How to... take good shots without a Big Girls Camera (Guest Post) - Red Ted Art's Blog : Red Ted Art's Blog

How to… take good shots without a Big Girls Camera (Guest Post)

| September 10, 2010

Hello! On this glorious Friday, I bring you anoher lovely Guest Poster – Spud from Spudballoo. Spud has wowed us all with her fabulous photography on her blog  Chez Spud– if you haven’t seen it yet, you must take a peak. As many of us communicate and market ourselves through the internet, it is important that we have the best possible photos to go with it, one glance and people will decide whether or not they want to read on. So ahem, after your “one glance”, I do hope you will read on… and pick up some fabulous no nonsense tips of how to take great shots without investing in a big expensive camera! Over to Spud!

UPDATE: If you like this post… here is How to Take Great Shots Part 2!


Greetings! Tis Spud of Chez Spud – the home of Spudballoo – taking the controls at RedTedArt for a few quick hints & tips to improve your photography without shelling out for a DSLR (aka: a Big Girl’s Camera). Confession: I’m not a professional photographer and thus am not, to be honest, enormously well qualified to be handing out advice!

I took up photography 2 years ago and, in that time, I’ve learnt a lesson or five (mostly through trial and error and a few tears) and I’m happy to share a few thoughts on what I’ve picked up along the way. I started out with a beaten up old Sony P&S (point & shoot) before a ruinously expensive kit addiction started…first of all lenses…then a new camera body…I sold a few organs and bought a few more lenses. My name is Spud and I’m a kitaholic ; send help!

As much as I am wedded to my Nikon, I absolutely LOVE shooting with my iPhone and run a series called ‘What I saw on my bike today’ on my blog, featuring shots taken with my phone. It’s nice to have a fancy camera but photography is all about the end result – the image – and not the piece of kit you took it with. Not having a DSLR is not a barrier to taking well composed, well exposed and eye catching photos! Some of my favourite shots were snapped with my either my P&S or my iPhone:

Enough rambling, on with the hints & tips.  I’ve tackled the ‘biggies’ by category, starting with ‘the rule’ followed by ‘what that really means’ for us mortals:


First rule: consider the ambient lighting when taking a shot and manipulate what’s available to your best advantage.

What that really means: don’t take photos outside in bright sunshine (bleaches the colour out of everything and makes people screw up their eyes, and casts deep and unflattering shadows).

I could lecture you about the attractions of the “Golden Hour” but I’m assuming you’re a normal person with a busy a life, and that you snap photos when you have a minute rather than galloping around the countryside waiting for, dramatic pause, “the light”. In short, the best time for outside photos is early to mid morning and a few hours before sunset. The light is kinder. If you must take snaps in brilliant sunshine, move your subject in to the shade.

If you’re inside, try to use the available light in the room without using artificial light. If you must, use lamps. Overhead lights generally produce unflattering light. Avoid using flash if you can, as it creates very harsh light and does away with shadows altogether making your subject seem very ‘flat’. Like this:

With and without flash:


Let’s talk about lighting for ‘products’ ie stuff that doesn’t move, perhaps your latest crafty masterpiece.  If you’re shooting inside, set it up your ‘shoot’ near a window with your subject lit from the side.  Take a moment and look at how the light is casting a shadow. Ideally you’ll want the shadow cast BEHIND your subject, which is much less distracting to the viewer. So move the subject, or yourself, around until the shadow doesn’t trouble you. After a bit of practice you’ll find your favourite place for set up shots like these. Mine is in the main bedroom of our house, where the light is plentiful and lasts late in to the afternoon. Bit of a chore carrying the stuff up there, but then we must suffer for art must we not?

If the light is very bright coming through the window either move further away, or diffuse the light with net curtains if you have them. Tracing paper stuck at the window also works well.  Try not to have bright light straight on to a subject as it can cause ‘uneven’ exposure (ie. some bits of your photo will be bleached out).

Lighting is, I think, the most difficult part of photography.  For shooting at home, I think it’s worth spending some time finding where your ‘well lit’ spots are and watching how the light changes through the day.


First rule: fill the frame.

What that really means: make the subject of your shot fill the whole picture. Sometimes it helps to have a little ‘context’ but generally a photo is much more appealing when the viewer knows what they are supposed to be looking at and aren’t distracted by random passers by, the ironing pile, a shoe etc etc.  If I could give you one tip that will immediately improve your photography it would be this: get close to your subject. Get in really, really close. Closer…yup, that’s about it. Filling the frame by getting in close immediately gives your shots impact.

Mostly you’ll want to position your subject in the middle of the frame. Watch for chopped off bits such as heads/limbs etc and take a second to see what else has drifted in to shot which isn’t helping you. Remember: YOU can move to recompose your shot or YOU can get your subject to move! I think many of us forget that we can move around to get a good shot. And you don’t always have to be standing up. You could squat down, or even lie down. Or stand on a chair. Or move in, or move back etc etc. Quick tip: try not to shoot ‘down’ on things, especially children or flowers. With children, get down to their level to get a much more flattering shot. Same with flowers. Bit tough on the knees I will admit….

For a totally different perspective, put your camera on the floor and shoot…try it, it’s fun!

I’m going to cover ‘product’ shot set up in more detail in my next post but, for now, let me say that it really pays dividends to think about backgrounds. You want to show off what you’ve done, so its background needs to enhance it rather than drown it. Forget about that perfect, clean white background you see in catalogues…that’s all down to seemless backgrounds, professional lighting rigs, lightboxes, Photoshop and all that jazz. That’s too complicated for what we’re trying to do here, although a lightly coloured background is always flattering. It lets your subject stand out and, of course, acts as a light reflector.

Simple coloured backgrounds can also work well. This was taken with an A4 piece of card as a backdrop.

And this was taken on my boys’ playtable.

White is nice, but colour is cool too.


First rule: if it’s not in focus, it can never be a good shot.

In plain speak: you can break ALL the other ‘rules’ but you can’t get away with a blurry, out of focus shot! If your shots are routinely out of focus it will be because (a) you are shooting in low light conditions and the camera can’t cope with it (thus you need to increase the amount of available light) and/or (b) you are wobbling when you push the shutter. Or you are making the camera wobble. Or both.

Assuming you’ve sorted the lighting issue let’s talk about keeping nice and steady. I wrote a huge, long blog post about this issue so if you’re fascinated by the subject nip over to my blog for the long version. The short version is this: YOU need to keep steady and you need to keep your CAMERA steady. Keep your arms tucked in to your sides. Stand with your legs slightly apart, and stand tall and square. If you can, lean on something or someone to get support. Or crouch down, or squat or kneel. Rest the camera on something if you can, or use a tripod if you’re really fancy. Anything you can do to keep yourself and the camera still while you take a shot will make an enormous difference to the quality of your photos, just by virtue of them being in focus!

Read your camera’s manual. It’s boring, I know. But if you only read one thing, read about its autofocus feature. Most cameras require you to push the shutter down half way to allow the camera to auto focus. Then it will show you, often with a dot, whether it has focussed on the subject. Don’t push the shutter all the way down until the camera has focused. It’s as simple as that! If you take it before, you’ll get a blurred shot. Fact.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this whistlestop tour through the basics of taking good shots without a fancy camera. I’ll be back with Part 2 soon (Case studies of ‘real shoots’, how to set up ‘product shots’ and some simple editing tips using free software to really make your shots zing).

Love from Spud x


Hope you found this as helpful as me!  It has definitely given me some ideas for how to take better photographs (including setting up a small space in our bedroom, where the light is great..). 

Here is the follow up to this post with some handy tips on craft or product shots!:

Take Great Shots Part 2.



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Comments (45)

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  1. Cheryl says:

    You have some really good advice here. And you are right. You don’t have to have a fancy camera to take a good pic. If you have the basics down that you covered here you can take wonderful pics. As you have proved with your phone pics, etc.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. bubbleboo @ The Thought Bubble says:

    What an awesomely (it’s a word!) fantastic post! I love it! Bookmarked, and now heading over to Spud’s blog to soak up as much information as I possibly can 😀

  3. Really useful and practical post – thanks for sharing your knowledge. :)

  4. Mary says:

    Great tips! I love the bit about the backgrounds. Color is cool!

  5. spudballoo says:

    Ooooh thanks so much for having me Maggy! Such a pleasure…am just reclining on the sofa recovering from having written such a long post. I didn’t know there were so many words in the world 😉 xx

  6. Lisa says:

    I love taking pictures, and your knowledge is so very helpful! I’ve always wanted a ‘fancy’ camera, but never had the $$$$ to spend on one, so the p&s is what I use and occasionally borrow my sister’s. It’s probably just a step up from the p&s. My son plays football at a Jr. College and my daughter paints, and I have made some really good pictures with both and some ‘duds’ with both. I will keep all these tips in mind and will also check out ‘spuds’ blog for more! Thanks for a well-needed post today. Have a great weekend!

    • Red Ted Art says:

      Absolutely! I think it is great to get a little help with an ordinary camera! Spud knows her stuff!!

  7. Brilliant post – thanks !! Some really good tips in there :) All of my camera work is done either on my phone or a tiny (cheap) digital camera. I have had some really amazing results using both of them.

  8. Fiona Reeves says:

    What a wonderful post, and great to have everything condenced like that as it’s hard to find the time to read about things in depth – and intimidating (although I’m sure worthwhile!). I have trouble with lighting with my camera. I have never managed to find a good light to photograph things in – they always seem to end up looking too dark in the photo. Only taking photos in full sun (which is a big no-no, it should be “soft” light) makes a photo which doesn’t look too dark!. *sigh* More experimenting needed I think – I need to take more time and try to find the right moment (will have to try the early to mid-morning mentioned)!

    • Red Ted Art says:

      Yes and a good spot in your house… I think I need to set up a little corner in our bedroom.. lighting is my problem too, as I often take photos when kids are asleep: lunchtime (sun too bright) or bedtime (flash a b*gger). I hear you!!!

  9. Amy says:

    wonderful shots.. I want to learn to do this. THanks again for linking up..

  10. rxBambi says:

    just came from spuds and wanted to say hi.

  11. Roslyn says:

    My problem getting good light for my quilts to both show true color & the quilting detail. Some are very large so it’s not simple!

  12. kelley says:

    Fabulous information… a big help.
    have a great weekend.

  13. Bee says:

    Great tips from Spud. (She always gives the “I’m not a professional” demurral, but really, would you know? I think she’s a genius!)

  14. Betsy says:

    Thanks so much for all the great tips. I’ve been using a Sony p&s for about 2 years and was thinking about upgrading….hmmm, not sure.
    I take a lot of pictures of my jewelry for blog and website and I have a horrible time with it. Anything shiny my camera doesn’t know where to focus. Any tips for better photos of jewelry?
    Your pictures are fabulous:-)

    • Red Ted Art says:

      Will get Spud to look at comments and see if she can incorprate some tips in “Part 2” of How to take Great Photos… I think her plain background is a good tip??

  15. Sheilla says:

    Thank you so much for the great tips! I can’t wait to try them out, especially your lighting advice. I’m always looking to improve my shots and lighting has been my biggest challenge. Thanks for the info and bringing it down to someone with a point and shoot camera! Regards, Sheilla

  16. Cam says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I so needed this information because frankly my pictures are not that great.

  17. Chari says:


    What an interesting post, my friend…thank you for sharing it with us for Sunday Favorites! I have become very interested in photography doing my blog. In fact, I think it’s my favorite part of blogging! Hehe! Slowly but surely, I am working on my “skills”! These photo tips were great! It’s so true about the lighting…I have now found what places photograph well in my home…and the time of day when the lighting is best! Great post! A big thank you to your guest blogger today!

    Warmest wishes,
    Chari @Happy To Design

  18. Chantal says:

    Great post. Really helpful. Thanks very much.

  19. Tina says:

    Wow! What great tips. I am longing for a Big Girl camera, but until then, I have a P&S Canon. Can you please check out my blog pics and give me some pointers on what I should do or not do?! Thanks a bunch! Love your blog!!

    • Red Ted Art says:

      Fabulous! So glad you enjoyed the post and the blog!! You have to beg my Guest Poster Spud to come round and look!!!! She is the expert 😉 xx

  20. Ron says:

    Lovely photos!

    Following you now from Toot Your Horn Tuesday Blog Hop. Please follow my blog of inspirational messages. Now on Twitter!

  21. Great information! I need it!
    Thanks for linking up for Get Your Craft On. Please remember to link back so everyone knows you’re participating!

  22. Donene Jones says:

    What great tips, thanks so much! I am a follower now!
    I have a big favor to ask of you, recently I had a post on some weight that I lost and now there is a contest and I am in it. You win by getting the most votes so I really need your vote! Could you please go to my blog and follow the directions to vote? I can’t thank you enough! Just click below and then vote!!!

  23. This is the kind of advice I have been looking for. NO ONE seems to understand that limited equipment means no tripod, and no fancy camera. I love your straight talk. Keep it coming.

  24. Great post!! So many fantastic tips. Thanks for sharing for Homemaker Mondays.

  25. Jill says:

    Thanks so much! Some of these I have heard before, but some were definitely new!

  26. Becky says:

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing. Now, I need to put them into practice, but that should be fun :)

  27. Amber says:

    I found you on So Very Cheri these are some great tips I have it bookmarked thanks!


  28. Jamie says:

    Thank you! I am always looking for new camera tips. I need to get better!
    visiting from

  29. Sabrina says:

    GREAT tips and tricks. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Great tips! I’m a terrible photographer with a cheapo camera, so I need all the hints I can get!

  31. Sarah (Brighton Breezy) says:

    great tips – I used to have a big girl’s camera and then I discovered that my Nokia N95 (sadly stolen by someone) took really good shots – then I replaced it with an LG Viewty because it had fantastic reviews for its camera – Yeah? I don’t think so. It was truly dreadful. I grieved for my Nokia!

    So now I’m back with a Nokia N82 – I really can take such good quality shots with it if I play with the settings … most of the time I admit I just point and shoot … did I mention the macro? mmmmmm …. yummy.

    Can’t wait for part two of the post – many thanks!

  32. Lamb says:

    Blogging has made me interested in photography. Thanks for the great tips!

  33. Suzanne says:

    Great tips!