BetterPhoto Basics: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Taking Photos Like the Pros, by Jim Miotke

This is my review of BetterPhoto Basics: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Taking Photos Like the Pros, by Jim Miotke.
BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke
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Betterphoto Basics Cover
Title: BetterPhoto Basics: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Taking Photos Like a Pro
Author: Jim Miotke
Publisher: Amphoto Books
Publication Date: April 27, 2010
Total Pages: 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780817405021
Buy at Amazon

This is my review of BetterPhoto Basics, by Jim Miotke.

This book is essentially a quick overview of the main techniques and issues that advanced photographers take into consideration when shooting. There are many quick-hit tips and assignments, none taking more than a page or two (with good chunks of those pages being taken up with example photos). It’s a printed outgrowth of the author’s BetterPhoto.com website.

The book isn’t camera-specific, but it’s mostly geared toward budding photographers stepping up from a smartphone to a more advanced point-and-shoot, mirrorless camera, or DSLR.1

People have a funny attitude about taking photos. On the one hand, most people think photography is so easy anyone can do it. On the other hand, when we take a few bad photos, we call ourselves bad photographers. The truth is that if you can press a button, you can take great pictures. It’s as simple as that.(p.11)

It starts with an overview of the various camera modes. It’s a generic overview, so not every camera will have every mode. But if you’ve been wondering what those icons mean on your camera’s mode dial, this will briefly explain what macro mode or sport mode or fireworks mode or macro mode do.

BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke

The next section has tips for improving your photos regardless of the camera you’re using. Starting with composition (get in closer, be mindful of the background), moving to technique (hold still for sharper images, use a good tripod, keep the sun behind you, turn off the built-in flash) to timing and getting the shot (catch the decisive moment, photograph in any weather, shoot a lot).

After that is a section with twenty photo assignments, from shooting nature to portraits to wildlife, to storytelling, to going more artistic. Of the several sections in this book, I like this one best, because it gets you out shooting and expanding your photographic comfort zone. It’s the learn by doing part. Each assignment includes an outline of what you’ll need and a step-by-step guide to making it happen. Some examples of the assignments are: capture reflections, take a portrait indoors, capture pictures of animals at the zoo, and shoot graphic shadows. The assignments are pretty straightforward and don’t need extra gear, but by working through them, you’ll be starting to broaden your photographic horizons and skillset. Unfortunately, the assignment details are quite brief—a page for one example photo and a page for the text instructions. It would be nice if there were more example photos and more expansive information on what things like how to overcome common problems—there’s a lot of room here to flesh it out more.

BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke

The next sections dive deeper, with a section on mastering the light, another on mastering the fundamental technical aspects of cameras (aperture, shutter speed, and focal length), and another with more advanced creative techniques such as long exposures with fireworks and lightning or making HDR (high dynamic range) photos.

It’s rounded out by a section on editing photos.

BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke

The book was published in 2010. But overall, it’s holding up very well because most of the techniques and tips aren’t geared toward a specific kind of camera. Mirrorless cameras don’t make an appearance, because the book was published before they were really a thing. But that doesn’t really matter, because most of the material that has DSLRs in mind works just as well with mirrorless cameras.

As so often happens, the key is in the subtitle. This book is aimed at “absolute beginners.” So if you’re photography-curious and looking for a fairly surface-level coverage of a wide range of photographic techniques—basically a tasting menu—it’s a good choice. But if you’re looking for a deeper dive into a particular approach, technique, or style, there are better options out there.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • GETTING READY: A SNAPSHOT OF THE ART
  • What Photography Is Really All About
  • What to Shoot
  • Welcome to Your Camera
  • STEP 1: MEET YOUR CAMERA MODES
  • Portrait Mode
  • Landscape/Infinity Mode
  • Macro Mode
  • Sports Mode/Kids and Pets Mode
  • Night Mode/Night
  • Portrait Mode
  • Indoor Mode
  • Beach Mode/Snow Mode
  • Fireworks Mode
  • Fully Automatic Mode/Program Mode/Manual Mode
  • Aperture Priority Mode/Shutter Speed Priority Mode
  • Flash On/Flash Off/Auto Flash
  • STEP 2: FORTY ABSOLUTELY EASY TIPS TO INSTANTLY IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOS
  • / GET COMPOSED
  • Take Charge of Your Composition
  • Choose One (and Only One) Subject
  • Keep It Simple
  • Fill the Frame
  • Get Even Closer
  • Place Your Subject Off-center
  • Place Your Subject in the Upper Third
  • Use the Rule of Thirds
  • Get Down Low—or Up High
  • Know Where to Put the Horizon
  • Choose Your Background
  • Include a Foreground Object
  • Turn Your Camera
  • Frame Your Subject
  • Avoid Getting More than You Bargained for
  • Tell a Story with Your Photograph
  • / GET SHARP
  • Hold Still
  • Use a Good Tripod
  • Use the Self-Timer
  • Five More Tips for Taking Sharp Photos
  • Focus on Your Subject
  • Focus on What Is Most Interesting
  • Don’t Get Too Close
  • / GET LIT
  • Turn Off Your Flash
  • Find Great Outdoor Light
  • Keep the Sun at Your Back
  • Find Great Indoor Light
  • Prevent Red-Eye
  • Avoid Flash Shadows
  • Avoid Flash Reflections
  • / GET THE SHOT
  • Catch the Decisive Moment
  • Overcome Shutter Lag
  • Grab a Safety Shot
  • Take Your Time
  • Work the Subject
  • Photograph in Any Weather
  • Photograph in Fog
  • Photograph in Rain
  • Shoot a Lot!
  • Edit Your Images
  • STEP 3: TWENTY POPULAR PHOTO ASSIGNMENTS
  • / NATURE IDEAS
  • Photograph a Flower Close-up
  • Capture a Scenic Landscape
  • Be Inspired by Nature Around You
  • Capture Reflections
  • Capture a Spectacular Sunset
  • Celebrate the Seasons
  • / PORTRAIT IDEAS
  • Take a Portrait Outdoors
  • Take a Portrait Indoors
  • Take a Portrait of Your Pet
  • Shoot Candid Photos
  • / ANIMAL AND WILDLIFE IDEAS
  • Capture Pictures of Animals at the Zoo
  • Go Hunting, the Humane Way
  • Get Close to Bugs
  • Photograph Birds and Other Small Animals
  • / STORYTELLING IDEAS
  • Use Details to Tell a Story
  • Document Your Travels
  • / ARTISTIC IDEAS
  • Make Great Black-and-White Photos
  • Shoot Graphic Shadows
  • Try Abstract Photography
  • Copy Your Favorite Masterpiece
  • STEP 4: MASTER THE LIGHT TO TAKE YOUR PHOTOS FURTHER
  • Pay Attention to the Light
  • Appreciate Soft Light
  • Choose the Best White Balance
  • Increase Your ISO
  • Shoot with Sidelighting
  • Shoot with Backlighting
  • Use Fill Flash
  • Shoot During the Golden Hours
  • Turn Around … at Sunrise and Sunset
  • Make the Most of Midday Sun
  • Shoot at Twilight for the Best Night Photography
  • Instead of Flash, Use a Reflector to Fill in the Shadows
  • Avoid Extreme Contrasts in Tone
  • Watch Out for the “Blinkies”
  • STEP 5: APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED, AND FOCAL LENGTH
  • Learn Your Camera Controls
  • Understand Aperture
  • Understand Shutter Speed
  • Extend the Depth of Field
  • Isolate Your Subject
  • Use your Depth of Field Preview Button
  • Decide What’s Most Important: Depth of Field or Stopping the Action
  • Use Aperture Priority
  • Understand Focal Length
  • Compress the Background (with Telephoto)
  • Watch Your Corners When Using Wide Angle
  • Get a “Fast” Lens
  • STEP 6: THIRTEEN ADVANCED CREATIVE TECHNIQUES
  • Get a Flowing Effect with Waterfalls and Rivers
  • Shoot Fireworks
  • Photograph Lightning
  • Make Car Lights Stream off into the Distance
  • Save an Evening Portrait with Creative Use of Flash
  • Shoot More Colorful, Dramatic Flower Photos
  • Shoot Infrared Photos Photograph Water Droplets with Reflections
  • Channel Claude Monet
  • Blur Your Entire Photo Except for One “Sweet Spot”
  • Use Filters to Even Out Extremes in Tonal Range
  • Make a HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photo
  • Give Yourself Wiggle Room: Shoot Camera Raw
  • STEP 7: TEN EASY FIXES YOU CAN DO ON YOUR COMPUTER
  • Start with Good Photos
  • Crop for Impact
  • Rotate Your Image
  • Eliminate Red-Eye
  • Darken or Brighten Your Image
  • Make Colors Pop
  • Sharpen Your Already Sharp Photos
  • Convert a Color Photo to Black and White
  • Remove Dust Spots and Other Clutter
  • Reduce the “Noise”
  • Make a Panorama
  • ADDITIONAL REFERENCES
  • Brief Buyer’s Guide to Help You Find the Best Camera
  • Resources At-a-Glance
  • Chart of Point-and-Shoot Settings
  • Glossary of Photo Terms
  • Camera Settings Used for Photos in This Book
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

Publisher’s Blurb

Absolutely anyone can take better photos!

If you can press a button, you can take great pictures. It’s as simple as that. In BetterPhoto Basics, Jim Miotke, founder of the popular online photography school BetterPhoto.com, shares tips and tricks to improve your photos right away, no matter what camera you’re using. Too busy to read a book? No problem—flip to any page for an instant tip to use right away! Learn to compose knockout shots, make the most of indoor and outdoor light, and photograph twenty popular subjects, from sunsets and flowers to a family portrait. Those who want to go further get tips on controlling exposure and the secrets behind ten advanced creative techniques. And everyone will appreciate Jim’s breakdown of easy fixes to make in Photoshop. No matter what your level of experience, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to start taking photos like the pros.

About the Author

Official Bio:

Jim Miotke has been a photographer for 15 years and runs BetterPhoto.com, a free Web site dedicated to helping budding photographers take better photos. He lives in Redmond, Washington.

Where to Buy

BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke

You can find BetterPhoto Basics at Amazon.


  1. The book was published before mirrorless cameras really took off, so you won’t read any mention of them in the book, but the principles remain the same. 

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