What to Do When Your Camera Won’t Work and You Wanna Scream

You love your camera and care for it with due diligence. You (hopefully) clean the sensor and wipe down your lenses, being careful to keep them dry and avoiding high humidity. But what happens when no matter how careful you’ve been, your camera won’t work and starts to act funny? What if that dear, dear equipment of yours stops working the way you try and expect? Then what?

Easy Fixes

There are some fairly common problems that you can fix yourself. They involve a little bit of fiddling with your camera, but you don’t always need to run to your local camera store for repairs. So before you go running to the experts consider these options if your experience the following issues with your camera.

1) The lens won’t focus

  • Check that the autofocus is turned on – This is a fairly easy fix most of the time. The first thing you should always do is check to make sure you have the lens’s autofocus turned on. There have been a few times when I didn’t realize that I had pushed the switch to manual focus and I can’t understand why the lens won’t work. Always, always check this button first.
  • Try removing the lens and reattaching it. Sometimes when changing lenses you may not quite connect the camera and lens properly. In this case, the camera and lens can’t communicate and the camera can’t send a message to the lens to start the autofocus adjustments. Make sure you hear a click and the lens is attached tightly to the camera body (if not it can also fall off!).
  • Try using compressed air or a blower. It may be that there is some dust that is interrupting the proper workings of your camera use a blower to clean out the attachment area for both lens (metal contacts) and the area on the camera.
What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

Try using a blower to clean the attachment area for your lens. Just remember don’t ever touch the little gold squares with your fingers. They can corrode and then your camera cannot communicate with the lens. I will apologize for the camera shake on this image. It’s not easy holding a camera while shooting using a blower tool.

  • Take out your trusty user manual and see if the there’s a troubleshooting section. Most camera user manuals will have a section where you can find solutions to common problems.
  • You’re too close – Every lens has a minimum focusing distance. If you get too close to your subject, the lens will not be able to focus. For example, if the minimum focusing distance for your lens is 18″ and you try to do a macro shot of a flower and get right into about 8″ away from it – you lens physically cannot do that job. Try adding a close-up filter or using extension tubes to solve this issue.

2) Memory Card Errors

  • Check it’s not locked – If your camera won’t allow you to take or to delete photos it may be because you’ve not removed the write protect on your card or you’ve locked it. If the memory card is locked you can move the switch to unlock it. Sometimes the switch will break off. This is an easy repair. Place a piece of tape over the space where the switch should be and the card will once again be unlocked.
  • Format – If nothing is working, it may be time to consider formatting the card. You will lose all pictures currently on the card (download them first) but this may be the only way to get the card working again.
What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

Here you can see the little switch on the SD card. If you can’t write to the card check here.

3) Weird Exposures

It can happen sometimes, you read the exposure correctly, and somehow everything comes out way too bright or too dark. The first thing to check is your exposure settings.

  • Perhaps you’ve got exposure compensation turned on. This means that the camera will alter the value selected when the camera is set in various automatic modes (with some models it even applies in Manual Mode, like most Nikons). Check to make sure you haven’t accidentally turned on exposure compensation.
What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

Oops, yep definitely did not look at camera settings when I shot this. Always check those when you consistently get a weird exposure.

  • Also, check what metering mode the camera is set to use. Often, issues can be caused by using Spot Metering mode if you are not careful and understand how to use it. If in doubt, use Average or Evaluative Metering Mode as a safe fall-back.
  • Check you haven’t activated Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) by mistake. This is a common accident and you may not even realize it’s happened, but auto bracketing will take a series of images both under and overexposed that could be throwing off your exposures. If one shot is dark and the next is too bright this could be the culprit, check your bracketing settings.

Know when it’s time to put your camera to rest

There are times when there’s nothing you can do. Your camera is just like other tools and eventually, it will wear out. So let’s talk about the signs that you may have a camera on its last legs.

  • The ISO grain on your camera has become way more sensitive. In this case, it’s time to consider a new camera. If your camera’s ISO 400 is starting to look grainy in good lighting then you may need to go shopping.
  • The shutter is very slow. A camera usually has a lifespan of maximum shutter actuations. Once your camera reaches its limits, there’s nothing you can do. You will know if you’re reaching the end when the shutter on your camera starts to become very slow and there is often a delay after you press the shutter button before it takes the photo.

The dark band at the top is a sign that your camera shutter isn’t functioning properly.

  • You’ve surpassed your camera’s limits – There’s another factor that has nothing to do with the proper workings of the camera. Sometimes you may outgrow the capabilities of your equipment. I used a Canon 50D for years. But then when I became much more serious about my photography, and I needed something with a higher megapixel count I knew it was time to put my lovely camera to rest. Sometimes we need better equipment. It’s okay to accept this fact and move on. I know this sounds like you’re breaking up a relationship of sorts. Well, the truth is you are. Do what’s best for you and the goals you have for your photography.


So go ahead and tell us more about your camera. Give us some nice anecdotes about your frustrations with your gear. Tell us about the quick fixes you’ve found and tell us about your love-hate relationships with your older gear and why you moved on.

The post What to Do When Your Camera Won’t Work and You Wanna Scream appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Are You Using Your Camera Wrong? 7 Errors You Need to Avoid

Are you making these 7 mistakes with your camera? Let’s find out.

7 Ways You’re Using Your Camera Wrong

Here’s a recap and links to some dPS articles to help you avoid making these mistakes with your camera.

  1. Holding your camera the wrong way – Cheat Sheet: How to Hold a Camera
  2. Not cleaning your lens – Step by Step How to Clean Camera Gear so it Stays in Good Shape
  3. Not having enough batteries or memory cards – Packing your Bags for a Photo Shoot and How to Select the Right Camera Memory Card
  4.  Not adjusting your focus point – Understanding the Focus and Recompose Technique and Getting Sharper Images – an Understanding of Focus Modes
  5. Shooting in full Automatic or the wrong mode – Getting off Auto – Manual, Aperture, and Shutter Priority modes explained
  6. Don’t use Auto White Balance – How Auto White Balance Can Hinder Your Photography
  7. Not shooting in RAW – Tips for Choosing Between RAW Versus JPEG File Format and Is Shooting RAW+JPEG the Best of Both Worlds? and finally, RAW Versus JPG – Why You Might Want to Shoot in RAW Format

Are you guilty of making any of those camera errors?

Can you think of any other common camera mistakes that beginners need to avoid? If so, please join in the discussion and post them in the comments area below.

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The Best Way to Improve Your Photography is to Forget About Your Camera

Are you confident using your camera to take photographs in every situation in which you want to shoot? Do you experience anxiety when you think about reaching for your camera? Would you like to feel sure that when you do head out for a photography session you will return more than satisfied with your results? So what is the best way to improve your photography?

portrait of a Kayan girl - improve your photography

If you are anxious or lacking confidence in using your camera you will most likely not be so happy with your photographs. As photographers, most of us like to be improving our pictures each time we use our cameras. I don’t know of a photographer who is not interested in continuing to create better photos than they have previously.

Photography is so much more than having the most up to date equipment and knowing which dials to turn and buttons to push to make it work. The best way to improve your photography is to forget about your camera.

Photography is More Popular Than Ever

Photography is currently more popular than it has ever been. People are taking more photos every day than ever before in history. Why? Because they can and because it is easy. And because everyone always has a camera with them.

Northern Thailand landscape near Suan Sook Homestay, Doi Inthanon - improve your photography

Mobile phone cameras have made photography more popular than ever. This photo was taken with my phone camera.

It is easier and more convenient than ever to be able to take and share your photographs. Most people can take a photo with their phone very easily and without much knowledge of photography technique. Most phone camera users are not concerned with their shutter speed or their ISO setting. But you don’t have to search much to find some outstanding photographs made with phone cameras.

When people take photos with their phone they are most often concentrating on the moment, not the mechanics of how to work the camera. The more you can learn to do this when you are using your DSLR, mirrorless or any other camera the more you will improve your photography.

Make Time to Learn

Make time to study how your camera works. If you are just starting out, begin with the essentials. Become familiar with the settings for obtaining a good exposure and well-focused photos.

Night photo of a buddhist monk at a ceremony at Wat Pan Tao - improve your photography

In any situation you find yourself wanting to photograph, you need to be confident in adjusting your settings well without losing concentration on your subject.

For more advanced photographers, don’t neglect to keep learning more about your camera. Learn to use more of the functions and become proficient at them. If you can do this you will be well prepared whenever you want to head out for a photography session.

If you are constantly trying to figure out how to use your camera at the times when you want to make great photos, you will not be as successful.

Know your camera functions and settings well, so you can use it as quickly and easily as your phone camera. You’ll be able to pay more attention to the moment if you do so.

:aughing Karen woman in a rice field - improve your photography

Be Prepared

When you are in a situation where you want to take photographs, be prepared. Have everything with you that you need. Do you need another lens? Will you need flash? How about your tripod? As well, be mindful of whether or not you will need anything other than your camera and one or two lenses. If not, don’t carry it with you. It will only hinder you.

Always try to anticipate the situation ahead of time. Be well set up with the right lens and any other accessories you need. If you can do this in advance you will be able to concentrate more on making great photos.

Thai woman in traditional costume - improve your photography

Being prepared means you will not miss any opportunities to make great photos.

Review and Critique

Always take a good look at your photos, including the ones you are not satisfied with. Hopefully, you are not deleting any of your photos from your cards before reviewing them on your computer. Aside from this being poor technical practice, you can learn a lot from your dud photos.

lady and giant soap bubbles - improve your photography

Studying your photos for composition, exposure, timing, subject choice, etc., will help you improve. If you are reviewing photos you are not so happy with, this will help you avoid making the same mistakes in future.

Having someone else look at your photos and offer critique can be very valuable. Even if it’s a friend or family member who has little or no photography experience it can help keep you on track, (so long as they are honest and positive.)

Sharing your photos for critique with an experienced photographer can help your growth. They will be able to point out things you may not have noticed. By seeking feedback you will learn directly from your own images.

Reflection of a monk in a puddle of water - improve your photography

Art and Science

Photography is very much a whole brain experience. The left hemisphere of your brain engages to manage the technical aspects. Your right hemisphere is more attentive to the creative aspects. There must be a cohesion and a balance.

If you are too focused on the technical aspects of photography you will not produce such creative pictures. If your right brain takes over you may not get well-exposed or focused images because of not paying attention to your camera.

Pink dahlia photo - improve your photography

Knowing your equipment, whatever camera you are using, will help you improve your photography. A photo that was taken with my camera phone.

Being confident to use your camera, whichever one you choose to use, will help you be more successful. Understand how to use it and to adjust the settings to get the photos you want easily. This takes some study, commitment, and practice, but it’s well worth it to be able to achieve consistently better results.

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5 Common Camera Setting Mistakes Made by Newbie Photographers

Photography is a process of constant learning, so it’s only natural to make mistakes along the way. But with a little bit of advice from those who have been there already, fledgling photographers can avoid a few common camera setting mistakes and focus on bigger and better things. Here are a few tips and tricks I learned early on that will help you get stuck into quality image making.

1 – Leaving image stabilization on when using a tripod

Image stabilization is a handy device that can reduce camera shake and improve image quality when it’s used properly. When activated, image stabilization counteracts slight movements of the camera to help reduce blur in your photos. It can be so effective that cameras and lenses equipped with the system allow you to use a shutter speed of between three and five stops slower than cameras without the feature.

This makes for sharper images in lower light conditions. Sounds great right? Well yes, but not all the time. In fact, when image stabilization is used with a tripod, it can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help.

If your camera is already set up on a tripod, it should be steady enough by itself. In this case, with the image stabilization left on, the system may try to compensate for minuscule vibrations that wouldn’t otherwise have an effect on the image, increasing blur rather than reducing it.

Check your camera or lens user manual to learn how to switch the system off while shooting with a tripod and you’ll get much sharper images. Just don’t forget to turn it on again when you are going to hand-hold the camera.

5 Common Camera Setting Mistakes Made by Newbie Photographers

In this example, you can see the difference in sharpness between the photograph taken with Image Stabilization on and the photograph taken with IS off. Notice that the photograph with IS off is sharper, with greater contrast.

2 – Using the wrong autofocus mode

When I started out in photography, I remember struggling to properly focus on a subject in my frame, often leaving the camera to select a point at random and hoping for the best. At the time, I didn’t realize the importance of different autofocus modes.

Autofocus offers several different modes which you can select. These are One-Shot AF (Canon)/AF-S (Nikon), AI Servo AF (Canon)/AF-C (Nikon), and final AI Focus (Canon) and AF-A (Nikon).

Probably the most commonly used focus mode is the One-Shot/Single-Servo option. It is the best choice for stationary subjects and serves as the standard setting on your camera. For this setting, the autofocus system achieves focus and then locks that setting in until the shutter is actuated. Once locked, you are assured that your subject will be sharply focused.

AI Servo/AF-C, on the other hand, focuses the lens continuously, which makes it ideal for tracking a moving subject. In this focus mode, the camera will let you take a picture at any time, even if the subject isn’t in focus. This mode is the best choice when you have a moving subject like children, animals, shooting sports, birds, etc.

5 Common Camera Setting Mistakes Made by Newbie Photographers

You can change your focus mode in the quick control panel (this shows the Canon options).

Many cameras also offer a third autofocus mode: AI Focus (Canon) or AF-A (Nikon). This mode attempts to automatically detect whether the subject is stationary or moving and sets the focus mode depending on the situation. However, AI Focus isn’t as reliable as the other two dedicated settings, so it’s best to deliberately select between One-Shot/AF-S or AI Servo/AF-C where possible.


5 Common Camera Setting Mistakes Made by Newbie Photographers

AI Servo/AF-C focus mode is ideal for photographing moving subjects.

3 – Not shooting in RAW format

For much of my early photography, I shot in jpeg. It was a familiar file format, so I just went with it. Only later did I discovered what I was missing out on. JPEG files are processed by the camera. That means that while settings like color temperature and exposure are set based on your camera settings, the camera will process the image to adjust blacks, contrast, brightness, noise reduction and sharpening. The file will then be compressed into a JPEG.

But because the image has been edited, compressed and then saved as a JPEG, information in the original photograph gets discarded and cannot be recovered. This limits how much editing you can do with the image in post-production.

Advantages of RAW format

RAW files, on the other hand, are uncompressed and unprocessed. Although they come out looking flatter and darker than JPEG images, they retain all the information recorded in the original image. This allows for a lot more flexibility in post-production, allowing you to take full control over adjustments that you want to apply to a photograph.

Shooting in JPEG can be useful for happy-snaps or circumstances where output doesn’t need to be as higher quality. Otherwise, for professional-grade imagery, you want to shoot in camera RAW. And if you aren’t sure, it is possible to shoot both at the same time – just make sure you have an extra CF card or two on hand.

5 Common Camera Setting Mistakes Made by Newbie Photographers

You can see that the unedited, uncompressed RAW image is a lot flatter than the JPEG because it retains all the information of the original shot. Only after processing will the RAW image match or surpass the look of the JPG.

4 – Always shooting in automatic mode

Automatic exposure mode means that the shutter speed, aperture and ISO are set automatically by the camera for a given situation, leaving you to depress the shutter button and move onto the next shot. But what if you want to take more control over your images?

The biggest advantage of shooting in manual mode (or shutter/aperture priority mode) over automatic is creative control. Plus, the camera doesn’t always get the algorithm for exposure right, so you can end up with underexposed or overexposed images.

Choose a semi-automatic mode instead

You don’t have to shoot fully manual to take better control of your images either. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes allow you to select and adjust either your aperture or shutter speed while the camera compensates to give you the right exposure.

5 Common Camera Setting Mistakes Made by Newbie Photographers

Auto shooting mode.

By using Aperture Priority, you have much more control over the depth of field in your image, dictating how much of the image is in sharp focus. This is helpful for many genres from portraiture to landscape photography, changing the dynamic of your images depending on the situation and how deep you want your photographs to look.

As for using Shutter Priority, being able to take control of the motion in an image allows for a lot more creative leeway. Motion blur has long been used to make images more dynamic. Think waterfalls with smooth flowing water and time-lapse cityscapes, as well as intentional camera movement.

While Automatic exposure mode is useful and often effective, relying only on Auto is allowing your creative photographic potential go to waste. Experimenting with shooting in full Manual or Shutter or Aperture Priority Mode means that you can truly get to know your camera and exploit its artistic possibilities.

5 – Not backing up files

We have a saying in Australia; “She’ll be right”. The term asserts that whatever is wrong will right itself with time. It’s both an optimistic and an apathetic outlook, and when it comes to photography, it can be the start of a spiral into digital file oblivion. I’m talking about backing up files.

Okay, so it isn’t technically an in-camera setting mistake, but photography has an enormous output of content that needs to be maintained so that it is as fresh as the day it was created.

From day one, “she’ll be right” just doesn’t cut it. If you only have one copy of your images stored on a hard drive, and that hard drive fails, (as they often do) then you’ll completely lose all your work. Forever! The easy solution is to have a second or even third copy of your images stored somewhere else, either on an external hard drive or cloud storage service.

Make the investment now and you’ll thank yourself later.

5 Common Camera Setting Mistakes Made by Newbie Photographers

An old favorite, this image is backed up on two separate hard drives!


Starting out in photography can sometimes seem like a daunting task – there’s so much to learn! But photographers, for the most part, are a friendly bunch. We’re happy to pass on the tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way.

By doing your research, there are plenty of ways to dig into photography, avoiding common mistakes, and delve into the world of photography with confidence!

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Camera Basics – Two Video Tutorials to Help You Master Your Camera Settings

Okay so you’ve got a new camera and want to learn some camera basics, these two video tutorials will give you a hand. Or perhaps you’ve been shooting for a while and want to get off Auto mode – this applies to you as well.

Camera Basics

In this first video, Peter McKinnon explains the three parts of the exposure triangle in an easy to understand format.

Understanding Exposure

Next, in this second video, Tony Northrup demonstrates the basics of exposure and how the elements of the exposure triangle work together.

One thing he explains well is how adjusting just one of the three parts of the exposure triangle doesn’t make the photo darker or brighter when using one of the auto or semi-automatic modes.

Tony encourages you to watch his demonstration and then set up a similar arrangement in your home and try the experiments yourself. This is a great way to learn so that you can really see the results of changing the various settings and understand how they work.

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The Importance of Learning From Failure to Help You Grow as a Photographer

There’s a scene in the 1995 movie Apollo 13 when Gene Kranz, flight commander of the ill-fated moon mission, tells his team that, “Failure is not an option” as they struggle to find a way to bring three astronauts home from the depths of space. While that moment certainly makes for dramatic storytelling, it’s often far from the case when photography is concerned.

I would even go so far as to say failure is not only an option but necessary for you to grow as a photographer. There will be times in your photographic journey that things just don’t go as you had hoped despite how much you plan ahead. While some of these instances might slow you down the important part is learning from failure, growing from your mistakes, and becoming a better photographer as a result.

This picture turned out great, but there have been plenty over the years that didn’t.

I would like to share some things I’ve learned over the years from times that I have failed. Hopefully, this will help you benefit from my experiences.

Know your gear well

On some of my first sessions with clients, I had a very difficult time getting my camera to do what I wanted it to do, and many of my images were ruined because of it. A few were too bright, others were too dark, and some weren’t even in focus.

Luckily I shot in RAW so I could fix some of the issues in Lightroom. But things would have gone a lot smoother if I had just taken the time to understand my camera, learned how to use it, and knew what to do when shooting instead of spending hours adjusting images afterward.

The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer - DLSR camera

Your camera is loaded with buttons, dials, menus, and options. Do you know what they all do?


To illustrate what I mean by this, take a look at the following image I shot almost five years ago. Thankfully I did this session as a favor for some friends of our family because looking back on it I would feel terrible if I charged them money for these pictures!

dark family photo (underexposed) - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

I remember being frustrated at seeing the LCD screen of my Nikon D7100 as I took these pictures because they were all coming out so dark! I didn’t know what was wrong, and I didn’t know what to change on my camera to fix the problem.

Looking back there was any number of remedies for this overly-dark photograph that I could have used. Had I only known how to actually work the knobs and dials on my camera, simple things like the follow could have solved it:

Thankfully I used RAW and not JPG so the image wasn’t a total loss, but the skin tones are washed out and the picture is not nearly as vibrant and dynamic as if I had just gotten it right at the time of the shoot.

family portrait in the park - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

Clearly, I had a lot to learn about lighting, composition, and why having clients sit on a canvas drop-cloth with their feet out is not a good idea.

This advice is not just for newbies

This advice isn’t just for professional sessions with clients either. Something happens when you get new gear and want to put it through its paces. I attended a wedding recently as a guest, not as the official photographer, but I had my shiny new Fuji X100F with me and even though I thought I knew how to operate it, I made a crucial mistake that cost me a lot of good shots throughout the evening.

For a good 20 minutes I couldn’t figure out why my camera wasn’t focusing right and all my shots were coming out poorly exposed. Finally, I realized that I had accidentally activated the built-in ND filter. There was even an icon on the LCD screen indicating the ND filter was turned on, but I didn’t see it because I just wasn’t as familiar with the camera as I should have been.

people dancing at a party - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

Suffice it to say I felt like a complete amateur when I realized that a mistake I made had ruined so many good photo opportunities, but I quickly learned from it and hopefully now you can too!

Familiarize yourself with the location beforehand

Years ago, not too long after I got my Nikon D200 and 50mm lens, I thought I was a pretty big deal and knew everything there was to know about pictures. After all, I had a prime lens! What else was there to understand? (Spoiler alert: A lot. A whole lot!)

One of the biggest mistakes I made during this early period was to show up for photo sessions without ever having been to the location beforehand. This made it impossible, as any seasoned photographer would know, to plan out some of the basic essentials of a photo shoot and look for things like lighting, foreground and background elements, and even where to have my clients sit, stand, or walk.

Hard lesson to learn

The worst offender of the bunch was a session I did for a high school senior where most of the pictures turned out –  well, let’s just say less than ideal because I failed to plan ahead in terms of the physical location. We agreed to meet at a cross-country track, with almost no natural shade, at 5 pm. This is what happened:

portrait in the shade - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

From one of my first high school senior sessions, and one I wish I could erase from existence altogether.

After searching for something, anything, to block the sun so he wasn’t squinting – I finally found this set of metal bleachers behind a tree. But because I didn’t understand how to operate my camera to get the exposure right (see failure tip #1) I got shots that were lit like some kind of circus act and were far too over or underexposed.

If I had taken some time to visit the location first I could have at least mentioned some alternative places at the track, or even suggested a different location entirely. Instead, I got out of my car and met the client and his mom with the kind of overconfident swagger that only a new wet-behind-the-ears photographer has, and ended up biffing most of the shots.

I did scrape by with enough competent shots to make it worth their while, but nonetheless, I walked away having learned something I will never forget.

senior portrait - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

This was from one of my more recent high school senior sessions. I think it’s just a bit better, don’t you?

A few more for good measure

There are a host of other times I have failed as a photographer but each time I have tried to engage in some self-reflection and understand where I went wrong, As well, I tried to talk with other photographer friends, so I don’t make the same mistakes in the future.

My work has grown, and so have I, as a result of these failures. I would almost go so far as to say that failure is downright essential if you want to refine your craft as a photographer.

dogwood flower - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

It took years of poor decisions and overlooking the obvious for me to learn enough about photography to take this simple picture of a dogwood flower.

Without going into too much detail, here are just a couple of other times I have swung and missed, photographically speaking, over the years along with a bit of caution for others thrown in for good measure.

When in doubt, take more photos

I was born in 1980 and grew up in the era of physical film, so when I got my first digital camera I carried that mentality with me. As a result, I missed out on a lot of good shots, especially with clients, because I thought I already had enough and didn’t want to fill up my memory card.

With the price of memory cards being so astronomically low, there is no excuse for not taking enough pictures, and you can just delete them later if you need to.

Control your depth of field

After I got my 85mm f/1.8 lens I took it out to a photo session with clients before thoroughly using and understanding it, which is always a big mistake. I also thought that I could shoot everything at f/1.8 because it gave me such a cool background blur!

What I didn’t realize at the time was the extra-large aperture was also causing half the people to be out of focus due to the insanely shallow depth of field. Just because your lens has a super wide aperture doesn’t mean you should always use it. When in doubt, stop it down a bit.

family portrait outdoors - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

I focused on the mother, front and center, and shot this with my 85mm lens at f/1.8 to get a blurry background. What I didn’t realize was that also meant the husband was out of focus as a result.

Know when enough is enough

This one is going to vary depending on the type of photography you do. But as someone who takes a lot of family and child photos, it’s important to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

Kids, and even parents, can be fickle and there were times early on when I would drag out photo sessions long after I should have called it quits. “Hey let’s get some more shots over there!” I would say. My clients would begrudgingly oblige while I scampered off ahead of them in a vain effort to capture authentic smiles and emotions.

Dragging out a photo session won’t help you get better pictures. But it will make your clients roll their eyes and think about booking someone else next time. Someone who will take a hint and pay attention to their needs!

family photo - The Importance of Learning From Failure and Your Growth as a Photographer

I learned over the years that kids just don’t last long at family photo sessions, so I took a ton of pictures and tried to keep things interesting by switching up the poses. 20 minutes later these kids were ready to be done, and I could have tried to stretch things out further but it would have only led to frustration.


These are just a few of the many lessons I have learned over the years that, while painful at the time, have served me well in the long run.

What are some of the ways in which you have failed, fell down, or otherwise came up short and what did you learn from it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. Hopefully, we can all learn from each other’s mistakes.

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4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

In this article, I’d like to share with you a few tips on how to utilize some of your camera’s functions to help you come to grips with shooting in Manual Mode.

Sometimes stripping back to the basics and only using minimal, older equipment with none of the modern features new cameras possess, can help you grow as a photographer. Sometimes making good use of selective technology on your digital camera can also help you learn and create more accurate exposures more easily than is ever possible with older cameras.

Asian woman holding an old 35mm film camera - 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

I started learning on a camera which had no auto anything. There were no options other than to learn Manual Mode. I still use shoot manual 99% of the time.

During the photography workshops we run, I love to encourage people to switch to manual and commit to it for a period of time. If you try Manual Mode once or twice for a short time it’s likely you will not “get” it. You need to commit and using only Manual for most of what you photograph for long enough until you feel you are making progress.

man taking a photo - 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

1. Live View/Electronic View Finder

Many cameras now have LCD screens/electronic viewfinders which display how the exposure will look when you take a photo in Manual Mode. If your camera has this function it pretty much eliminates the need to look at the exposure meter or change your metering mode to obtain well-exposed photographs.

By focusing your attention on the exposure of the image on your LCD screen or in your electronic viewfinder while you are adjusting your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings you can easily see when your photo will look good.

Asian woman photographer 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

You need have your screen or viewfinder set so it’s neutral, not too bright and not too dark. To check this you can take a few test photos and then review them (on the computer). If they are over or underexposed adjust the brightness value of your camera’s LCD screen and/or viewfinder until your photos have the same exposure value you are seeing in the viewfinder or on your monitor in Live View mode.

2. Use Your Spot Meter

If you prefer not to use Live View or do not have an electronic viewfinder which displays the changes to the exposure value as you adjust your controls, using the spot meter can help you achieve more accurate reading and set your exposures more precisely.

Woman selling mangoes - 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

Modern cameras have a selection of metering modes which include a spot meter. Most often using the averaging mode, which takes a reading from multiple segments of the image area and gives an exposure value the camera calculates, is sufficient.

However, in some situations, particularly if your subject is back-lit or contrast in the scene you are photographing is high, using the spot meter setting will allow you to make a reading off the area of the image which is most vital to you.

For example, making a portrait where your background is significantly lighter or darker than your subject it is best to take a spot meter reading from their face as this is usually the most important part of your image. Using the averaged setting your camera’s meter will also read from the background and calculate that into the result it returns, potentially giving you a less than satisfactory exposure.

Karen woman smoking a pipe - 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

Learning to use your spot meter will assist you in creating more accurate exposures. I have one of the function buttons on my cameras set to switch to spot metering, allowing me to quickly and easily take a reading from any particular part of my composition.

3. Review Your Photos

It’s not a healthy practice to always be checking your camera’s monitor after every photo you take, as this can interrupt your attention from your subject. But it can be helpful to review your first few images after making adjustments to your exposure settings.

Taking a look at the results after changing your aperture, shutter speed, or ISO will give you a clear idea as to whether your settings are suitable for the photos you want to create. If you see a photo that’s too bright or too dark overall or in a part of the composition you prefer to see well exposed, then you will need to make some adjustment to your settings.

Asian woman reviewing a photo on a DSLR camera monitor - 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

As you practice this technique you may start to find you can estimate how much you need to alter your exposure settings rather than consulting your exposure meter again. This does take some practice, but if you form a habit of doing this, you will find this is a quick and easy way to achieve a better exposure.

4. Check Your Metadata

Our digital cameras record an incredible amount of metadata, associated information about each photograph you take. Learning to read and understand even a small amount of this information can assist you in producing more consistently pleasing exposures.

Back of a DSLR camera at dusk - 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode

Being able to freely review the exposure value for any photo you have taken can help you understand why it’s good or maybe why it needs improving. I find this information most handy when I am sitting at my computer reviewing my images from a photography session.

Comparing photos made with different exposure values and looking at the metadata can help you have a better understanding of what settings you can use next time.

In Conclusion

Evening photo with bold colors taken during a Chaing Mai Photo Workshop

Autofocus, Facial Recognition, Auto White Balance, and ISO flexibility are all modern advancements in camera technology which make using Manual Mode easier. Because you don’t have to pay so much attention to these things and can better concentrate on setting your exposure well.

Exposure is one of the key elements of every photograph. Learning to understand how you can use the various features of your camera to assist you in making better exposures will help you become a more creative photographer.

The post 4 Tips to Help You Love Using Manual Mode appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Composition Checklist for Beginners

At a recent meetup with several photographers, during a discussion on composition, one of the beginners commented: “Why isn’t there a composition checklist for all the things we need to think about?” It was a good question and was the inspiration that prompted this article.

It’s not about the gear

You can have the most expensive camera gear and the most amazing light. You could be in a fabulous scenic location, or shooting a stunning model. There are many situations that might provide you with the opportunity to shoot breathtaking images, but if the composition is not spot on, then it doesn’t matter how fancy or expensive your gear is.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - flower blooming

The reverse is true also, you can craft amazing images with beginner grade gear (even your cell phone) if your understanding of composition is good. When you know the rules and guidelines, can work them to your advantage, and even push the barriers and be really creative. No one will care what gear you used to get the shot, they will go “Wow, you must have an amazing camera!”

Learn the composition basics

Even though there are many different kinds of photography, whether you do street, landscapes, macro, studio or anything else, there are a lot of basic composition concepts that apply. Not every concept will need to be considered for every image but having a good understanding of the basics will get you a long way.

Truly understanding composition was one of the major steps in my photography making a big step up in improvement. Like every new idea, you have to put some effort into learning the idea, practicing, learning from your mistakes and practicing again and again. When you can frame up a well-composed shot without consciously thinking about what you are doing and why then you can really start to think about new ways to frame and shape your images.

First, you have to master the basics.

roller derby - Composition Checklist for Beginners

Getting Started

First of all, these are not rules. While there are some guidelines you should consider when creating an aesthetically pleasing image, it is entirely possible to ignore them all and still make a stunning image. It is, however, a lot easier to do that when you know what the guidelines are first. So this is a list of concepts you should consider for each image, not rules you absolutely have to follow.

Some things are easy and obvious, or so you might think. Yet the number of images with noticeably crooked horizons you see posted online is a testament to the fact that this stuff is not always obvious, and is hard to learn. Be kind to yourself and take it in stages. Maybe even write your list down and carry it in your camera bag as a handy reminder.

Also, every image will have different elements in it, and different concepts will apply. So pick and choose the ones that work for you and the scene in front of you. As an example, there are things you would do when framing up a landscape that won’t apply when shooting street photography shots.

So be sensible, pick a few that make sense to you or that apply to the way you shoot. Then practice them until it’s like breathing – it just happens automatically when you pick up the camera and frame a shot. When you get to that stage, add some more concepts to your process, and absorb those the same way.

Composition Checklist

So here is the checklist of things to look for in your composition as a starting point.

  1. Is the horizon straight?
  2. Is the subject strong and obvious within the image?
  3. Are the edges of the frame clean? Is anything poking into the frame that distract the viewer? Are there elements of the image that lead the eye out of the frame that could be positioned better?
  4. Is the background clean – are there distracting elements like a car parked in the background, or a fence or a house that doesn’t fit? Can you move or change the angle to remove that element?
  5. Is the foreground tidy? Are you shooting a landscape or natural scene where there might be branches or leaves or twigs in the foreground that could be tidied away?
  6. The position of people in the shot. Do they have a lamp post or a tree growing out of the top of their head? Have you chopped heads, feet, arms, or legs off?
  7. Eye contact – when shooting a group of people, do we have eye contact with all your subjects?
  8. Camera position – are you at the right height/angle for the best composition?
  9. Point of focus – when taking photos of people/creatures/animals have you focused on the eye? Do you have a catchlight in the eye?
  10. Is the Rule of Thirds being used effectively?
  11. Do you have a sense of scale – particularly valid for large landscape scenes?
  12. How does the eye travel around the image? Where does it go first? Where does it end up? Is that the story you want to tell the viewer?
  13. Lens choice – does the lens you are using affect the composition in a positive or negative way? Would a different lens be worth considering?
  14. Less is more – what truly needs to be in the frame? What can you leave out?
  15. Is it sharp? Do you want it to be?

Considering Composition in More Detail

#1 – Is the horizon straight?

It would seem fairly easy to notice if the horizon is straight when you are taking a shot. It is also extremely easy to fix in post-processing, yet so many images are posted online that have crooked horizons, varying from a little bit to quite a lot. Our brains automatically hiccup when they encounter it, so it is a genuine composition issue that needs to be resolved.

You can take the time to set the camera up so it is completely level. When shooting a panorama, timelapse, video and similar things, it is worth the extra effort. For general purpose use, it can be easily edited in post-production.

tilted horizon example - Composition Checklist for Beginners

The horizon is about 3 degrees tilted down to the left – just enough to make your brain twitch.

#2 – Is the subject strong and obvious within the image?

There are some composition concepts that are fairly straightforward and obvious, like point #1 above. Then there are some that are more open to interpretation.

This point could be considered one of those things. However, I then propose this question to you. If the subject is not strong or obvious then how do we know what the point of your image is?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - green garden image

There are a lot of competing elements in this image, where do we start?

#3 – Are the edges of the frame clean?

Are there things poking into the frame that distract the viewer? Look for elements in the image which lead your eye out of the frame. Could they be positioned better?

Running your eye around the edge of the frame when composing your shot is a valuable step that can save you a lot of time. This is one lesson I personally had to learn the hard way and it applies to most general styles of photography.

Are there things poking into the frame from outside it that impose themselves on the image and distract the viewer? Are there blurry elements in the foreground that you could move or change your point of view to reduce their impact? Is there half a car or a building partially visible in the background perhaps?

Quite often when you are framing a shot, you are focused so intently on the subject, that you may neglect to see the whole image. So you may miss these extra details that can make or break the shot.

purple flower - Composition Checklist for Beginners

The extra leaf and bud in the top left corner are distracting.

#4 – Is the background clean?

Are there distracting elements like a car parked in the background, or a fence or a house that doesn’t fit? Can you move or change the camera angle to eliminate that element from the image?

This is an extra step on top of point #3 above – putting more effort into assessing the background.

Are you taking a nice landscape and there is a farm shed clearly visible? Perhaps there is a truck parked in the distance or a vehicle on the road you need to wait to move out of frame. Are the colors harmonious? Is the sky doing nice things? Is the sun a bit too bright in the clouds?

colonial mansion - Composition Checklist for Beginners

This lovely colonial mansion had a very modern hospital and school behind it and was difficult to frame it up to reduce those jarring elements.

#5 – Is the foreground tidy?

Are you shooting a landscape or natural scene? Are there branches, leaves, or twigs in the foreground that could be tidied away?

This is particularly relevant in nature and landscape photography, but still worth remembering in general.

Is what you have in the foreground adding to the image or distracting from the subject? Is there rubbish or stuff on the ground that looks messy? Are there twigs too close to the lens so they are blurry? Can you move any branches or things out of the way or do you need to change the angle of shooting instead?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - red mushroom

Look at all the mess of cones and twigs in the foreground, all blurry and untidy.

#6 – The position of people or the subject

Do any people in your image have lamp posts or a tree growing out of the top of their heads? Have you chopped heads, feet, arms, or legs off awkwardly?

Often a problem for posed outdoor shots, this is essentially a specific element of point #3 above – checking the background in relation to your subjects.

Is the camera straight, is the angle flattering? Are people squinting into the sun? Is the lighting good? Do you have all their body parts within the frame? Is everyone looking in the same direction or interacting in the desired manner?

cat photo - Composition Checklist for Beginners

His eyes are sharp but I cut his front paws off, not good.

#7 – Eye contact

When shooting a group of people, do we have eye contact with all the subjects?

Quite often when shooting people they will generally be looking at the camera. However, if some are and some are not, it has a weird kind of dissonance to the viewer. So make sure you have some way of engaging the people so they look at you and take several shots.

If worst comes to worst you can work some Photoshop magic to blend a few frames together if it’s a critical image.

Composition Checklist for Beginners

Notice they are not all looking at the camera.

#8 – Camera position

Are you at the right height and camera angle for the best composition?

Being at eye level with your subject makes a big difference to the feel of an image. When photographing people, the camera angle does have an effect on how flattering the shot might be to the subject.

You may want to push some creative boundaries and do something different for a particular scene. Street photography is one genre where the height and angle can directly impact the story you are telling.

On average most people tend to stand and shoot from that position, but what if you get down really low?  What if you find some stairs or some way to get higher up?  What if you shoot straight down on top of your subject rather than side on?

Start to think more creatively about how you use composition to evoke a mood or tell a story about a scene.

white swan - Composition Checklist for Beginners

This image works because I was flat on the shore at a similar height to the swan. Had I been standing you would not have seen the wonderful curve in the bird’s neck.

#9 – Point of focus

When taking photos of people, creatures or animals have you focused on their eyes? Do you have catchlight in the eyes?

If you have a subject with eyes in the image that is looking at the camera it is important to have the focus point on the eye. Faces of people, birds, and animals are very dimensional and it can be easy to get the focus point on the tip of the nose or forehead or somewhere else. So if you have a living creature looking at your camera, focus on their eye.

Another trick to make them look alive and engaged is to angle your shot so that there is some light reflected off the dark iris. This is called a catchlight and is important especially for animals and birds that have large dark eyes. Fashion photographers use fancy round beauty dish lights to give a distinctive ring effect in their shots.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - cat photo

The nose is sharp but the eyes are just a bit out of focus which is not desirable.

#10 – Is the Rule of Thirds being used?

While the Rule of Thirds is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule, it is a good one for a beginner to take on board. It is easy to remember and does help you create a more dynamic and interesting image when used well.

So if you intend on using it, add it to your mental checklist.

birds - Composition Checklist for Beginners

The subject in this image is more or less in the middle, but if you crop it to use Rule of Thirds the image doesn’t work as well.

#11 – Do you have a sense of scale in your landscape scenes?

Big mountain vistas are lovely. But sometimes they can become bland and uninteresting because they lack a sense of scale to truly appreciate them.

One recommendation is that a foreground element can be used to both ground the image and provide scale for the big vista behind it. Some photographers like to use themselves as a prop to help add scale as well.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - man in landscape scene

#12 – How does the eye travel around the image?

Where does your eye go first? Where does it end up? Is that the story you want to tell the viewer?

What do you have in the image to engage the eye? Are there different elements or points the eye can travel around? Does it have contrast? Are there elements that lead the eye out of the image? Are there elements that lead the eye into or around an image?

spider web in a tree - Composition Checklist for Beginners

#13 – Lens choice

Does the lens you are using affect the composition in a positive or negative way? Would a different lens be worth considering?

This can cross the boundary between a technical consideration and a creative one. Sometimes there may be a valid reason to use a specific lens, a faraway subject likely to fly away demands the use of a long lens. A tiny flower might be better shot with a macro lens. Telephoto lenses compress the elements in an image, making them seem closer together. Wide angle lenses create a lot of distortion around the edges, especially at minimal focal lengths.

Beyond that are the creative choices. Yes, you could shoot the front of this house with a wide focal length, but what if you put a zoom on and highlighted the fancy door knocker or handle? Is the lens you are using giving a flattering look to the person you are shooting?

Composition Checklist for Beginners - large eagle wings spread

A different lens would have allowed me to zoom out far enough to get this entire bird in the frame *sigh*.

#14 – Less is more

What truly needs to be in the frame? What can you leave out?

A mistake a lot of beginners make is to include too many elements in an image. It can be cluttered, messy, and confusing as to the point of the image.

Sometimes that can be used to advantage in things like street photography, but usually, less is more. A strong obvious subject and minimal distraction around it is a very aesthetically pleasing combination but it can be difficult to learn how to frame images up this way.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - landscape scene

So much going on here, its a bit overwhelming with no clear subject. It’s a pretty scene but is the composition effective?

#15 – Is the image sharp?

Do you want it to be? Not every image need to be 100% sharp. You can use aperture to creative effect by selecting a narrow depth of field. ICM or Intentional Camera Movement adds blur and movement as well. Use of specialty lenses like those from Lensbaby gives you many different ways to add soft focus or special effects to enhance your image.

Many street shots have blurred movement and creative focus elements, either the photographer or the subject (or both) may be moving.

Some people insist that images be absolutely as sharp as they can be, but that is a creative choice up to you, the photographer.

Composition Checklist for Beginners - motion blur from moving water

A bit of slow shutter speed on the waves for a soft creative swirl effect.


Some of the items on the checklist are basic sensible things that apply to most images. Some are more advanced technical considerations. Others may only apply if you are considering trying some more creative approaches to your composition

There are many other specific technical concepts that are not covered in this composition checklist. When you are ready for them, you can find plenty of information here on dPS to guide you.

This list is designed to cover the most basic ideas and thoughts that a beginner might need to keep in mind when first starting to think about properly composing and framing up their images. Good news, if you have made the step to start making your images with deliberate intention, that means you already have your feet on the path to becoming a better photographer.

Pick a few key items from this composition checklist that apply to your style of photography and try to remember them deliberately everytime you shoot. Eventually, it will become so automatic, you adjust for them without thinking, your mental muscle memory will have kicked in.

Are there any key concepts you feel should be included in this list?  By all means, let me know in the comments below.

The post Composition Checklist for Beginners appeared first on Digital Photography School.

The Highs and Lows of ISO and How to Use it to Your Best Advantage

Treating ISO as the foundation of the exposure triangle and only adjusting it when you really need to will help you produce more consistently creative photographs.

Asian woman taking a photo - all about ISO

ISO 100 (allowing a wide aperture setting).

ISO stands for International Standards Organization, which does not really help you understand what it is. But it does indicate the standard is international and it is constant across all brands and types of cameras.

The ISO is the measurement of how responsive your camera’s sensor is to light. The lower the numeric value, the less responsive, the higher the value, the more responsive.

Editor’s note: ISO is actually much more complicated than that but for purposes of this article, this is generally considered the easiest explanation of ISO to understand, especially for beginners. 

Close up of twp people holding DSLR cameras - ISO settings

ISO 400


Choosing a low ISO setting, say less than 400, is best when there’s a lot of light or when you have a tripod and the style of photograph you want to make allows you to use a long exposure. When the ISO setting is low, the sensor is less responsive to light, so, therefore, it requires more light to create a well-exposed photograph.

Using a low ISO setting will result in better technical quality photos generally. There will be little or no digital noise, the colors and contrast in your images will be better.

Woman standing in a fresh market holding vegetables - ISO 100

ISO 100 allowing for a slow shutter speed in bright light. My friend was standing very still and my camera was on a tripod.

High ISO

Choosing a higher ISO setting is best when the light is low or you are not able to make a long exposure. Higher ISO setting means your camera’s sensor is more responsive to light, so it needs less light to reach the sensor to create a well-exposed photograph.

It also means the technical quality of your images may be affected by digital noise, colors may be less vibrant and overall image contrast is flatter. How much, depends on how high you have your ISO setting and your camera model.

Sensor technology is rapidly changing and, if you have a newer, higher-end model of camera you can more confidently choose to make photos at higher ISO settings than with older, lower-quality cameras.

Sky lanterns being released in Chiang Mai during Yee Ping festival - high ISO

ISO 6400. Allowing a fast enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur in the lantern in low lighting conditions.

When and Why to Adjust the ISO

Unlike shutter speed and aperture settings, the ISO setting has no direct creative impact on your photographs. If you think the inclusion of obvious digital noise in an image mimics a creative value similar to film grain I suggest you do some more serious study on the matter.

Adjusting the ISO can assist you to achieve the shutter speed and/or aperture settings you desire to create the style of photograph you have in mind.

Street scene at night in Thailand - ISO

ISO 100 allowing a very slow shutter speed (long exposure).

ISO and Aperture Creativity

If you are wanting to blur a background using a wide aperture setting when the light is bright, you will need to adjust your ISO to one of the lowest settings to accomplish this. If you were to use a high ISO setting you may not be able to obtain a good exposure with a wide enough aperture setting, so your background will not be as soft looking as you want it to be.

Asian woman portrait - ISO

ISO 160 allowing a wide aperture setting to achieve a blurred background.

Alternatively, if you want to create an image where everything in your composition is in sharp focus, it is best to choose a higher ISO, especially when the light is not so bright. By choosing a higher ISO you will be able to set your aperture to a higher f-stop number and achieve a greater depth of field than if your camera were set to a lower ISO value.

ISO and Shutter Speed Creativity

Choosing a low ISO can assist you in achieving a slow shutter speed when you want to create a photograph incorporating some motion blur. If you are photographing a moving subject, like a waterfall, and wish capture a lovely silky effect in the water, you will need to use a slow shutter speed.

This is easier to do when your ISO setting is low.

Mae Ya Waterfall - low ISO

ISO 50 on a bright day to set the shutter speed slow enough to capture motion blur in the water.

Freezing action by using a fast shutter speed will often require you to choose a higher ISO setting, especially if the light is not so bright. Being able to adjust your shutter speed so that is will render a fast moving subject as though it’s frozen in time will often mean balancing your exposure with a higher ISO.

Auto ISO

If you are comfortable with having your camera in control of your exposure, then Auto ISO is a good option to consider. If you set your ISO to Auto as you adjust your aperture and/or shutter speed settings, the ISO will modify itself to make an exposure the camera finds appropriate.

Night time photo of Chedi Luang Thailand - ISO 800

ISO 800

If you do choose to work with Auto ISO, I recommend you do some testing first to discover what maximum ISO setting you are comfortable with for your camera.

To do this, take a series of photos of the same subject in the same lighting conditions and double your ISO setting each time. Then compare all the photos (look at them close-up and full image) and find the ISO setting for the image you are comfortable with, the one just before you see too much digital noise.

Editor’s note: Try not to overly pixel-peep. By looking at your images at 100% on your computer screen you will not get a true feeling for the amount of noise which will be visible at a normal viewing distance. 

Many cameras have a means to set a maximum when using Auto ISO. So you can now set this to the number you determined with the test above.

Practical Conclusions

Three Asian woman review an image on a DSLR monitor - ISO

ISO 320

Adjusting your ISO setting is generally only necessary when you want to achieve a specific effect or when the light conditions change.

When we do our photography workshops we always make sure to choose some locations which are outdoors and some which are indoors. This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate when it’s good to make an adjustment to the ISO setting.

Thai Wood Carver - ISO

ISO 2000 allows for a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action in this low light setting.

If you are photographing outdoors on a bright day, your ISO setting will most likely be between ISO 100 and ISO 400. If you go inside, especially to a dimly lit building with few windows, you may find yourself struggling to obtain a good exposure with a fast enough shutter speed if you are only adjusting your aperture and shutter speed settings.

By adjusting your ISO so your camera’s sensor becomes more responsive in the low light you will be more flexible and capable of being more creative with your camera.

The post The Highs and Lows of ISO and How to Use it to Your Best Advantage appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

In this article, you will get five simple exercises to help you improve your photography.

How to grow as a photographer

Everyone, from beginners to professionals, seeks to improve their photography. Yet we often struggle to do just that, repeatedly asking the question, “How do I actively move my photography forward?

macro photography flower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Learning to take top-notch photographs isn’t like learning a musical instrument, where you can practice fingerings and scales while slowly gaining skills. When it comes to improving photography, the path often seems nebulous, difficult to grasp.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are more focused ways of improving your photography. Below, I discuss five of these exercises, which, if done consistently, will help you improve your photography by leaps and bounds.

Exercise #1: Photograph every day for a month

The first exercise is simple; photograph every day. This may sound easy, but it often isn’t. With a job and family and life, it’s surprisingly difficult to get out and do photography.

But I’d like to emphasize this, if you’re serious about improving your photography, start here. Make sure that you use your camera each day, even if you only take one image. Carve out a particular time of the day that works. Or, if it’s easier for you, carry a camera around in your purse/backpack/briefcase, and bring it out during your lunch break.

macro photography flower abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

I’ve found that there’s a sort of magic that comes from photographing—not just consistently—but daily. Your camera becomes a familiar tool in your hands. You start to see compositions everywhere. The photographic medium starts to make sense.

Trust me, if you do this your work will improve fast.

Exercise #2: Make 10 unique images of one subject

One of the main barriers to photographic improvement is not the technique so much as it is the ability to see.

A great photographer often views a subject and starts to visualize the many possibilities, quickly rejecting those which won’t work, and selecting that which does.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Hence, choose a subject and start by taking the obvious photographs.

Then, rather than moving on, force yourself to look for more. Get in close and take some more abstract or detail shots. Move back and look for more environmental images. Alter the background, the angle, and/or the lighting. If you normally use a tripod, try working handheld, or vice versa.

macro photography flower aster abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This exercise is meant to improve your ability to see. It is meant to take you out of your comfort zone so that you go beyond the obvious, and start looking deeper at your subject. Once that is ingrained, the photographic possibilities begin to open up, and your images will become unique and more satisfying.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Exercise #3: Share only one image per week

Let me explain this one. Part of improving one’s photography involves becoming a better self-critic. If you cannot recognize where you need to improve, then it’s very difficult to improve at all. But if you can pinpoint your strengths and your weaknesses, then you can improve upon the weaknesses—and harness your strengths.

To this end, I recommend joining a photo sharing site, one that is geared towards photography. Flickr, 500PX, and Tumblr would work well (or the dPS Facebook group). Then post one, and only one, image per week. Make sure that you’ve looked through your recent work, and that the image that you’re sharing is your best.

Before posting, think to yourself, “What is it that makes this a strong image? What would make it better? And what was it that made me reject the other images in favor of this one?” Take note of your responses, and remember them the next time you’re out in the field.

macro photography flower coneflower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

So why can’t you just do this privately, rather than posting to a photo sharing site?

I find that there’s a bit of pressure that comes from posting your pictures publicly. This forces you to work slightly harder in identifying your best images. However, if you would strongly prefer not to post your images publicly, you could adjust the settings on your chosen sharing site so that only you can view the images—but imagine that you’re assembling them for a gallery showing.

Exercise #4: Critique at least 10 images per week

Similar to Exercise #3, but with a slightly different focus. Learning to critique your own work is great, but it’s also important to look at a broad array of photography with a critical eye. Hence, join a photo critique forum, and critique at least 10 images per week.

There are a number of forums out there that I recommend for nature photographers like myself: Naturescapes, Nature Photographers Network, and Birdphotographers.net are all good ones. They should allow you to make a free account in order to comment on other images.

macro photography flower abstract pink - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This will help you in a few ways. First, constantly looking at images will help you to internalize compositions and get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. It’s difficult to improve your own photography if you don’t have a sense of what good photography looks like.

Second, it may give you ideas for your own photography. By this, I don’t mean that you copy other people’s photographs directly. But you can take note of interesting techniques, camera settings, and compositions, and incorporate them into your own work.

Third, being forced to articulate, in writing, what you find pleasing about an image will go a long way toward being able to understand how to make your own images more pleasing.

Notice that I’m not telling you to post your images on the critique forum—but if you feel confident enough to do so, then that is an excellent way to improve as well.

Exercise #5: Work in another genre of photography

This exercise is for those who would self-identify as intermediate or advanced photographers. Early on in your photographic journey, I would recommend focusing on a single genre and improving within that genre.

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I took a break from macro photography to work on my street photography skills.

However, once you have a decent amount of experience, I find that it is really beneficial to get out of your comfort zone by working on another photographic genre (the more different, the better!). Stick with this genre for an entire month.

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This forces you to expand your photographic eye and think in new ways. It can often generate unique ideas that you can apply to your primary area of photography. And when the month is up and you switch back to your favored type of photography, you’ll likely find that you’ll be seeing the world in a whole new light.

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In conclusion…

If you’re seeking to improve your photography, follow the exercises discussed above.

If you photograph every day, focus on expanding your photographic eye, look at numerous images and learn to critique your own, and expand your photographic horizons—you will soon be on your way to a higher level of photography. I wish you the best of luck!

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Have any exercises that you’ve found useful for photographic improvement? Share them in the comments!

The post Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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