How to Take Good Pictures

A few years ago, I saw a video about the late photographer, Garry Winogrand. The camera would follow him around on his day-to-day street shooting and he would offer comments to the camera as he worked. At one point, he turns to the camera and says, “Taking pictures is easy. All you have to do is decide what goes in the frame, and when you click the shutter.”


There are many ways to make a photograph and certainly these days in the wonderful world of digital photography, it is a lot easier than it used to be. Twenty years ago, in order to be good as a photographer, you had to know how to properly expose film (especially slide film) and how to process it. There was little room for error. Having mastered those two things, you could then begin to learn to be a photographer.  These days most people with a small camera, a ripped-off copy of Photoshop, and a computer can call themselves a professional photographer.

Same As It Ever Was

I have seen this before. Does anyone remember the introduction of the Mac from 25 years ago? At that time they thought that graphic design was dead and “desktop publishing” was the new thing thanks to this sweet little app called PageMaker that turned everybody with a computer into a graphic designer. It never happened. The fad of desktop publishing lasted only a few years until most people began to discover that there was a flood of amateurish crap suddenly being printed. What they realized was that all the fancy tools were no substitute for experience and a good eye.

It is the same thing today in photography. Of course it is a bit more complicated. You have not only the computer and software to make you look good, you also have the internet to give you universal exposure. But its the same old song—sooner or later people discover that there is no substitute for a good eye, timing and some passion. Without that you are ordinary at best.

So it comes down to this—how do you separate yourself from the herd? Assuming that most people know how to expose a good image and upload it online, what makes you different?

Yup. “All you have to do is decide what goes in the frame, and when you click the shutter.”

How to Take Good Pictures

From my point of view, most good photographs—the ones I really like, are sometimes not that well exposed, or crystal sharp ones. What I am looking at is how the images fill the frame—the movement, the balance, the composition. Secondly, it’s the timing — what was really going on (or what you think was going on) at that precise moment when the shutter was clicked— that’s a photograph! If you are skeptical, just go to a gallery, open a fashion magazine or photography book of current masters to see what really makes a great photograph. One hint—its not necessarily a sharp picture.

All one has to do is look at the photographs that beginners, your neighbors, your relatives show you. Yes, they are finally well-exposed thanks to modern technology (auto-exposure, wide latitude, software, etc.). But are they interesting? Nope! They are still static, lifeless and dull because they have not learned how to properly fill a frame (pictures taken of people from 30 yards away at a 15-degree tilt) or timed correctly (people picking their nose with mouths open and eyes shut).

OK, that might be an extreme example but look at photographs that you like. Why do you like them? Not because they are perfectly sharp or well-exposed—its because there is something in the framing and timing that you like—there is something actually going on.

It does not matter what your photographic discipline actually is. No matter what you photograph, you will need to understand framing and timing. It’s the one thing that separates the good from the ordinary. Interestingly enough, it’s probably the one thing they probably do not spend enough time teaching you in school.

One Response to “How to Take Good Pictures”

  1. Excellent words of wisdom! You are absolutely correct about the availability of tools for photographers of every inclination. But it is key to frame and to time the shot to get that great photograph!

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