again until I get exactly what I want.

Presidentials Over Cherry Pond, Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge

Presidentials Over Cherry Pond, Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge

Cloud Reflections, Cherry Pond, Jefferson, NH

Cloud Reflections, Cherry Pond, Jefferson, NH

Mt. Starr King And The Pliny Range Over Cherry Pond, Winter.

Cloud Reflections, Cherry Pond, Jefferson, NH

cherry-pond-at-sunset-cloudy-day-winter

Cherry Pond at sunset on a cloudy winter day

So Remember…

Knowing how to use your camera, and a strong willingness to be in the right place at the right time is a sure fire way to improve your photography.

~ Jeff Sinon

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This entry was posted in Camera Equipment, Camera Operation, Landscape, Nature, New Hampshire, Scenic New England, Sunrise /Sunset, Technique and tagged , , , , .

9 Comments

  1. George May 5, 2014 at 05:27 #

    Excellent tips. Thanks for sharing! You are definitely right about getting up and out. My best photo’s are displayed throughout the house and only one of them was taken in the middle of the day. Very well said!

    • Jeff Sinon May 5, 2014 at 20:56 #

      Thanks George. My house is the same way. Sure you can make a good photo mid-day, but you’re usually going to have to work harder for it.

  2. Kris May 8, 2014 at 16:22 #

    Well said, Jeff! Get up, get out, get down!

    • Jeff Sinon May 9, 2014 at 21:00 #

      You know it Kris! Getting up early and crawling around in the dirt is the only way to go 🙂

  3. Patricia Przybylinsk May 9, 2014 at 18:55 #

    Hi Jeff,

    Great refreshing article! Very motivating–you don’t hold back, do you? Excellent tips and great examples presented in a sincere fashion, you really want to get folks jazzed and that sings through well. Thank you very much! Patti P in Vermont

    • Jeff Sinon May 9, 2014 at 21:05 #

      Thanks Patti, and no, not usually. I’m a pretty straight forward kind of guy. I want to try and make people understand that better landscape photography really isn’t rocket science. Learn your camera, get out early or stay late, and don’t think that a fancy new camera is going to make better photos if you’re not willing to do all of the above.

  4. Kathleen Simonin June 9, 2014 at 10:35 #

    Thank you Jeff…I am quite the novice and love your direct, no holds barred approach . I know I take “good” photos but I need to do more then snap. Am getting off the “A” mode but still get confused with settings when in manual. Great advice, much appreciated.
    Kathleen from OOB

    • Jeff Sinon June 10, 2014 at 05:55 #

      You’re welcome Kathleen. One way to gently ease yourself off of the full auto setting is to try using one of the semiautomatic modes. By using either Aperture or Shutter Priority modes you’re taking control of at least one function, aperture or shutter speed, and leaving the rest up to the camera. As a landscape photographer I mainly used Aperture Priority because I was mostly concerned with depth of field, and since I always use a tripod I rarely cared about shutter speed.

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