In my personal journey in photography, I’ve come across and learned several useful tips along the way. I always made it a habit to jot them all down in a notebook so I wouldn’t forget them.
I’m glad I did because later, I would read them to remind me of what works best in particular situations. While not all of these tips are essential, some have proved invaluable in helping improve my craft.
They cover everything from novice tricks to dealing with composition and lighting. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced photographer, here are 20 of the best tips that can help take your photos to the next level.
1. Use your Existing Camera
As long as it isn’t too old, your current camera should serve you just fine. Well, at least until you’ve outgrown it and become a more skilled shutterbug.
Over the years, I’ve tested and reviewed several models, and the technology keeps on improving. I can’t deny that some have better quality, more useful features, or are more suited to particular tasks.
In most cases, the differences are too insignificant to matter. It all boils down to the camera’s ability to produce excellent images.
Even old-school film SLRs that were popular decades ago are no match for today’s entry-level DSLRs. Still, the photographers back then were able to produce unforgettable photos using them.
So pick up that camera gathering dust on a shelf and learn to use it. Improving your creativity and developing your skills in the craft is much more valuable than the hardware you’re using.
2. Figure out the Most Important Camera Settings
For a novice, the number of settings on a modern DSLR can seem overwhelming. Even experienced photographers need a good deal of patience to master them.
However, it’s not only worthwhile but also necessary to understand what these settings do. More importantly, you need to remember which ones you need the most and how to set them correctly.
The best way to learn about them is by not leaving your camera on full Auto and letting it do all the work. Try taking photos of the same scene with different camera settings and see the differences they make.
If you want to edit your photos, storing them as RAW files allows you more freedom than JPEGs. While JPEGs can look great as is, RAW images allow a higher degree of post-processing.
RAW is the format that professionals use and can result in even more remarkable images once edited. You can shoot RAW+JPEG just in case you need a RAW copy for later use.
Also, do some research to familiarize yourself with the right ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings. These are three of the most important camera settings that allow you to fine-tune how your images will turn out.
Aside from that, you should know which type of focus to use. Manual focus is best used in very dark conditions where it will be hard for the autofocus to work.
On the other hand, continuous-servo or AI servo autofocus can keep track of moving objects. For still subjects, single-servo or one-shot autofocus works best.
3. Learn to Improve Your Composition
To create captivating photos, you have to put more careful thought into its composition. You can’t just shoot at things randomly and hope for the best.
Is there something that doesn’t belong in the picture? Does the framing of the subject work? Does the composition help direct the viewer’s eyes to the subject, or are other parts too distracting?
Even a small problem in the composition can make an image fail. Anyone can take a picture of a bird perched on a tree. However, it’s how you compose the scene that will make your photo stand out from the rest.
Don’t be discouraged if the results don’t turn out the way you planned. Practice makes perfect, and beginners should be willing to experiment until they get the hang of it.
4. Keep an Eye on the Light
Light is the key factor in producing excellent quality photographs. When we think of lighting, we usually think of the brightness of a photo.
However, there’s more to it than that. It can also set the mood, tone, and atmosphere of an image. Imagine how much light factors into a gorgeous sunset, a bright sunny day, or even a city’s nightscape.
Without proper lighting, you can’t have a good picture. That’s why you must keep a close eye on the intensity of the light and the direction it’s coming from.
Taking a shot under a light source that’s too harsh tends to exaggerate highlights and shadows in your picture. On the other hand, if the light is too soft, say when capturing a wonderful sunset, the foreground would turn into a dark silhouette.
You can adjust the ISO and aperture control so your camera sensor receives the right amount of light. You can also use the flash when the situation calls for it, or simply move to a brighter spot. What you want is the perfect balance in the exposure across the image.
You must also pay attention to the light hitting your subject from unflattering angles, especially in portrait photography. Try to move the studio lamps to find the best angles. If you’re outdoors, you can move the subject around.
In landscape photography, you need more patience and wait for lighting conditions to improve before taking a shot. In most scenarios, your best bet is using a light meter to be sure of the right light intensity.
5. Keep Moving
The world we live in is a 3D space. When your camera moves freely in this space, you can resize objects and reposition them in the frame however you want for better composition.
Imagine taking shots from the same spot without moving your feet. You’re merely making copies of the same picture! It will only work if you’re capturing a subject or a scene in motion.
Otherwise, always be on the move whether you’re indoors or out in the field. Climb on top of objects, stand, kneel, or crawl if you have to for a better vantage point. You can also walk around, get closer, or move away from a subject.
You shouldn’t miss out on possibilities for better photos by staying stationary. Why put your creativity in shackles? Experiment with height, distance, and angles to get the best shots.
6. Don’t Rush It
It’s normal to mess things up when you’re a beginner. That’s why you need to be more careful whenever the situation allows it by taking your time.
You might be taking shots of the full moon with the same settings you used to capture a mountain range earlier. Or you may have forgotten to disable the flash when you don’t need it. It can be as simple as forgetting to take off the lens cap.
The same goes for other important aspects of the shot, such as the lighting, focus, composition, and others. Like a pilot going through a preflight checklist, you have to double-check that everything is in order before pressing the shutter button.
One of the best pieces of advice given to advanced photographers is to avoid reviewing your work while in the field. Not so for newbies! It’s better to see the problems as soon as you take the shot so you’ll learn faster from your mistakes.
I know you could miss out on amazing moments happening right under your nose, but don’t worry. There will be many more opportunities in the future.
However, it’s easier to appreciate what went wrong while the shot remains fresh in your mind. Only when you gained experience is it more practical to examine your photos later on your PC or laptop.
7. Prevent the Overexposure of Highlights
Overexposed highlights are simply blank white areas on a photo that shouldn’t be there.
No amount of post-processing can bring out those details. All you can do is to dim the brightness, and I’m sure no one wants that.
For instance, you’d want the correct sky color to appear or even dark areas to give clouds more definition. Overexposure of the sky can obliterate all those details and leave a featureless white glow.
That’s where the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture control can come into play. Aside from flash settings that you don’t always need, these three are the only ones that directly control a photo’s brightness.
Those highlights will remain intact with the right settings without sacrificing the brightness in other areas of your photo. If you see overexposure on the camera display, be sure to lower the ISO to its base setting (typically 100) before taking a shot.
If the ISO is already low, then a faster shutter speed like 1/1000 of a second might do the trick. Lastly, make sure not to leave the aperture wide open on a low f/stop setting (f/2, f2.5, etc.).
Also, keep in mind not to overcompensate for these blank areas. It will result in the opposite problem, which is underexposure. The key is striking the correct balance between the two.
8. Keep Your Camera and Lenses Clean
The surest way to have blurry photos every single time is to walk around with a camera that has a dirty lens. A dusty or smudged lens will ruin a great capture.
Indeed, you can’t prevent the lens from collecting dust while you’re taking shots. But the particles are too tiny to have an impact on the photo.
What I’m talking about is the accumulation of dust particles to the point that they can affect the image quality. I’ve seen too many cameras that haven’t been cleaned for ages.
If you want the best image results, make time to clean your camera and not just your lenses once a week. A microfiber cloth and some cleaning solution will do wonders.
Also, the lens cap is there for a reason. It’s always a good idea to keep it on when you’re not using your camera.
9. A Tripod is Indispensable
A tripod is one of your best friends and a piece of absolute must-have camera equipment. They solve one of the most common problems, which is image stability. If you ask me, a tripod is more indispensable than a lens kit.
So when is the right time to use one? Without a tripod, it would be hard to take long exposures without the image becoming blurry, particularly in night shots. In brighter scenes, they keep photos sharp because of the added stability.
When you try to zoom in, not only the image is magnified but also the movement. It becomes jerky and results in blurry pictures. In situations like these, a tripod becomes a lifesaver.
For photographing stationary subjects, a tripod is a must. Landscape, still life, and architectural photographers have no excuse for not using one.
They can be a hassle to lug around. It’s best that event, and travel photographers, leave them at home unless they really plan on using them.
10. Know When a Flash is Useful
Believe it or not, flashes aren’t just for shooting in dark conditions. That’s what they’re typically known for, but they can also be useful in other situations, and even in broad daylight.
Fill flash is one of the techniques used for brightening up a subject darkened against a bright noon backdrop. One of the best tricks is using the weaker built-in flash so it won’t be noticeable in the picture.
It’s funny to think that the little flash built-in to your camera is more useful during the day, but it’s true. In most cases, I recommend that you use a more powerful external flash at night.
For event photos, tilt an external flash upwards and use a 50mm or longer lens. It’s a simple tip for novices, but the difference it will make in your photos will surprise you.
11. Don’t Use a Cheap Filter
Not all camera filters are created equal. Another sure cause of blurry images is attaching a cheap filter to your lens.
Even if the reason is to protect it from the harsh elements, a cheap clear filter is guaranteed to give you bad results. What more with those supposedly designed to “improve” your image quality?
I have used a couple of cheap ones and have seen many photographers fall victim to them too. I can vouch that these “affordable” filters are no substitute for more expensive ones and are more trouble than they’re worth.
Here’s a sample of a blurry photo I took with a cheap clear one:
It might not be apparent at first glance, but it’s easy to see in this cropped area:
So don’t be fooled by what’s written on the packaging that promises you amazing outcomes. The chances are that a cheap filter will only make matters worse. The good ones are usually more expensive, but you pay for what you get in any case.
12. Learn Basic Post-Processing
Not doing post-processing is like missing out on the full potential of your captured image. Yet many photographers don’t have it among their top priorities as they should.
Post-processing provides us the opportunity to adjust a photograph closer to what our eyes have seen. It also allows us the creative freedom to give an image a spectacular, larger than life appeal.
If you’re going for realism and don’t want your edits to be too obvious, subtlety is the key. With practice, you’ll continue to improve, and you can go on to more advanced stuff.
However, there’s a tendency of overdoing it sometimes, so it ruins the original image instead of improving it. There’s no going back from destructive editing once you press “save.”
To avoid permanent mistakes, make sure to back up your image files before you begin. There are also several photo editing software that will leave your originals intact, and store your edited versions separately.
13. Get Your Image Files Organized
Have you noticed when getting back from a vacation how you end up bringing home hundreds, if not thousands of photos? That’s nothing compared to what you’ll accumulate once you become a full-fledged photographer.
That’s why it’s crucial to get into the habit of organizing your files early on. You must come up with a straightforward file structure on your computer.
I have my photos stored separately in folders marked by the year taken. Then I labeled the twelve folders inside them “01 Jan,” “02 Feb,” and so on, to make sure they follow the order of months.
I save all my post-processing work in different collections in my photo editing software. Using this method, it became easy for me to pull out the right files whenever I needed them.
The primary purpose of going through all this fuss is quick access. You also don’t want to accidentally delete files because you forgot where you last put them.
It doesn’t matter what method you use as long as it works for you.
14. The 3-2-1 Backup Rule
Most photographers in my circle – myself included – have some sob stories about losing valuable photographs.
I want to save you from the same ordeal. That’s why I can’t emphasize enough the importance of backing up your photos.
One of the worst mistakes you can make is to store your copies on the same drive. These things will eventually conk out. The risk of losing your photos including both originals and backups is real.
Your safest bet is to follow the 3-2-1 Rule. Simply put, you must have three (3) copies of every single photo. Two (2) must be saved separately on your computer’s storage media and an external/removable drive. One (1) is saved on an off-site storage service in case disaster strikes.
It might sound like overkill, but it’s a tried and tested backup method that works.
15. Always Try New Things
The thing about photography is that it has many exciting facets to discover that will give you a fresh new perspective.
The more you learn about it, the more fascinating it seems. For instance, you can dive into post-processing and try out the different styles. Or you can enjoy the many wonders of macro photography.
When you try out new things, you open yourself up to new possibilities, and you’ll likely find your favorites. I can’t imagine missing out on the joys of landscape photography if I had stuck with my usual routine.
By branching out to different paths, you take back something new each time that improves your overall skills and makes you a better photographer.
16. Work on Your Weak Points
From a beginner’s point of view, I understand how learning to operate a DSLR camera can be quite frustrating, if not downright intimidating. Sometimes you just want to point and shoot, but you can’t get acceptable results that way.
There’s simply no working around aperture control, shutter speed, and ISO settings. And you can’t neglect fundamental things such as lighting and composition. Whatever the weak points are holding you back, you have to get it over with and start working on them.
The sooner you grasp what they’re about, the more quickly things will come naturally to you. The worst that you can do is keep putting off learning about them and continue relying on Auto mode.
As long as these weak points exist, you won’t grow as a photographer, which only adds to your frustrations. It may even force you to quit, which would be a tragedy.
You’ll need all the patience you can muster to chip away at these weaknesses one by one. And before you know it, they’ll become your strengths.
17. View Your Old Photos
Many photographers take a lot of shots and pick the best of the bunch. Then they forget about the others or delete them to free up more storage space.
But there are some valid reasons why you should revisit these old photos. They can be invaluable, not because they’re good, but with what you can learn from them.
It can be hard to look at these old images if they reveal your weak points, but you’ll be aware of what needs improvement. It could be an awkward composition, unbalanced exposure, terrible focus, or whatever that still needs refining.
They provide a means to gauge how much you’ve progressed, which can be encouraging. Think of these older photos as a record of your development as a photographer.
Occasionally, you’ll come across rare gems that you somehow managed to overlook the first time around. They could be among the most valuable images in your portfolio. But you’ll never know as long as you keep them buried under the other old files.
18. Meet Other Photographers
Another great way to improve in your craft is by meeting experienced photographers who can share valuable advice and even inspire you.
Photography communities are usually a tight-knit bunch so don’t be surprised if most are open to impart their know-how to others. There’s always someone willing to share some useful tips or help with your problem.
You can join photography clubs, online forums, or simply hangout with friends who share a similar passion for the art. Even newbies can learn from each other as they continue to develop their skills.
19. Practice and Experiment!
Practice makes perfect. It may sound cliché, but it still holds true today not only in photography but in any skill you can imagine.
Photography – being a diverse art form – provides beginners a lot of room for experimentation. As you explore its different components, the more you’ll understand how to set up your shots.
That’s why I encourage you to be nosey and learn as much as you can about the camera, composing a shot, lighting, post-processing, and more.
Don’t be discouraged if most of your photos turn out bad. You can’t just read a book or watch a video on the subject and expect to produce masterpieces.
No matter how talented you are, you must keep practicing and experimenting and learn from different outcomes. In time you’ll be skilled enough to produce images that convey to others what you envisioned in your mind and the emotions you were feeling.
20. Have Fun
The main reason a lot of people get into photography is fun. What started out as a hobby for some has turned into a career because of how much they enjoy and love it.
As I pointed out earlier, one way to keep it fresh is by trying out new stuff. Photography has a lot to offer that would keep shutterbugs busy for a long time.
Many times, the source of happiness isn’t just coming from photography itself. It could be from traveling and discovering new amazing scenes to capture. Or maybe it’s from meeting all sort of delightful characters.
Another way to keep the fun times rolling is not to take things too seriously. Don’t get caught up in technology or the science behind it, or worse, get into arguments about brands. Those things don’t matter.
Nothing can replace the feeling you get every time you capture something worthwhile that lets you showcase your creativity and apply your personal touch.
With time and lots of practice, using these tips became second nature to me. They’re pretty straightforward to understand, remember, and not too difficult to follow.
Of course, nothing comes easy, and there are many more things to learn that I didn’t cover here. However, these are the best ones I can think of to give you a head start in photography.
As you continue to improve, you’ll come across many other helpful tricks. It’s better to let you discover them at your own pace.