I remember when I first started getting serious about photography and feeling an incredible sense of being overwhelmed.
Learning how to create great photos is tough from multiple perspectives.
On top of that, there's the simple matter of finding the time to go shoot, which too many of us simply don't have.
But despite those obstacles, that doesn't mean that there aren't a few quick and easy tricks you can use right now, today, to help improve your photography.
In fact, with the tips, tricks, and techniques below, you have a ready-made and proven set of instructions for improving the quality of your photos.
Now that I've built it up and have you excited, let's explore each technique in detail.
Never Be Without a Camera
As I noted above, so many of us just don't have tons of time to go out and shoot.
Without that practice, it's tough to become a more skilled photographer.
But, a simple resolution to this issue is to have a camera with you at all times.
Now, this doesn't mean you have to carry your DSLR or mirrorless camera with you everywhere you go - your smartphone camera will do the trick just fine.
The point isn't to create image files that you can turn into wall-sized prints.
Instead, the goal here is simply to shoot as often as you can and take time each day to learn something new.
That means taking portraits of your kids before work, scoping out some cityscapes or street scenes on your lunch hour, or pulling over on your evening commute to snap a photo of the sunset.
By engaging yourself in the process of looking for scenes to photograph, you'll more thoroughly develop your creative eye.
And as you do that, you'll begin to notice things you didn't used to, like how lighting changes over the course of the day from harsh and bright at noon to soft and warm at sunset.You'll also find you become more comfortable with
You'll also find you become more comfortable with varied subject matter, including how to appropriately frame the subject, no matter if you're creating a portrait, a landscape, an abstract, or something in between.
Make a Shot List
A shot list is a handy tool for professional photographers that need to ensure they get all the images they need for a particular gig.
But a shot list is a beginner's friend as well because it allows you to begin to develop a better sense of who you are as a photographer.
All it takes is the notes feature on your phone, or if you want to rock it old school, a pen and a notepad.
When the mood strikes and you see something you'd like to photograph, just jot down a note, noting the subject and location, and any other important factors. For example, if you spend the day exploring the desert on a cool, cloudy day, and find a vantage point you think might make a great sunset shot, note the location, the direction from which the evening light would fall across the scene, and any reminders you might need (i.e. to bring a tripod).
What's more, the bigger your shot list becomes, the more subjects you have right at your fingertips to create a photo or a series of photos.
That means that if you planned to do some landscape photography on the weekend but the weather is terrible, you can refer to your list and work on capturing photos like portraits or still lifes that aren't weather-dependent.
Challenge Yourself to Document Everyday Life
I know all too well the lure of wanting to go somewhere to take photos.
As a Californian, there's no shortage of beaches, mountains, forest, and deserts around me to use as subject matter for incredible landscapes.
And while epic subjects should be on your shot list, don't discount the value of challenging yourself to make a beautiful photo out of a mundane subject.
In fact, it's a much more difficult task to create something compelling out of an everyday scene than it is to stand in front of the Yosemite Valley and take photos of soaring mountains.
But that's why it's so important to tackle the challenge of shooting what's around you.
Not only will it help you to find beauty in the mundane, but that practice will also help you master the technical and artistic aspects of photography - all without leaving your neighborhood!
Get Out of Full Auto
The fully automatic setting on your camera is an excellent learning tool that helps you jump into more involved photography practices.
However, if you stay in full auto for too long, it can become a crutch that prevents you from using more advanced modes like aperture priority, shutter priority, or program mode.
The beauty of these shooting modes is that they are all semi-automatic, meaning you gain more control over the camera than you have when shooting in full auto, but not so much that you're shooting in full manual. Get an in-depth review of what the primary camera modes do on your camera in the video below by Newtography:
If you just need a refresher, here's a quick rundown of what these semi-automatic modes do:
- Aperture Priority Mode allows you to determine the aperture and ISO. The camera selects a shutter speed that's appropriate to get a well-exposed image. This is advantageous for situations in which you need to have control over the depth of field. Learn more about aperture and aperture priority mode in this guide.
- Shutter Priority Mode allows you to select the shutter speed and ISO. The camera then chooses an aperture to match such that the photos you take are well-exposed. This mode is best for either freezing or blurring the movement of the subject. Learn more about shutter speed and shutter priority mode in this tutorial.
- Program Mode is often thought of as ISO Priority Mode because you get to control the ISO while the camera determines an appropriate aperture and shutter speed to match. However, unlike aperture priority and shutter priority modes, in Program mode, you can override the selections the camera makes to those settings. Program mode is ideal for situations in which you're shooting in very harsh lighting conditions.
The point here is that much like you need time in the field to practice taking photos, you also need time to expand your understanding of (and control over) your camera. Shooting in one of the modes listed above is a great way to do that.
Shoot With What You've Got
When you're just starting out in photography, it can be all too tempting to purchase a fancy camera and a few lenses, a new tripod, a new laptop, and so forth.
And while those things won't necessarily hurt your ability to take a good photo, they won't necessarily help either.
Notice how most of the preceding tips focused on tangible actions you can do to get better. There's a reason for that.
When you're a beginner, your focus needs to be on skill and knowledge acquisition. That means learning about exposure, lighting, framing, composition, and so forth.
Sure, a new camera is nice to have, but is it an absolute necessity? No.
You can learn how to take great photos with your existing camera whether it's your smartphone, a point-and-shoot, or a hand-me-down DSLR from a friend or family member.
If you're going to spend money on anything, spend your money wisely on tools that help you learn. Get a book or an eBook to learn about composition. Take a photography class at the local college. Join a community like PhotographyTalk. In short, focus on activities that promote learning, not on acquiring new gear.
As you develop the requisite skills to take good photos and you outgrow your current gear, then you can set about finding upgraded equipment that will allow you to continue to learn and grow as a photographer.
Savor the Process
I fully admit that I'm not the most patient person in the world.
And if you fall into the impatient category, take it from me when I say that being impatient will do you no favors as you learn to be a better photographer.
Instead, try to take a slow and steady approach to learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge. Really savor the process of learning and commit yourself to consistent growth over a long period of time.
Will it take you decades to become a better photographer? No.
But you won't reach your goals as an artist overnight, either.
You'll make mistakes along the way, but strive to use those mistakes as a learning tool and not as a source of frustration.
So, if you tackle learning one or two techniques a week, enjoy learning about those techniques and putting your learning into practice.
Don't just fly through everything for the sake of finishing a tutorial faster.
Take your time, shoot a lot, keep a camera with you at all times, and challenge yourself to master your camera and the concepts and rules that govern photography.
Do those things, and you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll see an improvement in the quality of your photos!