I’m Not a Photographer, Though I Play One on the Internet


This is one of those things where I get asked a question so often in the comments and in email that I decide to write a post about it. Trust me, I would never write a post about it otherwise because you can put what I know about photography, at least from a technical perspective, on the head of a pin and it’s downright embarrassing. The question I’m asked so often lately is–“What kind of camera do you use?”

Answer: I use a Canon PowerShot S5IS. It has 8.0 mega pixels and a 12x zoom. I just copied that off the box. I don’t really know what it means. I lost the manual, but I wasn’t going to read it anyway. I don’t like technical stuff. This is a digital automatic, not any super-special, thousand-dollar digital SLR camera, and I bought it because the salesboy at Circuit City told me to. I always do what the salesboys at Circuit City tell me to do. I went into the store and said, “I’m a moron, but I want a good zoom and a good macro. What should I buy?” He picked up the Canon PowerShot S5IS and said, “Buy this one.” I really like it. If I dropped it tomorrow and broke it, I’d buy another one. Or beg, borrow, or steal one because I’m feeling kinda poor after spilling half a glass of wine on my laptop a couple days ago and having to replace it.

I have poison ivy, too. Have I mentioned that? That doesn’t have anything to do with photography, does it? I’m easily distracted when the subject even comes close to something technical.

I use the Auto setting almost all the time because I don’t know how to use the other settings. Sometimes I put it on P (which I think stands for Program, or maybe not, who knows) to use the super macro button to take food closeups.

I know how to use the macro, super macro, and zoom. I don’t touch any of the other buttons because I’m afraid I might make the camera blow up.

I use Photoshop Elements to process photos. I know how to do basic things like resize, sharpen, adjust for contrast and color, and make a banty rooster look like Clint Eastwood or Abraham Lincoln. Other than that, I don’t understand Photoshop Elements and I don’t really want to. Photoshop Elements is not even the full-blown Photoshop program, it’s just the mini version, but it’s too complicated. I actually bought a book about how to use Photoshop Elements, but I haven’t read it because I don’t like technical stuff.

I do like taking pictures, though. It’s fun! And to me, photography is a creative expression. All that technical stuff is so boring! So the good news is, if you’re like me and you don’t like technical stuff, you don’t need it. Don’t read the manual! Manuals are for sissies! (Man, are people going to hurt me now?) Just get a decent digital camera and have fun with it!

I took this photo of hummingbirds at our feeder on the Auto setting using the zoom. I took, no kidding, at least a hundred pictures that day. Take a lot of pictures. Something’s bound to turn out.

I probably took twenty or thirty pictures of these bucks to get this one where they all lined up.

I love taking pictures of animals because they are so much fun. You never know what they’re going to do and they don’t cooperate.

People don’t cooperate very well, either. They’re worried about how they look, and they want to pose. Don’t take posed photos of people. Take pictures for ten or fifteen minutes until they are sick and tired of you. (People have short attention spans, so it won’t take long.) The best pictures of people happen right after they stop paying attention to you.

When it comes to “still photos” or landscapes, etc, try to find different angles or frame the background with something interesting in the foreground.

Express yourself–your photos should show your personality. You’re not looking for perfect. You’re looking for engaging. (And don’t center everything! Centering is boring.)

And use big pictures if you have a blog. Everyone loves big pictures! But my number one tip for taking good photos is…..

…..get some chickens.


…a giant puppy! You know you want one.


  1. Kathryn says:

    I know just what you mean by all those buttons and wing-ding things. My husband gave me an Olympus Evolt a few years ago, plus a certificate allowing me to go to Evolt school to learn how to use it. I had no idea there was even an Evolt school. This caused me no end of worry, because I didn’t know what to wear, or if there would be snacks. I duely attended, and I am sure I learned quite a bit, but it didn’t stick. So, I just play around with it, take hundreds of pics just as you, and usually get some good ones! Now, I am in big trouble. For my birthday he gave me that stick-on flash thing, and let me tell you, the book for that is bigger than the book that came with the camera! There isn’t a school for stick-on flash things, so I guess I will read that book and hope for the best. I am hoping next year he will give me towels or something.

  2. Carolyn A. says:

    Very informative, Suzanne, you’re better than any manual. Keep taking those great pics! xxoo

  3. Michelle Willingham says:

    I love the animal pictures best. Such fun! :catmeow:

  4. wkf says:

    Well said!! Life is too short for technical! :flying:

  5. Kim says:

    Nice! I can’t wait to get a camera with more…uh…macro? Pixel? Stuff that makes it a clearer picture. So you can see more in it. Ya know? Don’t forget about the wonderful soothing power of oatmeal when dealing with your poison ivy!

  6. Kim A. says:

    Don’t forget the #1 rule of composition, the rule of thirds! 🙂

    I have the PowerShot S3IS and love it. Dad bought it for me in September 2006 and I’ve taken almost 11,000 pics between then and now. I’m hoping to get the lens adapter and the dedicated macro, telephoto, and wide-angled lenses at some point. (Hmm, when is Dad visiting again?)

    BTW, I also use PhotoShop Elements and it’s perfect for what I do with the images.

    I LOVE my camera! I take my camera everywhere, go through withdrawals if I miss a day.

    -Kim 🙂

  7. Kim A. says:

    Oh, and if you (the generic “you”) think take pretty good pics? Just join an on-line photography group. LOL. That’ll humble you VERY quickly — at least it did me. Especially when everyone but you (ME) knows about things like f-stops, exposure, lighting, shutter speed, etc. 😮


  8. Lora says:

    I agree with you! When it comes to cameras, I DO NOT want technical. I want point and shoot and fun. I need a new camera and didn’t know which one to get….now I do!
    My sister is very talented with a camera, so I leave all that “read the manual” stuff to her.
    Thanks for the info Suzanne.

  9. jane says:

    Amateur or not – they are great and add to our connecting with you in WV. My Dad was born in War Eagle WV did I ever mention that? and THANK YOU FOR THE WINTER PICTURE – love it love it it love it – winter is my favorite time of the year besides fall.

  10. Blaze says:

    On camera and technically do whats its..I can offer nothing. Sadly they may revoke my man membership card.
    On poison ivy..I can offer stuffs.
    Mix bleach and water, wash the affected area. Then get this stuff called IvyRid its a smelly pinkish colored goopy liquid you slather on the area and it will dry the junk out and stop the itching.
    I’m UBER allergic to the ivy and this method has had me cleaned up and good to go in a couple of days before. It also works pretty decently for dealing with the effects of fiberglass insulation too I’ve found. :thumbsup:

  11. Gail says:

    Wow Suzanne! You have really inspired me. I have Cannon A550, a beginner’s model I think. It’s been out of the box twice. Once when I first got it a year and a half ago and a neighbor showed me how to put the batteries in. The second and last time, when my son was home for a visit and he attempted to show me how to use the thing. It came with manuals, one in English and one in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish and the English one may as well be in German (which I don’t speak either) since the technical jargon refuses to even enter my brain. So, after reading your blog today, I feel inspired, confident, and motivated to conquer this silver colored little box with buttons and dials, all by myself! Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos you take.

  12. Cheryl McMinn says:

    I also use a Canon A460 I think. I also use the auto setting most of the time but when taking photo from the back of the motorcycle I put it on the sports setting. Usually take between 400 and 600 per trip mostly from the back of the bike. Like you I take lots and hope to get a good one. I took amazing pictures of mountain and canyons this year in Colorado and Utah. Last year I was taking photos of the ocean in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Last weekend I took photos at a family wedding and have recieved several compliments on my picture taking. Canon is the BEST!

  13. Shimmy Mom says:

    I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one with no technical knowledge who loves to play with photography! I think you do a great job. Keep up the good work. And I agree- no manuals! Manuals are boring.

  14. Beckynsc says:

    Great advice, Suzanne.
    Here’s some for you…
    My Dad swore that wild touch-me-not would get rid of poison ivy, overnight.
    It usually grows near water and has small yellow flowers.
    Georgia will probably know what it is.
    You crush the stem and put the juice on your poison ivy.

  15. Tina L says:

    Good post! I also believe in your take enough photos and some will turn out philosophy. My daughter wanted engagement photos so we went to the park and took over 200. I liked about 5 of them. LOL We recently went to Ireland for a vacation and I took over 800 pics there. (Several have sheep in them :sheep:) I’m still sorting those out but it was great fun and I have lots of pics to remember the trip. I am glad to hear you talk about photoshop elements. I have been trying to decide if I really need the full photoshop or not and I think I have decided to buy elements and see if I can learn to use that.

  16. tracey k. in Ohio says:

    The picture of the hummingbirds is awesome! Love your blog, by the way; you are TOO funny! :mrgreen: Keep up the good work!

  17. happyathome says:

    Thanks for the picture info! I am in the market for a new camera right now. I happen to have the zoom lenses, macro lens, and a bunch of other accesories from my manual camera but want to be able to use them on a digital body. So here comes the funpart of doing the research and checking to see it will all work! I love the sheep shot!

  18. Donna says:

    LOL Suzanne you crack me up! I hate technical mess too, and that is why I can’t do much on the computer – or with the tv, or this, or that…I hate to read manuals and it bores me to learn. My husband, on the other hand, LOVES it all..he is an ace on the computer, with having takein ZERO classes. I took classes and can do, like email. He loves the flat screen tv’s and all they can record and do..I hate it. Just show me how to turn it on and switch channels.
    He has a Canon camera too, with zoom lens and took excellent pictures of our Hummingbirds, up close, showing detail, but I can’t post them because I don’t know how. LOL He does all the photo shop mess too. He plugs his camera into our computer to do his pictures, however he does it. I am not sure what model he has, camera wise, as I hate all that too, but I do know it was very expensive because I was with him, when he got it. LOL When he asked me to take a picture, it took some time to learn how …just push the button, he said, after you get me in this…and that and then…whew!
    Gee, just thinking about all that, makes me want to sit back, relax and indulge in some Teuscher’s chocolates, which are due to arrive, via overnight, any moment now… :mrgreen:
    Coco is PRECIOUS!

  19. Debbie in Memphis says:

    We have the same camera. My husband is one of those techie people; it’s his gift. He reads manuals and changes settings. Me – I just push the button. Thankfully, if you take enough pictures some turn out decent. :thumbsup: I just need to take more photos. I love your pics and your blog. As someone said the other day – I love having a peek through your windows. I mean that is the most non-stalkerish internet way. Until I get a chance to move out to the country, you’re a great substitute. Thank you!!

  20. Stacia says:

    I need a new camera because I want to take pictures of the birds that I see, especially the ones I don’t know. I also take tons of pictures (550 last time I was in Russia) because sooner or later you’ll get that good picture. I love your pictures!

  21. Christine says:

    I love hummingbirds.
    my feeder is outside right now with mold in it.
    You have inspired me to bring it in and clean it and fill it up.

  22. Suzette says:

    Oh,Suzanne. You shame me. I love the technical stuff. I read the manuals. In fact, I have a manual (and accompanying CD)that supplements the manual my camera CAME with. Plus some special software to process the pictures better…plus a bunch of extra lenses…plus a $300 flash. And with all that…your photos leave me in the dust. Maybe I’m over-thinking things. You clearly enjoy what you’re doing. Keep doing it just that way. We love it!

  23. Amy Addison says:

    Take a lot of pictures. Something’s bound to turn out.

    When I would photograph the boys’ gymnastics meets, I’d probably snap close to 1,000 pictures between the two of them at a single meet.

    I’d get MAYBE 30 that turned out.

    LOL on the posing. As soon as 9 sees that I’m about to snap a picture, he wants to pose. So I stop and put the camera down. since he LOVES being the center of attention, he doesn’t like that, and he’ll go back to doing whatever it was I wanted a picture of, but I notice he keeps peeking to make sure I’m still planning to take a picture. It’s cute.

  24. Melissa's Cozy Teacup says:

    Ack! Winter pic was cruel and unusual punishment! August is NEXT MONTH! We have not had a good rain in a while and things are looking brown. Brown winter, brown summer. Can I come stay with you for a while? I need some green! :mrgreen:

  25. Employee No. 3699 says:

    I just ‘inherited’ My Better Half’s Nikon D70 (he upgraded to the D300). I know nothing about photography and am trying to learn. I’ve been using Photoshop Elements, it’s what came on my laptop. My husband gets aggravated with it because he’s used to having and using all the ‘bells and whistles’.

    Anyhoo, great advice!

  26. Carol says:

    OK,as one of the question askers, I will confess that its really about you doing my leg work. I also HATE tech stuff. When I see what I like and want to also do, I ask. Your pics have wonderful clarity and detail and I love it. The problem for me is if I go to Circut City and ask, they will sell me a million dollar piece of equipment that I can’t afford and more importantly, cant operate because the manual will be lost within 15 minutes of opening the package and my attention span for learning this junk is negative. SO THANK YOU, YOU TOTALLY ROCK and its the 12X zoom that I really need!!!!! YIPEEEEEEE!!!

  27. Bertie says:

    Great post, great pictures! You’ve inspired me to get my camera out and start snappin’ away!

    Thanks Susanne!

  28. Becky says:

    I think we might be twins….

  29. wammy says:

    I am glad to hearthat the boys at CC are taking good care of you. We are very partial to CC because my husband has worked as a store director of almost 25 years. He even ran the store in Charleston, WV for a few years back when it was the small store.

    I have a camera…got it because CC gave it to me and I love it. I can’t even tell you what kind it is. I do know that it is black. I keep it in my left pocket everyday because you never know when a photo opt will happen. I don’t do anything fancy with photoshop or anything. I just download and put in a blog….check us out at theellisfamilycincinnati.blogspot.com

    The bleach thing works for the ivy itch. Bee there done that a million and one times.

  30. Wendy says:

    What a timely post for me. My birthday is coming up and I have asked for a camera but don’t know what to get. Since I like your pictures I will look into the camera you have. I am using my son’s hand-me-down camera with terrible results. A zoom is a must when photographing animals. If you get too close you ruin the moment. They always have to stop what they are doing and come look.

  31. Crystal B. says:

    Great post. You take great photos. 🙂

  32. Robin G. says:

    I would pay a lot of money for a framed copy of the hummingbird picture, no fooling.

  33. Tori Lennox says:

    I love your pictures and your photography advice! It’s so true. I used to take really good photographs, then I made the mistake of taking a class. My pictures have never been the same since. :hissyfit:

  34. Cherlyn says:

    I love your pics! I love pics, but not good at taking them. Like, I’ll have the camera on me and not take any. And I got a fancy smancy camera with all these features, yet when I do take pics, all I do is point and shoot. Go figure! :rotfl:

  35. sunnid755 says:

    :wave: I love the pics, looking at the giant puppy ones makes my heart melt, it’s nice to start the day with some happy informative reading. Thank you for making my days!

  36. TeresaH says:

    I’m also one of those people that take a ton of pics at a time when I have the camera in hand.

  37. Joanne says:

    I am absolutely, positively, sure that my pictures would turn out better if we had a “Coco” of our own. Think I can use that one on my husband?? 😉

  38. Estella says:

    I love your pictures!

  39. Jill S. says:

    I always love your pics, most especially that last one . . .

  40. Shari C says:

    Love the photos! Thank you for letting me know that someone else is a photo expert just like me…NOT!

  41. Brandy says:

    You take wonderful pictures, when I look for a new camera next I’ll keep yours in mind.

  42. Lis says:

    I love the hummingbird photo! It rocks. :shimmy:

    I’m still in the age of a camera that requires film, but I do like the looks of your photos. Might have to check into the camera and put it on the old Xmas list :thumbsup:

  43. Susan K from Ohio says:

    This is such great advice! I’m into all the technical stuff and you’ve done a fabulous job summing it up. :shimmy:

  44. catslady says:

    I have some real film I’ll sell you cheap lol. It’s hard to imagine that it is obsolete. Actually I think my digital camera is already obsolete. We bought both our daughters cameras over the last few years and they are so improved. And the oldest daughter’s fiancee has a very expensive one. So since I was the one to take pictures for the last 40 or so years, I now leave it all up to them lol. (I would have loved to have had a digital when my kids were growing up).
    And so sorry about the poison ivy – I usually use liquid benedryl and rubbing alcohol.

  45. SuzieQ says:

    Remember,everyone, that even if you have a not so great picture that it still can bring back a great memory, so don’t always automatically discard the “bad” ones. For the horrible itch of poison ivy just (if it’s on a reachable place like an arm or leg) run your water hot as you can stand it and quickly wet the affected area. It will burn for a second but will kill the itch for hours. I usually just wet a paper towel and place on the area for a min and the itch is gone..I promise it works..

  46. SuzieQ says:

    Forgot to mention there is a FREE download from Google called Picasa that can improve/correct many problems with your pictures. I use Elements also, but often use Picasa for a quick/simple fix and you don’t need a manual.

  47. tillie says:

    your camera takes better photos than my $1000 Digital SLR…I’m sellin’ it tomorrow and buyin’ one like yours! seriously, you have an eye for good shots and your composition is always great…that’s half the battle!

  48. Jennifer Robin says:

    In the opinion of a professional photographer… good advice! You have given some very sound and common sense ideas here, and I enjoy your pictures (especially the food ones!) thoroughly. Pictures don’t always have to be perfect, it’s more important that we capture the moments that are important to us. I take lots of pictures too, because you never know what you might get!

  49. Lori says:

    A few years ago my husband bought me some kind of a Canon camera that would “do everything”. Unfortunately, the person trying to operate the camera was clueless and too farsighted to be able to read the manual. I was recently trying to set the camera to take a night picture and apparently touched something I shouldn’t have because the screen went black with white lines flashing across it. My husband said he would drop it off to be repaired but instead suprised me with a cheap Sanyo with 8.1 mega pixels, 3X zoom, it does videos and when you mess with the buttons, it tells you what you just did. My zoom shots are a little fuzzy but I love using that camera! The dogs and horses are my primary subjects. I can never get more than one picture at a time of my kids because they disappear like vapor when mom comes out with her camera. You’ve given me some great ideas I’m going to try on Saturday. :snoopy: Take care of that poison ivy. It seems like its bad this year.

  50. Lori says:

    PS – Coco is adorable. I love dogs!

  51. chickadee says:

    you are an excellent actor! all this time i thought you were a real photographer.

  52. Carole says:

    Your pictures are awesome! I wish I could master the camera as well as you have.

  53. Donna says:

    I just somehow stumbled onto your blog and I love it!! I love taking pictures too. I agree with you about taking pictures of dogs and chickens. We have both and I absolutely love taking pictures of them! I just posted a blog about my son’s newest chickens…with pictures, of course.

  54. Mark says:

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time this early morning poking around on your blog, enjoying your stories and photos. You regularly demonstrate that it doesn’t take a big, fancy, and expensive camera to create great photos. I routinely tell people who come up and oogle my monster camera while I’m working that the most important part is what’s behind the viewfinder. There are many technically competent photos out there, made by the gear enthusiast who can’t see. Yours have personality, life, often a wonderful use of natural light, and visual grace. The nutmeg story details grabbed me.

    BTW, I found your blog because 52’s sister pointed me here. They’re my first cousins.

  55. feathrencox says:

    :chicken: ABSOLUTELY! just get chickens and you have plenty of photo opportunities!

  56. Chic says:

    Suzanne I realize this post is over a year old…but even if there is a slight chance you’ll see this I figure it’s worth writing it. You make me laugh…you sound so much like me and they way I think LOL!!!! THANK YOU for your info on taking pictures…I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who hates technical things and HATES reading instruction manuals. You’ve taken some beautiful pictures with your camera mostly on auto. That’s what I use but I have a Nikon D40X…I don’t know what it means either and don’t care as long as I can get some good pictures with it. I had Photoshop Elements but our computer broke down and we had to buy a new one and I still haven’t found the box with my office things in it ( we just moved into our old farmhouse after 3 months of reno’s). I never did learn to use anything but the easy stuff on that but I have big plans to experiment…once I find the darn disc. Anyway…thanks for making my day …again.. and for a wonderful blog that keeps me laughing and looking to see what’s new every morning. Take care.

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