1. Shoot raw

If you have a DSLR camera, even a lower-end model, you have the option to shoot in a format called ‘RAW’. Nowadays, even some smartphones have the capability to shoot raw. This format is uncompressed and therefore preserves a lot of data and produces the highest quality. This extra data gives you a lot more room for editing and allows you to make more drastic changes without losing quality. By shooting raw you have the ability to make significant adjustments if you so choose. You can easily correct exposure, white balance, and more. Here is an example of how powerful a raw file can be:

Un-edited raw file

Final, edited jpg

In this example you can see that the raw file is very flat and unsaturated. This is preferred because it gives you a lot of data to manipulate when editing. As you can see in the final edit I increased the saturation and contrast quite a bit to so that the photo isn't so 'dull'. The photo was shot through a window so the focus is not as sharp as possible, because of this, I added some sharpness and clarity to help bring out the details. Increasing sharpness/clarity will not help fix an out of focus photo.

One of the downsides to shooting raw files is that they can be pretty large - between 20-30mb per file. As a photographer, it is important to have backup storage regardless, but when shooting raw, this especially crucial as your hard drive will fill up fast.

2. Learn to shoot manual mode

If you have a DSLR and have been shooting in Auto, or Aperture Priority mode, make this the year for you to learn how to control your camera. Just like with raw photos, you can shoot manual mode on a lot of newer smartphones including the iPhone 7. Manual mode is where you set the settings and this is based on the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed, iso.) Shooting manual allows you full control of the camera’s settings and allows you to unleash your creativity. Your images from Auto mode might be fine but Manual mode will instantly take your photos to the next level once you understand the exposure triangle.

3. Mind the background

Having a distracting background can really take away from the impact of your image. Not having enough distinction between the subject and the background can be just as bad. One way to get around this is to compress the background which can be done in two ways. The first, and easiest, is by having a longer focal length. It’s much easier to compress the background at 200mm vs 50mm. The second way is by distance, specifically, the lack of it. If you’re shooting with a shorter focal length, for example, 100mm or under, getting closer to your subject and putting space between your subject and the background (if possible) will help you compress the background as well. In addition to both of these, having a wider aperture can also help, especially on shorter focal lengths. Here are some example images to help illustrate my point.

This image is a nice example of the background being compressed, which was done by being close to my subject and having my aperture wide open. Settings: 50mm, f1.4, 1/400.

With this image, you can tell that the focus is my brother, but if you look closely, you can also see that just left of his arm, the metal is out of focus as well. This really helps draw your eye into the subject. Settings: 85mm, f1.8, 1/250. This picture illustrates the distinction between the subject and the background/foreground.

This photo, which is one of my favorites, was taken at 200mm and you can see just how compressed the background is at a longer focal length. Settings: 200mm, f5.6, 1/160.

This picture is not very good. Earlier I mentioned not having the distinction between the subject and background can be bad and this is a prime example. Where’s the focus? Yes, the background is blurred pretty well, but it’s hard to tell which flowers are the subject. In this situation, getting closer to the flowers would help define them against the rest of the background. Settings: 50mm, f5, 1/320. This would have been better at 85mm, maybe f4, and by moving in closer.

4. Shoot more

Just like any skill, practice makes perfect. You should consider starting some kind of photo series or project that gets you to shoot on a regular basis. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may know that I’m doing a 365 Project where I take a photo every day. I would highly encourage every photographer to start a 365 Project. And if you do, make sure to do it on Tookapic, the only website specifically designed for 365 projects.

However, if don’t want to commit to a photo every day, you could also start some kind of series. Maybe shoot different landmarks or buildings in your area. Something that lets you be creative and will make you get your camera out and shoot. I started a small series about these toy whales that I am continuing every once in a while. You can see all of my whale series here.



5. Get creative

The most important thing is your creativity. That’s probably what got you interested in photography anyway, right? Try new things, experiment with light or subjects, or gear. You don’t want to take the same photos all the time, or the same pictures that everyone else takes. This is what helps push me on some days so hopefully keeping this in mind will help you too. And don’t forget to have fun!

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