Q. Although I pride myself on being moderately intelligent, I can never take decent pictures. I've tried various cameras, ranging from cheap to expensive and from simple to complicated. How do I take good pictures?

A. The first thing to do is stop switching cameras. Decide on one that feels comfortable and put the rest away. Carry it around with no film in it for a couple of days just to get the feel of it; take some "pretend" pictures. Then load up with the least expensive film it will take. First try taking some "pattern" pictures, such as brick or stone walls, bark of a tree or even cracks in the sidewalk. See how artistic you can make this boring exercise. Then try another load, putting something in the foreground. Perhaps a person's head, perhaps a park bench -- a tree limb is great. Concentrate on showing both the foreground and background. On the third roll, go for broke. Use a foreground, a background, and a middle ground. A middle ground is simply something in between the foreground and background. Try something like a pet in the foreground, a child several yards behind it and their home in the background. If you can get these three elements in the picture, it'll be good. If you get two, it'll be fair. CAMERA READY

Q. For the past few years, our summer vacation pictures have been less than inspired. We take care with our picture-taking but the quality hasn't been very good. Any ideas?

A. Yes, a couple. In many cases, folks leave their cameras in a drawer for months at a time. This year, a couple of weeks before your trip, take out your camera and look it over. In fact, shoot a roll or disk of film. You may find you need a new battery or a general cleaning. Another thing: Don't leave your camera and film in the glove compartment or trunk of your car, especially in warm, sunny places. These compartments heat up quickly and drastically and can cause problems with your film. Carry your camera by its neck strap and just anough film for your current shooting. If you're traveling by air, remember those X-ray type scanners. Be sure to pack your camera and film in a small separate bag and be sure that it's visually inspected rather than passed through a machine. SLIDES & PRINTS

Q. Now that I'm feeling more confident with my 35mm camera, I can't decide when to shoot slides and when to shoot color prints. Will one give better quality than the other?

A. Since both types of film have improved so dramatically in recent years, fine quality can be obtained no matter which you shoot. But your plans for the finished photos should help you decide.

The impact of projecting a slide up to a giant 3 by 5 feet is astounding. You just can't compare a 3-by-5-inch print to it. Yet, you have to go through a certain amount of effort to achieve it. It's easier to pass around a handful of small prints than to set up your projector and screen and darken the room.

When I take pictures to show my family or a casual group of friends, I prefer print film. If I'm preparing a lecture, involving a large group and a large room, I shoot slides. Remember, you can have fine prints made from slides.