The world of Digital Photography is exploding right now and has been for quite some time. The quality and availability of incredible equipment including camera bodies, lenses, flash gear, tripods, video devices, accesories, software, etc is just incredible. Never has there been a time where a person jumping into Photography has had such great access to gear that can have them creating professional level images in such a short time.
There are so many sources to educate yourself on the entire craft from the point of capturing an image to final output whether that is a dazzling image displayed on computers or mobile devices to be shared to thousands online or printed out as a large piece of artwork for your home or office or to be sold to someone else for that same reason.
Below is a list of some of the important DO’s and DON’Ts of today’s wonderful world of Digital Photography.
1 DO Learn To Shoot In Manual Mode!
This may seem obvious but many skip over the very basics of what makes a great image – Good light and good composition. But capturing this, even when available, is not done correctly without knowing the bare bones basics of photography and that is the EXPOSURE TRIANGLE. Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO all working together to get the proper exposure for your creative ideas.
ImprovePhotographyPlus has a great resource in PhotographyStart. It has all the needed info and details to get you up and running with the true basics of photography split up into over 20 very digestible videos. It doesn’t matter if it is 2016 or 1985, the Exposure Triangle is the same as it has always been. The one difference is then FILM was rated ASA rather than todays ISO which is the “INPUT GAIN” or sensitivity of todays amazing digital sensors.
Modern cameras have very good AUTO and AUTO assist modes. AUTO mode is fine for the newbie who just wants a greater resolution image than a cell phone and one with better contrast, colors and sharpness. The mobile phones of today are AMAZING at what they do in terms of the camera but, as physics will always win, size does matter in this case. The larger sensors and better optics make even the best phones no match versus even the most basic DSLR or Mirrorless cameras.
You’ve made an investment in a piece of gear probably because you’ve seen all the fancy images online posted by those you may know with nice cameras and you want to be able to create that same type of stunning work.
There is nothing that will get you making the images YOU want more quickly than learning the Exposure Triangle and practicing using the things you learn. For instance, Astro Photography just isn’t possible using any auto mode (AUTO, APERTURE PRIORITY, SHUTTER PRIORITY). You will need to learn how Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO all interact with one another. Even when shooting in other modes, such as Aperture Priority, it is of tremendous help to first learn manual so that the other modes totally make sense to you. Depth of field is either shallow or deep depending on your aperture setting. Change that, and the light that comes in changes. Now you have to alter your shutter speed! But ooops! Now your shutter speed is too slow for holding hand held or for the action you’re trying to capture! But have no fear, we can now boost the ISO to get the exposure that we want! But now we add some noise! Argh!
EXPOSURE is the key thing here and in all of photography. Being able to adjust your settings on the fly knowing how one setting will impact the others isn’t just nice to know – IT IS NEEDED in order to create the kind of images you want. Below is an example I did in my kitchen to demonstrate how this all works together – and with a flash thrown in.
So remember, start with this and everything else will build off these photo basics.
2 DO Invest In Quality Instruction
Photography isn’t a cheap hobby or profession by any means. That isn’t to say you need to spend thousands of dollars to get really nice images, especially today. The entry level DSLRs are so good that just 5-6 years ago they would be considered top notch pro level cameras with the features and performance they now pack in them.
The amazing part of all of this is how few people actually invest in the KNOW HOW of photography while splurging and spend hundreds and often thousands of dollars on gear that they don’t truly know how to get the most from.
As in golf, you could give a top PGA player a cheap, crappy set of clubs and a beginner the best clubs on earth and the PGA pro will DESTROY the novice every day – even if a few of those clubs break. Why? Knowledge in using the tools of the trade. Photography is no different in this regard. If you’re reading this, you are in the right spot. While I am personally an independent writer for ImprovePhotography.com, I have no financial gain by saying that you are in the absolute best place to begin your learning and maintain it with more advanced material that you can find here and at ImprovePhotographyPlus.com. Also, don’t forget to join all the various ImprovePhotography Network’s Facebook groups where you can chat with other readers and listeners of the many podcast the network puts out weekly. You can chat with all the writers here as well as guys like Jim Harmer and Nick Page and the other hosts of the popular podcasts.
It doesn’t end there. A google search for “How to ….” with anything in regards to Photography will bring up an almost endless list of videos, blogs, tutorials, etc on that subject. The problem is that while YouTube has tons of videos, for example, there is no order. With PAID instruction, you have a sequenced learning order that will help you learn the information as you go. A little instruction can go a very long way. The more you learn, the more you want to know.
3 DO Learn Post Processing
This is the one area of Photography that can increase your quality output level more than anything else. The information stored on your memory cards is VERY pliable (especially shooting RAW). If you can imagine it, you can pretty much do it with post processing. But, like learning photo basics, there are some things with Post Processing that you need to first learn in order to use the tools effectively.
Practice makes better in all areas of life. This isn’t an exception. Take some throw away images and play around with them. You may be surprised with what you come up with. There are little victories along the way while learning post production techniques in applications such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Once you have these skills, you have them for good in your digital tool belt.
4 DO Use the equipment you have to its full potential
So you want a new camera because you think that is the one thing that will elevate your images to a new, lofty level of great. Think again. As stated above, the equipment today is REALLY good. Do yourself a favor and learn everything you can about your particular camera and other equipment before you splurge on something new. Instead of that new camera, how about a nicer Tripod that will lock and isn’t going anywhere which will allow for super sharp photos and the ability to do long exposure work such as night photography?
It is a funny thing with photography because there are so many different things that will make your images MUCH BETTER before a camera comes into consideration. Obviously if it is a 7 year old DSLR that has poor resolution and lacks many features we all take for granted today, it would make sense to upgrade at that point.
5 DO get your flash OFF CAMERA
There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that will improve your images more than adding off camera lighting to your images. And this surpases Photoshop and any other application because light is ALL! Directional off camera flash will allow you to enhance depth, textures, detail, etc that other light just cannot do – AND you are in total control of it. There are natural light photographers that are great at what they do and they create beautiful images. They are also very limited in how they can do this. Time of day greatly comes into play. No control over changing conditions. And we could go on and on about those challenges. With flash? NO PROBLEM. You can create the lighting when you want, where you want and for however long you wish to create it. Your creative options are literally endless with off camera flash.
6 DO get up early / shoot late
If you're looking for optimum lighting and you like to sleep late, you better stick to flash photography! Other than that, you are gonna either have to get up early for the pre dawn magical light and sunrise or hang around for later day, golden hour and blue hour light. The major advantage to pre dawn shooting is simple; There are fewer people and automobiles around. Those two things make it much more attractive for many photographers if you don't mind getting out of bed super early. Also, as with later day shooting, some scenes just are made for morning.
Scouting your locations is, of course, key. Use of apps like The Photographers Ephemeris and photo pills will allow you to plan your outings on specific days at different times of the year. Getting a moonless night when you want to do AstroPhotography is absolutely essential in helping get the very best images possible.
If you’re someone who wants to only shoot middle of the day stuff, you’re never going to get the really dramatic shots that you’ve seen and love when it comes to landscape photos. Cloudy, overcast days are great for the following list item.
7 DO run to your local zoo on overcast days
If you’ve ever been to a zoo on a mostly cloudy or overcast day and have noticed more photographers than usual, there is a major reason why. The giant softbox that is the sky is the absolute best in terms of shooting conditions for Zoo and Wildlife photography. As long as the sky isn’t a part of your composition, the cloudy sky affords us a HUGE advantage over sunny, bright days. The rich colors and contrast that isn’t too strong between highlight and shadow due to the diffused lighting just cannot be matched by any other shooting condition.
Shooting Zoo animals in the bright sunlight is NOT a very good way to get good images. Just like with landscape photography, timing and conditions are key. Getting those good shots isn't something you can do on just any day! Be patient and you'll be rewarded eventually.
8 Do clean your own Image Sensor
This could be listed as a DON’T (DON’T BE AFRAID TO CLEAN YOUR SENSOR) also. But I wanted to include this as a do. There are so many people that have bought into this crazy thinking that ONLY the manufacturer of your digital camera with removable lenses should be the one to clean your sensor because “You may cause serious damage” to your camera. That is silly and it is a complete waste of money.
Your digital sensor has a piece of glass in front of it. Glass is harder to scratch than metal. If you take an image of the clear blue sky at f16 and up and see lots of dust spots in image (using Lightroom's make spots visible feature) it is time to clean. All you need to do is go into your cameras manual to learn how to lock up the mirror (DSLR) or simply take the lens off a mirrorless camera. Using a Rocket Blower, simply turn your camera so that it is facing down so any dust will fall out due to gravity.
Sometimes, stubborn spots just won’t come off. That is when a swab system with cleaning solution can come in to save the day. Watch this video HERE by Jim Harmer. He went a little overboard getting it dirty but it is funny and drives the point home. I had never cleaned a camera sensor before until I had a spot that would not go away on my D750 and ordered a cleaning kit from Amazon. I could not believe how simple it was and the sensor was then perfectly clean and ready to go.
If you’re too nervous to use a cleaning solutions (and they should be used sparingly – 2 to 3 drops tops), you can do it with something as simple as PEC PADS or just use the swabs without solution. The solution is good for those stubborn spots that just don’t come off with air or gently rubbing the filter that is in front of the sensor.
TIP FOR THE SOLUTION – Put a drop on each corner and it will absorb into the swab nicely. Swab and wipe the sensor once on one side and back with the other side and take a dry swab to wipe when done. PRESTO! Perfectly clean, streak free image sensor. Please – CONTACT ME DIRECTLY if you are scared! Don't be!
Don’t let Nikon, Canon, etc charge you $$$ for something you can do yourself at home!
9 DO Purchase Quality Tripod
If you’re planning on doing any type of landscape, long exposure, night or studio type photography, a tripod is a must. As with educating yourself and spending some money on quality material, getting a good, solid and reliable tripod is VERY much key. For example:
You are out shooting a city scape before the sun goes down but you want the lights to be on during the nice golden sunset. There is a method that you use two images – One of the sunset and then one about 45mins – an hour after that is exposed for the city and building lights. You can then layer them in photoshop by putting the darker exposure on top and changing that layer to the “Lighten” blend mode.
Only the city and building lights will be used where the lights are in the image and it gives a very good look to the city scape. This is all depending on how solid your tripod and head is. It should not budge at all. It is a real bummer to drive to location as stated above, get your composition dialed in and then wait only to realize when you got home the frames shifted ever so slightly but enough to ruin the composite. You can try to move the layer in Photoshop using the “V” Move tool but sometimes you just can’t fix what wasn’t captured correctly.
Make sure you don’t cheap out on something that will be holding your expensive gear. As with many things in life, your photography can only be as good as its weakest link. Don’t let your stabilizing tripod/head combo be that weak link!
10 DO Practice, Practice, Practice!
Finally, on the list of DOs, is to get out and PRACTICE! Shoot birds out your back window. Shoot clouds in the sky. Shoot people walking down the street (With your CAMERA!). Shoot everything and practice the whole time you are doing so. Digital photography is dirt cheap to shoot once you have the gear. You can take 500 photos and it doesn’t cost a penny. Gone are the days when people worried about using up their exposures. Just shoot! Keep an eye on your histogram and your settings. Work with your buttons without looking at them so it becomes second nature.
Personally, when I first started getting into photography, I thought I could just wing it and get the exposure close enough to good since we have LR and PS and many other software available to us. That is the WRONG way to think. You want your image as close to properly exposed as possible IN CAMERA for a multitude of reasons. Clean and noise free images are made when your exposure is best set for that particular shot. That will come with practice. In time your exposure meter will be just an aide to let you know how the camera is seeing things but not the tool that tells you how and when to shoot. If you are shooting only when the meter is DEAD CENTER, you may as well be shooting in an auto assist mode or auto. Get to know what is a proper exposure vs one that is too dark or light. There isn’t anything to really say here other than practice. The things we figure out ourselves in photography are the best and most rewarding to us!
So get out and SHOOT!
AND NOW FOR THE DON’Ts
1 Don’t Compare Your Work To Others
If first starting out in digital photography or just wanting to get started, many people go to sites like 500px or Instagram and we see these amazing images that are just awesome. We think “What kind of camera is that?” Many will then go buy some expensive gear and maybe take some classes. When finally time to shoot, your images STINK! You don’t know how to process them or you are just using JPEGs that come out already processed by the camera. They look like snap shots from a good cell phone.
Then disappointment sets in. Some get frustrated and turned off to photography because they want to “be good” right away. Look on eBay. Take a look at all the almost new gear that is being sold by people who just gave up because they realize there is a time commitment involved if you really want to get better and some just don’t have that time or won’t give it.
We must be very realistic and look at the longer term picture – pardon the pun. Personally, I took some shots when I first got my Nikon D750 last year (my first camera) and I knew they stunk. But I knew I needed to learn A WHOLE LOT! I wasn’t totally aware of what a good exposure was or how to get one. I was shooting in Manual from the start but I was making sure the meter was always in the middle – a silly thing now that I look back.
We look at the amazing work by many photographers. The difference between them and you? Simple – TIME PUT INTO THE CRAFT. Do some people who put in the exact same amount of time as others have different quality levels in their work? Yes, of course. But the commitment and passion in one cannot be measured and compared to someone else plus an endless array of other variables.
The most important thing is to realize “I know nothing and want to learn as much as possible and will ask lots of questions.” That attitude will get you very far in this world of photography. Always remember we all must start somewhere and the journey is different for all good photographers. Just keep pushing ahead.
2 Don’t under value good glass!
Camera bodies come and go. Good glass is good glass. Digital photography is a high tech and very fast moving industry. Why? Because electronics and computer technology are always improving – sometimes too fast. The only piece of equipment that we use that isn’t DIGITAL is the lens. They are analog, optical instruments. They are seeing real world images and taking in all the colors, tones and details which are then fed into the sensor and at last made into an image. THE MOST IMPORTANT part of photography in terms of getting good quality images is the lens. Period. You can spend $$$$$ on Camera bodies all you want but without the good glass, you’re wasting your time and money.
This isn’t to say if you’re shooting KIT LENSES that you’re doomed to the misery of bad images. Not at all. Today’s kit lenses produce great results and do so at fairly inexpensive price points.
But when you want to get into different types of photography such as indoor sports, wildlife, astro photography or just want the best possible images your camera can make, getting better glass is the one way to do this. If you’re really into photography at this point and have just KIT LENSES, go out and buy or borrow a 50mm 1.8 prime. They are usually fairly inexpensive. Take some shots at f1.8 inside your house and then look at them. You can now shoot cleanly indoors without having to use flash and you’re getting great images with nice bokeh. It is like a new camera!!
When using good glass on even an entry level body in plenty of light where ISO 100 can be used, it is very difficult to tell the difference between a $3500 camera output and the $400 camera file – THAT IS HOW important and key good glass is. Obviously if you push the ISO on lower end cameras their image quality will suffer but for well lit images, your current camera is just fine.
Getting better glass is the next thing you need!
3 Don’t let location keep you from shooting
We all have location envy. “If only I were there I would get amazing images!” This may be true, somewhat. This should not be a reason to stop shooting however. There is always something that we can shoot. Think of a concept in your house to do. Keep your creative juices flowing by thinking of new ideas while at work or when you have idle time.
Take a day trip to a location 2-4 hours away and get some nice images of objects and areas that you seldom see. Don’t use your “bad” location as an excuse to not get out and shoot more often!
4 Don’t Be A Photo Know It All
We all know these types. When people know you’re into photography, you’ll hear how everyone knows a bunch about taking good pictures. Everyone thinks “I have the eye” for it. Don’t be one of those people. Be a sponge. Soak up everything you hear, see and read. Ask questions. Digital photography can be a very complicated subject. There is no shame in admitting you know very little or nothing in certain areas. Personally, I set out when starting photography to shut down my ego and admit when I know little or nothing about some subjects. Example? TTL. I am writing for this site but have never used a TTL (Other than the built in one) flash and would have no clue how to use it in an event type setting with multiple flashes or if you even would use it that way. I have written several articles here about Photoshop tips and tricks but I know about 10% of what I want to know. Why? Because I want to be the very best photographer that I can possibly be.
Checking your ego at the door and admitting you are new to something isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
5 Don’t Be Overwhelmed By Post Processing
This is one that scares MANY people. Post processing with an application such as Photoshop seems, at first, like an impossible skill that we just “don’t get.” You’ve probably watched YouTube videos and thought you were watching some foreign movie because it made absolutely no sense to you at all.
When we as people think something is super complex, it always will be that way. The trick is to go into learning about photography with the idea of “Ok, if all those people can do this, so can I.” And that is pretty much as simple as it gets.
The best thing I found with Jim Harmer and the whole ImprovePhotography.com network was how simple he made things to be. Explaining things in easy to understand, digestible segments is the key to learning.
Learn the basics first and then work your way up. I was on Lynda.com and was going over some courses and I was so frustrated because I just could not understand what the instructor was saying. I then went over a few books with work along files as well as learning basics in 3 courses. NOW when I went back to that course that I could not understand before, I was totally in sync with that course I didn’t “get” in past.
Give yourself time”
6 Don’t Edit Without Calibrating Your Screen
Properly calibrating your screen will assure that you are editing with proper colors and tones as well as having your display set to the correct brightness levels. Many think this may be too much and not needed for the casual photographer and that may be very much true. However, if you’re reading this right now – you aren’t the casual photographer.
You’re someone looking to get the best images possible. You are also someone that should have a calibration tool – so go and get one or save a few bucks for that future purchase!
7 Don’t Hold Your Prints Up To Your Display & Compare them
You’re in a dimly lit room where your computer is. Dim rooms are actually better than very bright rooms for digital editing. You may be under incandescent lighting. Or fluorescent. Whichever it is, unless is it 5500-5600k lighting, holding a print besides your display will leave you feeling frustrated. Why? Prints are using reflective light while displays are backlit and basically like lights with an image on it. The next time you get an image that was edited on a properly calibrated display, hold it near a large window in natural daylight. I can assure it will then look VERY CLOSE if not identical to the image that is on your calibrated display.
8 Don’t Think You Need To Buy Expensive Speedlights
If you want to get going in the world of digital photography with off camera flash, search no longer. Yongnuo is a Chinese company that has been making amazing speedlights for the digital photography world for several years now. And now they are better than ever.
Inexpensive, powerful and feature packed with wireless power control, High Speed Sync, TTL, etc, (Not The Model Shown) they have become the favorite choice of flash for many enthusiasts and pros as well. For a fraction of the cost of the name brand flashes from Canon and Nikon, you can buy several of these speedlights for the price of one of theirs.
Light is light. Don’t forget that.
9 Don’t use your local photography store as an Amazon preview location
Your local camera and photography stores are in a business against a competitor that is almost impossible to beat price wise – AMAZON! We all love receiving those little (or big) Amazon Prime packages on our doorsteps and can't wait to try out the new little “toy” we now have in our possession. However, when you purchase products from a physical location that have people who are experts on the products they are selling usually with tons of experience, you are keeping them in business and this is a great thing for photographers. Going into these stores, picking the employees' brains, asking tons of questions, some bordering on really bizarre (I heard one guy ask the store employee if the Nikon D810 “took good pictures” and the look on his face was priceless), taking their time, etc only to use that info to go home and order online. That isn't fair and it will put these guys out of business. I was in a pinch once and needed something that afternoon for a paid shoot (real estate) and it was nice to be able to buy this one little item I needed right then and there.
Support these stores. Their prices are usually pretty competitive and the customer service is second to none.
10 Don't Be Afraid To Ask Questions!!!
This one list item is, to me, the most important. Everyone wants to pretend to be an expert. Don't fall into that category. When I first jumped into this last winter, I asked everyone everything I could (AND STILL DO). The greatest thing about the creative community (Including Photography) is that there are so many GREAT people willing to help you get better at what you are doing because they were once new also. Personally, when I started out with photography, I made it a point to make sure the exact order in which I learned things and kept detailed notes on the how's and why's of the craft. I wanted to be able to help anyone who may have questions down the road. You should be on all the Facebook Improve Photography Group Pages and come ask questions about anything. There are so many people willing to help. It really will blow your mind when you ask.
Reach out to some photographers you may see on YouTube. You will be surprised how many will respond to you. Just make sure that you're getting better. Keep track of your progress and when you get frustrated, and you will, look back 6 months to a year at how far you have come. That will put a smile on your face for sure.