44 Tips to Improve Your Photography

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1. Shoot every day  Like any skill, the more you do it, the better you can get. The best camera you have is the one in your hand, so if you aren’t out with your full DSLR kit, don’t be afraid to take great photos with your cell phone camera or a point-and-shoot. Photography is photography, make pictures with a camera. Any camera.

2. Always have your camera near  Pull up a chair and I can describe two amazing scenes that have been indelibly embedded in my mind. Unfortunately, for the first, my camera was broken (I was at sea, far from a camera store). For the second, it was out of reach (I was flying). I have considered learning to draw or paint so I can make a “picture” of these two moments. The moral of these stories: have a camera within reach. You never know what will happen or what you will see.

3. Read your manual  Camera manuals aren’t engaging reading, but they do tell you a lot about how to use your camera. Spend a night or two with your manual and get intimate with your camera. This will help you every time you photograph. Most manuals are now available electronically, so know where to find it, or save it on your mobile device for reference in the field.

4. Check your settings / know your gear  I have often been tempted to put the following note on a sticker and affix it to my LCD screen: “Check your ISO, dummy.” If I had a nickel for each time I went out in the sunlight with my ISO at 800 or higher after shooting the previous evening in a dark restaurant, I would own a newer camera. Know what your settings are and how to change them quickly.

5. Change perspective / angle  We see the world from eye level, and most people’s eyes are, generally, at roughly the same height. Should your photographs constantly record the world from the same altitude as your eyes? You will be amazed at how shooting from your knees, or a high ground, will change your image. Watch a documentary film about a documentary photographer and see how they move and silently wonder how many pairs of pants they wear out by constantly kneeling to shoot from low angles.

6. Know your meter  Know your camera’s metering modes and use them to your advantage. When you frame an image, see the light and then meter for how you want your scene to be exposed. Is the lighting flat? Is a ray of light illuminating your subject? Do you want the background to melt into darkness? Your camera will help you achieve your goal; you just have to tell it how to do it. Practice metering and setting exposure.

7. Know your shooting/exposure modes  Similar to the last tip, your camera is smart, but it needs help from you from time to time. Some will tell you to always shoot manual. I disagree. Know how to shoot manual, but also know when other shooting/exposure modes will be advantageous for your particular photographic goal(s).

8. Know your focus modes  If you use autofocus, and you likely do, the camera’s autofocus is either going to make the picture or ruin it. Know what the autofocus modes do and how to adjust focus if the camera suddenly decides it thinks it knows better than you what part of the frame you want in focus.

9. Study photos—but not too much  Study the photographs of others. What do you like? What do you dislike? What would you improve? Is it perfect? Why, then, is it perfect? Look. Enjoy. Remember. Soak it in. But, don’t forget to go out and make your own images!

10. Read photo books  Books and websites have helpful tips (I hope this counts). But, not all are created equal. Find writers who you connect with through their writing and find writers who give good advice. I am a big fan of “basic photography” books and, to this day, even with a Masters degree in the topic, I populate my bookshelf with inspirational books written for beginner photographers.

11. Learn/Workshops  The only substitute for learning through reading (or watching videos) is to make images yourself. Take a class. Attend a workshop. Similar to books and websites, these are not all created equal, but, the one thing they should do is immerse you in photography for a night or a weekend, or more. Being immersed in the art and craft is as important as anything else.

12. Use your histogram  In digital photography, the histogram is the best way to evaluate your exposure for accuracy. The LCD screen can be misleading. Knowing how to read your histogram might be the difference between thinking you have a great photo and truly having a great photo.

13. Shoot RAW, highest-resolution JPEG, or film  Shooting RAW gives you the best performance from your sensor. That is a fact. However, RAW shooting isn’t practical for every photographer (or camera). So, if you aren’t going to shoot RAW, shoot the highest-resolution JPEG that your camera allows. This way, even if you think you are just taking snapshots, you will have the ability to make a large print if you find that you captured an image you really like. Or, forget the digital RAW vs. JPEG debate and shoot film. Case closed!

14. Compose meticulously  There is a nature/nurture argument about composition. However, study the “rules” and observe composition in other images to help you “feel” what works best. Then, try to use that knowledge to your advantage. Be deliberate about your composition, if time allows. 

15. Symmetry  Along the same lines, if you are going for symmetry, make sure you nail it. A few inches in one direction can upset the image’s symmetry, and your audience (and you) will know you were going for symmetry and missed. Photography can be a game of inches.

16. Pay attention to the frame edges  The image is more than the subject (usually). Scrutinize the corners and the sides and top and bottom of your frame. Is everything working together well, or is something completely out of place? Can you adjust to remove the “noise” of a busy scene? Look at the whole so the whole does not detract from your subject.

17. Pay attention to the background  Evaluate your scene, especially in portraiture. Is that a tree growing out of the subject’s head, or just a funky new hat? Isolate your subjects from the background by adjusting depth of field, moving the camera, or moving the subject—unless the subject is the background.

18. Get closer  Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” He was 100% right. Fill your frame with the subject, if you can. This is one of the most difficult things to do in photography, as we sometimes worry about being invasive to a stranger, or lazily reach for a telephoto lens to “cheat” and pretend we got close. Get closer and see your imagery improve.

19. Slow down  Of course, there are times when you need a quick draw, but there is something to be said for planning and being deliberate. Think about the shot. Visualize the results and calculate what you need to do to try to achieve it. Put your plan into action. Wait for elements to come together, if needed, and then make a photograph.

20. Use a tripod  Nothing slows you down like a tripod. This is a good thing. Did you just breeze over #19? The tripod won’t let you do that. Also, as an added bonus, the tripod will hold your camera steady and help you get a sharper image!

21. Practice good technique  The way you hold your camera can make a big difference. The way you stand while shooting can make a big difference. The way you breathe when you release the shutter can make a big difference. It all adds up and can make or break your photograph. Learn and practice these fundamentals.

22. Look for light  Light is everything in photography. Spend your time looking for light, even if you aren’t taking photos. Look for sun beams and breaks, reflections, shadows, natural light, artificial light. See how light interacts with the environment. See light.

23. Embrace shade  The wonderful side effect of light is shadow. Shadow is as valuable as light and gives depth and shape to objects. Use shadow in your images. Don’t run from shadow. Embrace it.

24. Patience  Is the light not right? Is the subject in the wrong spot? Sometimes the wrongs of a photo can become rights, if you have time to let the rights happen. Modern life is much faster than it was long ago. Use photography to slow it down and enjoy moments in time. Then, capture them with your camera.

25. Know the rules, and break them  Cliché, but true. An intentionally over- or underexposed image is usually much more compelling than one that was incorrectly exposed accidently. The only good blur is intentional blur. Photography is aesthetic and you can explore the fringes of what looks good and what doesn’t. But, have a reason to be at the fringe, because the “my camera settings were messed up” excuse is not a good reason for promoting soft focus or motion blur. The photo may be compelling, but intentionally compelling is the better way to go.

26. Know your lenses  Different lenses do different things to an image. Know how your telephotos compress and your wide-angles distort. Use the best lens for your photographic vision. Fisheye portraits are fun, but not great for professional headshots. Sometimes you only have your one lens. Know its strengths and weaknesses. For all your lenses, know which apertures are sharpest and know when you lose sharpness.

27. Don’t overload your quiver  A heavy camera bag is no fun, unless someone else is carrying it for you. Pack only what you need and hope you didn’t leave something important behind. Photography can become a chore when you are overloaded with gear. Minimize and travel light. Your shoulders and back will thank you. So will your spirit.

28. Know your surroundings  When you look through a viewfinder, you narrow your field of view of the world around you. Situational awareness is critical. Are you standing in the middle of a busy street? Are you blocking others from a great view? Are you in a bad section of town? Be aware of what is happening around you both for safety and courtesy and to see and capture more images.

29. Know the weather  Keep a weather eye on the horizon. Weather can plan an important role in your image: wind, clouds, sun, rain, snow, lightning, etc. Weather can help make an image, or ruin your whole day. Use the weather to make better photos. Wear sunscreen. Wear a hat. Stay warm. Stay cool. Stay dry. Be prepared and be safe.

30. Celestial awareness  Long the purview of the night photographer, knowing when and where celestial bodies will rise and set can be critical to your imagery. Planning helps make better images at all times. Of course, you might just have to play the cards you are dealt, but, if you give a nod to studying the rotation of the Earth, you might stack the deck in your favor.

31. Analyze your old images  Be your harshest critic. Internalize it. Study your images and learn from your own mistakes. Or, if you find your images are perfect, quit before they are not!

32. Try a prime lens  Zoom lenses are convenient and optically very good, but there is not yet a substitute for a top-quality prime lens. A zoom can mask laziness in photography. The prime forces you to not only think, but to move, as well. This will open up more opportunities than it will close.

33. Photo project / concept  There is certainly a place for random snapshots in the world of photography but, a coherent photo project, especially when it is generated from an internal concept driven by passion can self-inspire you to create a solid body of work. Do you want to tell a story? Do you want to document social or physical change? Use your camera to illustrate your thoughts.

34. Abstracts  See the small parts of a scene. Look for the trees in the forest. The light or shadow may be creating an image inside your image. Find it. Capture it. Some photographers know nothing but the abstract. Some know no abstractions. Find your own balance. Explore the scene and create.

35. Photographing pretty things  Flowers, sunsets, mountains, and babies are already pretty. Your camera simply proves that point. There is nothing wrong with photographing pretty things—I do it all the time—but sometimes you can surprise yourself by using your camera to make something unattractive suddenly attractive, or, at least, visually interesting. The camera and photographer can combine to possess the power to capture what the eye might disregard.

36. Editing  It is likely that not every shot you took was great, so look hard, be critical, and discard images that do not make the cut. Granted, photography is subjective, and someone might love a shot that you do not love, but, you are the most important viewer of your work, so only show what you love.

37. Critique  Open yourself to critique after you have critiqued yourself. Put on your armor, but know that, again, photography is subjective, so listen respectfully to opinions and be open-minded so that you may learn and grow—especially if you agree with them. But remember, always, if you love an image that you have made, no one should be able to take that away from you. If you hang it on your wall or display it on your computer screen and enjoy looking at it, you have made a successful image.

38. Develop a style  If your photos look like everyone else’s, there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you want your personality to shine through your images, then experiment and find a style that suits your artistic vision. Be consistent with your style, but also realize that your style might not fit every shooting situation. Don’t force it. Always know the fundamentals so you can fall back on them when needed.

39. Search yourself for improvement, not your gear  A great photographer can make a great photograph with any camera. A poor photographer can make a poor photograph with the world’s most expensive camera. Photography is a technologically based art form, but the technology does not make the art, the human behind the camera does. Do not look for solutions in something that runs on batteries and arrives in a box.

40. Study art ­ Other forms of art can teach and inspire the photographer, especially painting. I prefer photographic art exhibits, but, when I am in the presence of paintings, I study them to see how the artist used color, light, shadow, line, composition, etc, to make the image successful—or not. 

41. Don’t lose the moment  Those two moments I mentioned above, when I did not have a camera to capture them, I remember vividly because I was present and I was not looking through a viewfinder. I have thousands of images from a 10-day trip to Eastern Europe, but today I struggle to tell friends what city I was standing in when I took a particular photo. You can get lost in your camera’s viewfinder and the process of making photos. Remember to live first, experience the moment, be present, and only then try to capture it.

42. Look for images ­ Even if you are without a camera (Why didn’t you take #2 to heart?), look for photographs. Not every camera can capture every virtual photograph, but your eye and mind certainly can. Constantly see the world around you and look for photographs, even if they are impossible to capture with the gear you have in your bag or front pocket. Look for photographs. Look for photographs.

43. Experiment  Push yourself. Push your gear. Experiment with different settings, scenes, lights, darks, colors, everything. You will never know what you can capture until you capture it. The magic of digital photography is that each image is virtually free, so the only thing you may waste is a fraction of a second. Free your mind. Be creative with your camera.

44. Have fun  If you aren’t enjoying photography, #1 through #43 are not going to help. Smile behind the lens. Create art. Capture moments. Share images. Get outside. Explore inside. But, regardless of your results, have fun with photography. Nothing else really matters—not even the photograph.

All photos © Todd Vorenkamp

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Todd...great tips, many of which I try to put into practice all the time.I wanted to comment on the photo contained here of what I think is a DC-3 engine nacelle and windows. Just a nice shot!

Hey Tom,

Thanks, as always! Yep, that is the beautiful Douglas DC-3. You can see more shots of her on my Flickr page, if interested.

Thanks for reading!

Hi Todd....Pratt & Whitney R-2800's on that DC-3 most likely, made in my hometown of East Hartford, Connecticut. A beautiful airplane for sure. I can't access flickr from China as of a year or so ago and have not been able to upload photos since that time. My flickr page is under 'gortmull' if you want to have a look. Most, if not all, of the photos on there are from China. My page is a good example what photography should not be!!

Hey Tom,

Hello, neighbor! I grew up across the river in Glastonbury. Great company with great engines!

I'll check out your page. Thanks, as always!

Todd....You must know the Old Cider Mill on Main Street and went swimming in nearby Cotton Hollow! Both great places for photography. Small world!

Hey Todd....I have loads and loads of Pratt & Whitney stories. The first airplane I flew on was theirs, a Convair 340 or 440. That was in 1960. My entire family, including me, worked there at one time or another. My father was employed by Pratt for 35 years. Just unbelievable to make a connection from China with a true neighbor.

I have about 120 hours in the PT6-powered Beech T-34C Turbo Mentor. Unfortunately, that was the only plane I amassed time in with a Pratt power plant!

But, I always like seeing their logo on a nacelle or engine pod! 

Are your 120 hours in the T-34C from primary Navy flight training?  The night shot looking up appears to be a F/A 18 F Super Hornet and the interior cockpit shot I would guess to be a C-2 Greyhound COD with the old analog "steam gauges."   BTW, I was commissioned from AOCS class 05-80.  

Hey Ted,

Sorry, friend. You are 0 for 2! ...but close.

The night shot is the cockpit of a Grumman F-14D Tomcat. Interestingly the RIO's name on this plane appears next to the front seat of the Tomcat that now sits at the National Air & Space Museum.

The "glass" cockpit is from the mighty Boeing CH-46D Seaknight; a terrific machine that I have 1000 hours of flight time in. I bet the C-2 community wishes they had windows that big to look out of!

Thank you for your service and thanks for reading!

CH-46 helicopter had not ocurred to me.  Must be in a fixed-wing frame of mind!   Photography and flying, both great fun!  

Never forget the Phrog! Thanks, Ted!

I definitely know the Cider Mill. And, funny you mention Cotton Hollow...

When I got my first DSLR for high school graduation, my dad, a very good photographer, took me to Cotton Hollow and showed me the basics of the SLR and photography. Great memory and, truly, how it all started for my photographic journey.

Thanks!

Todd...You're very welcome! Chilly water at Cotton Hollow but oh so good on a hot summer day. Interesting how we both know it.

Agreed! Have a good holiday weekend...if you are celebrating over there!

Tom, you say:

"My page is a good example of what photography should not be!!"

This statement seems antithetic to the many wonderful images on those pages.  Can you explain in more detail?

Thanks

All great tips!  #44 is my favorite.

Thanks Bryan! Its my favorite too...saved the best for last!

"Remember to live first, experience the moment, be present, and only then try to capture it."

Excellent advice. I see so many people only experiencing life through the screen of a smartphone. What his is having an image or video to remember, if you never actually saw it to begin with?

'what good', not 'what his'.

No worries, Dom!

Thanks, Dom!

How many of us, and how many do we see, walking around staring at the glowing rectangle in our/their hand instead of seeing the world around us? (I see them step off the curb in front of my speeding bicycle every morning.)

I am as guilty as anyone these days, unfortunately. I need to be better about that. Thanks for reading!

Todd, Point 1 is the most useful. Heavy gears (DSLRs) are not useful for daily photography. iPhones are good cameras but do not give manual controls. Most useful for daily photographing are mirrorless or point-shoot such as Fuji X30, which provide full manual controls, hardly any post processing and are light to carry around.

Thanks for writing great articles, Ashish

Thank you, Ashish! 

Just so you know, there are some apps that give you limited control over your iPhone camera. I am sure there are similar ones for Android phones too.

Thanks for reading!

Todd,

Great tips. #10: I started in 1980 and bought a bunch of photography books; Ansel Adams and John Hedgecoe are my favorite authors. #12: Film has a histogram? But, I've turned off the review on my 5D Mk III since I haven't used it from my first photos with it in 2014. #13, I love! Beside my 5D, I shoot with two Canon film cameras: A-1 and F-1N. One of these days, I will do a shoot-out with my 5D, A-1, and F-1N. #39: for the longest while, I was the lone member in the local camera club still shooting film; my entries for their photojournalism contest won a 3-way runoff for second place with B&W film.

May I suggest:
#45 Shoot B&W to learn to visualize in B&W. December 2011, I decided that I would photograph the year 2012 exclusively using B&W film. 2012 was a year of experimentation with using different B&W contrast filters. It was probably March before I started to visualize photographs in B&W with the different filters.

Hey Ralph!

Thanks for all your comments! 

Re: #12....nope, no histogram on film. Sorry, mate! Bracket, bracket, bracket! Case closed! 

Thanks for reading! See you next time!

Wonderfully diverse selection of beautiful photography. My favorite is the last photo -- the back and white one with the seagulls.

Thank you, Dan! And, thanks for reading the B&H Blog! Keep on shooting!

"Check your ISO, dummy". Holy goodness. I need to do this. It's always so painful when I do some low light shooting in a higher ISO, and then go do some daylight shots only to get home and wonder why they aren't as good as they should be, only to notice in the corner of the RAW file, the bit about it being at 800 or higher. . .

Hi Glenn!

Thanks for letting me know that I am not alone here! I love going outside on a sunny day and shooting at ISO 800 and, in the back of my head, I keep saying, "Wow! It must be really bright today. My shutter speeds are super fast! Really bright out today! Wow!"

What my brain should say is, "You are shooting at high ISO in the sunshine. Duh."

Hi Todd, 

Firstly, I thank you for sharing these amazing tips.

I started with photography 3 years ago when i was 18 and i came across a saying "You're first 10,000 photos are the worst" :P.

I have been photographing in various genres and your tips has made me understand a lot more better in photography.

The ISO tip and having fun while clickking were the best :D

I am still not able to get good photos even after my 10,000 clicks.People always think better camera means better quality of pictures.

I use a 600D with the 18-55 kit lens which is fair enough for shooting.I needed more tips on how to get the best out of a basic dslr when compred to the high end ones.

Thank you.

Hi Eshwar,

Thanks for writing in! I am glad you enjoyed the tips!

I bet we all have some "keepers" in our first 10,000 photos. One of my MFA classmates got a camera from his grandmother when he was a tike and one of his first frames was absolutely amazing...the kind of shot most of us dream about getting. His image definitely debunks the 10,000 photo myth!

There is not much difference in the quality of images you can get from a DSLR, be it a pro model or consumer. The sensors are very similar, and sometimes nearly identical. A basic DSLR with a good lens can take a technically better image than a pro DSLR with a lower-quality lens...but only the photographer can chose the moment to take the image, and the composition!

Thanks for reading!

Todd, excellent tips.

I'll pass to my students at the University (if you do not mind ) and make emphasis on the tip 44, hehe.

Thank you very much for sharing your point of view.

Greetings!

Wlad .

P.S. Check this out! :)

Hi Wlad,

Feel free to share it with your students! Thanks for reading and sharing and thanks for the link!

Thanks for these tips, they are a helpfull review and check. I have printed off for constant reference.

Though your comment about using zoom lenses doesnt really consider a photographers age and mobility. In three Canon zoom lenses I can comfortably shoot from 11mm - 400 mm. I have waited about 40 years for such a combination. This is my kit when travelling, the tele zoom allows me to get in close without offending anybody. The 11-24mm is awesome for coastal Landscapes. The 24-105mm is my go to lens, yes its not as sharp as the fixed length lenses I have but convenience is important to me.

I have just retired Down Under and looking fwd to getting out every day. Thanks again.

Hey West Coast Wombat,

There are definitely times when zooming is the best option. I won't disagree there! In general, in my own photos, I sometimes find that when I get closer, I get a better image. But, there are times when telephoto reach helps get the shot too!

Enjoy down under and thanks for reading!

Muy ****** tips, ser creativo y estudiar pinturas lo mejor.

Gracias por leer, jorge!

I like #2 with "You never know what will happen or what you will see."

Thanks, nodoor! Your vote for #2 has been recorded and counted!

Todd, great list to photograph by.

By profession I spent most of my adult life working as a designer/artist so the techniques I learned for art transferred to my photography as it relates to composition, light, framing, subject matter, etc. 

Thanks for the compliment, Norm. It looks like you would be in agreement that photography is art. Thanks for reading!

Excellent review...no matter how much we thilnk we know, it certainly helps to get back to basics...

sal,

"Fundamentals!" is what my good and bad little league coaches used to yell at us! It is the core of everything in art and other parts of life. Thanks for reading!

this was very helpful. I will keep these in mind each time I head out. Thank you. 

Thanks for reading, Peggy!

All good reminders, thanks.  18 is my favorite.  

Thanks, Bob! Your vote for #18 has been counted! 

Great tips and very well written! Thank you Todd!

Thank you for reading, Dave!

Very helpful. I try to photograph something everyday. Using a variety of exposures, views and lenes. I am working on buying a couple of prime lens.

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