This is a bullshit free zone. This post hasn’t been written for any purpose other than the fact that it needs to be said. This isn’t a top 30 list, or some rubbish like that, because this is real advice. It would be a convenient coincidence if there were exactly 40, but there’s not, and I’m not going to waste your time with filler.
You also can’t complete this all in one day, because guess what? It takes time. You’re not going to be amazing at photography tomorrow, it doesn’t work like that. But, if you follow what I’m about to share with you, then it will be a push in the right direction. Maybe not far, you may even forget 95% of it, but you’ll still be better off than most.
This isn’t light reading, photography isn’t a walk in the park. Read the whole article, or don’t even bother reading it at all. Photography take commitment.
Alright, enough time wasting, lets get down to business.
1 – Read your damn manual.
Day 1, pick up your manual and read it. That’s how I did it. How are you ever going to understand aperture if you don’t even know what aperture priority mode is? I remember learning about depth of field in my garden, playing with my aperture, and reading my manual. I used to read it in bed, and take it on photo walks with me. When you can leave it at home, then you’re getting somewhere.
There, that gets rid of time-wasting points like ‘learn your histogram’, ‘use the correct metering mode’, or ‘fix your white balance’.
2 – Learn manual mode.
You’ll make more mistakes this way, and you’ll learn from your mistakes.
When you’ve mastered this mode, you can move onto the priority modes. This isn’t some ‘professionals only shoot on manual’ nonsense, it’s a legitimate technique for learning.
3 – Step out of your comfort zone.
Sounds pretty BSy, but bear with me. Consider night photography. When you’re shooting in an environment that you have no experience with, you have no choice but to push your limits and experiment for better results. Full auto mode will do a crappy job, so it’s time to take control back yourself.
The harder you make it for yourself, the sooner you’ll learn.
4 – Beauty isn’t everything.
Cute cats, and beautiful women have two things in common: They’re easy on they eyes, and people like taking photos of them. It’s easy to take a nice looking photo of either of the two, but does that make it a good photo? Think about it, when you’re done looking at the subject, do you continue to enjoy the photo, or do you stop looking?
5 – Stop firing blanks.
Tst tst tst tst tst tst tst. That’s the sound of your camera on burst fire mode. When you shoot constantly on burst mode, it’s likely because you don’t know how to stop and think about what would work best. You’re ‘spraying and praying’, hoping that somewhere in the mix there’s going to be the combination of exposure and composition that you’re looking for.
Stop it. Think before you shoot.
6 – Whatever doesn’t add, takes away.
‘Think before you shoot’ is such a bullshit tip. So is ‘get closer’. What you really want to do is examine every factor that’s in your frame and decide what’s adding to the photo, and what’s taking away. A leaf in the corner may be distracting more than anything, but a selection running around the frame might be good to help balance out dead space.
If an element in your frame is not adding to the photo, then remove it. This is why photographers suggest getting closer.
7 – 10 good photos a year is a good year.
Don’t get yourself down by not having many good photos, but don’t become deluded that 200 of your last 500 photos are amazing. I see this all the time on Facebook; people don’t realise is that this brings the whole overall quality of their album down. If they just shared the 10 best, then the overall album would look better.
Out of 10 good photos in a year, you should be happy to have one excellent photo in there.
8 – Don’t delete your photos.
I used to do this all the time, but keeping the duds has its uses. You can look back at the metadata later and see how you may have been able to improve. You can study the process you went through to get the shot. You may even find that other people prefer a different photo.
9 – Shut up and shoot… lots.
Errugh, this grinds my gears. If you really want to learn, the best to do so, is to pick up a camera. I know so many people who talk about photography, their gear, what they like to shoot… but I never see any photos from them. They just don’t use their camera. If I’ve gone a week without using an SLR, then I’m probably in hospital.
There are no shortcuts in photography, you actually have to get out there and shoot.
10 – Photoshop fixes the subject, not the photographer.
‘I’ll fix it in post’ is something I hate to hear. It’s not as simple as this. You can fix blemishes on your subject, perhaps their skin or hair, you can add a little bit of sharpness here or there, you should even make adjustments in your post production until your heart’s content. What you should not do though, is use photoshop as a replacement for a good photographer.
You can’t polish a turd.
11 – Editing is another artform altogether.
I make only minor adjustments to my photos for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t like doing it (I’d much rather spend time taking photos), and secondly, it’s not something I’m particularly good at (or all that interested in learning). Don’t get too big for your boots and start editing all your photos into oblivion (see above), if you don’t know how to edit, but want it done professionally, outsource it.
12 – Buy a prime lens.
If you’re struggling to learn aperture, and depth of field, buy a prime lens. Buy one now, and never look back. I’ve convinced countless people to buy one, and I’ve never heard anyone complain. Read more here.
13 – Never say cheese.
Develop some funny jokes, and playful behaviour and you’ll have people naturally laughing. It looks approximately 18 times better than a forced smile.
14 – Content over technique.
The way you take a photo is irrelevant . Nobody will notice if you snap a photo on a brisk walk in the park, or wait there for 6 hours, looking for the perfect shot. Same goes for techniques such as light painting, it might look pretty, but does that make it a good photo?
15 – Your LCD screen is a damn liar.
I’ve almost stopped using mine altogether, like in the good old days of shooting film. What I see on my LCD screen is almost never what I see on my computer or in print. The brightness is usually way off, and the environment I’m in usually makes a big difference, which results in post production work later.
16 – Produce a portfolio and share it relentlessly.
There is nothing more nerve racking (in photography) than gathering all your best photos together and sharing them with the world for the first time. Putting yourself out there say, ‘here, this is the best I can do’. You don’t know what people are going to say, and what you should think if they do say something.
I can’t promise that it will be all positive, but I can say for sure that you will see an insight into how other people look at your photography.
17 – Ask for critique.
If you don’t get critique from the process above, then ask for it. Don’t ask your mother though, she’s biased, ask someone who’s opinion on the matter you respect. A fellow photographer, or perhaps an artist. They will probably be kinder too, because they know what it’s like to receive negative feedback on their work.
Be warned though, there’s always room for improvement in a portfolio. Ask me.
18 – Join a community.
Facebook pages, groups, forums, local clubs, they’re all good. I personally run a forum on this website, and it’s made up of a really close knit bunch of photographers who respect each other, and provide insights into their work, as well as constructive criticism where necessary. Communities like this will really help you to see where you can improve, and provide inspiration for your future work.
19 – Your gear doesn’t make you.
In certain niches, you need certain gear, but your gear does not make you. It’s always going to be the person behind the camera which can’t be reproduced and used by another photographer to take the same photo.
Remember, every photo you have ever seen and admired, was taken by gear that already exists, not gear that you’re waiting to be released.
20 – Stop giving a damn about your gear.
I have a friend who owns a Canon EOS 5d mk2, thousands of dollars worth of gear, but I’ve never seen one of his photos. When he bought his camera, I asked if I could have a look at it, and he said no, stating that he didn’t want to hurt the resale value. ‘I’m not taking my camera there, I might get mugged’, and ‘don’t waste an actuation’ is something I hear all the time. Stop trying to protect your camera, just insure it and use it.
21 – Find your niche.
Yikes, I can’t stress this enough. I really, truly, can’t.
A lot of people seem to think that being a good photographer means being good at every style of photography there is, when in reality, that’s exactly what’s holding you back. Don’t be a jack of all trade, master of none, find your niche and master it. You’ll soon see a massive difference to your quality of work. Read more.
22 – The best camera you have is the one you have on you.
I’m not suggesting you take all your photos with an iPhone, I’m saying you should carry your camera around with you. This is honestly one of the best things I’ve done for my photography, because it allowed me to continue to take lots of photos, even when I was busy. Before long, I saw a big difference.
23 – Back up your photos twice.
This speaks for itself. I’ve lost photos before, but it’s a mistake you only ever make once. Trust me.
24 – Rules can and should be broken.
‘Rules are made to be broken’ is such BS. It’s great to learn composition, it really is. I strongly suggest that you do so too, because it will make one of the biggest differences to your photography, but when you do, don’t take it too seriously. The rule of thirds for example is really just a rough guide for finding a balance between static and extreme; it’s not to be taken too seriously.
25 – Find your subject before your background.
Your subject is clearly way more important than the rest of the photo. Work on your subject, find something you like, whether it’s a person or a tree. Just don’t shoot a nice looking background, and claim that the bin in the corner is the subject. Subject first, background second.
26 – Film isn’t better, it’s different.
And vice versa. I love shooting on film, I do it every week. If you’re been round here for long, you already know that. That doesn’t make it any better than digital though, it’s just different. It matches my style, with the grain, colour, and lack of processing required by myself.
27 – Black & white doesn’t instantly make your photos artsy.
I’m sure you’ve seen this before, you may have even done it yourself. I’m sorry, but turing a photo into black and white, doesn’t automatically make your photo better. When I shoot in black and white, I take photos of completely different subjects, they’re almost incomparable. When shooting in b/w, it’s more about the shape, form and contrast, so that’s what I look for. Turing a colour photo into b/w skips this step.
28 – Don’t fear the ISO – noise is better than blur.
Yikes, this used to be me, wayyy back in the day. High ISO meant high noise, and that didn’t sound appealing to me, so I kept it as low as possible. 100, maybe 200 ISO. That was very silly of me. Firstly, because my photos (particularly the backgrounds) were coming out too dark, and secondly because boosting the ISO in good light doesn’t really have to look bad at all. The photo below was shot at 1250ISO.
29 – Humans make photos more interesting.
This is something that I’ve come to realise when taking photos of scenes. Whether it’s a landscape, or a cityscape, a human always seem to make the photo more interesting. We relate to them, and they provide intrigue to a photo.
30 – Your hometown is as good of a place as any to take photos.
Whenever I go away, I’m always excited to find places to take photos. Guess what? People come to your town and do exactly the same, you just don’t seen it because you’ve been used to it for so long. Go out in your area and see what you can capture, it’s slightly more challenging, but it will stop you from making BS excuses.
31 – Pack light.
I don’t particularly enjoy carrying more than one camera at once, or a bag on my back. If you want to enjoy yourself, then you need to pack light. Some people will look at my camera and think that it’s a lot to carry, but really, it’s a compromise. Don’t enjoy lugging all that gear around? Leave it at home. You don’t need it anyway.
32 – Study other photographers, even if you don’t like them.
Studying other photographers, even if you’re simply looking at a photo or two, is a great way to understand what makes a photo great. Even with photographers your don’t particularly like (but are highly respected), it’s a great way to get your critical mind working, to really break down a photo.
33 – Let yourself be the style.
We, as photographers, are responsible for sharing unique photos. We all have our own style, and it’s that style which makes our photos come out the way they are. You might love the style and work of other photographers, but if it’s not you, then you should try to force it. Let yourself determine your own style.
Find inspiration, never copy.
34 – Always question yourself.
I’m not entirely sure if it’s possible to create the perfect photo, but you should always try, and the best way to do so is to constantly question yourself. If you’re never completely happy, you will always strive to take better photos. Basically, become a perfectionist.
35 – Don’t spend money on a formal education.
It’s a waste of money in my opinion. You’re better of spending it on a couple good lenses, and do all your learning here at a much lower price. There’s many amazing books and websites that you can get a much more rounded education from, because you’re not so directly influenced by a single person – your tutor.
36 – Enjoy yourself.
I liken this to someone who watches a boring movie, but says they enjoy it because it had a really good ending. If you don’t enjoy the process, what’s the point? You might love landscape photography, but it can certainly be boring at times.
Shoot whatever you enjoy, don’t give up the love.
37 – Don’t let photography get in the way.
This is a very common one for many photographers. It won’t make you a better photographer, per se, but it will help you to enjoy it more. Sometimes, you just have to leave the camera behind, and enjoy a moment for what it is.
Not everything has to be captured.
38 – Stop reading, start shooting.
That’s enough of this already, it’s time to go out and start shooting, because that’s all you can do.
If you really do want to improve, you have to pick up your camera and shoot.
39 – Share this with those who need it.
Only joking, this won’t make you better, but it will make me happier.
Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, however you choose to share it, it will help to get these BS-free tips out to those who need them.