If you would have asked me three years ago on the day I bought my camera if I thought I’d make a living taking pictures and shooting video I probably would’ve laughed hysterically. As a high school senior, my intention was always to pursue business, so photo and video were never on my radar.
Growing up, I always loved the outdoors, so naturally when I began shooting that was my main focus. Today, my work mainly revolves around adventure, travel and lifestyle photography and video. During the week I’m your average college student, just trying to make it through the next 90 minutes of lecture, but when weekends roll around you’ll most likely find me chasing the Milky Way at 2:00am, longboarding down Glacier Point Road, or exploring a new trail along the California Coast.
It wasn’t always this way. Before working with TRI and as an adventure photographer, I worked as a Target cashier and had no idea how to work a camera.
Whether you’re just starting off like I was three years ago, or you love photography and you’re looking to take even better pictures, here are my top nine tips to take your photography to the next level!
1. Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!
If there’s one thing that I wish someone would have told me when I first bought my camera, it’s the importance of practice. This almost sounds like a no-brainer but it’s often overlooked by a lot of people just getting into photography. With memory cards being able to store more pictures than ever before, don’t worry about making every picture a keeper! On a recent trip to Yosemite National Park I shot close to 900 pictures, 800 of which never even made it to editing in Lightroom. I’m not kidding when I say just get out and shoot!
2. Become an expert with your camera.
I’ll be the first to say that not all cameras are created equal. As a die-hard Canon shooter I recently picked up a Sony mirrorless camera and quickly realized that in my hands it was the world’s most expensive paperweight. This isn’t to say that the camera isn’t great, I just had no idea how to use it when I first picked it up. Familiarize yourself with your camera’s zoom, flash, in-camera settings, etc. and don’t hesitate to play around with all the different settings your camera has to offer. Regardless of if you’re shooting on a point and shoot, action camera or a DSLR, become an expert using your camera.
3. Compose your pictures.
When improperly composed, even what looked to be a picture-perfect moment can become a picture that leaves you disappointed. Generally speaking you want to frame your pictures to create balance between the subject and background. Take for example these next two images; each one is composed very differently even though there is only one subject in each of the pictures.
At this point you’re probably thinking I’m crazy, and I get it: these are both pictures of some guy with their back to the camera, but take a closer look and notice how your eyes read them. The picture of the tunnel draws your vision vertically because of the ceiling and rails, whereas the sunset picture does it horizontally because of the horizon. At the same time the empty space is relatively in sync with the rest of the picture and not too much weight is given to the railroad or ceiling and the grass or sky respectively.
4. Be aware of your surroundings.
It happens to the best of us: you take a picture and when you get home, you realize there’s a garbage can in the back that looks completely out of place in your nice family photo. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have some deep hate for garbage cans, but they simply don’t look good in any type of photo.
The garbage can is just an example, but it’s one that shows that the little things do matter when you take a picture. Look around, and pay attention to what is going to be in the background. This takes very little time to do and will make a huge difference if the photos you take.
5. Expensive gear does not mean better pictures.
I made this mistake big time. When I purchased my first camera (a Canon T3i), I almost immediately decided that the lens it came with was not going to cut it. So what did I do? I went out and bought a lens that was close to twice as expensive as my camera body. The result was…mediocre pictures at best.
This wasn’t a reflection of the quality of the lens – in fact it’s currently my favorite lens to use. But at the time I didn’t know how to use my camera to it’s full potential.
Think about a camera as a tool, if you don’t know how to use it right, it’s just a really nice paperweight. Make the most of the gear you have and don’t go out and buy a $1000 camera in hopes of getting great pictures right away. Below are two pictures that were taken at the same spot; one on a GoPro Hero 2 (above), the other on the Canon DSLR with the expensive lens (below). As you can tell, the expensive lens and camera didn’t help as much as I thought it would.
6. Light is important. Really important.
Think about a camera as a digital version of the human eye. In complete darkness it’s hard to see, and during a really sunny day everything seems to glare back at you. Just like there are times when it’s easier to see outside, there are better times than others during the day to shoot.
if you have the time and patience, it might be worth your while to wait for ideal lighting, especially if you’re shooting outdoors. The Golden Hour is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day. During this time you can capture warm colors, great shadows and a moody sky. If you are shooting indoors, play around with your camera’s flash and don’t be afraid to use it! Sometimes using the flash will solve the problem. In the event that it doesn’t, move to another place indoors that has better lighting.
7. Be ready!
Let’s face it, moments come and go and photography is all about capturing the moment. Some of the best pictures I’ve ever taken have been shot under less-than-ideal conditions and in the spur of the moment. The last thing you want to do is miss a shot because of dead camera batteries, having your lens cap on or having to start up your camera. These things sound like they take close to no time to do, but when your buddy is standing on the edge of a mountain the last thing you want to have to yell is, “Wait! Stay right there! Let me turn on my camera!”
8. Be patient.
Some picture perfect moments will require you to wait a little, and even then, be ready!
This is probably the hardest thing to start doing because being patient isn’t always easy. With work, school and other responsibilities, a lot of us are always on the go, so slowing down to take a picture doesn’t seem too important.
As an avid outdoorsman I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had to just sit and wait on the side of a trail to let people walk by so they are not in the frame. Is it a big deal to have other hikers in my shots? In my style of photography….absolutely, and it’s just something I’ve learned to deal with and work around. In short, don’t settle, slow down, be patient and wait for the moment.
9. Have a plan….Even if you break it.
Whether you’re just starting off or a serious amatuer, it’s always good to have a plan when you take pictures. Now you don’t need to stick to the plan 100%, but having one is better than not.
I frequently get asked, “How did you get that shot?!” and to a lot of people it comes as a surprise when I start telling them about the plan I had that day. Believe me when I say there is a method to the madness!Some days I have a picture planned out methodically to the extent that I know what time the sun will be setting or when and where the Milky Way will be visible.
Don’t sweat it you don’t have the most thought out plan in the world, but have one!
Those are my tips for taking great photos – happy shooting!