Fifty Rapid-fire Tips for Better Photography
On this Fourth of July weekend, I'd like to offer a list of 50 quick ideas for better photography. These tips are some things I remind myself from time to time. No matter how long you've been shooting, it can be worth looking for ways to improve.
1. - Photograph your subject in both portrait and landscape orientations when time permits. The frame shape emphasizes different aspects based on the direction of the longest axis.
2. - Learn the difference between zooming with a lens and zooming with your feet. The relative size of objects changes as you get closer.
3. - You don't need to own every lens out there. You do need to understand how to use the lenses you do own and how they see the world.
4. - Understand the variables involved in determining exposure and what else each one affects.
5. - Think before you shoot. It's much more difficult to fix problems after the fact.
6. - When you get a new camera, read the manual. Re-read it again after a few months to see what you missed the first time.
7. - Learn the rule of thirds but don't get hung up on it. Your own eyes and brain are better than any rule.
8. - Keep an eye on the edges of the frame. You want everything either clearly included or excluded. Anything questionable takes focus away from your subject.
9. - Delete most of your unsuccessful photos but keep at least a few for their educational value. You can learn a lot by looking at them later.
10. - Work out a rough idea of your composition before setting up your tripod. Locking down your camera too early in the process limits your possibilities.
11. - Compose your shot first, then work out the technical details needed to make it a reality.
12. - A mistake isn't a mistake if you learn something from it.
13. - You are unlikely ever to need all the features built into any modern camera. Camera makers add all those bells and whistles because they sell to photographers with varying needs. But unless you at least know they're there, you'll never be able to benefit from them if they could be of use.
14. - Use a spirit bubble level or other means to level your camera before you shoot. You paid good money for those megapixels and cropping Lightroom to straighten costs precious resolution.
15. - When you're composing a shot, feel your way. When setting up your camera to realize that composition, give it due thought.
16. - Try to spend more time taking each shot so you can spend less time editing them later.
17. - There's no such thing as a lightweight, sturdy tripod. Choose one.
18. - Wake up early, and stay out shooting late. It's worth it. You can sleep some other time.
19. - Budget more on your lenses than on your camera. A camera can only record what the lens can see.
20. - People accept and even expect shadows but don't burn out the highlights. Once you lose highlight detail, it is unretrievable.
21. - To a significant degree, photography is about the light. Without it, you only have a dark rectangle.
22. - Give animals some room to breathe in the frame, so they don't feel caught in the crosshairs. The same goes for people, too.
23. - Try to pre-visualize the shot first, then set yourself up to capture it.
24. - No image is worth risking yourself, your subject, or the environment. Be safe and responsible.
25. - Consider buying the camera brand your friends shoot with so you can share tips and perhaps even gear.
26. - Invest in a quality tripod head. There's nothing more frustrating than a droopy lens caused by a ball-head that won't tighten up.
27. - Don't attempt to clean your camera sensor unless you're sure you know how to.
28. - Use a lens hood. It cuts down on stray light and helps protect the front element from damage. It even helps avoid accidental fingerprint smudges.
29. - Use a protective filter when shooting in hazardous conditions where salt, sand, or other corrosive elements are present. Seriously consider the pros and cons of using one otherwise. Lens caps and lens hoods often provide all the protection needed by a responsible shooter.
30. - Don't buy new gear without first pushing yourself and your current equipment to their limits. Avoid blaming missed shots on your camera without first ruling out other possibilities.
31. - You don't need the highest capacity memory card out there. You only need one big enough for your needs. Do the math and buy at the sweet spot in terms of gigabytes per dollar spent.
32. - Buy a quality brand of memory card. Cheaper options can seem tempting until they fail and you lose some of the best images you've ever taken.
33. - Show people what you want them to see. If you really want them to see it, show it in a way they rarely see it.
34. - To make the most of your subject, don't neglect the background. Make sure it doesn't compete for attention. A contrasting background will make your subject stand out.
35. - Shoot in RAW format unless you are confident you've nailed it in-camera. RAW provides you much greater latitude for optimizing your images after the fact.
36. - Unless you're desperate, avoid using the built-in flash if your camera has one. A shoe-mounted or off-camera flash will provide a more pleasing light source. Or use a reflector to add fill light and avoid artificial light entirely.
37. - Set your camera white balance appropriate to the ambient lighting, or shoot RAW so you can adjust it later while viewing each image on a big screen monitor.
38. - Resist the temptation to shoot everything on automatic. Your camera may create a good image, but it is unlikely to come up with a great one on its own. The more control you can take, the closer you can come to realize your vision.
39. - Clean the inside of your camera bag. Nothing good can come from putting clean lenses in a dirty camera bag, then shaking everything up as you head off again down the trail.
40. - Study images you like. Try to understand why you find them appealing and how they were shot. You can learn from how great paintings were composed, too. Those old world masters were onto something.
41. - Don't automatically stop the lens down all the way to achieve depth-of-field. Most lenses are sharpest at mid-apertures. Be extra careful if you shoot with a DX or APS-C format sensor where small apertures can contribute to diffraction that can soften an image.
42. - No image is worth risking your safety, your subject, or the environment. Be responsible in the outdoors.
43. - Strive to have each part of your image contribute to the composition. But resist the temptation to fill in with unnecessary detail.
44. - Look for leading lines that guide a viewer into your image. Try to give them a reason to become engaged with what you are showing.
45. - Learn to read a histogram. Your camera is trying to tell you something. So are Lightroom and Photoshop.
46. - Have a backup strategy for your images. It might seem like a pain now, but having backup might save you from disaster someday.
47. - Shooting to please others will leave you at the whims of fickle opinion. Photograph to satisfy yourself, and over time, you will find others who like your work. Your images should express yourself.
48. - Enjoy what you do. Allow your enjoyment to become the driver to get even better at your craft.
49. - Practice, practice, practice.
50. - And finally, this one. You're the one looking through the viewfinder. Do what makes sense, even if the rules say otherwise. Now and again, try doing what doesn't make sense to see what you end up with, so long as it is safe and fun.
Here's wishing you and yours a happy Fourth of July weekend.