3 Ways to Make Cool Photos

3 Ways to Make Cool Photos

Dear friend,

My first camera was one of those Fujifilm disposable cameras that my parents got us kids when we went on a family vacation. Most of those photos turned out pretty bad. I was proud of the fact that I had a camera that I could take pictures with.

My dad got me my next camera when I was about eight. It was a miniature camera.

I’ll give you three guesses as to how fast I lost it. I will say, it was super cute and I was bummed when I misplaced it.

Finally, when I was in middle school, my parents gave me a little digital camera. It was blue and silver.

Around the same time, my mom had me take a kids’ photography class for a week in the summer. I had fun with it, but I didn’t do much with what I learned until I was seventeen.

When I was seventeen, I took a year-long college-level graphic design class. In that class, we had a few photography-based projects that I enjoyed.

It inspired me to pull out my camera more often than just the odd vacation. That year, my mom gave me her old Canon DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera which was much more powerful than the little digital camera I had up to then. I spent several hours playing with settings and taking pictures of things around the yard to figure out how to get things to look good.

The autumn after I graduated high school, my family and I went on a trip out west to see Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. It was on that trip that I really got to know my camera. There were so many interesting things to see with so many variables that I got to experiment with.

There were many interesting textures that made great macro photography opportunities. I took panoramic photos of stunning scenery. And my family was a great way for me to get fantastic candid pictures.

The first camera was made in 1816 by French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce. Since then, people have been fascinated by photography. It’s no wonder. Pictures tell stories and record history. Read more about the importance of photography in my article from last week.

The most important thing about photography is that you have a camera. When you first start out, you can even use your phone camera. If you decide that you want to get a better camera after a little while, see if you can borrow a friend or family member’s camera to see how you like it.

Here are some principles of photography that you can play around with.

1. Viewpoint

Or you may have heard it called “perspective.” When you take a picture of an object or person, your first instinct may be to take it face on and center in the image. Instead, try taking the picture from below, above, or from either side of (or even behind) it.  

2. Rule of thirds

Imagine a tick-tack-toe board overtop of the image you want to take. Line up the interesting parts of the picture to those imaginary intersecting lines. The human eye loves odd numbers, so aligning the object of an image with one of those thirds lines makes the photo far more interesting.

3. Pay attention to negative space

Negative space is the space not taken up by objects in the image. Also called white space, this negative space should take up approximately one-third or two-thirds of the image.

And the most important thing…

Have fun! This is your hobby. Make it fun. If there’s something you want to try, what’s stopping you?

Once the simple principles begin to come naturally to you, there are plenty of articles that talk about other good photography, like this one by Hartford Photography. The more you learn and experiment, the more you’ll find inspiration for your photography.

Well, what are you waiting for?

Go take some pictures!


R. J. Catlin

Would You Picture That?

Would You Picture That?

Dear friend,

When I was a kid, my mom was constantly taking pictures of us, especially on trips and vacations. I admit I sometimes got annoyed by it. Why she couldn’t just enjoy the moment without always taking pictures of it?

Then I got my own camera and I understood.

Me and my brother at a children’s museum in a giant bubble, at age six.

What’s the story?

There’s something inexplicable about capturing a moment in time that will never be captured again.

Recently, a photographer friend said photography captures the things and moments only you see.

Pictures preserve memories.

Remember going through your grandma’s old photo albums? Or the first time you saw your dad’s baby photo? What about a picture of your mom in her prom dress?

These are all moments in history that would be lost to time without photography.

Photos also tell stories. Take that picture of your dad as a baby, for example.

Was he crying and upset? Did he laugh at something behind the camera? Was he ready for a nap and staring into space?

What story does the picture below tell?

This is a picture that I took of my friend on a girls’ weekend. We spent an extended weekend visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We both love taking pictures and it was a lovely October day.

It’s a creative point of view.

Like drawing, photography helps you look at the world differently. It helps you see inspiration in everything.

According to this Eksposure article, when you see the world from a different perspective it also increases your ability to enjoy it.

Photography grows your creativity. It fosters curiosity about the world around you. This article about creativity and photography by Steve Gosling from the School of Xcellence is fascinating.

How hard can it be?

Taking pictures isn’t difficult. Most phones, even dumb ones, have a camera built in. It takes very little effort to take a picture. Start with one.

Pose the fruit in the bowl on your table. Set it in front of a window. How does that look?

Sneak a picture of a friend or family member doing something mundane.

Try different angles. Bird’s eye view. Get one up close. Take a picture very far away.

What story are you trying to tell?

Next week I’ll post an article on basic principles of photography to get you started.

Get out there and take a picture.


R. J. Catlin

Drawing Inspiration

Drawing Inspiration

Dear friend,

I don’t know about you, but I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t draw.”

I’m pretty sure they’re talking about realistic pencil drawings, complete with the shading and background. But even if they don’t mean that kind of drawing (just look at Pablo Picasso’s drawings), I would have to disagree.

Anybody can draw

You don’t even need functioning hands to draw. I mean, have you seen Joni Eareckson Tada’s work? And she’s a quadriplegic.

A lot of people believe they can’t draw because our society has taught us to appreciate art from afar and discouraged us from participating in it firsthand. Only about a hundred fifty years ago drawing was taught as an essential skill for a woman to be considered accomplished.

Growing up, I loved drawing. I am so thankful my parents encouraged my interest in the arts. Something my mom did to encourage this was using a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards as part of my homeschool curriculum in high school. The book taught me how to draw realistically and drastically improved my ability.

Ink on Paper German Shepherd Drawing Quote

It also taught me how to look at the world with an artistic eye and really see the world.

Drawing and creating do help us have fun in the otherwise monotonous routines of jobs, but they also rewire our brains to see.

Betty Edwards has some wonderful things to say about psychology and drawing on her website.

The thing about drawing is that anyone can do it. People just aren’t taught the principles of drawing. They aren’t given the opportunity to practice when they are young. When they’re adults they are convinced that they won’t ever be able to draw because they are bad at it right now.

For one thing, whoever said that you should stop doing something because you are bad at it is an ignoramus. For another, Betty has examples of the improvements of her students in one week and they are astounding. Most of her students are adults who believed they couldn’t draw.

Let’s draw right now

Take out a piece of paper. It can be printer paper, sketchbook paper, or lined notebook paper. Get out a pencil.

Now, what is in front of you right now? A pen, a lamp, a tv, a trashcan. It doesn’t matter what it is, pick an object. Forget everything you know about that object. I want you to draw the outline of that object.

No details. No shading. Just follow the outline of the object.

Here’s the catch: you aren’t allowed to look at your hand or the paper. Keep your eyes on the object.

Are you done?

Does it look bad? Good. Sign and date it and stick it on your fridge. You just drew a picture of something from real life. Good job!

Still interested in drawing? There are plenty of beginner drawing videos in addition to drawing exercises on Betty Edwards’ website.


R. J. Catlin

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