From standard snaps to great photography
June 15, 2007 3:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I improve my photographs so they have a much more 'real' quality? I've taken some nice shots - not bad composure / colours etc but at best they're quite good. I'm looking to improve to amazing/wow photos...or at least as close as I can get.

Currently I use a DSC-T50. I really like the camera - 7.2MP, some manual controls etc, but I feel like I can get alot more out of it if had a few pointers.
I'm going away in a couple of weeks and I'd really like to come back with some improved photos.
It's quite hard to explain what I mean by a real quality, but people like Katie Baum and Corey Arnold display some photography with real feeling to it. Especially the latter with every line accounted for and a sense of vastness to every shot. I know it's tough without a DSLR and I can't afford to buy one right now, but what can I do do - as a beginner - to make the best of what I have?
Should I be looking at some online tutorials? Should I be spending more time post shot in Photoshop?
Thanks MeFi!
posted by mjlondon to Technology (36 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Just so you have some idea of the 'real' aspect and feeling I'll add a link for Katie Baum and Corey Arnold.
I know these are beyond my capabilities, especially Coreys photos, but you get the idea. Really appreciate the help guys.
posted by mjlondon at 3:50 AM on June 15, 2007

Would it be possible for you to link some photos you've taken that exhibit the "unreal"-ness that you're trying to fix?

Also, could you point out by either link or name (gallery + picture) a shot of Corey Arnold's that exemplifies the "real"-ness you're looking for?
posted by tocts at 4:19 AM on June 15, 2007

I'm a lousy photographer, but people say my photos are cool quite often. I think it is all about the light. If there is some funky lighting, like dawn or dusk or broken cloud, I take heaps of pics. I mix up some traditional with informal portraits, some pics of subjects looking away, try and use the rule of thirds to compose, and mix up depth of field so close shots have an blurred background (use a big aperature to do this).
Then I throw out a stack of images.
Those that are left make me happy and get appreciative comments from others.
On the bright side, for three quarters of my life it cost something like $1 per shot to take pics, we can now can take them for free, and just this change has made me twice as good as before.
I like the Corey pics, but note the fishing shots were taken at dawn, in said funky light.
posted by bystander at 4:24 AM on June 15, 2007

A lot of that work--particularly Corey--is manipulated in Photoshop, it's true. But that's not what makes the photos good or interesting--he has a photographic voice, if you will. He has a specific visual style. Great photographers have that. And it doesn't come overnight. And it's not going to come via a point-and-shoot. There are just too many limitations.

There are so many fantastic photoblogs out there--why not start with Digital Photography School and look through the 2007 Photobloggies winners and nominees?
posted by gsh at 4:26 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just stumbled across This site ( which seems to have lots of articles and how-to's and stuff
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:33 AM on June 15, 2007

In my experience, colors and cropping can make a huge difference in how 'real' a photo looks. I've had shots that were pretty good straight off the camera that turned in to great ones after some time processing them. Adjusting the saturation and contrast can make things pop, and cropping the photo down to focus the viewer's eye are probably the simplest ways to do it, though like most things it can take a while to get the subtleties down.

It's not impossible to take great shots with a point and shoot, an SLR just gives you a finer level of control once you know exactly what you're trying to find. As you figure out your point and shoot your shots will improve, and as you understand photography better you shots will improve.

I've had great shots come from both DSLRs and P+Ss. This photo of the Arcade Fire and this sunset were both shot with little Sony P+Ss and then adjusted using Picasa.

When I was researching some photography gear a couple years ago I came across an article by Ken Rockwell called "Your Camera Does Not Matter" and the idea has served me well in many situations where I've thought "If I just had that other piece of gear, then I'd be great". It comes down to the fact that if you can learn how to take great photographs, you can take them with any camera. More tools and options might make it easier to capture those moments as you intended, but if you don't understand photography and how to see the shot, no piece of equipment can do it for you.

Good luck on your trip, I hope you get some great shots.
posted by chriswarren at 4:52 AM on June 15, 2007

One huge difference is the ability the selectively focus, letting the background go blurry while the subject is sharp. Many digital cameras do not have the capability to do this to any great degree, due to lens size and the chip size. Shallow depth of field is a great tool, but I don't think your camera is capable. When I specifically want that effect, I have to get old my old film cameras. Since I can't afford a DSLR with that capability.

So.. borrow a DSLR or use a regular 35mm film SLR, just to try this. Use a longish telephoto lens, and open the lens as wide as you can (low f-stop setting). Take some pictures of your subject with whatever is behind the subject pretty far away. Look at the results. Almost any lab can make a CD of digital images from your film. Here is a portrait of mine with shallow depth of field.

That's just one idea... lots of other good suggestions here.
posted by The Deej at 4:56 AM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think bystander touches on something important. Very few photographers will get that 'real' quality shot with a single shutter release. Sometimes it can take dozens of shots before you get exactly what you are looking for.

The most die-hard photographers also do a lot of work before they take a shot. Landscape photogs doubly so. Scout the locations you want to shoot (difficult when you are 'going away for a couple of weeks', I admit) and find the best time of day with the best light.

Choose your subject carefully and don't clutter the frame. It's cliche, but less is always more. Too many elements in a frame cause the eye to jump and compete for attention. Have a definite point of focus and use supporting elements to draw the viewers eye to that point. 'Lead' the eye into the photo with diagonals.

Sharp focus is probably the biggest factor that can add 'realness' to a photo. With people, it's the eyes.
Depth of field also gives emphasis. It will be more difficult with the T50 to control as you don't have aperture or shutter priority modes. Your wide angle shutter is full open at f/3.5 and at telephoto your max is f/5.6. You can still do quite a bit with this, but as I said, it will take careful composition and very selective focal points.

Best advice? Make sure you have loads of memory cards and shoot as much as possible. Then when you get back, spend time sorting the chaff from the wheat.
posted by medium format at 5:14 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can take great pictures with that camera. Concentrate on composition, color and lighting (the last two of which are just subsets of the first). Get some books on composition, not really for rules, but for ideas. Practice, practice, practice. Some info here, and in so many other AskMe posts.
posted by caddis at 5:15 AM on June 15, 2007

Response by poster: tocts - In terms of what Corey is offering it's tough to highlight one photo that will encapsulate what I mean. I appreciate that isn't helpful.
Anything from the Bering Sea Crabbing gallery's is good. You just get drawn into the photo - there is a feeling of not being there, but the cold, the crispness and the vastness of where it was taken.
Obviously it's going to be tough to get that with any camera without being at sea on a fishing boat - but I'm keen to move towards taking photos that people can be impressed with. I know my current camera is limited. I'd like to get to grips with what I'm doing that's making a difference though, before I upgrade to a DSLR.

By the way - thanks to all so far. Really helpful. I know it's one of those where really practice and time are going to make a difference.
posted by mjlondon at 5:26 AM on June 15, 2007

Oh... let me clarify: I don't mean to suggest that a long lens is necessary for shallow depth of field. You can use a regular lens. But he effect is usually more pronounced with a longer lens. Here's a snapshot taken with a regular lens (45mm lens on a Yashica Electro 35 film camera.) I opened the lens all the way to its maximum f-stop of 1.7. Using available light instead of flash also makes your photos look more "real" in general, because that's how your eye sees.

Obviously, any idea you get from any of these comments will have exceptions. That's what makes photography an art; it's up to you to decide how you want your photos to look.

I would, however, recommend that you get a better camera. If you can't afford a digital SLR, then track down an old Canon AE-1 or similar film camera. You will be surprised at how much more control you have, and how many more photos you can take without flash by opening the lens all the way. I use Costco to develop my film, and make 5 MP files from my film. They developthe film and make a CD for under $5.
posted by The Deej at 5:44 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take a photography class or workshop or join an online photography forum that allows you to post photos to be critiqued. Feedback from knowledgeable people as to what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong is invaluable.
posted by TedW at 5:49 AM on June 15, 2007

One huge difference is the ability the selectively focus,

I completely agree with this. Most digicams make a big show about putting a certain part of the photo in focus, but the result is inevitably that things at 5 feet are sharp and things at 50 feet are only a little less sharp. This is pretty idiot-proof if it picks the wrong thing to focus on, but defeats the whole point of focusing on something!
posted by smackfu at 5:55 AM on June 15, 2007

mjlondon -

I think that, given what you've said, the best I can do is repeat somewhat that which has already been said, and try to pull it together a little.

I believe that the realness of Corey's work (at least, what I gather you are attributing as "realness") comes from a few things.

First of all, and this has been said, he knows what to leave out of a picture. His shots are very well framed; they are tight when they ought to be tight, and they are wide and encompassing when the scene demands it. One of the things that most makes a photograph feel like a snapshot is a poor composition -- especially having much wider compositions than are necessary, that include extraneous elements.

Second of all, his shots come from a perspective that lends a quality of "being there". In a lot of the tighter compositions, he has pulled the view in so close that you can really feel like you're standing right behind one of the crab fishermen, or at the bow of the boat. And yet, his wider shots manage to exhibit that same quality.

The way he does this is by carefully choosing the focal length and distance to the subject. I would personally be willing to guess that he doesn't do as much zooming as you do. There are very important distinctions between zooming and moving the camera.

Zooming does not change perspective. Moving the camera closer to/farther from your subject does, and perspective plays a huge part in how a shot "feels". Cropping down a photo is the same as zooming -- you might remove extraneous elements, but you can't change perspective this way, and often times, you're just going to end up with an enlarged subset of a perspective that doesn't work.

What this means, in practice, is that you really do need to get the perspective right when you take the shot. You can't really fix it in post-production. Also note that many of Corey's interesting shots are taken at slightly above or below eye level.

Thirdly, Corey manages to take most of his shots looking straight at his subjects. This is another perspective thing; shots that are at odd angles towards the real subject can end up looking very snapshot-like. You'll notice that most of his crab fishing shots have the subject very much "straight on", or close to it. This helps with the realism.

Fourthly, Corey does a good job of post-production. His shots are either well-exposed in the first place, or he's played a bit with levels and hue/saturation to make them look right. This kind of post-processing skill is something you really just kind of pick up over time. Early on, you will probably over-process, but given enough practice, you can learn to know when to stop.

So, what I would really recommend to you, in summary, is:

1. Focus on composition. Less is more. Don't be afraid to pull the frame in tight.

2. Focus on perspective. The most boring perspective of all is found at eye level; we're all very familiar with it. Zooming does not give you a different perspective, it's just pre-emptive cropping.

3. Focus on post-processing. Learn how to enhance the color, contrast, and levels of your shots. Don't worry so much about a lot of fancy editing tricks, just learn to really process a shot right. (others have linked to good resources already, so I won't).

That's about all I have, I think. Hope it helps.
posted by tocts at 5:58 AM on June 15, 2007 [7 favorites]

I consider the quality of a photo making it "real" is in such technical aspects as using a normal focal length, decent contrast, and compressed dynamic range. You want shadow and highlight areas not to be outside the range of the image.

HDR can be used to good effect here as long as it is not overdone. In fact I would say HDR can give a better rendition of what the eye actually sees as opposed to the narrower band of dynamic range that cameras traditionally see.
posted by JJ86 at 6:03 AM on June 15, 2007

Good composition is a huge part of good photography - good photographers frame and compose their shots the same way a painter composes a painting, paying attention to the elements being shown, where, how, their color, lighting - and even cultural or psychological relevance, as well as juxtapositions thereof.

Good exposure and focus control is what makes this happen.

Good cameras make that happen.

This is an entire chain of events that happens, and eventually you "think" less about it while it is happening and it becomes more of a natural, spontaneous expression - just like in writing or music.

However, the main tool and secret of pro photographers is this:


This can't be stressed enough. Back in film days, this was costly. Pro photographers could afford lots of film - but they can't afford to miss the shot.

So you'd shoot dozens or hundreds of rolls in a single day on a pro photoshoot. If the photographer was any good, he/she might get a single really decent shot per roll.

Maybe more, maybe less, depending on the scenario and the subject. Still life and studio work is easy, actions and candid portraiture, not so much.

This is one reason why even today in the digital age pro field photographers carry multiple cameras - to keep shooting and not futz with lens or setup changes.

Nowadays the main (post camera purchase) price barrier isn't "how many frames can I afford to shoot" but "how fast of a camera can I afford", because as many have discovered, consumer digital cameras aren't the greatest for shooting lots of photos very fast.

But you sure can shoot lots and lots of photos with any digital camera. Take advantage of that. It's great practice, and, really, it's what gets you those unexpectedly good shots.

And thanks to EXIF data, you don't even have to keep notes on exposure and shutter speed settings and such like you used to. See a great shot you like? Inspect the EXIF data, and it'll tell you the shutter speed and all that, so you can learn to recreate the effect.
posted by loquacious at 6:42 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

No one's linked the Radiant Vista Daily Critique yet. Excellent, episodic look at what makes a photo rock and what can be done to fix in a computer or on a return shoot. It will give you the vocabulary to think about quality of light and many other elements that make photographs work.

I agree with what's been said about the quality of the photographers you mention. Their lighting and themes are the only thing that really make them special.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:13 AM on June 15, 2007

In both of the photographers work, I see subjects with vivid colors, and those colors pop a little more because they're contrasted with relatively muted background colors.

Similar to using shallow depth of field to make your razor sharp subject seem to pop out of a blurred background, you might want to look (or manufacture) opportunities to do this with color.

Find some place where there's a monochromatic and neutral background. Long stretches of concrete on a road, a white snow-covered field, sand on a beach on a cloudy day. Now, find something very vivid that can be the focus of your photograph to be in front of that neutral background -- somebody in a bright red beret, a bright orange traffic cone, a jelly donut with bright raspberry filling spilling out of it. etc. Play around with different angles to make that subject seem more interesting.

This is one way to simplify your photos. There are others. Generally, try to remove anything from the photo that doesn't have to be there to highlight whatever subject you're trying to capture. Take lots and lots of photos of the same thing from slightly different perspectives. Make sure you're tight enough on the subject. Make sure the subject is in perfect focus. If your camera can't give you a shallow depth of field to throw the background out of focus, you might be able to apply a blur to the background after the fact in photoshop. While you've got that background selected, try desaturing it a little too (to make the colors more muted).
posted by willnot at 7:38 AM on June 15, 2007

Response by poster: I've highlighted these as these have been ones that I've seen recently. There are certainly more impressive shots from some other photographers, but I think these give the idea. The one thing I don't want to do though is to buy a DSLR and find that I don't know what I am doing and/or am not very good - hence looking to learn with what I have! I hate to add to my own question, but can anyone point me to somewhere UK/London based that I can get a decent price for a starter DSLR?
posted by mjlondon at 7:39 AM on June 15, 2007

Proof that it is the eye behind the camera, not the camera: Patrice Elmi's cell phone photos.

Get a new camera if you want, but the key to better photography is not a better camera. That being said, an SLR (digital or regular) with different lenses provides you with some options that a P&S will not. For instance, for pictures of people a slightly longer lens which goes to f2 or so will allow you to keep only their faces in focus and throw an otherwise distracting background out of focus.
posted by caddis at 7:48 AM on June 15, 2007

Tocts is right.

Your camera really doesn't matter, as long as its limitations aren't limitations for what you're doing.

When it comes to composition, you need to really think about what you're seeing on your camera's screen. Most people leave too much in their pictures, and that can be fixed by getting in closer to your subject for a given focal length.

Also, don't necessarily center your subject in the frame. Learn about the Rule of Thirds. Take photos from different angles, and from difference heights.

Finally, make sure you have something interesting to take a photo of, or at least make sure that you have an opportunity to take an interesting photo of something ordinary.
posted by bshort at 7:56 AM on June 15, 2007

If you're worried about the outlay for a new camera, take a look at the Pentax K100D. It's going for under $400 in the US, without a lens, and Pentax has a line of fantastic prime lenses.

A K100D plus a 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens is a small package and a great way to try out the DSLR world.
posted by bshort at 7:58 AM on June 15, 2007

When you're taking the shot, you have a dozen things to think about, and the moment could be lost if you don't act quickly. As such, I think that everything that can be offloaded to post, should be. This gives you more time to take a good photograph by concentrating only on the right things in the heat of the moment, and gives you more time to make that photograph really shine, by adjusting the rest to perfection in post with no time constraints, working to the very limits of your ability, free of the distractions of operating the camera.

For example, I suggest getting in the habit of photographing a little more than you intend the final picture to contain, so that you can define the frame via cropping later, when you have the time and eye to try a few variants, sit and think about them for a while, etc etc.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:57 AM on June 15, 2007

1) Learn to use your feet. Other people have said this, but here I am, saying it again. Set your zoom to one focal length and shoot a whole day at just that length. Walk in on people to get new angles, step back to take in the whole scene. Crouch, lean, climb, boogie.

2) I feel like I should agree with the line that "the camera doesn't matter" on principal (art for the people!), but it's sort of BS, at least for your purposes. I think depth-of-field is maybe the biggest thing that makes a photo "pop" and have that "real" quality and you just can't get that on the camera the OP is rocking. The optics just aren't there on smaller cameras (yet?). Also, continually butting up against the limitations of a small P&S can get really frustrating for someone who wants to improve their photography; starting to shoot with a DSLR for me was a big "aha!" moment for me: so this is where photography is!

2a) mjlondon, I don't think you should worry about this: "buying a DSLR and find that I don't know what I am doing and/or am not very good." The mostly-auto modes on DSLRs are really easy to use and aren't going to leave you feeling lost.

3) Shoot lots and edit edit edit. Use a program that allows you to easily compare shots on screen. Think about the photos you like and the ones that don't get there and figure out what the differences are and how you might approach the shot next time.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:08 AM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

And it's not going to come via a point-and-shoot.

Simply not true. Listen to caddis.

A great photographer can take an instamatic and do beautiful work. Eventually, sure. You'll reach a point where a better camera makes sense, but so much is in the hands of the photographer.

Anytime I ask for photography advice I always assume it's safe to ignore those that immediately point to the camera as the problem.
posted by justgary at 9:21 AM on June 15, 2007

Here's my advice.

Stop taking pictures.

Look at what you want to shoot. What is interesting about it? The position of the object relative to the background? (off center, tilted, etc?) Is it some juxtaposition - a smooth object against a crackled surface, bright against dark, small against large etc.?

You have to know what is evoking the feeling within so you know what you have to include in the frame in order for your photo to evoke the same feeling. If it's not simply the pebble but rather the dry smooth pebble against the wet rough bark of a tree, you'd better capture the bark too.

You are trying to capture the mood that a thing creates so you need to be able to deconstruct what you are seeing and feeling in order to understand how to compose the photograph.

In addition, be conscious of light. The reason people recommend sunset and sunrise as the best times to shoot is because the light is coming in nearly horizontally, which casts shadows in surface textures that are filled with light when the sun is directly above. To understand this better, look photos of the moon when its full, and when its is a crescent. It's the same moon, but you can only see the craters in the crescent photo. The effect is the same at sunset when the sunlight comes in a few degrees above horizontal across the rippling ocean.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:26 AM on June 15, 2007

Proof that it is the eye behind the camera, not the camera: Patrice Elmi's cell phone photos.

This is an excellent point. But the key is that Elmi works within the limitations of his tool. Note that his images are very similar. He uses good, almost abstract composition of subjects that are pretty close and flat to the camera plane. This minimizes the the limitations of his camera.

Understanding the limitations of your camera is key to getting satisfying results. I love my Yashica Electro 35 for low-light and night time photos, and for candid portraits. But I would be very disappointed if I took it to do sports or wildlife photography, which usually require a long lens.

Work with what you have. Get something better if you can. But know that the camera itself is not going to make magical photos.
posted by The Deej at 9:37 AM on June 15, 2007

One thing you can try is checking out this page on flickr, which includes links to pictures that other people have taken with your exact camera. Find a few you like, and when you visit the image, look down on the bottom-right of the page. It should say "Taken with a Sony DSC-T50," then below that is a link for "More properties." That will take you to a listing of some of the EXIF data for the picture (example), which will help you get a feel for what settings result in good images.

Compare these settings with the EXIF data from your own images (or other images on flickr that you don't like) to see what's different.
posted by Partial Law at 9:39 AM on June 15, 2007

I think this goes without saying, but maybe it needs to be said: know your camera inside out.

Y'know those drills where the marine strips and reassembles his gun, as fast as possible, blindfolded? Try to be like that when it comes to putting the camera into the settings you want for a shot. The less you have to think about controls and buttons and fiddly stuff, the more brain is free to be thinking about light and shooting angles.

Just sitting around your house, point the camera at things and get a feel for exposure times etc. Photos are free with digital, so take bucketloads of them around the house just to become more familiar with using the settings available to you, what differences they make. etc. Shoot the same thing (it doesn't matter what) multiple times with different settings then load the pic into the computer and examine them.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:46 AM on June 15, 2007

I used to teach college level photography and I would agree with chriswarren, you're camera doesn't matter. You can take amazing photographs with a toy camera (and many a photo student has)!

The two photographers you link to photograph in two very different ways. Corey's work depends more on what the photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson called "the decisive moment" --getting the shot at just the right moment. Look at this photo of his. He caught the shot *just* as the man was about to step down into that puddle of water. This technique takes practice but it also helps if you can take multiple shots right at the point of action. New digital cameras often have a "burst" mode that would allow you to do this.

And part of developing your eye will happen in the post production process: training yourself to look at all the shots you've taken and pick the right one, the one that has the greatest impact.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:32 AM on June 15, 2007

The camera itself is not going to take magical photos--but getting an interchangeable lens camera will increase your flexibility as a photographer. It will help you see anew.

Gear matters, of course it does, or everyone would still be lugging around Polaroids. (Clearly, I think Ken Rockwell can get bent ;-) )
posted by gsh at 10:44 AM on June 15, 2007

Great advice so far; I've read a lot of stuff to think about and try and incorporate in my own work. (Or maybe "work" is a better way to put it.)

One thing that Rockwell says on his site is that 90% of photography is being there. He says it in specific reference to landscape photography and the reality that almost all of the Ansel-Adams-type shots are taken at/near sunrise or sunset. But I think it applies to most other types of photography, too. The technical aspects of photography are crucial -- exposure, composition, etc. But you need interesting subjects; what do you want to say with your photographs?
posted by docgonzo at 11:06 AM on June 15, 2007

I'd like to add just a little more to my recommendations.

Specifically, one more thing that you can do to try to keep shots looking real (as opposed to more "art" like) is to shoot with a normal or close-to-normal focal length.

If you are not aware of the concept, the "normal" focal length is one that approximates the human field of vision. Using a normal lens gives you a shot for which the perspective "feels" like you are actually looking out of the camera.

I don't want to get into a full discussion of optics, but suffice to say, "normal" is relative, and changes based on the size of your film (or sensor).

On a 35mm camera, a 50mm lens is usually considered normal. However, some people prefer 45mm, and I'm sure if you checked, you could find people who preferred 55mm as well. However, you're not shooting a 35mm camera.

Looking up the stats on the DSC-T50, it has 35mm-equivalent range of 38mm-114mm. The actual focal lengths range from ~5.3mm to to ~15.9mm. If you're lucky (and I'd be willing to bet this is the case), the camera's on-screen display shows the 35mm-equivalent, but if it shows the actual focal length, normal is ~7mm.

So, what I would suggest is setting your camera to about 7mm (50mm equivalent) and leave it there for a whole outing. Force yourself to take pictures that view the world like a human views them. This will help your compositions become more "real".

Once you've played with a normal focal length, you can learn to tweak it a bit for effect. Going slightly wider than normal (35-40mm) can help bring a sort of sweeping perspective that still feels real, while going a little longer (60mm-70mm) can make for a more personal, but still real, look.

Lastly, while I think this is not necessarily the place to be debating the age-old "tools vs. craftsman" photography debate, I will simply say this: you don't need expensive gear to take good photos ... most of the time.

Cheaper gear sometimes physically cannot do what you want. If that's the case, no amount of skill is going to overcome the fact that (for example) your camera is incapable of producing good background blur. You may still be able to take very nice photos with the camera; however, if your goal is to produce a specific effect, your tools must be capable of producing it.

Still, I wouldn't worry so much about buying a DSLR just yet. You can learn a lot with a decent point and shoot without confusing things with the plethora of options and large price tags that DSLRs bring.
posted by tocts at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm sure there's lots of good advice here so I'll just add things I didn't see mentioned.

If possible, shoot raw and convert on the PC. This gives a great deal more control over the coloring and exposure.

Play with filters to get a feel of what they do. Start with the mighty "unsharpen mask" filter. It can work wonders for making focus pop. The old man portrait at the bottom of that page will show you what it can do, all technobabble aside.

And all the stuff everyone said above. Keep shooting and keep learning.
posted by chairface at 1:08 PM on June 15, 2007

I bought a DSLR so that I could have some real control over my depth of field. It's an important tool to have, and it's one that Katie Baum makes good use of. But look at the Bering See set by Corey Arnold, in probably half of the shots the depth of field is quite deep.

A few things to make the most of your point and shoot. Set it so the autofocus and metering uses the center of the image. When you take a shot, center your primary subject, push the button half way and then recompose your shot. This lets you make sure you get the proper exposure and focus on your main subject, while giving you more flexibility about composition.

If you are shooting something in motion but at a constant distance, prefocus and meter using the same technique and then fire of the shot when the scene is right. Prefocusing eliminates much of the shutter lag of point and shoot cameras.
posted by Good Brain at 3:47 PM on June 15, 2007

tum te tum, don't worry about your camera - also DIFFERENTIAL FOCUS IS BORING, so don't worry about that - also look at this photographer here - and keep the awe and respect for other peoples work going - you sound as though you're developing in a really good way - the book "the artists way" is also very useful if applied.
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:06 PM on July 19, 2007

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