I am not exactly a professional photographer over here. In fact, I don’t know what half the buttons on my camera do, I can’t remember what an F-stop is, and the last time I used my tripod I caught my foot on it and sprawled flat on my living room floor.
But! I do love taking, editing, and sharing photos, and thanks to the tools I use, they don’t always suck. Unless they are of me (because my mouth is always hanging open or my eyes are pointing in two different directions or a fat roll has somehow snuck into the scene), or of my cat (because she always appears to be an amorphous black blob). I post most of my favorite images to Flickr, and one of these days I’m actually going to print some family photos and hang them in my house. REALLY I AM.
Anyway, my suggestions for turning out halfway decent photos without having a single clue about photography:
Invest in a decent camera. Like for instance the Nikon D70S Digital SLR. I’ve had this camera for a couple years now and I love love love it (you can read my review of it here, or read something far more useful by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about). I almost never futz with the settings, it’s all about the point and shoot simplicity for me. This camera is damn near idiot proof, and the only real downside is that it’s bulky enough so that it can’t be thrown in a small purse or pocket.
Never use the built-in flash. Seriously, that flash will ruin every single photo you take with it. It washes everything out and makes people look terrible. I use a Nikon Speedlight external flash which I typically leave aimed directly upwards, the light then bounces off the ceiling and it creates a soft, natural lighting atmosphere with no harsh shadows or bright spots. Yes, this stuff gets expensive but if you only buy two pieces of camera equipment EVER, a good camera and an external flash will be 100% worth it when you see the results.
Tweak it in Photoshop. Post-processing can utterly transform your images from so-so to spectacular. I don’t spend as much time post-processing as I used to, but I almost always use Photoshop to crop, adjust lighting, and add contrast. Even if you’re a Photoshop n00b, there are tons of useful tutorials out there, and the good news is that you can do pretty much all the basics in Photoshop Elements, which is way less expensive ($80 vs $650, I think) and not overly complicated to figure out.
What kind of camera are you using? Are you happy with how it performs? I’d like to maybe buy a smaller point-and-shoot for taking on the go more often, any suggestions?