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How does one go from amateur photographer to professional quality photographer...

How does one go from amateur photographer to professional quality photographer...

May 2nd, 2004, 01:32 AM
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How does one go from amateur photographer to professional quality photographer...

I was just e-mailed some amazing photos by someone who just returned from South Luangwa. The few pictures that I saw just blew away anything that I have ever snapped, and this person was using a digital camera with 6.0 megapixel. I have a digital camera with 5.0 megapixel, yet have never taken anything close to as nice as these photos.

It seems like it has to do more than just with having an eye for the right shot.

Out of the Fodorites pictures that I have seen posted, no offense to anybody else, but I think Kavey's pictures have been my favorite that I have seen so far.

So, how does one graduate from being a complete amateur to something more than that? Is it a simple matter of reading the instructions? Practice? Taking a class on digital photography? Buying a $1,500 digital camera, as opposed to a $1,000 digital camera?

What is the answer?

The pictures I was just e-mailed could be on the cover of a magazine, without a doubt. It would be nice to be able to take similar pictures but I don't know the best way to approach it.
Roccco is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 01:36 AM
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Aaw... just for that, if you drop me an email I'll send you a link to a few from the latest trip are much better than my last lot.

I am not ready to share the link yet as I need to put them into a public website and add a copyright watermark to them all.
Kavey is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 03:17 AM
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I am not a professional photographer, nor even a good amateur one. But I think the biggest part, after having acceptable equipment, is ones "eye" for shots. Our son is an art student, has no specific interest in photography, but can tell in an instant whether or not something will be a good image.

And any photographers I have spoken to mention that they throw away enormous numbers of photos before they find one that is "right" - I keep hundreds of mediocre photos - maybe I am hoping that they will morph on their own into something good.
gail is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 07:46 AM
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As for a proper answer, let's look at some ideas...

I do think there is an element of having en eye for a good shot. A lot of the time I'll be looking at a scene and "see" the strongest composition within that - ie I'll know that if I position that tree just so within the frame and have the horizon exactly this far up the frame that the composition will work.

That said, I think those who don't "see" that way can train themselves to take composition into account.

There are many rules in photography and all are there to be broken. BUT you can't (successfully) break them without first understanding why they work in so many cases and how to use them well. What are those rules?

Rule of Thirds

Don't simply position the subject in the centre of the frame. This is _usually_ a very static composition and doesn't suit many subjects. Using the rule of thirds means visually dividing the frame up into three equal horizonal slices and three equal vertical slices. Those 4 invisible lines have intersection points. Positioning the main subject on those points or along one of the lines can often strengthen a shot.

Likewise there is nothing attractive about a horizon that neatly divides the image in two. Put that horizon line onto one of the two horizonal thirds. If the sky is more interesting, include two thirds sky to one third ground. If the ground has more interest swap that. And sometimes, if the sky is absolutely so boring that you really don't want much at all slap that horizon RIGHT up near the top of the frame.

Avoid Extraneous Background Details

Too many shots are ruined by what is behind the main subject. If there is something distracting in the background try and change your viewpoint so that it's no longer a problem. If you can't move left and right can you stand taller or crouch low into the ground for a changed viewpoint?

Zoom in close to focus on the subject and reduce the impact of that distracting background. Using a higher zoom also decreases Depth of Field which will help throw the background out of focus.

To manually select for a shallow Depth of Field (and throw the background out of focus) select a lower f stop number (wider aperture). As well as fully Automatic mode many camera models have an Aperture Priority mode that allows you to select the aperture and leaves the camera to find an appropriate shutter speed to give adequate exposure. If you use this be sure not to select so wide an aperture that the camera is unable to achieve a high enough shutter speed. All my SLR cameras flash within the viewfinder to alert me that they are unable to find a suitable shutter speed at the aperture I have chosen so that I can then narrow the aperture just a touch and try again.

f2 is a low fstop number and gives a wide open aperture. Many cameras/ lenses are not able to provide such a wide aperture so you might find your widest setting is f4.5 or f5.6 or above.

Consider Orientation

Rotate your camera if the subject suits portrait orientation better than it suits landscape. Mix it up a little and take a few shots in each orientation and at different focal lengths.

Leading & Parallel Lines

Are there any paths or other lines which could be used to lead your viewer into the picture? Are there repetitive lines which might add interest and depth?


Can you frame the main subject with an arching tree branch or an open archway or some other foreground object? Framing can really draw a viewing into an image and provide a sense of the location.


In most cases the golden angled light of early morning and late afternoon is far more flattering than the harsh, flat light of midday. For static subjects consider leaving that shot till later in the day if the light isn't right. For animals that may disappear, take what you can when you can.

Do pay attention to shadow. We tend not to notice it when looking in real life but if an animal's face is in dark shadow the image really won't work very well. It's great if you can get eye contact and a little highlight reflection in the eyes too.


How well does the subject stand out from the background? If they don't stand out well in colour would they stand out better in black and white? You can easily convert digital images to black and white later on. Look for differences in colour, tone and texture to separate areas/ elements of the picture.

OK that's it for now as that was off the top of my head. I can continue if anyone wants me to.
Kavey is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 08:11 AM
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Great photo rules, Kavey. Thanks.

I need all the help I can get when it comes to photos.
Queenie is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 08:15 AM
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You're welcome! Hope they are of some help.
Kavey is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 08:18 AM
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PS It's really NOTHING to do with number of pixels - when you're talking about the difference between 5 and 6 Megapixels it just controls how large a decent print you can get at the end.

Mine were taken on a modern but basic model Minolta film SLR (505si super).

Camera (for me) needs to provide me with all the manual control I need (deliberate over/ under exposure, manual and autofocus, aperture and shutter control, exposure lock, various metering options etc). It also needs to have reasonably good lenses but I've always had good results from my consumer Sigma lenses and never needed to spend big bucks.

Provided you get the basics of exposure right it really is all about taking the right picture to start with. You can train yourself to do that to a large extent using some of the rules above.
Kavey is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 08:27 AM
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PPS I don't want to give anyone the impression that I think I am in any way approaching the skills level of a professional photographer.

I have a very long way to go indeed.

Just incase you were thinking "who the heck does she think she is anyway"!

Kavey is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 09:12 AM
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Roccco, If you put as much effort into photography as you do in researching Africa trips, you will be a pro!

tashak is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 09:50 AM
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Kavey is right on with all her suggestions.

Another way to get great photos is to use slide film (transparency) instead of print film. It is not as forgiving as print film but the end product(the photo) produces much more vivid colors.

The room for error is not as great w/ slide film. If using an SLR w/ slide, then practice, practice, practice as my instructor has taught us.

Digital SLR's have also come into their own and can produce very high quality photos. To keep resolution at the highest quality with a digital, (especially when you want to enlarge a photo) then many of the SLR's today giving 6 megapixels are sufficient.

Remember, point and shoot is just that. You have very little control of what the camera is doing. When you move into the manual mode and learn about exposure, aperture, and shutter speed, it will open a whole new world.
And when you apply what Kavey outlined above, you will be well on your way to great shots.

As I've found out and am still learning in the very long learning curve of photography, it's not easy, but it sure is fun.

My last trip to S.A. I used what we were and are being taught in class. It's very different from point and shoot but where else can you think of to put it to the test other than Africa. I keep using it as one of many excuses to go back.

divewop is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 09:54 AM
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Another great idea is when you are photographing animals, always try to focus on their eyes. It is amazing how great your shots are when you have the timeless expression through the eyes of the animal.
divewop is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 10:04 AM
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Whilst pro photogs do indeed use slide film (and I know I'll eventually need to make the switch if I'm to sell any of my work) an alternative to achieve vivid colours might be the Kodak Portra VC and UC films (vivid and ultra Colour, respectively).

I'm just too nervous of not getting exposure right when using slide... as you say... it's not as forgiving as print film in that respect.
Kavey is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 10:11 AM
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Roccco, if you have the "eye" then you can get the same results if you know exposure and have a camera that allows to you change the exposure.

For actually taking the picture I don't think it matters if you use film or digital. They take the same picture. Digital does allow you to see what you have before you get home. Taking classes helped me learn quicker than if I tried to learn on my own.

Check out this picture.
I think you have to register to view the pictures but it's worth it.

Once you register, go to "Forums" and under "Image Galleries", "Wildlife".

Then click on "Africa..."Leopard In A Tree!", Number 2". This guy, Len, was in Kenya in 2002 and if I remember correctly he took around 6,000 images. He sent me a CD of some of the good ones, probably 100-150. And I was just blown away. Photography is a hobby for him and he doesn't sell any images (although I'm sure he could). Anyway, he's the one that inspired me to learn more about cameras and photography.

Africa was the motif at this website last week so there are several great pictures from Africa. Scroll down the Wildlife page and look for "Motif: Ouch". It is a photo of 3 Cheetah's attacking a wildebeest. To see something like this happen in real life is so incredibly amazing to me.

I have posted a few on this site for critiques and if would like to see them, go to "search" and fill in "cjw" in the "search for author" field. When it brings up the results, look in the author column for cjw. Most of these were taken last August at Mashatu.

Just remember what my photography teacher told me - when you see great images never say - you must have a great camera. It's kind of like telling an author - you must have a good pen to be able to write like that. A good photographer can take good pictures with any camera!

sundowner is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 11:11 AM
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You are correct about exposure being tougher on slide film than print. As my instructor said, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

No doubt when I quiz him on how to get a shot quickly when you have so much to remember when using slide film his same answer is "Practice." I've heard that a hundred times.

And from your previous threads, I have no doubt you can make the switch. Just get outside and shoot like you would with print film. Practice in your yard or in the country or wherever.

I was scared to death to use slide on my last trip to Africa, but I knew I had to make the transition while shooting what I love best and learn from my mistakes. And they didn't turn out half bad. The few I showed in class got more praise than I thought. Remember, we're our own toughest critics.

If you have two camera bodies, you can always use one w/ slide and one w/ film.

Unfortunately, when most photos are submitted for chance of publication, they have to be in transparency or high res( 6 megapixels) digital.

Sundowner is correct in saying the camera does not make the photographer as far as the eye goes, but for quality reproduction purposes, the camera and/or lens can make a difference between good and great.

Unless of course, you take digital and run it through photoshop to make the corrections. But then again, you will need the pixels for quality enlargements. But depending on what Rocco wants to use the photos for, the 5 megapixel should suffice.

I have a 5 megapixel point and shoot which seems to work fine which I use along with my SLR but am looking into buying a digital SLR.

One other thing to remember, the slower the film speed the less grainy the pictures. So if you can get away w/ using 50 or 100 speed, go for it. Many pros use slower speeds than that.

When you learn how to manually use an SLR you will learn how to use the right film speed for your particular situation.

Just a few more things to think about.
divewop is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 01:41 PM
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We have recently bought a Nikon D70 digital SLR after a great deal of research into the options at around that price range (the main contendors were the Canon 300D and 10D).

It's 6 megapixel which gives us the ability to reproduce prints to large sizes though still not high enough resolution to match the demands of many publishers who insist on higher resolution but have little understanding of the calculations and quality differentials involved.

Given how much it cost for me to get my film developed, printed at 5x7 and scanned at a higher resolution than is normally offered by mass-market processors we realised that this camera would literally be paid for by the savings we'd make from not having to spend the same per film on our return from this coming long trip!

I'm still taking my film SLR but it will be as back up so I'll just take a few shots at each location with it. Most of my shots will be taken on the new D70.

Pete will be shooting a 100% manual practika SLR plus a digital camcorder which will probably be used mainly on safari.
Kavey is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 09:51 PM
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Thanks for all the feedback.

Given my limited timeframe before I leave (17 days), I think I will have little choice but to stick with my Sony F-707, a dinosaur compared to some of the others out there.

For sure by next year I will break out with some 7.0 or 8.0 megapixel top of the line digital camera with 10x optical zoom, assuming that is where the technology will be by next year.

All I want this year is a couple good photos of hippos, some wild dog photos (assuming I am lucky enough to even see them) and a male lion with some outrageous mane on him, hopefully growling or yawning. Tall order, I know, but with 11 nights in the bush, I am hoping to take a lot of nice photos, even with my little Sony Cybershot F-707.
Roccco is offline  
May 2nd, 2004, 10:36 PM
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Rocco, one of the biggest differences between the amateur and the professional (in terms of African wildlife photography) is time. The pros drive to a location with a tripod and camp out there for hours. You're on a drive with other people and the point isn't to get one great photo that day, it's to see wildlife most of all. And then get some fun shots. Kavey's points are good ones. Ask the person who just returned from S. Luangwa if they've had any art training, etc. Also I think more experience photographing on safari will help you. One man I met who had been there ten times was alone and he always tried to sit in the seat beside the driver. That way he had nothing blocking his view and also could steady his lens on the car.

I agree, your camera will be fine. Look at some "how to photograph wildlife" books at the library or Borders before you go.
Clematis is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2004, 02:25 PM
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Kavey, you mentioned in another posting that you would not use an APS camera. Would you please tell me why? I have a Nikon body. What Nikon would you replace it with?
Many thanks for all your information.
sandy17 is offline  

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