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We hear this lament so often: “I bought this great new digital camera and it wasn’t cheap. But my photos still look crappy – nothing like yours. What shall I do?” Of course, cameras only “take” photos. It’s the camera operator who “makes” them. Here are 5 foolproof remedies for this problem which might surprise you.

1. Decide what kind of photographer you want to be and which role you’d like for photography to play in your life.

If you want to use your camera exclusively to document fun events, adventures, people and creatures in your life and share them with your Facebook buddies or email them to aunt Helen, then keep things simple and easy. Shoot in JPG mode and use all automatic presets on your camera. This also means that you don’t need an expensive camera with 50.6 megapixels and all bells-and-whistles (naturally, gear heads are exempt from this advise). You don’t want to be unnecessarily weighed down and stressed out about complicated camera settings. Just have fun!

However, if the bug has bitten and you don’t hardly go anywhere without your camera and you eventually want to make masterpieces which you can print on a large scale, play with your images and put your very own creative spin on them, then you want to invest in good equipment (including a sturdy tripod) and continue reading.

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2. Grab a book on composition.

Some people are born with a “good eye” but a lot can be learned about good composition from an introductory class, an online workshop (we like www.creativelive.com or www.lynda.com) or simply from a book borrowed from the library. Then go out and practice – one composition rule at the time. All these rules will become second nature after a short while. You won’t even have to think about them anymore. It’s like learning a foreign language only easier. Crafting a successful image will then be the result of your skill and knowledge rather than a matter of luck.

3. Take a course in post production.

Even in a 1-day workshop you will learn a lot of techniques to make your images glow. Once you see what’s possible, it will also unleash your creativity. With the right kind of instructions, it’s not difficult and definitely fun and addictive.

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4. The best way we know how to improve your shooting, composition and postproduction skills is an immersion into a hands-on photo class or a week-long photo tour.

What we highly recommend for beginners are classes which run over several weeks. It’ll give you the basis from which to explore more and more creative options and possibilities. It will allow you to work on home work, come back the next week with questions you never knew would come up and learn in the company of other excited enthusiasts. Then take a guided trip if travel photography turns on your lights. If you google your preferred destination and visual focus, you will find many options to choose from. Just be aware that not all tours are created equal. Experience and temperament of your tour leaders should be explored before signing up. Also check out testimonials from previous participants. Find out beforehand if you’re signing up for a tour only or a tour that’s also a workshop. On a tour, you might only get the benefit of somebody having done the scouting at your choice of destination and arranged accommodations. If a workshop component is included, you can also expect photography instructions in the field as well as classroom modules. This is what we are offering at Photography Travel Tours because we believe that it provides a richer experience and a better value.

Short of the intensive experience of a photography class or a photography tour, becoming a member of a camera club will inspire you and help you improve your skills. The support of your fellow club members and club activities such as seminars, guest speakers and photo contests can make photography a rewarding and exciting hobby and connect you with likeminded people.

5. And here’s the most important tip: Think of what you’re doing as “making” a photo rather than “taking” it.

Go about photography with intention and take your time. Using a tripod has the added advantage of slowing you down so that you can think about your composition and the best camera settings, observe the light and be present with your subject matter. Which, of course, is not to say that “shooting from the hip” can’t create some wonderful spontaneous images.

Seeing and interpreting the world through the lens of your camera can add richness and excitement to your life. Magrit and I can’t imagine our lives without our cameras. We have made thousands of images over the course of many years. Sometimes we wonder what to do with all these images but then, when we’re out there shooting somewhere in the middle of Europe, this question becomes moot – we just have to do it because that’s what we do and what lights us up.

Happy shooting,

Jim + Magrit