Tips to a Great Photo, Part 1 | Buy the Right Camera For You

February 8, 2011


I love pictures.  I love taking pictures, editing pictures, and looking at pictures.  I love walking into a friend’s house to walls and tables full of pictures.  If I come to your house and you have a photo album sitting out I will look through it and probably ask you questions about the people in it.  I love smiles and far-off looks and laughs especially.  I just love photos.

I’ve always taken pictures.  In fact, growing up it was kinda ridiculous.  I burnt through more than my fair share of rolls of film only to get the photos back and be totally disappointed.  The photos I took were never really very good–they were too bright, or too dark, or blurry, or just weird looking because it was of one person smiling at the camera smack dab in the middle of the photo.

About four or five years ago, my brother-in-law, Jason, started a photography business, called Drumm Studios.  He learned a lot about photography and quickly was taking great photos–photos that blew mine out of the water.  It got to the point where I was so discouraged with my own photos compared to the ones he would take for us that I just stopped taking photographs for about a year and a half.  Then my smart husband realized that instead of not taking any photos at all and relying on Jason for our pictures, we should just learn how to take good pictures ourselves!  A sweet family from our church gave us their old camera and we got to learning.  We studied our camera, photography blogs, photography books, and picked poor Jason’s brain every time we saw him.  Slowly Tim & I were able to take photos that we were happy with.  It was amazing–I had always loved photography, but I was finally taking good pictures too!  It was so exciting.

Since then we’ve learned so much more and when Jason and his family moved to Los Angeles for seminary Tim & I were even able to take over the Houston branch of Drumm Studios!  (Check out the website here! We’d love to photograph anything you want photographed or design anything you want designed!!!)

Recently, many of my friends have asked me to teach them “the basics” of photography.  I think they feel like I did a few years ago–they just want to take a picture of their family that they’re happy with!  I mean, for things like weddings and senior photos and engagement shots and official family photos, you should leave it to the professionals, but what if you just want to take a picture of your kids at the zoo, or at the park, or in the bath, or just hanging out in your backyard?  Nowadays technology is such that with almost any camera out there you can take a pretty good picture. You just have to know what you’re doing.  In the next few weeks I will be sharing with you what I believe to be some of the most important things when it comes to taking a photo you’ll be happy with.  Today we’re starting at the very beginning and it’s all about the actual camera you choose to purchase.

Disclaimer: Virtually everything I’m going to tell you in this series has an exception.  Most of these exceptions are made in the name of art and creativity.  For example, you can get rocking sweet photos using a long shutter speed outside in the middle of the night using no flash.  Or using a flash.  They would both make for great pictures if taken by a professional photographer; however, I’m assuming that most of you reading this simply want to take sweet photos of your spouse or your kids or your family and you’re not looking to break the mold quite yet.  So the following are tips for every-day photos—just wanted to make that clear.

Buy the right camera for you: It’s true that almost any camera will get you a pretty good picture, however, there are some cameras that aren’t even worth it.  So what should you look for in a camera?  Well, it depends on what you’re looking for and how serious you want to get with this.

A Note on Canon vs. Nikon: As soon as you start looking into cameras you will run across this incredible battle between people who love their Canon gear and people who love their Nikon gear.  Let me tell you what I’ve come to believe: they are virtually the same.  Just pick one and go with it.  We picked Canon and so I will be talking about/recommending Canon products.  Although there’s no statistical evidence for this, we’ve observed that most professional photographers use Canon, which is why we chose to go with Canon and not Nikon.

1.     SLR or Point-and-Shoot?

  • Do you want to deal with and purchase different lenses?  Do you want more options than you ever thought were possible?  Do you want to be able to/have to edit every single picture you take to make it look exactly the way you want it to?  Then you want an SLR (single lens reflux) camera.  They are more expensive than point-and-shoots and you have a lot more accessories to learn how to use and to buy, but obviously most of them take better photos than your standard point-and-shoot.  I recommend any of the Canon Rebel series cameras.  They run from about $500-$900 and really take fantastic photos.
  • A Note on buying a camera kit: Don’t do it.  A lot of stores will want to sell you a “kit.”  This kit will have the camera you want plus an extra battery pack, maybe a cute neck strap, and the big seller: a lens for only $75 dollars more than the actual camera itself.  Who doesn’t love a $75 lens!?  Well, nobody.  There’s a reason it’s cheap: it’s bad quality.  You will get much more bang for your buck if you buy the camera and then a good lens separately.  Trust me.


  • If the headache that I described above is not what you’re looking for, then you probably just want a regular point and-shoot.  Don’t let the “regular” fool you, though.  There are some incredible point-and-shoots out there!  You’re still able to control a lot about the pictures you take, but without all the work of an SLR.  I recommend any of the Canon PowerShot cameras, although there is a huge range of quality between them.  They range in price anywhere from $90 to $500.
  • A Note on prices: No matter what camera or product or company you’re looking at “you get what you pay for” always applies.  You can find a lot of really inexpensive products on the market, but watch out, because if it sounds like it’s too good to be true: it probably is.  One of the problems with photography is if you want great photos you’re going to need to spend a good amount of money.

2.     Megapixels.

  • I’m going to spare you the technical talk about megapixels.  What you need to know is this: Pixels are the smallest unit of picture that can be controlled.  If you zoom WAY into a photograph the tiniest dot you can see is one pixel.  Digital cameras record pictures in pixels.  A megapixel is 1 million pixels.  Some cameras can record an image using a lot of megapixels (which makes for a higher quality image depending on the size of print), some record the same image using fewer megapixels and so the image is not as good, or pixilated (I’m sure you’ve heard that word before). 


  • A good rule of thumb when picking a camera is to always stay above 4 megapixels, which won’t be hard to do.  The more megapixels the better, although anything above 8 is pretty unnecessary unless you want to print out really, really large photos.  Remember, though, if you think you’re going to want to crop any of the photos you take, you’ll want more megapixels!


3. Zoom (for point-and-shoot cameras).

  • There are two types of zoom for point-and-shoot cameras: optical zoom and digital zoom.  Optical zoom is awesome and good—you want it.  It is the amount of zoom the lens that is connected to the camera can zoom by moving in and out.  Digital zoom is bad and can ruin your pictures.  Digital zoom seems to allow you to zoom in way further than the lens allows.  And it’s true, kind of.  Once you get to the end of your optical zoom, digital zoom takes over and kind of crops the image for you and then stretches it to be the size it’s supposed to be.  So you lose megapixels and end up with poorer quality photos than you expect.  A good rule of thumb is to ignore digital zoom and turn it off when you get your camera.  You won’t really have a lot of options when it comes to how many times your camera will zoom in, but more is always better, of course.
  • A Note for SLR lenses: I really can’t get into all of the nuances and details of buying different lenses for your SLR camera.  There are just too many things to consider.  If you’re looking for lenses because you’ve decided to go the SLR route, email me and Tim would love to help you out!

4. Aperture (for point-and-shoot cameras).

  • This controls the amount of light that is allowed to reach the camera sensor. If you’re looking at point-and-shoots you want as big a range as possible. For SLR cameras, the lens you buy controls the aperture.


5. Frames per second (for SLR cameras).

  • This is simply the number of pictures a camera will take each second.  The more the better (a disclaimer to this is at the end of the post, but generally you want your camera to take photos as fast as possible).



6. Other things.

  • Those are by far the most important options to consider when purchasing a camera.  There are many other bells and whistles that you could be concerned about when it comes to choosing a camera; however, the above specifications are, in my opinion, the most important. If you’re really interested in making sure that every detail of your camera is awesome there are other things to consider.  If you come across something that you don’t understand or what clarification on feel free to email me or to leave a comment on this post–I’d love to help you navigate the world of choosing a camera that’s best for you!

A Note on finding the best camera ever: You won’t find it.  There isn’t any one camera that is the best when it comes to every single one of these qualities.  You have to decide what is most important to you.  If zooming really far in is important because you know most of the photos you’ll take will be of your kids’ performances, than you may have to get a camera that doesn’t have quite as many megapixels.  You’ll just have to figure out what’s best for you.

Do you still have questions?  Did I not address your question when it comes to buying a camera?  Leave a comment and ask me about it!  I’d really like to help you find the camera that will suit your needs. Then don’t forget to check back next week when I’ll give you the second tip to a great photo: knowing your camera!



One Response to “Tips to a Great Photo, Part 1 | Buy the Right Camera For You”

  1. Jessalyn said

    YAY!!! I am very excited about this series!!!!! I am one of your friends that wanted to ask you questions, but didn’t want to bother you… so I just never have, but now I can simply read your blog posts! Wooohoooooo!

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