Posts Tagged ‘improve’

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

27 Jul

They say the lines on a person’s face can tell a thousand stories. Getting the photo that tells those many stories is the holy grail of photography. So what can you do to create standout people photography, especially if you don’t already know the person?

The approach that every people photographer takes is different, but below are five questions that all most will have asked themselves. Each photographer may answer the questions differently and yet still produce amazing results, as photography styles are all different, of course. To improve your people photography, take the time to look at these questions, and ask how they apply to you.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This is a photo of a Shaman from Malaysian Borneo. A connection had already been formed with this man after my friend told him I’d photographed for National Geographic. So we were able to use off-camera flash as he posed for us.

1 – Long lens or short lens?

The chances are when you start photographing people you’ll use a longer focal length. This can be true of people who you know, it’s especially true of people you don’t know. Photographers who enjoy street photography will tell you that using a 50mm lens is best. But the truth is that it really depends on the situation.

The long lens

This really means any lens over 85mm on a full frame camera. The nice thing about these lenses is that you can photograph from a distance that’s non-invasive. This is great because you don’t need to interact with the person you’re photographing, and this is terrible because you don’t need to interact with the person you’re photographing.

There are good reasons for and against direct interaction with your subject, something we’ll come to later. The reason you may come to use a long lens is that it compresses the scene, and allows you to focus in on the person, without outside distracting elements.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

A longer lens was used in this photo, resulting in a simpler photo.

The short lens

This means lenses 50mm or below, with the 50mm lens being the street photographers go-to lens. Using a lens like this will force you to interact with the person you’re photographing on some level. It’s far better to build a rapport with the person than going with hit and run. Besides the advantages you will gain from building rapport, wider lenses also allow more context to be seen in the frame.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

Using a wider lens can improve your portraits. This was photographed at 50mm, and more of the story behind the scene can be seen.

Now, of course, you can get prime or zoom lenses that are both long or short in focal length. When it comes to people photography, the larger aperture that prime lenses offer is a great advantage. Photographing people with prime lenses is, therefore, best and will to improve your portraits.

2 – What technique works best?

There are many different approaches to people photography to improve your portraits. As discussed above, choosing your lens will help. Applying techniques like bokeh can also get you better results. A few ideas that might help you are described here.

Shoot from the hip photography

This means leaving your camera at your hip and photographing without lifting your camera to your eye. How can this be good photography you may ask? Those experienced at this technique know how to use their camera, and can pre-visualise the result without needing to confirm it with their eyes.

  1. To take photos like this focus the lens to a set distance in front of you.
  2. Use an aperture of f/11 or smaller to have more depth of field.
  3. Choose an ISO that allows for a fast enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur.
  4. Make sure your camera isn’t too crooked, although some angles can work for this style of photography.
  5. Walk past the location you wish to photograph, and hit the shutter as you’re walking or with a brief pause.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This scene from the New York subway was photographed from the hip.

Use the light

The correct use of light will always improve your people photography. There are occasions when natural or artificial light can drastically improve your photo. At night you will need to look for a strong artificial light that people can stand near, during the day a shard of sunlight through a gap in the roof could also be used.

Here are some tips for using light to your advantage:

  1. Take up position away from the light source. You will want people walking towards you and into the lit up area.
  2. Wait until the magic moment comes, and the person’s face is well lit by the source of light.
  3. Have your camera focused on the area where the person will become lit up, and switch the camera to manual focus.
  4. Expose for the person’s face. This will mean the background appears very dark, or even black. The background may be at a -2 or -3 exposure value.
  5. Wait for people to walk into the lit up area, and then photograph them. You will need to wait patiently for people to walk by, into the correct area.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This man was lit up by artificial light, giving the photo a low-key, high-contrast look. Learning how to use light will improve your people photos.


Waiting for people to walk into the light isn’t the only time patience will be needed. You might have a natural frame like a doorway, so you will need to wait for someone to walk through it. This approach is not unlike fishing, and the time spent waiting for the right moment can be calming. The most important thing is to make sure your composition and camera settings are already set. Now it’s just a waiting game for somebody to walk past. Alternatively, you could speed things up by asking a friend to walk into the frame.

Forming relationships

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

The value of building relationships in photography is important, it will improve your portraits. This was the first time I saw the monk, Cheongsan. I didn’t interact with him at all, and this is the result.

The very best way to take photos of people, time permitting, is to form a bond with them. Taking the time to interact, and find out about the person you want to photograph will almost always give you a much better photo. The chances of them giving you permission to photograph will be much higher, and you can control the scene more.

Once you have permission you then have the choice between a staged or candid photo, since you can ask the person to ignore you when you are shooting. The chance to get a great photo that you can share with them can form a lasting connection with you as a photographer. The level of interaction also depends on time, whether it’s 30 minutes or several hours. The types of photos you may get if you’re able to revisit the person on several occasions will also improve dramatically.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

The next time I saw Cheongsan, I made the effort to approach him. As a result, he let me take this photo and gave me a business card.

3 – Do you ask for permission?

When the person you’re photographing is your friend or a model, then in most cases asking permission would not be needed, and indeed might be strange to ask. Photographing a stranger is a different proposition though, so to ask or not to ask, that is the question.

There is no one correct answer to this conundrum, but certain situations may dictate your actions. If you want a truly natural moment, with no hint of a staged photos then you’ll want to try and avoid asking permission. The caveat to that statement is that if you have time to build a friendship with those people you wish to photograph in a natural way this is also possible, after getting permission to take the photograph.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

The next time I visited Cheongsan, I had contacted him ahead of time and asked if I could take some photos of him. You will improve your people photography even more by setting up a shoot with someone.

Asking permission is the polite thing to do, and will often improve your photos. You need to have thick skin when asking people though, as asking on the spot will lead to many rejections. You need to ask yourself how you can form a relationship with someone even quickly to smooth this process, so you’re more likely to have the person say yes. Is the person you want to photograph a vendor, for instance. Perhaps you need to show some goodwill and buy one of the things they’re selling. If you’re in a country where English is not spoken asking permission may involve the use of body language. So perhaps learning a few polite words like please and thank you for going along with those non-verbal cues would be prudent.

The general rule on whether you should ask permission is up to you. When the photo you’re taking is in that person’s personal space, it’s much better to ask permission.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

I loved this man’s glasses and general style, so I asked if I could take his picture. I got a posed photo, but loved the way he posed.

4 – Candid versus staged?

This is related to the question above, but you can get candid photos even after asking permission. If the quest here is for authenticity, can you capture a great moment with your camera that’s natural? This is the aim of many photographers. However, if your aim is to tell a story through a series of photos you should really try and get a mixture of both. On an individual basis, let’s weigh up both the pros and cons of candid and staged photos.

Candid captures

This requires a keen eye, sharp reflexes, but also absolute patience. When walking around taking photos you have to be hyper aware of your surroundings in order to get photographic moments that last the blink of an eye. Photographing split second moments means you need to be utterly absorbed in your surroundings, you need to become the surroundings.

You almost have to achieve an internal meditative state. Staying on the move means you are going to the moment of capture. This means you need to be very quick to catch it. Alternatively, you can find a location, compose your photo, and then wait for the right moment to come to you. This approach can take hours, so you will need a lot of patience!

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This photo taken was taken in the harbor in Yangon. There is nothing staged about it, I just had to wait for the right moment.

Staged shots

Once the photo is going to be staged, you have a lot of control over how the photo is taken. At this stage the person you’re photographing has consented and will be actively involved in how the photo is produced. When done well, this often leads to a more striking photo than one produced candidly, you are in the realms of a visual storyteller.

The photograph could be a simple head shot, or a more complex photo when your model interacts with their surroundings. As the photo is staged, you can ask your model to stand in the best position for available light, and the background. Your model should be well lit, with the eyes illuminated by the light in the frame. If you have off-camera flash with you, you might even consider using this to really improve your portraits.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

In this photo, I asked the lady if she would pose for me. After getting permission, I was able to set up the photo and use off-camera flash to light her face.

5 – Where should you take people photos?

The answer to that is anywhere there are people, which is more or less everywhere. You can also choose a location to visit such as a market. Below are a few ideas you can try, though you may have some better ideas specific to where you live.

  • The market – This is the stock location for many people wanting to take people photos. There will always be people at the market. You can take photos of the vendors, customers, or the vendors and customers interacting. The downside is the people working in the market may not like yet another photographer take photos of them. This is where building relationships with the people in the market can help.
  • Public transport – A great reason to avoid the taxi, and leave your car at home. Getting on public transport is a great way to explore a location, and the people there. Be aware that in some locations you will need to get permission from the transport operator, as well as the people you are photographing.
  • A harbor – Anywhere there is a river will likely have a harbor. The life of people working in these places can produce great photographs. You will need to be prepared to wake up early in the morning to see the fishermen at work. This is another great example of how building relationships help, you might be invited onto one of their boats if you get to know a fisherman.
  • Festivals – This could mean a cultural festival such as Chinese new year, or a rock concert. Festivals will have people dressed in attention grabbing clothes that look great when photographed. You may find people more open to having their photo taken at an event as well, because they’re having a good time, and are often dressed well.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

Visiting places people work can be good locales for people photography. A sulfur mine is an extreme example, however, going to extremes will improve your photos though.

Getting model releases, and paying your model

Whether or not to pay for a photo is another question many people ask about. It is up to you to judge each situation for yourself. Photos being taken for a specifical commercial usage are the types of images where you should pay the model a percentage of your fee. When the photos you are taking are for personal use, paying the model is at your discretion. Chances are you will find someone who will let you take their photo for free, so it’s a nice gesture to send them an image once you have processed them.

Once you decide to pay the person to take their photo, it’s unprofessional not to get a model release. If the person you’re paying won’t sign a model release then don’t pay them, and move onto somebody else. The reason you are paying for a photo is you intend to use it for promoting your work, or for direct commercial usage. This means you need to get a model release, and there are apps available for smartphones that make this very easy.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography

This is one of the miners at Kawah Ijen in Indonesia. He signed a model release and was paid for this photo.

It takes practice to improve your people photography

Now it’s your turn. It’s time to go out and practice your people photography in your local area. Are there any ways that you like to take portraits that are different from this article? I’d love to hear your ideas as well, so please share them in the comments below.

What’s your favorite people photo you’ve taken? Again share your great photo with us, and describe how you went about taking it. Finally, get out there and get some new people photos. Hopefully, some of the ideas in this article will help improve your images.

The post 5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Improve Your People Photography by Simon Bond appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

18 Jul


Minimalism is one of those movements that some people see as a recent fad or newfangled things, like fidget spinners or man buns. In reality, minimalism is a true case of making what was once old new again, and unlike the aforementioned man bun, that’s a good thing.

In photography, minimalism is an obvious visual statement; the story of the photograph is simplified, elements are reduced, and clean space is added. Not only has minimalist photography become its own genre (you can see some excellent examples of minimal imagery here), but photographers specializing in the discipline have come into their own, creating a revitalized, attractive space of art for us all to enjoy.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Minimalism (even in photography) isn’t new. Before the term became ubiquitous and synonymous with “new” and “clean”,  the style existed in various forms under other names. It has had a profound and positive influence on photography as it exists in the modern world.

But do you have to fully embrace specializing as a minimalist photographer to benefit from the advantages of the style? Absolutely not! Each of the tips below can work for almost any kind of photography. Let’s explore some of the guidelines and see how you can apply them to your own work, regardless of genre or type.

#1 – Make the story concise

As with any photo, the story is the most important thing to convey to your viewer. In minimalism, you want to tell that story as efficiently as possible. That means clean backgrounds, negative space where appropriate, and a well-defined subject.

We will discuss background and separation of the subject in more detail below, but generally, you don’t want any distracting elements in ANY photograph. Keeping your background clean, whether through blurring, or using a solid color or simple texture can remove any unwanted distractions.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Negative space is defined as the margin around your subject and other important objects in your composition. Properly used, this space accentuates what you actually want the viewer to deem as most important in the photo.

When looking through the viewfinder at a potential shot, take a moment to get a feeling of the complexity of what you’re seeing. If the composition feels muddy or hard to discern, recompose your image to include some extra negative or white space around your subject.

#2 – Isolate the subject

Wide-open apertures along with proper positioning of the subject to background tend to make smooth, creamy backgrounds, separating it from the subject of the photo. This is right up the minimalist’s alley. Having a solid or smoothly blurred background really isolates what you want to highlight in the photo, and keeps the viewer’s eye from being overrun by more complex patterns to distinguish.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

In some photos, you may not want that blurred effect on your background. Many landscape photos, for example, are shot using stopped-down apertures such as f/11 or f/16, because you want most of the scene in focus. This is because, in those situations, the entire scene can be the subject. In those situations, using color or patterns are other ways of separating the subject from your background.

But many other types of photos, especially nature and portraiture, benefit greatly from a wider aperture and using that to create separate layers in the image. Experimenting with the effects that aperture and distance have on that separation can provide many different looks for the same composition.

#3 – Use color to your advantage

One of the most powerful methods of constructing a minimalist image is by using color to create a contrast. While you don’t necessarily have to go to the extremes that you would in a completely minimalist photo, picking two or even three colors that juxtapose well with each other and featuring them prominently in the textures of the image can improve the attractiveness of the shot.

While minimalist photographs tend to use large areas of solid contrasting colors to establish simplicity, other photography can benefit by keeping the color palette small and using colors that work well together or invoke a particular feeling in the viewer. For example, I find one of the most intriguing and pleasing color combinations to the eye to be blue and red, as in this example of the old red rowboat on the shore (bel0w).

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Using a color wheel (as shown below), you can identify color harmony, which are complementary color combinations that are pleasing to the eye. Then try to use those color combinations in your images.

Color wheel

Diagram by Wikipedia contributor Jacobolus

#4 – Embrace leading lines

Because minimalist photography tends to feature very simple compositions, lines and textures are often used to improve upon storytelling and point the viewer in the right direction. Finding natural leading lines in your compositions can help guide the eyes of the viewer where you want them to go, which allows you to minimize the number of elements in your photo needed to tell the story.

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Lines can be found everywhere; train tracks, roads, sidewalks, and buildings are just a few examples. While they are easy to find, it is just as easy to misuse them and confuse the viewer. If the line is easy to pick out, then it should lead the eyes somewhere relevant. Lines should not lead the viewer randomly away from the subject, or out of the frame with no real destination.

#5 – Find texture and use it

Texture can be a powerful element in a photograph, especially when an entire image is built around it. Obviously most often used when shooting subjects in the natural world around us, textures are a tool that can communicate many things to the viewer, including emotions, mood, light, and darkness.

Because of the limited language of minimalism, texture itself is often used as the subject, usually in the form of repeated patterns. All photography, however, can benefit from its strategic use. What is the effect when the subject features a consistent, repeating texture, as opposed to one that consists of an uneven texture made up of objects of varying size and smoothness?

5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work

Texture is a great way to put a large, consistent element in your image without introducing too much distraction.

Can millions of grains of smooth beach sand, saturated with ocean water, serve as a different backdrop than a large area of broken shells and sand mixed together? What type of effect will this have on the viewer’s perception of the image?


As photographers, regardless of skill level, we are destined to be students of an innumerable amount of subjects. We must constantly keep learning, and apply the things we learn to our work, to keep innovating our style, invigorating our images, and keep our viewers interested.

While minimalist photography is very popular today and is an intriguing discipline, it’s not the chosen style for us all. But the ability to take the most important points from that genre and apply it to your own work is what elevates you as a photographer, and keeps you on top of your game.

What are your thoughts on the current state of minimalism, and its influence on art and photography? Is minimalism your favorite photography style? Have some minimalist images of your own to share? Let’s discuss this and more in the comments below.

The post 5 Guidelines of Minimalist Photography to Help Improve Your Work by Tim Gilbreath appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

22 Jun

Are you running out of space on your hard drive? If you’re both a prolific photographer and a Lightroom user the answer may be yes. A hard drive that’s close to being full is bad news because it slows down Lightroom and just about every other application that you use on your computer. So how can you boost your Lightroom performance and make your computer run faster?

Luckily, there are ways to both minimize the amount of hard drive space Lightroom uses and to free up some space that is being used unproductively. As a result, Lightroom will run faster, as well as your entire computer usually.

So, how much spare hard drive space is required for Lightroom?

Ideally, you need at least 20% of your hard drive space to be free. If you have a 1TB drive, that means you should aim to keep at least 200GB free. If you have a smaller drive, such as the 256GB solid state drive I have on my iMac, then you need less. In my case, I need to keep at least 50GB free to keep Lightroom happy.

So, here are some tips to help improve Lightroom performance:

1. Store all your photos on an external hard drive

This has nothing to do with Lightroom per se, but it’s important because your photos are likely to take up a lot of hard drive space (especially if you shoot in Raw). The best approach is to use a separate hard drive for your photos, either an external drive or another internal drive added to your computer (if this is possible on your machine).

For example, my Raw photos take up 1.96TB of hard drive space. I keep them on a 3TB external hard drive like the one shown below.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

It’s important that the hard drive on which your photos are saved also has at least 20% of its space free. Otherwise, it might slow Lightroom down as well.

It’s good practice to use the external drive for photos and Lightroom catalog backups and nothing else. That means it won’t get cluttered up with other files. It’s easier to backup to other hard drives.

2. Save fewer LR catalog backups

It’s important to backup your Lightroom catalog regularly in case it becomes corrupted or the hard drive it is saved on fails.

Many photographers recommend that you set up Lightroom to backup the catalog every time you exit the program. The only problem is that the hard drive space occupied by those catalog backups can soon add up to a considerable amount.

It’s less of an issue in Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC, which compress the backup catalogs than it is with older versions of Lightroom. But even compressed backups take up a lot of hard drive space. For example, my backup folder currently has six backups in it and is 2.94GB in size.

There are two steps to take to minimize this problem:

1. Save catalog backups on an external hard drive. The same one you use to store your photos is ideal.

Each time you quit Lightroom the Back Up Catalog window appears. Click the Choose button to select the folder where you want it to save the Catalog backups. NOTE: this is the only time this option appears!

Also worth noting is that you want to save your backups on an external drive anyway because if your main hard drive crashes, both your main catalog and all the backups are gone. That is not good and defeats the purpose of having backups.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

2. Delete old backups. You don’t need to keep anything older than the two most recent catalog backups.

I deleted my four oldest backups and freed up nearly 2GB of hard drive space. It may not sound like much if you have a 1TB or larger hard drive, but it does make a difference on a 250 GB solid state drive.

It may be tempting to move your catalog to an external drive, but this will slow Lightroom down. It’s best to keep the working catalog on your internal hard drive.

3. Keep an eye on the Preview Cache

If you go to Lightroom > Catalog Settings (Mac) Edit > Catalog Settings (PC) and click on File Handling you will see something like this.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

Lightroom gives you a lot of useful information about how it uses hard drive space here. First, it tells you the size of your Preview Cache. This is where Lightroom stores all the previews it builds which enable you to view your photos in the Library module.

As you can see, my Preview Cache is currently 36GB, which is a large chunk of a 250GB hard drive. It’s less of an issue if you have a bigger hard drive.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

If your Preview Cache is too large, there are some tips for reducing its size in the next two sections.

4. Regularly delete 1:1 Previews

Of all the Library module previews Lightroom uses the 1:1 Previews take up the most space. But they are essential for zooming into your photos at 100%, which is why many photographers build them.

You can manage 1:1 Previews by setting Automatically Discard 1:1 previews to After 30 Days. You can also set it to After One Week or After One Day. Just pick the one that works best for you. Avoid the Never option, otherwise, your Preview Cache will grow out of control.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

Set your File Handling Preferences in the Catalog Settings to automatically delete 1:1 Previews after 30 days.

There’s another way to delete 1:1 previews:

1. Go to the Catalog panel in the Library module and click on All Photographs.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

2. Go to Edit > Select All (or click CMD/CTRL+A for the keyboard shortcut).

3. Go to Library > Previews > Discard 1:1 Previews (click the Discard option in the next window).

There are a couple of things you should be aware of, though:

  • Lightroom doesn’t delete the 1:1 previews from the Preview Cache right away. There is a delay, so in case you change your mind you can use the Undo function. You may have to wait a day or so to see the benefit.
  • Lightroom only deletes 1:1 previews that are at least double the size of your Standard previews.

5. Build Standard Previews that aren’t too large

You can set the Standard preview size in your Catalog Settings as well. If you select Auto Lightroom sets the smallest size required for your monitor resolution. You can also set Preview Quality to Medium or Low to reduce the space the previews take up.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

6. Build fewer or dump Smart Previews

The Catalog Settings also show you the amount of space occupied by Smart Previews. If that is too large, you can delete them.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

  1. Go to the Catalog panel in the Library module and click on All Photographs.
  2. Go to Edit > Select All.
  3. Go to Library > Previews > Discard Smart Previews (click the Discard option in the next window).

7. Regularly dump the Camera Raw Cache

Lightroom creates more previews to use in the Develop module when you process your photos. These previews are saved in the Camera Raw Cache.

You can set the maximum size of that cache by going to File Handling in Preferences. The larger the number you set the more hard drive Lightroom’s Develop module previews will potentially take up. But, Lightroom may run slower if you set it too low – so you need to find a balance between too big and too slow. Try around 20GB to start with and see how you go.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

You can delete the Develop module previews by clicking the Purge Cache button. It’s probably a good idea to do this every now and then to free up hard drive space. The last time I did it I gained over 20GB of space (see below).

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

If you edit or view video files in Lightroom you can also gain space by purging the Video Cache (below).

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed


Lightroom is essential for most photographers but it can use up a lot of hard drive space. The tips in this article let you take back control of your hard drive. Any questions? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom, then please check out my popular Mastering Lightroom e-books.

The post How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Improve your Photography in 21 Days

19 May

The web is saturated with top ten lists of how to be a better photographer. Heck, I’ve even written a number of them myself. Yet, one has to wonder, how much better can someone really become after reading just one article? Wouldn’t a larger transformation involving several weeks or months be necessary?

Depending on your current amount of personal bandwidth, you may not like the answer. There are some shortcuts, but ultimately you are looking at a minimum of 21 days to really make an impact.

Better photographer 21 days 02

For an even deeper understanding of how it all works, you need to dedicate a little bit of time every day for three weeks. It’s a big commitment, I know, but at the end of this period you will be shooting with the best of them. In the grand scheme of things, it’s actually not that long. Just 21 days is all it will take. Let’s get started with the essentials.

Week 1

Day #1 – Believe in Yourself

I know it’s only day one, but this first step is a critical part of your growth as a photographer. It’s where you tune-out your inner critic and start thinking positively. The transformation your thoughts can make is truly remarkable. Be careful though, negative patterns will try to creep back in. Squash them as they arise and replace them with something positive about yourself. This tip is first because it’s the foundation that everything else is built upon. Without it, you’re building a house on sand.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Author, Normal Vincent Peale.

Better photographer 21 days 10

Day #2 – Get a Library Card

Amazon is convenient, but the library has its own charm. It’s where you’ll find treasures you didn’t realize you were looking for. It’s in those long aisles full of books that you’ll find a heaping dose of inspiration. Flip through the pages, study how the masters composed and created their shots. Look for titles by Ernst Haas, Eliot Porter, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Ansel Adams, and more.

Don’t stop there, however. Take the time to learn about photographers you’ve never heard of. Read about what inspired them to get started and any tips they may offer. One of my favorites is the Nature Photography Field Guide by John Shaw. He has the simplest way of teaching the most complex topics, including manual metering.

“Everything you need for better future and success has already been written. And guess what? All you have to do is go to the library.” – Henri Frederic Amiel.

Day #3 – Face Your Fears

If there is some type of photography that really freaks you out, make a concerted effort to schedule time for it. Perhaps you only shoot landscapes and nature. If so, now is the time to try your hand at portraiture or street photography.

Better photographer 21 days 06

I talk to many photographers who never use flash and claim that they only use natural light. That sounds reasonable, but deep down you know it’s just an excuse to avoid learning about guide numbers, slave units, TTL, etc. Don’t avoid this step as it will come back to haunt you later on. The more educated you are, the more jobs you’ll be able to accept. This will make all the difference in your potential earnings, should you choose to go pro.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie.

Day #4 – Reach Out for Help

Okay, so you’ve identified your weakness, but you have no idea where to turn for guidance. This is where you get to wave the flag and ask for help from a professional. Sure you can visit a photography forum, but you may get poor advice from amateurs or those who think they know it all. A better option is to find a local mentor or one who offers online training and Skype calls. Many sites offer this type of service for a reasonable fee.

Better photographer 21 days 05

Regardless of who you use, be sure to check out their work, and read any testimonials from past students. With a trusted advocate by your side, you can speed up the learning process. If you’re hesitant about seeking guidance, consider this; asking for assistance proves your strength, not your weakness.

Day #5 – Learn a New Camera Feature

Cameras have never been so sophisticated. Unlike the cameras of old, they are essentially mini computers. With such features like live view, autofocus tracking, electronic viewfinders, histograms, and white balance. It can seem daunting at times. Yet if you don’t get ahead of technology, you risk being left behind.

That’s why I recommend upgrading your camera every few years. It doesn’t mean your current camera is no longer relevant, but consider using it as a backup to your new model. If purchasing isn’t a viable option right now, then I’d recommend renting a camera for a week or so.

Better photographer 21 days 07

If you’ve only used DSLRs, then a mirrorless camera would be an eye-opening experience. Another educational experience is to really dig into the camera menu. Mess with every button and play with every feature. Keep the camera manual nearby to cross reference anything you’re not sure of, and learn it.

Day #6 – Start a Website

There is no excuse for a Facebook page being used as a website (especially if you want to do this as a business). Your web presence is the first impression people will have of your work, and you know what they say about first impressions. When someone is viewing your images for the first time, send them to a professional website with big bold images, a contact page, and perhaps a short bio.

Today there are totally free options like Wix and Weebly which are perfect for slick portfolio pages. If you want a more powerful platform, check out Squarespace with their photography templates and e-commerce integration.

“First impressions matter. Experts say we size up new people in somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes.” – Elliott Abrams.

Day #7 – Create a Savings Plan to Buy Good Gear

Better photographer 21 days 11

Lenses are a long-term investment, and as such, they are usually quite expensive. Still, a good lens will absolutely make a big impact on your work. For example, a professional quality lens will typically be sharper, faster to focus, easier to create a shallow depth of field with, and have a tougher build for all-weather conditions.

I would go as far as saying that the lens will make more of a difference than the camera. For this reason, it makes sense to build your kit with quality glass. Rather than starting off in photography with debt, start a savings fund for photography gear. Anytime you make extra money (from your photography or otherwise), save a portion of it. If you’re working a day job, try to squirrel away a little each paycheck.

When you do eventually purchase your lens, be sure to pick up a quality UV filter to protect the glass. I once saw a rented 300mm lens smash to the cement. The filter was shattered in hundreds of little pieces while the lens itself was 100% intact.

Better photographer 21 days 14

Week 2

Day #8 – Accept Your Faults

Whether you’re a reclusive introvert or an over-the-top outgoing type A, there is a type of photography for you. The trick is to work with your faults, not against them. If you’re not a people person, perhaps wedding photography isn’t the best role for you. Instead, consider a more solitary pursuit such as travel or wildlife photography. For those with the gift of gab, portraiture might be a perfect fit.

“The learner always begins by finding fault, but the scholar sees the positive merit in everything.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Day #9 – Embrace Success

It sounds counter-intuitive but many people are actually afraid to succeed. Similar to the fear of failure, this can hold one back from fulfilling their dreams. Because success is heavy, it carries a responsibility. It is much easier to procrastinate and live on the “someday I’ll do it” philosophy. Don’t sabotage yourself! Stay focused on all of the good things success can bring.

Better photographer 21 days 19

The writer Denis Waitley says – “People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now.”

Day #10 – Commit to Waking Up an Hour Earlier

I’m not talking about catching sunrise every day, but simply using the extra hour towards your passion for photography. This could be blogging, working on your website, studying, networking, or editing photos. There are endless ways to use the time. Of course, it’s also the best time to take photos as well. Besides there being no one around to spoil your composition, the light is spectacular at dawn and sunrise. It’s also when wildlife and birds are most active.

The coach, George Allen, Sr. said – “Work hard, stay positive, and get up early. It’s the best part of the day.”

Day #11 – Build an “I Quit” Fund

Imagine handing your boss a resignation letter to pursue your career in photography. It happened to me, and it can be your reality as well. Ideally, you want about six months of reserve funds, you can probably get by with three. I know this sounds like a tall order, but it all starts with a single step.

Better photographer 21 days 13

Start a special savings account and add to it every month with funds from your day job. Need help raising the cash? Raid your chest of photo gear and sell anything you haven’t used in at least a year. If you need more, get a part-time job for a while. Eventually, you’ll have enough to leave behind a job you are unhappy with and begin your new career as a photographer.

Day #12 – Meet People in Real Life

Social networks are terrific, but face to face meetings are even more valuable. You may be wondering where to find these like-minded people. Start by joining a local camera club, or visiting a nearby art gallery. Perhaps you can take a photography class at a community college in your area. Bring your business cards to popular photography spots and talk to fellow photographers. You can exchange tips, geek out over gear talk, and share favorite locations.

As another perk, they may recommend you for a job they aren’t interested in. You can potentially get work and experience by simply being cordial. Hey, you may even make some friends along the way. The photo industry is small, so it pays to stick together.

Better photographer 21 days 04

Day #13 – Listen to Your Heart

I know, it’s the title of a song by the 80s band, Roxette. That’s not the point. What is important is to find your passion.

When you look around the web it’s easy to slip into a nasty funk. Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing, even if they’re successful. Follow your gut and do the type of photography that makes you happy. Some people may tell you that being a jack of all trades is not wise. However, if you feel like photographing all kinds of subjects, don’t let anyone stand in your way.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs.

Day #14 – Ask for More Work

It sounds painful, I know, but seeking out more photography work could be one of the best decisions you make. Go on Craigslist, offer to be a second shooter at a wedding. Ask to assist on a portrait shoot, or offer your editing help to a local studio. You have to create your own opportunities as jobs will rarely fall in your lap. As you gain more experience, you’ll also enjoy more exposure.

Better photographer 21 days 20

“There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.” – Charles Kettering.

Week 3

Day #15 – Invest in Your Mind

Invest in yourself, as there is nothing more valuable than your future. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

For photographers, this can be done in a number of ways. Group workshop are a terrific way to expedite the learning curve. If you prefer one-on-one training, you can take private photography lessons. Of course, not all of your efforts have to be paid options. Watching free online tutorials and reading articles (like those here on dPS!) will cost nothing but your time.

Day #16 – Take a Sick Day

You know those extra hours you’ve been saving up at work? Use one day for a photography outing. There are rarely awards for perfect attendance, so what’s the point? There’s nothing quite like an impromptu road trip to lift your spirits and break you out of a creative rut.

Better photographer 21 days 16

Everyone deserves a day to pursue their passion, plus, you’ll be more productive when you return to work. Recharging your batteries is a necessary way to strike a balance between work and play. This is an essential step, so don’t skip it.

Day #17 – Do Volunteer Work

Not only will this make you feel good, but you are using your skills to make the world a kinder place. Coincidentally, my entire business started by volunteering a single print to a non-profit organization’s fundraiser. The winner was an amateur photographer in a nearby town. She reached out to see if I did private lessons. Fast forward nearly 10 years, and I now teach photography full-time.

Although it’s a hotly debated topic, it can absolutely pay to work for free on occasion. Bare in mind, I’m not talking about shooting a wedding for free. The idea is to find an organization you can back, and donate your time or services to them for an afternoon.

“Research has shown that people who volunteer often live longer.” – Allen Klein.

Better photographer 21 days 12

Day #18 – Forget the Haters

When people are hateful, remember this quote by author Shannon L. Adler, “You will face your greatest opposition when you are closest to your biggest miracle.”

Let’s face it, some people will just not be happy when you’re on the verge of something great. Don’t take it personally, as it’s their issue, not yours. Perhaps the most common place for haters to lurk is online, especially in blog post comments or on photography forums. There are even “trolls” who look to instigate trouble under anonymous names. They want you to engage and waste your time. Don’t take the bait, expend your energy, or let them limit your success. They don’t deserve your attention which can be used for much more positive things.

Day #19 – Cut Out Bad Habits

Do you leave your camera on automatic and just fire away? If so, you are doing yourself a disservice. Work to break these bad habits once and for all. Put the camera into manual mode and learn how to properly expose by using the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. This is one area where there are no shortcuts. Without it, it’s like you are driving blindfolded.

Better photographer 21 days 09

Bad habits aren’t formed overnight. Similarly, it will require considerable effort to break them. In photography, you need to be your own coach. This requires that you be honest with yourself. If you catch yourself cheating, replace the bad habit with the proper steps immediately.

“People try to change too much at once and it becomes overwhelming, and they end up falling off the program. So gradually changing bad habits makes much more of a difference than trying to change them all at once.” – Ian K. Smith.

Day #20 – Plan the Night Before

Laying out your clothes the night before is always helpful, but what about taking it a step further. Imagine how much more productive you could be if you planned the entire next day before hitting the sack. This is especially important when you want to spend time doing photography. It involves charging all batteries, formatting memory cards, packing your gear, getting the tripod ready, and gassing up the car. Don’t leave these things for the last minute or you’ll end procrastinating.

Better photographer 21 days 03

It may also help to write down your five most important goals for the next day. Block out the time, add them to your calendar and get ready to have a terrific adventure. If you need caffeine to get going, be sure to set the coffee pot to automatically brew the next morning.

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer.

Day #21 – Start a Journal

You don’t need to write like Anais Nin to keep a journal. For photographers, a simple notebook with sketches and ideas can have a number of benefits. For one, you’ll retain more information by writing it down. You can even spark your creativity by capturing your thoughts in a daydream.

Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal says, “When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable.” This means that complex topics can be worked out on paper in a way that’s easy to digest. Mistakes can be documented as well as solutions. When you look back at it, you can see just how far you’ve come. This ushers in a feeling of accomplishment and encourages you to keep going.

Better photographer 21 days 08


So is it possible to improve your photography in three weeks? I believe it is, and the keys to do so are listed above.

Granted, it’s going to be hard work, but you’ve read this far so you must be hungry for change. In addition to transforming your photography, some of these items can improve the quality of your life. Of course, it doesn’t all happen at once and will require patience. Stick with the program for 21 days, however, and you’ll see the impact.

Consider this my personal guarantee to you. If you really try the steps in this article, I promise you’ll not only be a better photographer but a happier person as well. Leave me a note in the comments to let me know about your progress.

The post How to Improve your Photography in 21 Days by Chris Corradino appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Improve Your Art – The Creative Process in Photography

19 May

As photographers, we all want to be constantly improving our work. However, often this can seem like an uphill struggle, especially when you are just starting out. As an art form, photography is all about the creative process and exploring ideas through images, but in order to really create great images you need to put a plan in place for your own development; especially focused on skills, inspiration, purpose and output. By tackling these elements you can focus your mind and develop your work, to help you produce better and more refined art every time you go out on location.

Creating prints as a final output

Skills – The Basics

In order to get on to the creative elements, having a solid understanding of the base knowledge first is integral to improving your art as a photographer. I’m not going to go into detail here about understanding exposure, depth of field, composition, etc., but these are key things to spend time on.

It may seem like a huge task, but with solid work you can come to grips with being able to shoot in full manual mode easily within a month. After that point, you need to understand the basics as well as the layout of your camera’s functions, helping to make it an extension of yourself and not a distraction from your intended subject. There are a large number of fantastic tutorials here on dPS that can help you to get up to speed and really understand the basics.

Knowing your settings

Focus Days

Taking your learning further is all about practice and persistence, so think about spending a few days focused on certain image types. Set yourself the task of going out the door to just shoot panning images, wide angles, bokeh, etc. This will help you to formulate the skills in your photographer’s arsenal and produce more creative images for the future.

No matter how many years you have been shooting, testing yourself and constantly putting in the time will always help you improve. If you can’t find a whole day, why not a lunch break at work? Small efforts done consistently lead to great results.

Working on a local project

Restrict Yourself

Creativity is something people often believe thrives with options, but in honesty, having too many things to choose from can often dilute your vision and reduce the creativity within your images. Restrict yourself by focusing on a single subject for an extended period of time. Build a long term project in your garden or local nature reserve and keep returning to build upon your images.

Working with primes

Another option is to work with a single focal length or prime lens to explore how you can make the most of what you’ve got. If you don’t have a prime lens use a piece of gaffer tape to hold your zoom lens in position to stop the temptation of zooming in or out. These practices will enhance your skills when it comes to general shooting, as you will be able to quickly select and formulate the ways and ideas you want to shoot.

Create a prime using gaffers tape


In order to get the best out of the images you are taking and the skills you are learning, remember to record them. Working with a simple notebook or online workbook, evaluate the images you have taken for successes and failures, in order to cement the lessons in your mind and learn from your work.

Sketchbook for taking notes


Inspiration is very important for your development as a photographer. Without constant inspiration it can be hard to formulate ideas and develop on past work. Staying inspired doesn’t just mean looking at other photographer’s work, as often over-saturaturation of a single medium can result in less creativity. So it’s better to take input from as wide a range of sources as possible.


A traditional showcase of artwork, galleries are still a fantastic option for gaining some inspiration. The variety of work on show, from ancient works such as stone carvings and cave paintings, through to impressionism and modernism, really do offer a superb variety of visual stimuli. Often, to get the best out of them, attending a tour or showcase day can help, giving you the backstories of the work as well as explaining the techniques and mediums used. This knowledge will inform, and allow you to formulate your own processes when creating images in the field.


As a wildlife photographer, nature is a huge inspiration to me. Heading out on walks, be it with or without a camera, is a great way to soak up some atmosphere. Look at light and shape of the landscape, and pull in ideas for future images.


Looking for line and shape

Buildings offer fantastic inspiration for photography. Lines, form and shape are used to make striking structures and can be a excellent source of inspiration. Focus on looking for the way the shapes are used to form elegant structures or draw your eye to a pivotal point. Additionally, take note of the way shadows form, as this will help you imagine and anticipate lighting for future images.


In the modern world the internet has a huge amount to offer, and with so many fantastic resources it is full of inspiration. Taking a look at photographers’ portfolios, or the feeds of 500px, Flickr, etc. offer superb images that can be the perfect inspiration for your own work. One thing to avoid is that of visual trends, copying styles just because they are popular. It is always worth noting that just because an image doesn’t have many Likes or Favourites” does not deny its worth as inspiration, as images will always mean different things to different people.

In person

A great way to find inspiration is to become part of a community. Heading to events in the photography world such as exhibitions or trade shows can provide a great way to meet like-minded people as well as see some excellent work. Also, think about looking for a local photography group or club. Many areas have these and they offer a great chance to meet up and discuss work and camera techniques with your peers, all the while helping you improve and develop your skills.

Record (again)

Just as above, it’s very important to also record your inspirations. Write down the names of artists and photographers you want to look up, and make notes on what you like and dislike about certain images and media. All of these thoughts and feelings are great to revisit when creating to help formulate and focus your own work. Remember to keep that notebook handy!


Back Garden wildlife

Creativity often needs purpose and so do your images.The most powerful images almost always have a purpose behind them, be it to tell stories, stir emotion, tempt us, or give us a glimpse into something we’ve never seen before. Images with purpose have greater strength.

When wanting to improve your own images look for purpose within your shots. Tell stories through single images or start to work on documenting a larger idea through multiple images. Have the story in your head and shoot frames to help tell it pictorially. Stories don’t need to be huge photojournalist essays, instead start off by just showcasing the mundane, everyday occurrences.

Training yourself to make powerful images of these situations will equip you with the necessary skills for more exciting opportunities in the future. Working on a local project, be it in your back garden or local community, means you can spend a great deal of time focused on your images as well as developing your story and vision.

Always ask yourself the following;

  • Why am I creating this image?
  • What am I trying to show?
  • What are the key elements in this story?
  • How can I find a unique angle?

These thoughts will help you work toward creating stronger images with purpose and meaning, leading to far more creative photography.

Taking inspiration from architecture


Art deserves to be shown and deciding how you are going to output your final work is a great way to focus your creativity. In the modern world, most images just end up on a hard drive, away from the light of day where no one can see them. With all the work and effort you are putting into them, they deserve more.

In terms of being creative with your work, think about how it should best be shown. Often people lean toward online media, showcasing work through the likes of Flickr or Facebook, Although these are a great way of getting work out there, they can numb the creative and learning process somewhat.

Printing your work

Think about outputting to hard media, printing out your work as well as online platforms. There are loads of great ways to produce photo books, magazines and gallery style prints that will look far better and suit certain bodies of work far more. The creative process of learning to design a photo book, bring together a 12-part print collection, or design a magazine spread, will also be an excellent learning curve to help you when working on future projects.

In addition, there is something to be said for holding a final piece of work in your hands. A finished print really is the ultimate moment for an image. Having passed through all of the creative stages from conception and execution, through to editing and final completion in your hands is a great feeling, and one every photographer deserves after finishing an image.


In order to produce more and more creative work it’s all about focusing on the process. The skills behind creating, the inspiration and purpose behind projects, the final results and how they are output. By taking time to think through these stages you can really focus your mind and produce refined work to be proud of, as well as constant develope your skills and grow as a photographer in the future.

The post How to Improve Your Art – The Creative Process in Photography by Tom Mason appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How Understanding Your Learning Style Can Improve Your Photography

28 Apr

Lady in the blue hat walked into my shot and I chose to include her to emphasize the size of the trees and the distance of the park


It’s an exciting time, going to the camera shop, discussing options, making the final choice, parting with a reasonable sum of money. Finally the anticipation of getting home and unpacking your shiny new camera gear. Suddenly all the dials and buttons seem so much more confusing, the manual may not explain things enough. The menus are complicated so it’s easiest to switch over to Auto mode and leave it there while you try to figure it out.

Six months later what’s happening with your camera? Are you still using it? Is it still on Auto or have you tried other modes? Did you decide it was too hard and the camera is gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere (this is more common than you may realize)?

Toi Toi silhouetted by sunset – an experiment in backlighting.

Learning to learn is a skill that also needs to be developed

Learning a new skill is difficult. It takes commitment to put time and effort into the learning process. It requires you to admit you are at the beginner stage, where you will struggle to produce the quality of work that you want. Learning is a process which requires you to put some thought and structure into working out a process that is right for you. Different people learn in different ways, so it’s helpful for you to understand how you prefer to learn. Why?

  •  Value: If you are spending money on a course or a workshop, you want to make sure you are going to get the best value out of it.
  • Time: Learning takes time, so when choosing an option, knowing your preferences helps maximize your benefits.
  • Fun: It’s more fun if you are learning in a way that you enjoy.
  • Return: You are more likely to invest the time and effort into something that makes sense to you and shows a return on your investment.
  • Pain avoidance: No one enjoys doing something painful or difficult for the sake of it.
  • Find the best sources: Information is everywhere but varies in quality – you need to sift the good from the not so good.

Narrow depth of field, focused on the sparrow using a 70-200mm lens at a distance.

Learning styles

While there are many theories on learning styles, there are three basic types that apply to most people:

  1. Auditory learners – learn by hearing and listening – you may prefer to read things out loud as you store information by the way it sounds to you.
  2. Visual learners – like to see what you are learning as either pictures or words – you understand and remember things that you see.  May use flash cards or similar for studying.
  3. Tactile learners – you learn best by being hands on – touching things, taking them apart, twiddling with the settings (probably not listening to a speaker while you are doing it).

Of course, most people are a combination of all of these styles but you will likely have a preference for one or two. Understanding them can help you make choices around developing your own personal approach to learning photography. There are many options. Some don’t need lots of money but others might cost quite a lot, and it’s difficult to know in advance if it will be worth it.

Swan Yoga – if you take time to sit and be with your subject, all sorts of interesting things might happen

Opportunities for learning photography

  1. Books, magazines and other printed material – can be purchased, downloaded in digital format or borrowed from libraries.
  2. Online tutorials – short tutorials on a specific subject.
  3. Video courses – can be watched for free online or many options can be purchased.
  4. Short workshops (a day or less) – attend in person – usually listening to a speaker plus opportunities for questions and hands-on experimenting.
  5. Long workshops (several days) – attend in person – some travel may be involved, often with a specific focus, planned talks plus time for independent shooting, discussion sessions, editing sessions.
  6. One-on-one tutoring – customized service offered by some professionals where you can have a training session targeted to a particular subject.
  7. Small groups – similar to one-on-one tutoring but with 3-5 students.
  8. Camera clubs – often organize workshops or field trips for members with the aim of learning for everyone, often a safe place to ask questions.
  9. Photography forums – online forums where photographers gather to post images and share information, might be general or around a specific subject (landscapes or birds).
  10. Online courses – structured learning courses hosted online aimed at a range of capabilities from beginner to advanced (rather than random videos) on specific topics.
  11. Formal education – University Degree courses in photography and other tertiary institutes are available.
  12. Apprentice or intern – offering to work for free assisting a professional and learning on the job.
  13. Mentor – someone experienced who is happy to answer questions, go for a bit of a photo walk, give you tips and advice (be nice and buy them lunch).
  14. Organize your own DIY photography retreat focused on specific techniques.
  15. PRACTICE!! – take your camera out and use it as often as you can.

Learning the hard way about photographing a subject in bright sunlight – washed out colors and harsh shadows as the result.

How to choose?

There are many choices listed above and even within just one of those options, there are many more choices – thousands of books available, tons of YouTube videos, loads of courses and workshop options. That workshop in Iceland might sound super exciting but are you okay with learning outside in some possibly dodgy weather, where you have to drive and hike for hours? Maybe you have to camp and will be tired and grumpy from getting up early in the morning to get the sunrise.

Would you prefer a structured classroom environment, where you can interact with students and the teacher for questions and discussion? Does it suit you better to watch videos at home after work, when the kids are in bed and you can pause them to write notes, or play the same step over and over until you understand it?

Practicing isolating a subject from the background and blurring with bokeh effect.

We are all busy people, with limited spare time to dedicate to our hobbies and passions. So it makes sense to maximize the value of your time spent learning. Understand what your personal preferences are and then take the next steps.

Learning factors

  •  If you like to read do you need to buy expensive printed books or magazines – does your library have them? Can you get them cheaper in digital format? Can you borrow them?
  • The voice of the person presenting a video course is important – do they speak in a language or an accent you can understand? Do they present in a style that you like? Are they to the point or do they waffle all over the place and take twice as long to get the point across? Is the video a “talking head” or are they demonstrating the subject matter in some way? Is it something you can listen to for hours without getting annoyed or a headache?
  • When attending a workshop is there time allocated for questions and discussion? What reviews do the workshop speakers get from other attendees?
  • Are there sample videos available for you to hear/see speakers present so you can get a feel for their delivery style and approach to the subject matter?
  • Do you get frustrated in a group of mixed ability? If you are new and need a lot of help do you feel uncomfortable asking questions, or if you are more advanced do you feel held back when beginners are present?
  • Is the subject matter relevant to what you want to achieve? Do you have a chance to clarify goals and outcomes with a workshop presenter or speaker in advance?
  • Do you have the time or money for more formal education? Is it really necessary or a nice to have in the overall scheme of things?
  • Does being in a group of strangers bother you or inspire you?
  • How much time or money do you have available?

All these factors can have an affect on how well you will learn. It would be a real shame to spend several thousand dollars on a workshop in an exotic location to find that you get very little out of it. Or you might discover the most helpful channel on YouTube that really resonates with you.

Using flash on a dull overcast day seemed like a good idea until you see the bright highlights in the final image

How do we learn?

Research tells us that the best way to learn is via a technique called “distributed practice” which is where you study in an intense burst and then take a break, and keep repeating this cycle. Photography lends itself well to this style as it is often taken up as a hobby to be done in spare time. So allocating a weekend or an evening when you have time to focus on a particular style or technique, and then having a break is actually okay.

Applying some variety to your learning process improves outcomes as well. You could apply this easily with photography by changing the subject matter you are shooting. Or take your camera into different situations. Moving between similar topics can help you see connections or understand concepts in a different way. Bear in mind that getting out of your comfort zone is an important learning opportunity too, so be prepared to push your boundaries as well.

NZ Native Tui – shot in an enclosure at a nature park

Teaching someone else also helps you retain knowledge more effectively too. Writing things down after a learning session is also a recommended way to improve knowledge retention. Perhaps start a photography blog and share your learning journey with others? Keeping track of your achievements is important to give you a sense of scale (i.e. how far you have come from being a complete beginner) and it also motivates you to move forward, knowing that you have mastered some learning steps.

Learning to see from a different viewpoint is important as a photographer, as is taking chances and experimenting – this is a chair


Ultimately everyone learns on their own but the learning doesn’t truly happen until there is a link between action and reflection (i.e. what was I trying to achieve and did I manage it?) You must be prepared to experiment, and with experimentation there comes failure.

No one likes to fail as there is a lot of ego tied up in success. So to truly learn you must suspend your ego, embrace failure and admit to yourself that you can improve. These days with digital it’s more or less free to shoot as many frames as you want. So other than the cost of time, it’s never been more cost effective to get into photography (after the initial hardware purchase, of course).

Both the foreground and background were important in this image, composition was a challenge

Spend some time on this

Learning also requires you to move out of your comfort zone and do different things, try new styles. It requires you to actively think about what you are doing, what outcomes you are trying to achieve, and analyzing how and why you did (or didn’t) achieve them. Yes, you can just go out and randomly shoot and put no more work into it than that. However, any improvement is likely to be slow. It’s difficult to produce work of a consistent quality if you don’t understand how you got there in the first place.

Take a bit of time to understand your best learning style, look at the available options, try a few out. Maybe ask for recommendations from other beginners. Accept that it’s okay to say, “I’m new at this and I need some help.” In general, many people are happy to offer advice, after all, they were once new at it too.

Playing with an old vintage lens with manual focus and odd imperfections that did strange things around the edges was a fun afternoon field trip.


Investing in your own personal learning process is important. Learning a new skill can happen via osmosis but improvement will be slow and the process is frustrating for many. So much so that they may give up completely as it was too hard. Having a considered structured approach gives you an achievable goal to aim for – it’s even better if you break it down into smaller milestones so you get some sense of accomplishment at each step.

Learning a new skill takes time, so why not ensure that your time is well spent in the learning you are doing. Often there is a cost involved, so investing time in understanding a good learning choice for yourself is also important. Keep in mind that your learning journey will never be finished, don’t get lazy or complacent once you reach a certain level of mastery, there will always be something new to try.

Most of all, it should be fun!

Long exposure as the tide was going out after sunset.

(Note:  All the images provided are ones taken by the author on her learning journey which started 10 years ago and is only now getting to the really fun stuff!)

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Upcoming Fujifilm GFX 50S firmware update promises to improve AF, exposure compensation

19 Apr

In addition to announcing a handful of new medium format GF lenses, Fujifilm also unveiled plans for the first major firmware update for the GFX 50S medium format camera. According to the Fujifilm press release:

“Fujifilm will release a free firmware update for the FUJIFILM GFX 50S later this spring, adding new functionality and improving operability. New functions include computer tethering via Wi-Fi and improved operability in exposure compensation and autofocus performance in difficult scenes.”

We recently reviewed the Fujifilm GFX 50S and while we gave the camera a gold award, it was noted that AF speed and reliability was one area ripe for improvement. We also were disappointed in the lack of a dedicated exposure compensation button, so perhaps this update will make accessing that functions less annoying. Furthermore, the addition of a Wi-Fi tethering feature should go a long way to making the GFX 50S appeal to studio shooters.

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Five Ways to Improve Your Composition Skills

15 Apr

Composition is one of the most important skills you can learn as a photographer. The interesting thing about composition is that it’s all to do with observation and learning to see. You may need to invest in a book or two to help you understand the basic principles, but nothing more. It’s a much more cost-effective way of becoming a better photographer than buying a new camera or lens!

There are five things you can do right away to improve your composition skills.

Composition and photography

1. Learn how to use your camera properly

The aim is to know your camera so well that you can photograph without thinking about it. This comes through familiarity and practice.

Try this exercise. Close your eyes and pick up your camera. Which buttons and dials do you need to use to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and autofocus? How do you select the active AF (autofocus) point? How do you apply exposure compensation? If you don’t know the answers without looking, then read your manual. You should be so familiar with these settings that you can adjust them automatically, with no more than a glance at your camera.

Learn this simple approach

Digital cameras have lots of menu options and it’s easy to get caught up in adjusting settings. I suggest you ignore most of them and keep your approach simple. Here’s how:

  • Always shoot RAW format and set White Balance to Daylight or Auto and keep it there. Pick one camera profile and stick with it. You can adjust all of these settings afterward in Lightroom.
  • Don’t touch any settings such as lens corrections, contrast, dynamic range, noise reduction, sharpness or highlight preservation. These are all irrelevant if you shoot RAW.
  • Don’t switch between metering modes. Stick to one and learn how it works.
  • Understand your camera’s focus modes and when to use each one.
  • Learn how to select the active AF point so you can make the camera focus where you want.
  • Make sure you know how to switch to Manual shooting mode and when you should do so.
  • Learn how to apply exposure compensation, preferably without taking your camera away from your eye.

For most forms of photography, you don’t need to know anything more than that. The main exception is anything that involves fast action, as you may need to adjust your camera’s autofocus settings to suit. The idea is to know your camera so well that you can concentrate on observing the subject and finding the best possible composition.

Composition and photography

Some photographers say that the dials on cameras like the Fujifilm X-T1 (shown above) and old style film cameras help them adjust settings quickly.

Fiddling with your camera’s settings is a distraction. The more attention you pay to your settings, the less you’ll pay to the composition of your images.

2. Look beyond the obvious

The first viewpoint you find when you take a photo of something may not be the best or most interesting.

When you find a worthwhile subject spend some time with it. Try and look beyond what first attracted you to it. This is called working the subject.

  • What happens if you photograph it from another angle?
  • With another lens?
  • Or if you get closer or further away?
  • Is there anything interesting about the subject that you have overlooked?

For example, if you are taking someone’s portrait it might be because they have a captivating or beautiful face. But what else is interesting about them? Their clothes? Jewelry? Tattoos? Look beyond the face and see what you can find.

Composition and photography

I made some portraits of a friend of mine. But he also has interesting hands. After I made the portraits I asked him to hold his hands out and made this photo.

3. Educate your eye

You can learn a lot about composition by studying the work of master photographers. It’s time to pick some photographers whose work you like and get analytical. I like looking at photos taken decades ago. Photographers back then worked with much simpler equipment and didn’t have our technological advantages. Yet the best still created beautifully composed images.

So, how did they do it? When looking at somebody else’s work ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they working in black and white or color? How would switching from one to the other affect the composition?
  • What is the focal point of the image? Is it positioned in the frame according to the rule of thirds or could there be other principles at work?
  • What shapes and patterns do you see?
  • Is there any negative space in the photo? How much room does the subject have to breathe?
  • Is the photo balanced or unbalanced? What is the visual relationship between the various elements in the scene? Which are dominant and which are secondary in importance?
  • Can you tell what lens focal length the photographer may have used? How would using a different focal length affect the composition?
  • How did the photography create a sense of depth?

Questions like these deepen your understanding of the work of other photographers. The answers inform your work as you evolve as a photographer.

Composition and photography

This landscape scene was lit by the light reflected from the clouds and sky after the sun disappeared below the horizon. I first became aware of the beauty of this type of light when looking at the work of Galen Rowell, a famous adventure and landscape photographer.

4. Work with geometry and symmetry

Learn to look for shapes in your photos. A good place to start is with anything man-made, as we tend to build things with recognizable shapes like triangles, squares, and circles.

Repeating shapes create patterns and symmetry that can also form the basis of an interesting composition.

For example, when you look at this photo, what do you see?

At first glance, it’s a photo of an outdoor cinema screen in a Chinese village. But look closely and you start to see shapes. The rectangle of the screen is an obvious one. But did you notice the diamonds made by the pattern in the flooring? Or the organic shapes of the Chinese characters on the wall?

5. Use punctuation and gesture

Jay Maisel talks a lot about gesture and Bob Holmes talks about punctuation. Look up the work of these two photographers to learn more about these concepts.

Punctuation is the addition of something interesting, often a human figure, that completes a scene. The photo needs that little something extra to lift it above the ordinary. Punctuation is an important part of street and travel photography.

For example, this photo is completed and made stronger by the presence of the woman in the doorway.

Composition and photography

In his book “Light, Gesture & Color” Jay Maisel defines gesture as the thing that reveals the essence of the subject. Everything has it. Gesture takes us beyond the superficial to the essence of the subject and reveals itself through observation.

Imagine you are photographing a mountain. What do you see? Maybe it’s the shape of the mountain against the sky. The textures of the rocks scattered over the surface, the steepness of its cliffs, or the way that clouds wrap themselves around the summit. All these things are part of the gesture of the mountain, the things that make it what it is.

With people, gesture is a mixture of body language and attitude. If you are making a street photo it may be in the body language or appearance of somebody in the photo. If you are making a more formal portrait it is something in the model’s expression or body language that helps create mood or communicate character.

In this photo the pose and expression of the dancer are gesture.

Composition and photography - gesture

Punctuation and gesture are advanced concepts. But it’s worth thinking about how you can apply them to your photos, as they help make the composition of your images stronger.


Composition is an important skill. It takes time to master, but it’s worth the effort as the quality of your photos will improve immensely.

Do you have any other suggestions for ways to improve your composition skills? Please let us know in the comments. I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas you come up with.

Andrew is the author of the ebook Mastering Composition.

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Why Wireless Tethering Will Improve Your Photography

20 Mar

As a photographer, shooting tethered is one of the best ways to improve your photography skills. Tethering helps you zoom into the details of your shots on a big screen so you can make adjustments as you go. It also encourages collaboration by keeping your photo subject or client engaged if they’re on location with you. In this article, I’ll explain what tethered shooting is and why wireless tethering with an app like CamRanger is the best choice.

What is tethering?

By definition, tethering is when a mobile device shares its internet connection with another device. This can be done through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a physical connection cable (e.g. USB). Many mobile phones can tether to share their Wi-Fi with laptops or tablets. Similarly, cameras can tether as well. But in the case of tethered shooting with a camera, the purpose is to transmit images from the camera directly to another device such as a laptop computer or tablet.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 11

The cheapest and most efficient way to shoot tethered is to use a wired connection. All you need is a standard USB cable that connects to your camera and tethering software such as Capture One, Adobe Lightroom, or DSLR Controller. Wired tethering is very cheap, and it’s extremely quick. There’s practically no delay between pressing the shutter on your camera and seeing the resulting image pop up on your screen. Get more info and a detailed step-by-step guide to wired tethering here.

What is wireless tethering?

However, the main disadvantage with wired tethering is the cable. It can easily get unplugged from your camera or laptop and mess up the tethered connection. The cable can also be a hazard on set, causing you or your photo subject to trip over it. This is where wireless tethering can come in handy. If you shoot on location and can’t be bothered with a cable limiting your movement, wireless tethering is an option you may want to explore.

When you tether wirelessly, you plug a device such as CamRanger into your camera and use it to create a wireless network. Any device such as a laptop or tablet can join that wireless network and your images are transmitted wirelessly every time you press the shutter button. You can even remotely control the camera from your tethered computer or tablet.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 10

Why CamRanger is the Best Wireless Tethering Device

There are several wireless tethering devices available, and I tried many of them out in search of the one that would work best. My devices requiring connectivity included a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 6D cameras, Android smartphone, and Apple laptop computer. Although it’s the most expensive, CamRanger is my wireless tethering device of choice. Here’s why:

1. Minimal stuff in the box

The contents in the CamRanger box are very minimal, consisting of just a few cables, a case, simple instructions, and the unit itself. I really loved the zippered case with a carabiner that easily fit all of the items. One thing that would be nice to have is the CamRanger hot shoe mounting device, which has to be purchased separately.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering

2. Intuitive setup

After unboxing CamRanger, setup is pretty simple. Begin by downloading the CamRanger app to your tethering device of choice. Currently, you can download the CamRanger app for iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android devices, Kindle Fire, and both Mac and Windows computers.

Next, switch on the CamRanger device so that it broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal. This might take a minute or two. Then connect your tethering device, with the app installed, to the CamRanger Wi-Fi network using the CamRanger’s serial number as the Wi-Fi password. Boom! You’re ready to shoot!

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 01

CamRanger desktop app allows for wireless tethering and remote camera control.

3. Compatible with Canon and Nikon

CamRanger will work with both Canon and Nikon DSLRs. For a full list of compatible cameras, check out their website.

How CamRanger actually works

Whenever you shoot tethered with CamRanger, the device stores image previews in a cache on your device. The actual files are still written to your camera’s CF or SD memory card like usual. While the wireless transfer of images can definitely be slow, this process can be sped up if you change your camera preferences to shoot in JPG only, or RAW + JPG. Transferring JPG images goes much faster than RAW images.

Another huge benefit of CamRanger is the option to switch the app into Client Mode. This allows you to hand your tethered device over to your client to preview images created in real time, without allowing them to remotely control your camera so you can keep shooting. It’s a clever feature that really adds value.

CamRanger Wireless Tethering 11

In practice, there are a few limitations of CamRanger to be aware of. First, note that wireless tethering still has a limited range of about 100-150 feet. If your camera and connected device drift outside of this range, you risk losing connectivity. Second, CamRanger does have a decent battery life of 5-6 hours by itself, but using it in conjunction with Live View on your camera can drain your camera batteries quickly.

CamRanger Positive Features

  • Very easy to setup and start using immediately
  • Built-in features include focus stacking, bracketing, and intervalometer
  • Minimal pieces, so it is easy to travel with
  • Lets clients easily see my images and give feedback
  • Reduces time in post-processing by making real-time adjustments when shooting
  • Eliminates the long, hazardous USB cable needed for wired tethering

What about built-in Wi-Fi?

If you have a camera with built-in Wi-Fi, you can probably remote control your camera and perform some tethering functions. As an example, I have the Canon 6D DSLR which has Wi-Fi connectivity. This is great for wirelessly transmitting images to my mobile phone and for doing some remote camera control via the Canon Camera Connect mobile phone app. However, no such app exists for my laptop, so I cannot wirelessly connect to my computer without using another device and USB cable. This is why I still use CamRanger to shoot tethered from my laptop, even with my Wi-Fi enabled camera.

CamRanger Alternatives

There are a couple of other popular CamRanger alternatives that also permit you to do wirelessly tethering. I tried both of these options out and found they weren’t nearly as comprehensive or reliable as CamRanger.

  • CamFi
  • Tether Tools Case Air

In Conclusion

Do you shoot tethered? What do you think about the pros and cons of wireless tethered shooting? Let me know in the comments below!

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5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

09 Mar

On now until March 21st (AUS time) get Anthony Epes’ Online Light Monkeys Photo Group – Yearly Membership – 55% OFF at Snapndeals. 

Having run photo workshops for several years now, I have noticed some familiar traits that many people share with their photography. So I’ve put together some tips that I feel will help you improve your photography – straight away. These little ideas have the potential to make a huge impact on your image creation.

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

1. Have patience

“Genius is patience. – Isaac Newton

Patience is a skill I think many amateur photographers sorely lack. This matters because photography is often a waiting game – waiting for the subject to get into position, for the light to change, or working the elements of your photo into a perfect composition. If you are not prepared to be patient, you’re not going to get many shots you like.

Many amateur photographers are so driven by the desire to have a full memory card at the end of the day that they don’t take the time to set up or wait for a great shot.

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

This could involve recognizing that the light isn’t great now, but it might change in an hour. Or it might be setting up a great composition and then waiting until the right person stands in a precise spot. It could be shooting a person or a scene over and over until you get an expression or angle that reveals something unique and interesting and creates a more impactful photo.

“You get more by waiting than you do by moving. You wait for the light to come and it will change the world in front of you.” – Peter Fiore

I believe a lot of it comes down to people’s expectations. For me, getting one amazing shot in a day’s shooting is a good result. Sometimes I go out and get nothing, sometimes I get a half a dozen, sometimes I just get one.

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography
You need to be patient and take the time to work your scene and build a fantastic composition. Forget the next spot and the next subject. If you find something that really inspires you then stop, be patient, and work the scene until you’ve made the best photo possible. Take 10, 20, even 50 photos if you need to!

“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.”– Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

2. Free yourself from fear

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” – Jack Canfield

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

When you are involved in a creative act, you will at some point be faced with one of the greatest forces known to man – fear. It is pervasive in our lives, and it can create havoc with your photography.

For example, most of the photographers I teach have a fear of photographing strangers; this is very common. Now, you can either give into that fear and not photograph the subjects you really yearn to – or you can deal with.

I still get fearful sometimes after twenty-odd years in the business. Sometimes I go to new places and feel self-conscious, or get intimidated to shoot someone whose look I like. It doesn’t really matter what it is, fear is always fear and it can stop you from taking action if you don’t face it.


I deal with fear by just recognizing that it’s there. That fear has decided to show its face, and I just let it be there, knowing that eventually, it will drift off. I don’t let it stop me, that’s the key. After all, I love photography. I love the whole process of taking photos. Although this was said by an athlete, it is so relevant to photographers, and it’s worth reminding yourself that:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky

Remember – on the other side of fear is possibly an amazing image.

3. Think geometrically

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

“The only joy in photography is geometry. All the rest is sentiment.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I read recently that Henri Cartier-Bresson would choose which images to print by examining his contact sheets and work out which have the best geometric composition. By looking at them when they were printed small, he could see the shape and form of the photo, rather than the subject. He would then choose his photos based on which of them had the best geometric composition.

Of course, the subject is important, their expression, the light, etc., but I like this idea of concentrating on the geometric elements of the photo. The reason being that all elements of the photo count, and having a strong organization of the shapes and forms, which is essentially the geometric elements of the photo, will create a strong composition.

“I like form and shape and strength in pictures.” – Herb Ritts

4. Stop fixating on your subject

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

I have noticed that many people learning photography become totally fixated on a subject that they love, but forget to compose the other elements of their photo.

For example, you see someone you think is awesome-looking. You start photographing them, without consideration for rest of the frame. You don’t look all the way into the corners of the composition, you overlap your subject with telephones or trees coming out of their head, nor do you notice lines running randomly out of the photo drawing the eye away from the subject.

Even though the frame may feel pretty small, often people don’t look at every part of the composition to see if the whole is working together. It is always about the whole image, not just what is currently fascinating you! It takes practice and concentration folks – all of the elements in your frame need to be relevant and work well with the subject.

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

5. Learn to become an observer

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt

This tip is important. The best state of mind in which to take photographs is one of complete creative freedom, in the creative flow, where you are undistracted by your life outside of that very moment. Where you have forgotten about your to-do list and the thousands of emails you need to answer. You are just standing in the moment, looking around, noticing everything, and empty of thoughts about what else is going on in your life.

That’s easy right?

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography

No, not always. For many, it’s super hard because what you do in your work and rest of your life requires skills which are exactly the opposite. Holding tons of small pieces of information, remembering, doing and rushing around with the business of life.

Much as we may like to think that photography is all about technique and kit, it is actually an inner game. I don’t really much care what gear you have, even though I love a new camera as much as the next person. The best photographers I’ve come across are completely in tune with their environment. They study the world around them and don’t constantly try to be in it doing, but instead, they look and observe.

This might be something you need to cultivate – and it’s totally possible to attain, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Something in you has been drawn to photography, to the visual world and to express yourself visually. So you already have potential inside of you to become a great observer.

5 Things That Will Instantly Improve Your Photography


Hopefully, these ideas have helped point you in the direction of deepening, developing and improving your photography. It’s so rewarding to work on simple ideas that have a great impact on your photos.

I’d love to know what you think of these tips, please comment below.

On now until March 21st (AUS time) get Anthony Epes’ Online Light Monkeys Photo Group – Yearly Membership – 55% OFF at Snapndeals. 

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