Professional Photo Tips For Everyday Folks

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The summer is filled with photo opportunities from weddings and days at the beach to summer barbeques and family fun outdoors. We asked local photographer, Audra Colpitts, to share some of her professional tips that we can use to take great photographs ourselves.

Thanks for the great tips, Audra!

Q. Do you need an expensive camera to get great shots like professional photographers?

A. In a word, no. :) If you combine an interesting subject with good lighting and a nice composition, I believe you can get great shots from just about any camera.

I once read about a photography instructor who took a photo of a scene with his expensive camera and the same scene again with a disposable camera. He then challenged his class to figure out which image was taken with each camera. The class had a difficult time telling the two apart.

It’s not the price of the camera, it’s what you do with it that counts. That being said, you do want to have a camera that you are comfortable with and one that can grow with you as you ‘develop’ your skills.

Q. How can you avoid shadows caused by the bright sun?

A. Photography is all about light – bright sun included. Avoiding the time of day when the sun is at the highest point is the easiest, but of course that’s not always practical. You can control the light by moving around your subject to find the best angles, adding fill flash or using a reflector to fill in the shadows. Watch how the light hits your subject as you move around it. If you are able to, you might turn the subject as well to find the most desirable light.

The photo above is taken with the sun directly behind the couple, creating a beautiful silhouette, while the photo below I’ve shot at an angle where the sun is hitting them from above and behind, and added a touch of flash to fill in the shadows.

Q. What’s the best way to get great candid shots?

A. Try to anticipate what’s going to happen by watching your subject. If you see a toddler with a twinkle in his eye looking over at an unattended tray of cupcakes, you can bet he’s headed that way looking for trouble. If someone is toasting Mom & Dad on their 50th wedding anniversary, look around for the reactions of the rest of the family.

Try to stay back if you can as well and shoot at your longest focal length. If the people you’re shooting don’t know you’re taking their photo, they’re more likely to act natural. While you don’t need an expensive camera, they do tend to have the longest focal lengths.

Q. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see in non-professional shots?

A. That’s easy – too much background clutter! If you’re not at the Grand Canyon or in front of the San Francisco Bridge, there’s a good chance you don’t need all that extra ‘stuff’ in the background. Get in close to your subject and make the photo about your subject, rather than what’s behind it.  The photo of the little guy below lacks background clutter, putting the focus on his adorable cheeks and smile.

Look out for over and underexposed images as well. Too much light can ruin a great photo just as much as not having enough light can. Check that you’re using the proper ISO and camera settings in the location that you’re shooting in. When you change locations (i.e. going outdoors after shooting indoors) check it again. With traditional film cameras you were limited to a single ISO as the film defined the sensitivity to light. With digital cameras you can change the ISO for each shot. Some digital cameras allow you to tell the camera what setting you are shooting in and it automatically picks the best camera settings.

Q. What’s the best way to become a better photographer?

A. Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Read your manual and join your local photography club. There are some great online photography forums and websites like, and Critique your own photos – what is it that draws you in to a certain image? What is it that you would change for next time? Most importantly, have fun!

Audra Colpitts
Ring: 604.862.0105

Connect with Audra on Twitter and Facebook

3 Responses to “Professional Photo Tips For Everyday Folks”

  1. Cindy Keery says:

    Thanks for sharing these great tips! How would you suggest getting a great photo of a fancy hairdo?

  2. Hi Cindy,

    If you can, get in front of a bright, but softly lit window and turn the flash off. Using softened light will focus on the natural sheen of the hair and all of the details of the ‘do. Don’t forget to try different angles as well!

    PS If you have any questions, feel free to email me directly at :)

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