If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you’re either a very good friend of mine (thanks for your support!) or you’ve already started your photography journey and are looking for ways to improve.
So before getting stuck into any photography tricks I first want to talk about my recommended resources for learning photography and then introduce you to the camera settings and techniques used by the pros. These are the things that, if I had a time machine, I would go back and tell myself the very first time I picked up a digital SLR (obviously once I got over the shock of seeing a duplicate self).
The resources for photographers are endless so without a good starting point you’re going to get overwhelmed pretty quickly so I want to fast track you to the ones that I personally think are the best.
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL & DIGITAL CAMERA WORLD
These are two amazing and free websites that comprehensively cover everything there is to know about photography. The way I use them is by signing up to their newsletters / social media pages and then reading anything and everything until it all becomes too basic. But if you’re just starting out I’d recommend reading articles about ‘composition’ and ‘learning to see’ and then getting into ‘exposure’.
My next tip is to take a beginner’s photography course because it’s important to get hands-on experience. The two I took were found through daily deals websites and cost about $50 each. Aim for a class that will teach you to use you camera’s manual mode because your photography will never improve if you keep letting the camera think for you. Then you have to practice, practice, practice because manual is hard at first and your photos will suck for awhile. But once you get the hang of it that’s when you’re allowed to start calling yourself a photographer because you’ve put in the hard yards required to tame the beast.
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The most wonderful resource I’ve found for photographers is CreativeLIVE, which offers photography classes instructed by world class photographers for FREE, provided you’re watching live (or a small fee if not). If you do tune in I can guarantee you’ll want to purchase every class because they’re always inspirational and vastly informative and you’ll want them on hand to study at your own pace. At $99-$149 per three day class this is an absolute steal. To take a local class on a similar subject you’d pay four times that amount for a half day workshop with a photographer no one’s ever heard of. I’ve purchased over ten CreativeLIVE classes and never regretted a single one of them. I’m a fairly thrifty person but spending money for education on a subject you are passionate about is a no brainer to me.
At some point you’ll want to tackle the dreaded beast Photoshop. I chipped away at learning Photoshop for many years with little success. It was only when I stumbled across the highly fanciable Aaron Nace’s Phlearn that everything clicked. Aaron creates a free ‘how to’ video EVERY SINGLE DAY. You can also purchase a Phlearn Pro for $25 and work right alongside Aaron on a project from start to finish. The first time I completed one I nearly ran down the street high fiving everyone who came my way because suddenly so much more seemed possible.
MY TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY RIGHT AWAY
Provided you have the appropriate kind of camera, I believe these tips will improve your photography right away. Check your manual or the web to see if your camera is capable.
SINGLE POINT FOCUS
Sure, those 45 focus points on your camera sound amazing but if you let your camera choose the focus for you, chances are you’re going to get punchy when you see the results. How a camera chooses where to focus is fairly technical but some say they choose the largest object, some say the closest object, some say the centre, and some say the area of most contrast. But all you really need to know is that letting your camera decide its own focus points is a mistake. I recommend setting your camera to use only one focus point – the centre point – because it’s the most sensitive point and the easiest to work with. I place the centre point over the area where I want sharpest focus, lock the focus, recompose if necessary and then take my shot. I use this point 99% of the time and only change it when I’m doing a tricky self-portrait using a low aperture and the focus needs to be spot on.
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You may need to google how to do this for your specific camera but here’s a quick guide for Canons.
BACK BUTTON FOCUS
The single greatest change I ever made to my camera was to set up back button focus. Basically, this means that instead of your shutter button both focusing AND taking the shot, you are using an entirely different button on the back of your camera to find and lock focus so the shutter merely takes the photo. With one button press you can lock focus and keep it locked until you decide to change it or you can track a moving subject by holding the button in (if your camera is set to AI SERVO). This is great because your camera doesn’t refocus between shots. Admittedly back button focus can be a little difficult to get your head around but it honestly only took me an hour or so to get used to it. My dad put off using it for years until very recently and his focus improved immediately. Here’s how to set it up. (There’s plenty of other articles / videos out there if you struggle with the instructions in this one.)
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Of course, you could choose to ignore both these points and use manual focus instead, and that’s totally fine. Admirable even! But my eyes aren’t the best and I like to shoot quickly so focusing my lens manually isn’t practical for me. If your photos are still blurry, make sure your shutter speed is not too low. (I personally can’t go under 1/100 without a tripod.)
- Techniques for getting sharp focus almost every time
When you shoot JPEG your camera automatically processes your photo in camera - applying sharpening, brightness and contrast and then compressing the file by discarding data - so your photos come out of camera looking good but the file size is small and contains only limited information. Whereas if you shoot RAW you get access to all the information recorded by the camera sensor with a full range of brightness to darkness, however your photos initially look kinda dull because the camera isn’t applying any processing. That’s because RAW is designed for people who want full control over how their final photos look and it is AMAZING how much scope you can get out of a RAW file. I spent years shooting JPEG and those photos are now mostly unusable to me because they’re too small and I can’t modify them how I want.
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The RAW file is not natively understood by most computers so you'll need to use your camera’s software or purchase a program to interpret your files. I own Adobe Lightroom and it is the best photography money I’ve ever spent. You can currently purchase it outright for about $180 or you can buy it on a plan with Photoshop for $9.99 per month with lifetime upgrades. Start by playing around with the sliders in the develop tab and then use google or YouTube to learn what else the program can do.
These photography tips would have saved me years of experimentation, money and frustration and I hope they’ll do the same for you.
If you have any questions or tips of your own please add them to the comments!
- Shoot RAW