In this article I want to reflect on 10 things that I wish I had know 10 years ago when I was at the beginning of my journey into professional photography.
I hope that some of these things will resonate with you and help you at whatever stage you are at in your own photography journeys. From absolute beginner to seasoned pro – we never stop learning and reflecting can be a healthy and positive thing to.
A bit about me
For those of you who do not know me, I am an architectural photographer based in England. I am completely self-taught and have recently achieved the designation of Associateship in the British Institute of Professional Photography – ABIPP.
Here are those ten things.
1 – It is not all about the gear
I have lost so much time on gear. Time and money. And where did it get me?
- Lots of gear that I didn’t need.
- Lots of time spent looking at gear reviews, different products, suppliers, alternatives.
- Time wasted that could have been much better spent taking photos.
- Gear that I did not learn to use properly.
- Gear that I did not ever use.
- And lots of money spent on gear.
10 years on
I use the following for 95% of my photography work.
- Canon 6D
- Canon 17-40mm lens
- Canon 70-200mm lens
- Manfrotto 190 Go tripod and X-Pro geared head.
- Lee Big Stopper filter
- And a few other accessories which all fit in my 20 litre Peak Design Everyday Backpack
I have back-up gear which I take on a shoot but thankfully seldom use.
It has taken me 10 years to get to the point where I use the least gear that I ever have, and it all fits into a nice small backpack that I take with me everywhere.
Talking of which I have a Canon 5D – a great camera 10 years ago, and guess what – still a great camera.
This photo is in my photography portfolio, taken with my Canon 5D.
I am not saying don’t buy gear – just but the gear you need and earn to use it. Don’t dwell on it or lust after other gear all the time.
A great camera now will still be a great camera in years to come.
I wrote more about this in my last article titled Full frame DSLR photography without breaking the bank – this is how I do it.
2 – Photography is about getting out there and taking photos
Photography is not about reading reviews, blogs, forums, chasing likes on social media. Neither is it spending endless time in Lightroom and Photoshop perfecting that image with tweak after endless tweak.
Nor is it about trying all the latest and greatest software, gear or techniques.
It is about getting out there and taking photos.
Finding things to photograph, new angles, views, scenes and compositions. Trying new things and learning from what you have done.
Sure image processing is important, and is an integral part of modern day digital photography, but there is a point at which you need to learn to stop.
I now do less processing of images than I ever have – like with the gear the more I learn and the more experience I get the simpler things become.
If you take the end of point one this is relevant here – I have a small backpack with everything I need in it. It does not way me down, it is not a burden.
I used to pack everything into an enormous camera bag and struggle to shoulder it – it really was a barrier to getting out and enjoying taking photos. And 90% of the gear in my bag did not get used from shoot to shoot.
Get out there and take photos – this is the single best way to improve your photography, which I assume you want to do as you are on the Improve Photography website after all!!
3 – The most important part of a photo is the composition
I will get this out of the way before I get a barrage of comments. An image needs to be correctly captured, focus and exposure are critical of course. But these are technical basics. Matters of fact.
You can capture an image with technical perfection, but if the composition is rubbish the technically perfectly captured image which only ever be a rubbish photo.
Get the composition right first, then sort out the technical stuff. Be creative. Learn the rules of composition, apply them, and then try different things.
Change your point of view, high, low, left, right.
I am in the fortunate position that I do not have to think about the technical side of things too much. This is in part down to my experience, but also how I take my photos. I compose, which takes all the time, adjust the aperture, focus where and I want to and that is normally it.
All my focus (pun intended) is on the composition, not the camera settings.
Learn your camera so it is instinctive to use. And once you have done that concentrate on composition.
I feel a great sense of freedom now, as I can concentrate on what I am photographing rather than how I am photographing it.
Once I am back in my office I look critically at my compositions, making sure that I am working as hard as I can to produce the best images I can.
Learn composition and light. Believe it or not the great painters of the past are a great source of inspiration and advice on lighting and composition – they did this stuff hundreds of years ago using paint on canvas!
4 – Buy a tripod. And use it.
I will refer you to point 1 and the gear. And also to point 2, getting out there. And also to point 3 – composition.
These things are all of course related.
I find that using my tripod improves my composition. I travel light so my tripod is always with me, and is not a burden.
And I use it all the time.
I take every image on a commercial shoot on a tripod. The only exception to this is where there just isn’t enough room for my tripod, or I am having to take a photo actually on the floor, or on high using my painters pole (or anywhere from my painters pole to get the view I want).
Using a tripod slows me down, and makes every exposure I take a very deliberate act.
And my tripod isn’t that that big, heavy, fancy or expensive – I use the Manfrotto 190 Go tripod with X Pro geared head.
That is the gear talk out of the way! Seriously there is gear which helps me take better photos, and then there is just gear.
My tripod is essential gear I use all the time. And back in the day of lugging all that gear around I stopped using my tripod when I took it out, and having stopped using my tripod I started to leave it in the car.
5 – Think about the photos you are taking
Refer to 1 – 4 above.
On a commercial shoot I have a brief to work to, I have essential shots that I have to get or I won’t get paid.
This sort of focusses the mind!
But on a commercial shoot I am always also looking for other shots, angles, views, interpretations, features – anything that can give my client an image that they might not have thought of that is of benefit to them.
For my landscape and travel work things are a bit different, When I am out on location I have a good old look around, see what takes my interest. And then I look around a bit more. I can often spend more time looking than I do taking photos.
6 – Simplify file management
- Shoot in RAW.
- Import RAW images into a single Lightroom catalogue.
- Organise your photos in Lightroom.
- Process RAW files in Lightroom.
- Export RAW files as Jpegs to new folders to issue out.
- Delete these Jpegs if they are not needed.
Check out my other post titled An Introduction to Lightroom for New Photographers for more information on this subject.
The basic principle is this – keep it simple.
In my early days I had JPEGs and RAW files of the same thing, and images in folders all over the place. It was quite chaotic, and I had duplicates of images all over the place.
Now all that is sorted thankfully.
7 – Learn Lightroom but don’t get bogged down in the weeds on your PC
Learn Lightroom. Learn Lightroom in a structured way using your own images. Choose a trusted source of advice such as Improve Photography and follow that advice.
I spent endless hours fiddling around with photos, using numerous plug-ins and other software to endlessly tweak photos.
And the end result of this was – I produced a load of over processed rubbish. And I never mastered any one piece of software, Lightroom included.
My processing in Lightroom is pretty straightforward these days, as I said earlier, the more I learn, the more I practice, the less I do.
I have written an article on Improve Photography previously, which I mentioned above, titled An Introduction to Lightroom for New Photographers in which I go through these things in a logical order.
Lightroom is a logical workflow to follow, but you do need to play around with stuff to appreciate what you need as well as what you don’t need.
8 – Just learn the bits of Photoshop you need.
I use the following tools in Photoshop
- Clone Stamp tool
- Spot healing brush
- Patch tool
- Image re-sizing
And that is it.
I do not use layers. I do not know how to use layers. I have no need for layers.
Learn the things you need and ignore the rest – trust me if you follow this one point only I will have saved you hours and hours and hours of frustration!
9 – Get honest critiques of your work
I have had critiques from the BIPP as part of my applications for Licentiate and Associateship membership.
The first critique was an honest, painful eye-opener that put me back in my place. I thought I was quite good, but when things were pointed out to me that I had not even noticed I realised there was more to this than meets the eye.
I had to remove some images from my initial submission as they were just not up to standard. I replaced them with other images taking account of the feedback I had received, and got there in the end.
But it was not easy. And no-one had been so honest with me before.
Get honest critiques from people you can trust who are not your family – if you are in the UK and looking for a professional body to join I can personally recommend the BIPP – the British Institute of Professional Photographers.
And print your images and look at them. I started doing this only recently, and this has been a revelation to me.
10 – Enjoy it
Photography is something to be enjoyed. I have been working commercially in photography since 2007. Commercial jobs have their enjoyable moments, but also the pressures of having to deliver.
I still get tense before a commercial shoot, nervous about all those things that could go wrong, but once I get into it I really enjoy it.
It is a bit like pubic speaking for me – those nerves at the beginning are a positive thing to help keep me focused.
When I am out taking landscape and travel photography images things are completely different. I do not feel the pressure to deliver, even though I still have to. I feel freedom. Just me, the great outdoors, one lightweight backpack and the freedom to go wherever I want.
That feeling never goes away, if anything the more I work in photography the greater that enjoyment gets.
So please make sure you enjoy your photography, be it your hobby, job or something in-between.
These are not the words of a grumpy old man hating modern ways – these are my thoughts on photography which I enjoy now more than ever.
Thanks for reading this, please add any comments below which I will respond to.