In focus: How learning a little about photography can go a long way

National Geographic -- a magazine that brought beautiful photography into the mainstream -- estimates that the number of photos taken by Americans has more than doubled over the past decade, from 53 billion snapshots in 2006 to an estimated 105 billion this year.

However, quantity doesn't necessarily translate into quality. Most of those shots are being taken on point-and-shoot cell phones with little regard for what makes a great, well-composed image.

Knowledge about photography and photographic equipment can help anyone get better shots. Instruction (for yourself or a gift for someone during the holidays) is offered by individual photographers, university and college extension programs, and photography-related businesses.

Samy's Camera, an L.A.-based photo store and online shop that's been selling high-quality imaging products for nearly 40 years, offers regular demonstrations, product training and classes on a variety of photo subjects at their state-of-the-art photo workshop in Mid-Wilshire.

UCLA Extension's photography courses range from basic composition to travel, event, portrait and documentary pictures.

And if these preliminary classes give you a serious interest in photography, study where the pros go and attain photo degree at the prestigious Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.

From the beginning, you'll learn that good photography is rooted in the basics. Among them are light, composition, subject and location. Images can be further fine-tuned by showing motion or mood.

Equipment is also crucial. Mobile device cameras are great for capturing a quick "selfie" or group shots with your friends. But quality photography often requires a camera that can accommodate more than a single lens.

As the name suggests, interchangeable lens cameras allow a photographer to quickly switch lenses as the need arises. Variations include the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera and vintage single-lens reflex camera (and its modern digital counterpart).

Mirrorless cameras tend to be smaller and less expensive than single-lens cameras while still allowing for lens swapping. Yet many professional photographers still prefer the older technology as its optics allow for greater customization, less shutter lag and more accurate viewfinder image.

So what can a good quality camera bring to your photographs that you can't get from your trusty cell phone?

"The quick answer is quality," said David K. Hauver, the in-house tech guru for Samy's Camera.

"Photographers know that good images come from good glass and, these days, a good quality sensor of a reasonable size. Single-lens reflex cameras [also] offer good ergonomics for steady shoot to eliminate unwanted camera shake blur."

Hauver said the sensors in these cameras are large enough to create photography special effects like the soft background desirable when shooting portraits. Capturing fast-moving subjects and low-light photography are other advantages that interchangeable lens cameras have over cell phones.

Cell phones are convenient because they're readily available. But the resolution makes creative photography challenging without the help of preloaded "photo effects" like filters that someone else has created. And when it comes time to print these photos, the image resolution can fall short.

If your goal is improving your photographic skills and producing images you'll be proud to show your friends and family, you will ultimately need a camera with interchangeable lenses.

Many will find a larger camera daunting pre-lessons, but Hauver said not to worry. "The nice thing about modern [single lens reflex] cameras is the ability to use the automatic feature to get started with developing the eye and ability to create good compositions," he explained.

"If a beginner gets a camera out and uses it the right way, they will eventually get the 'photo bug.'"

--Joe Yogerst for Samy's Camera

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