By creating a new habit or two, you can take your photos from ho-hum to stunning.
You’ve landed on one of 28 posts about photography and how to improve your skills. If you’re a creative, blogger, or photography enthusiast, you’ve landed in the right spot!
Why I Needed a New Habit
“Can you believe it?” I asked Pedro. “I got up at three this morning, drove all the way down here, and guess what I forgot?”
“Not your camera?” he asked.
“No. I have that,” I assured him.
“And I hope you didn’t forget a fresh battery or your charger.”
I laughed. “Nope, I learned that lesson the hard way.”
“So tell me what you forgot?”
“My memory card.” I shook my head, even though I knew he couldn’t see me through the phone. “When I got to the Riparian Preserve, I unloaded everything, saw a Rosy-Faced Lovebird land in a Saguaro near me, and took a photo. Only I didn’t, because the camera didn’t have a memory card in it.
“What did you do?”
“I had to drive to Sam’s Club and buy another one. It took an hour out of my time here, but I still managed to get some great shots,” I assured him.
I didn’t confess how many times this had happened to me before, and just how large my collection of SD cards had grown.
Obviously, I needed to form a new habit.
10 Habits for Better Photography
If I want to avoid frustration both on and off the field, I need to establish some good photography habits. Maybe you can learn from some of my mistakes.
Keep Your Equipment (all of it) Ready
When you download a memory card on your computer, immediately replace it in the camera (or put a fresh one in the minute you take the used one out). Come up with a system you remember and use every. single. time.
Always Leave Your Camera on Your Favorite Settings
If you leave your camera on your favorite settings, you have a better chance of catching the unexpected shot. I usually leave my camera on ISO 1000, and an aperture value of 9.0. This allows me to turn on my camera and get a shot of wildlife before it disappears.
When I go out galivanting (my term for wandering around the countryside looking for animals and birds), I set my camera before I head out. I’ll change the white balance to cloudy if it’s overcast, or sunny if it isn’t. I might bump up the ISO for overcast days as well.
Shoot in Camera RAW
I’ve covered this in a previous post, but it bears repeating. Shooting in Camera RAW allows you to have the maximum amount of information for each picture file. This will give you more to work with if you want to make adjustments to the photo or crop it.
Learn the Rule of Thirds
Imagine your viewfinder has a tic-tac-toe grid on it and try to take photos where your subject falls within the intersection of two grid lines. This prevents your photos from looking like driver’s license mug shots and add energy to them.
You can also crop your photos in post-processing to achieve the same ideal. While the rule of thirds helps you take better photos, you can break it. You are the artist. Try something new and different!
Wait for it
Whether you’re shooting people, animals, sunrises, or sunsets, learn to wait. Observe wildlife behavior, and you might discover certain birds act in predictable patterns. Hawks tend to go to the bathroom right before they take off. Songbirds often move in a triangle between three spots. This cute Rock Wren alternated between a pile of lumber, the back of my parents’ truck, and a cholla. The cholla yielded the best shot.
Try to get close enough to your subject(s) to crop out a busy background. You can do this by stepping closer (as long as it’s safe), or by using a telephoto lens to bring the subject closer to you.
If you shoot in [Av] or [A] mode, you can also blur the background by choosing a larger aperture (which means a smaller number on your f-stop).
Watch the Feet and Ears
Before you take the photo, do a quick check to make sure your subjects have both their heads and their feet. If you photograph wildlife, make sure you leave room for your subject to move.
Try all the Angles
Whether you photograph flowers, people, landscape, or animals, don’t stop with just one shot from one angle. Squat or kneel down, stand on something, move from side to side. Don’t worry about what others might think when they see you laying on your stomach in the middle of a sidewalk.
If you happen to shoot near a body of water, try a few shots that include the full reflection of your subject. It doesn’t take a lot of water (or snow, if the light is right) to create a dramatic effect. I’ve used mud puddles to reflect the colors of a sunrise. You may need to turn your camera vertically in order to take full advantage of a reflection. But the results will look better than a half-reflection.
Have fun out in the field. Creativity helps us release tension, but it also involves a lot of practice if we want to improve and find satisfaction in our results. Treat your efforts with kindness. Even Ansel Adams had to start somewhere.
Pick a habit, any habit from this list, and add it to a trigger. Not sure what a trigger is? Check out this post for an in-depth explanation. My memory card trigger works this way: As soon as my photos finish uploading to my computer, my computer automatically ejects the memory card. I take the memory card and walk it over to my camera and reinsert it. As soon as the card is in my camera, I turn on my camera and erase the memory card.
What will your habit be?
Come Back Tomorrow
In tomorrow’s installment of 28 Days Behind the Lens, I’ll explain how good habits make it easier to capture those moments of serendipity.