How to Take Perfect Photos in Four Easy Steps

Remember the “good old days” when you walked into a store, bought a thing, took it home, and just used it? If this thing was a loaf of bread, no instructions were necessary. But if it was some new fan-dangled thing, it came along with a pocket sized instruction manual, several pages in length, with directions printed in English and most of the facts about this new thing involved safety instructions (such as “Do not operate while sleeping” or “Do not operate hair dryer in the tub”) designed by the manufacturer to avoid lawsuits. Actually that part hasn’t changed much, but what is different today is the instructions are now so voluminous that the little booklet is a single page telling you to go online and download hundreds of pages of directions which you can scroll through at your leisure or print out if you have a ream or two of printer paper handy.

That is what I encountered when I inherited my husband’s cast off digital camera. The previous Christmas he’d put a new camera on his wish list. Actually, his “old” one was two years ancient, but it wasn’t HD video capable like the latest-on-the-market one listed and emphasized with a star on his annual St. Nick requests. So, having given him this camera several holiday seasons earlier, it fell into that ambiguous category: too good to give away yet pointless to try to sell because it was obsolete. Also he came down with an acute case of guilt about replacing a gift so recently given to him by his beloved wife. So, after all the tinsel and wrapping paper and squashed bows were nestled in the recycle garbage can out front, I, who have never relished taking pictures, inherited the former camera and all the mysteries that come with a new gadget.

My “re-gifted” gift came with one-hundred-seven pages of instructions. Thankfully, page number five detailed the “Quick Start Guide” with brief instructions how to successfully use “the most sophisticated and reliable product on the market today.”

Four simple steps:

  1. Charge the battery
  2. Insert the battery and card
  3. Set the mode dial
  4. Press the shutter button and take pictures

Unfortunately, I needed to delve further into the remaining one-hundred-two pages to begin to plumb the depths of the features available. But we were about to venture out on my first book reading/signing tour across a major part of these great United States. Could there be a better leaning opportunity to master photography by the seat of my pants? (BTW – in the plotting arena I’m a planner – not a pantzer.) Our first day on the road I started trying “modes.” Sounded simple until I realized how many modes there are: Normal picture, Intelligent ISO, Playback, Simple, Scene 1 and Scene 2 (each with thirteen sub-choices), Clipboard, Print, Motion Picture, and Macro. I decided to try each and fumble my way to knowledge.

Over the years when serving as a photo subject, I’ve observed photographers doing puzzling, often annoying, things:

  • Photographer steps backwards into a ditch, falling, skinning elbows
  • Subjects are asked to step back into a ditch, resulting in additional skinned elbows
  • Subjects must hold a steady, brilliant smile gazing into a blazing sun that is searing precious macular cells off the inside of their eyeballs
  • Holding a pose for just another three minutes while maniacal mosquitoes whine about subject’s ears and suck their life blood away while depositing some exotic virus or parasite into subject’s bloodstream
  • Getting a fifty person entourage all standing still at one time for that wonderful group picture only to find out – oops – photographer forgot there was no more space on the memory card
  • Subject temporarily blinded with a flash followed quickly by a second flash which will eradicate “red eye” in spite of subject’s vocal protestations that pollen-laden eyes are always red


I resolved to never do any of the above, but on our first real photo-op, hiking through the hills above the Mississippi River, I discovered the true reason why a photographer snaps so profusely: when one is climbing and the trail ahead looks ominously long and uphill and one’s breath comes in fits and starts like one was on the twenty-fourth minute of the morning NordicTrack workout and one is sweating profusely and one needs to rest but will not admit it to companions, one suggests stopping for just one more scenic overlook photo with said companions smiling into the lens. (This is sort of my own version of Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.)


I suppose photography was a lot easier pre-digital days when one kept rolls of film and spent anxious days waiting for the Kodak shop to develop one’s masterpieces. But was that really better? Now you can take thousands of pictures without stopping and you can see your pics instantly and just as instantly delete them and start over or put them on your computer and send them off into the blogosphere to amaze and amuse your followers. Isn’t change wonderful? If you say no to that then I ask you what is worse than change? Answer: no change, where things stagnate, petrify, calcify, while zealots insist this is the best way to do this particular task – let’s never change. So when your digital camera fanatic asks you to pose and smile, do so and relish the future and more changes and instead of saying “cheese” say “bring it on!”



One thought on “How to Take Perfect Photos in Four Easy Steps

  1. Judith, Believe it or not, I just got my first digital camera. The first time I used it, I went wild and took hundreds of photos. I love that aspect of it, but all those digital files are already overwhelming! Going forward, I’ve decided to keep telling myself “it’s a film camera” and rein it in a bit! Having the digital camera has really spruced up my blog!

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