10 photography things I wish I’d known 10 years ago

In Photo Basics by Rick McEvoy24 Comments

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 PhotographyABIPP.

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!!

Travel photography, Santroini, Greece by Rick McEvoy Photography

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.

Any comments?

Thanks for reading this, please add any comments below which I will respond to.


About the Author

Rick McEvoy

Twitter

I am an architectural photographer based in the lovely county of Dorset in England. I have worked in construction all my life, so combining my knowledge of buildings with my photography naturally led to down the architectural photographer route. I use Canon DSLRs and lenses (no film cameras). I specialise in architectural photography – well anything to do with buildings, and extend this to industrial and commercial photography which have similar requirements – stationery subjects, no people, no animals. I also enjoy landscape and travel photography. My dream job is photographing buildings in nice places, which I am still working on. My Website, and I have a daily photography Blog.

Comments

    1. Author

      Hi Dave

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I have a Canon 6D which I use all the time. I have a Canon 5D Mk 1 in case my 6D falls over. And that is it apart from my iPhone.

      WIth regards from England

      Rick

  1. You know the amazing thing, even fully understanding the relative pointlessness of wasting endless hours reading reviews of cameras and lenses, it’s still so damn easy to fall into that pit. Unless you can shut off all access and alerts, it’s constant battle.

    Otherwise, great list. Thank you for reinforcing the things I’m learning far too slowly.

    1. Author

      Hi David

      Thank you very much for your comment and kind words. It is a constant battle you are right – I fight hard to get get drawn it but is still happens.

      With kind regards fro England

      Rick

    1. Author

      Hi Philip

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, which I will take as a compliment?

      WIth regards from England

      Rick

  2. Um, no. Learn Layers.

    Photoshop is Destructive editing. Layers will save your ass. So will Masks.

    With thousands of youtube tutorials on the basics of photoshop, it’s really not that hard to learn unless you’re just lazy.

    1. Author

      Hi

      Thanks for your comment. The point is I don’t need layers – I edit in Lightroom and do some cleaning up at the end in Photoshop.

      WIth regards from England

      Rick

  3. Hi Rick,

    How I wish you would know how much this has been a help and motivation for me.

    Regards.

    1. Author

      Hi

      Thank you very much for your comment. I am delighted to hear that you found my article helpful – this is all I and the other writers here hope to do, and it means the world to all of us to hear such feedback.

      With kind regards from England

      Rick

  4. I agree with several of your points, disagree on a few others, which is to be expected. I like the idea of putting all your photos in one Lightroom catalog, but I am concerned that if I ever wanted to navigate to another software program, or if I ever needed to find a photo without Lightroom, it would be a disaster. Thoughts?

    1. Author

      Hi and thanks very much for your comment.

      You have pretty much hit the nail on the head.

      To my knowledge there is no alternative software that I can move to from Lightroom retaining all the editing data and metadata attached to each file.

      Basically I am stuck with Lightroom. Thankfully I love Lightroom – especially the recent performance updates. And I am happy to pay less than a tenner a month for Lightroom and Photoshop.

      With warm regards from England

      Rick

  5. Great article, thank you. I have too much gear, never the right piece at the right time when I need it and now my back hurts! Just need to really learn how to use what I have correctly and just get out there as you say and take pictures!

    1. Author

      Hi Chris and thank you for taking the time to comment. Just take your favourite body, two lenses and a tripod and get out there!

      With kind regards from England

      Rick

  6. With your editing in Lightroom -why do you even bother to use it? There are other programs even built into PC packages that do the same thing…..seems like a waste for you to use Lightroom.

    1. Barbara,
      That’s what I used to think about Lightroom. Then I discovered it’s features and processes that really benefited my workflow. Lightroom is now where I catalog all photos and start my Raw processing 100% of the time.

      1. Author

        Hi Brian

        Thanks for your words. There are lots of grumbles about Lightroom for some reason.

        I would like to stick my head a little further above the parapet and say this.

        I think Lightroom is the best catalogue/ photo editing software out there. And to be even more controversial here I would also like to add that I really do not like Photoshop apart from the very small bits of it I use.

        With kind regards from England

        Rick

    2. Author

      Hi Barbara

      Thank you for your question. To my knowledge there is no equivalent to Lightroom – perhaps you could let me know which programs you are referring to?

      Lightroom works for me and does 95% of the editing I ever do.

      With kind regards from England

      Rick

  7. Just want to add that Adobe Bridge has a great editing tool named Camera Raw which works great and is much, much easier and quicker than Lightroom for 99% of what I do and might be for others as well. I also find it much easier to find and catalog my photos/projects.
    Thanks for the article and reminder to enjoy photography. All of your articles are helpful.

    1. Author

      Hi Doug – that is a very good point. Adobe Bridge is free as far as I am aware.

      If Adobe Bridge and Camera RAW work for you then that is great.

      Lightroom and Camera RAW are pretty the same thing presented differently.

      I like Lightroom as I import images into Lightroom, edit them and export out again all from one program. Well there is the Photoshop finishing off I do but that fits into Lightroom too.

      Thank you for your very kind words – this is what keeps us going trying to produce articles of value to the readers.

      With warm regards from England

      Rick

  8. Rick McEvoy,
    Do you authorize me to translate this article into Portuguese and put it on my blog? I will quote the source and put link to the original post.
    Thank you.

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