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How to be a good photographer in 23 bitesize tips
To be a good photographer, you need creativity, imagination, and an eye for detail. But that’s just scratching the surface. You must also understand your equipment, obsess over your images, and push yourself to learn.
This article is a good place to start.
Here we share a mix of tips for beginners and more advanced photographers alike.
How to take better photos
Let’s talk settings and gear.
1. Understand your ISO settings and when to change them
The ISO settings brighten or darken photos. The higher the number, the brighter the photo. If you routinely switch from shooting at day to night, or vice-versa, you could spoil an otherwise great photo by having your ISO number set too high (or too low).
2. Get the measure of your meter
Your camera’s built-in metering sensor will adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity to optimize exposure. Do you want a balance between light and dark? Or to select a focal point (e.g. for a portrait)? Choose the metering method to match your scene and creative vision.
3. Understand the differences between your lenses (and when to use them)
Certain lenses will produce certain effects. Wide-angle lenses distort the image, while telephoto lenses compress it. To become a good photographer, you don’t just need to know the difference between your lenses, you need to know when it’s the appropriate time and place to use it.
4. Don’t let your camera take the lead
Modern cameras are smart, but they don’t always know best. Take the autofocus mode, for example. You should understand what your camera’s trying to do when it autofocuses on a particular part of the frame -- but you should also know how to overrule it if it’s not the type of photograph that you want to take.
5. Remember: A great camera doesn’t make you a great photographer
The most expensive, feature-laden camera will still take bad photographs if used incorrectly. Likewise, if you place a run-of-the-mill smartphone camera in the right hands, it can be used to produce jaw-dropping visuals. The hardware at your disposal will not make or break you as a photographer.
When you’re out & about: tips for taking better photos + safety
6. Always be aware of your surroundings
Looking at the world through your camera’s viewfinder can often make you oblivious to your surroundings. Don’t put yourself or others in danger for the sake of the “perfect” shot.
7. Plan for night shoots
If you’re heading out into the darkness for your next photography job, you should have a grasp of what’s going on above you. Knowing when and where certain celestial bodies will appear in the night’s sky can take your photographs from good to great.
8. Plan for the weather, too
Likewise, capturing certain weather events (snow, lightning, cloud cover, etc.) can add depth and drama to your photographs. But don’t step outside with your fingers crossed. Keep an eye on weather reports and plan meticulously for every eventuality.
9. Be patient
Shooting outdoors is often all about giving yourself over to the unpredictability of nature. It’s not like working in a studio where you have control over every little detail. Take your time, be patient, and let the elements come together.
What does a photographer wear?
10. Pack light
A sore back or neck from lugging around way too much gear can really spoil an outside shoot. Pack only what you need and enjoy yourself. And don’t worry about leaving stuff behind -- it can often force you to be more creative in the moment.
11. Make sure your camera is accessible
The best camera is the one you have on you when you need it. But the last thing you want is your camera swinging around your neck and getting in the way as you hike to your next location.
Scottish adventure photographer, Martin Carrera, has the answer: “My favourite solution for putting my camera at my fingertips is the peak design capture clip. Able to fit on almost every backpack strap or belt, it allows you to grab your camera and have it ready in seconds.”
12. Dress for your own adventure
Before you venture into the great outdoors, consider what you want your shoot to look like.
Are you planning on locating a spot, framing your shot, and then waiting for the sunrise? Think about additional layers for when you stop and start to cool down.
And what does a photographer wear if they’re tackling a mountain, or aiming to catch multiple locations on the ascent? “Choose lighter clothing that you can layer up,” says Martin, “and don’t forget pockets for those smaller items. You don’t want to stop every time to go through your backpack looking for a spare battery or a cleaning cloth.”
13. Get your gloves on
Winter offers a new dynamic for outdoor shoots. But you won’t get that perfect photo if your hands are too numb to hold the camera. Invest in a quality pair of gloves, and keep their dual purpose in mind when you do.
“Remember that you’re going to want to operate your camera controls while wearing the gloves, so don’t just opt for the thickest,” explains Martin. “Also, many cameras have touchscreen capabilities, so choosing compatible gloves is highly recommended.”
How to take better photos?
Try putting your camera down.
14. Read your manual
It’s not the most fun bedtime reading, but taking the time to flip through your camera’s manual could save you from multiple headaches further down the line.
15. Spend time reviewing your old images
Think about what worked, and what didn’t with your old photos. If you had the chance to take that photograph again, what would you do differently?
16. Study the photos of photographers you admire
What do you like about them? What do you dislike? What would you change? Do you understand how they produced a certain effect? No? Then learn! Even better, reach out to them on social media (if possible) and ask questions.
17. See light everywhere you go
Get into the habit of looking at the light, even when you don’t have a camera to hand. Reflections, sunbeams, shadows; artificial or natural. Look at how it interacts with its surroundings. Understand it and internalize it.
18. Read a photography book or two
Find inspiration, insight, and advice in your downtime by thumbing through a few photography books. And do it with an open mind. Even if you don’t particularly like a certain style, there could be an underlying technique or approach worth adopting for your own work.
19. Go to a museum
And sit in front of a few paintings. Look at how the artist has used light, color, and shadow. Examine the composition of the piece. Think about how it makes you feel. All of this can be applied to your photography.
The qualities of a good photographer
20. Passion for your craft
You can have all the skill in the world, but if you don’t feel that burning desire to grab your camera and create, you’ll never reach the next level.
21. The ability to tell a story
A picture is worth a thousand words, and learning to weave a story with a still image is something that sets good photographers apart from the rest. Try starting a photo project built around one concept to develop this skill.
22. Good people skills
Becoming a professional photographer requires the ability to work effectively with other people. Be it models, clients, editors, or other photographers, you need good people skills to grow your network and build our reputation.
23. The ability to take criticism
If you can’t open yourself up to critique, you’ll never grow and progress as a photographer. Good photographers know how to listen to feedback without taking it personally.
Make a living from your passion
Hopefully, these tips will help you learn how to be a good photographer. And when you’re ready to take the next step and start selling your services, make sure you have your Bonsai freelance contract ready to go.
Sign up for a free trial and use Bonsai to manage your freelance photography projects.