Five ways to create better photos without a dSLR camera

A couple weeks ago, my friend, Chris Marsden, asked me to write about how to take awesome photos without a dSLR camera. I’ll try to indulge him.

Before January 3rd, 2008, I didn’t have a dSLR camera. I used a Canon PowerShot SD600. Before that, a Canon PowerShot A40.

Knowing the limitations of a point-and-shoot camera, how do you create better photos without a dSLR camera?

Use the rule of thirds

My composition was weak sauce without the rule of thirds. Now, I’m constantly using this. Once you understand it, you’ll know when it’s okay to break it.

December Challenge, Day 18 [My pick]
[Click to enlarge or View on Flickr]

Change your perspective

The majority of photos are straight up. You know, from a regular height of you standing up. Be different by squatting low, lying on the ground completely, looking up at your subject while you’re down there, or finding a higher vantage point.

They fall
[Click to enlarge or view on Flickr]

Edit your photos

Print services usually enhance your photos automatically, so the photos look great. However, photos usually lack that punch and pop straight out of the camera.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably posting most of your photos online. You’ll definitely need to work on your photos to improve them.

When I started to edit my photos, I used Paint.NET. Once I learned its limitations, I switched to GIMP. They’re both free.

What do you do to them? I adjusted contrast, saturation, colors, converted to black and white, and played with layers. If they’re crooked, straightened them out. If the composition isn’t right, crop it until it is.

I have a few GIMP bookmarks on Delicious, but if you find a Photoshop article, you can probably transpose it to GIMP.

Once you’re regularly editing a massive amount of photos, try out Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. It’s ridiculously intuitive. You’ll be churning out photos like nobody’s business.[1. Of course, you still need to be shooting constantly.]

Here’s a before and after example simply editing with Paint.NET:

Weekend in San Francisco
[Click to enlarge or View on Flickr]

Walking the bridge [redux]
[Click to enlarge or View on Flickr]

There’s a lot of purists that will cringe against this. However, unless you’re a photojournalist, I think you should do whatever you want to make the best photos possible.

Be picky

I see the photos I uploaded last year and cringe. I uploaded lots mediocre pictures and probably didn’t know any better. If you’re just doing this for friends and family to document your life, that’s fine. In a way, that’s what I was doing for awhile long time. Once you realize you want to create better photos than the average Joe or Jane, get in the habit of criticizing your photos before uploading them to Flickr.

Here comes the fall
[Click to enlarge or View on Flickr]

Constantly look at other photos

As I got more into photography, I found myself adding a lot of Flickr photographers as contacts.[2. I’ll save that for another post.] Over the last 10-12 months, lot of their editing techniques and ideas have rubbed off on me. Additionally, you might find yourself thinking like them…viewing the world like them. Don’t worry, you’ll create your own style soon enough.


I’d like to think of this as a starting point because there are many other ways to improve your photos that I won’t cover in this post.  If you’re like me, maybe you’ll upgrade eight days from now. (Probably not.) Until you upgrade to a dSLR camera, learn from yourself and other people, shoot a lot, and use what you have. Most of all, have fun!

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan works at Automattic. Cat whisperer. Sometimes, a photographer and card magician.

20 thoughts on “Five ways to create better photos without a dSLR camera”

  1. Nice article – enjoyed the write up, clear, concise and easy to read. I will take many of your suggestions to heart and improve my photography. Any suggestions for taking photos with children?


  2. @ Lisa:

    Thanks for reading. I’m glad you found it informative.

    Taking photos with children or of children?

    Either way, since I prefer candid photos, have them fiddling with toys they love. Snap away, and they’ll hopefully look up from time to time. Don’t forget to focus on their eyes!


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