Improving Our Photography

Regardless of the brand of camera and the format that we use, there are things we can do to get more out of our current camera gear. This article provides some ideas on improving our photography. Most of these suggestions do not involve spending more money on camera gear. These ideas on improving our photography have nothing to do with any specific camera or camera format.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 56 mm, efov 151.2 mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-3200

Use your camera more.

If your camera sits idle most days there’s little chance that your photography is going to improve. Creating a few images once or twice a month doesn’t allow most of us a sufficient amount of time with our camera to really understand its nuances and how to best use it. A camera sitting idle does not challenge our creativity. Using our cameras on a frequent basis is one of the most important things that each of us can do to improve our photography.

Lindis Valley, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-160

Take control of your camera.

Shooting in Auto mode gives your camera control over your photographs. If you want to get the most out of your camera gear you need to take control of it. Learn how to use Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual controls. The better you understand these modes and how to use them, the better your work will become. This holds true for other fundamental camera settings. If you own a semi-automatic camera, take as much control as your camera allows.

Olympus TG-5 @ 18 mm, efov 100 mm, f/4.9, 1/100, ISO-800, microscopic mode

Experiment with your camera gear.

Another great way of improving our photography is to experiment with our camera gear. For example, if you enjoy flower photography pick a particular blossom to photograph. Then, use various apertures, lens focal lengths, distances from the subject flower, and distances to the background, to create a range of images. Examining the results will then help you learn how your choice of camera settings, lens focal lengths, shooting angles and distances impacted your images.

Olympus TG-5 @ 18 mm, efov 100 mm, f/4.9, 1/80, ISO-1600

Challenge yourself.

Few things will improve our photography faster than giving ourselves frequent photographic challenges. A challenge could be using a particular lens. Or photographing specific subject matter. Or shooting under difficult conditions or lighting. Every challenge we face creates an opportunity for us to learn and grow as photographers.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 100 mm, efov 270 mm, f/5.6, 1/15, ISO-1600

Shoot in RAW.

There are all kinds of articles on the internet that describe in technical detail, the differences between RAW and jpeg files. Suffice to say that a RAW file contains significantly more digital information than a jpeg file. When adjusted in post, a RAW file provides a photographer with more latitude to make adjustments, and get more out of a specific image file. There are certainly many occasions when the jpeg output from a camera will meet the immediate needs of a photographer… posting on social media being one. Shooting in RAW allows us to squeeze the most out of an image.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 12mm, efov 32mm, f/6.3, 1.6 sec, ISO-160

Experiment with post processing.

Working with a poorly composed photograph in post will never make it great. It can make a solid photograph good… a good photograph great… and a great photograph spectacular. There is no ‘one correct way’ to process an image in post. Be creative with your post processing. Experiment. Try different approaches. The result of all of that trial and error could be an approach to post processing that helps to define you as a photographer, and to differentiate the work you create.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/13, ISO-3200

Practise handheld technique.

Most of us do not always carry a tripod with us. Practising our handheld technique allows us to use slower shutter speeds. This in turn can directly affect the ISO at which we capture our images. Digital cameras have more dynamic range and colour depth at lower ISO values. These are important factors that impact image quality. Practising our handheld technique also can help us create sharper images due to reduced camera shake. Sometimes being able to use our cameras at slow shutter speeds handheld, can make the difference between capturing an image, or missing it completely.

Castle Point, New Zealand,Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 12.1 mm, efov 32.7 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

Use your feet.

It’s easy to fall into a habitual way of shooting when creating photographs. This is especially true when using zoom lenses. It’s easy stand in one place… then zoom in and out to change our photographic composition. This seldom results in better photographs. Regardless of the camera that we’re holding in our hands, we need to remember to use our feet. We become more involved in the creative process when we walk around to look for different shooting angles and perspectives. The more you can involve yourself creatively by moving around… the better your photographs will become.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-200, subject distance 950 mm

Understand how depth-of-field is impacted.

One of the most important creative tools a photographer has is controlling depth-of-field. Read articles on this subject and experiment with your camera gear. Take the time to understand how aperture, lens focal length, distance to subject and distance to background affect depth-of-field. Understanding the relationships between these different composition factors allows us to be more creative with our photographs in terms of using depth-of-field, regardless of the sensor size in our camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 @ 7 mm, efov 14 mm, f/4, 5 seconds, ISO-200

Look at EXIF data.

There are numerous ways to photograph a particular subject. If you enjoy looking at the work of other photographers take time to examine the EXIF data on the photograph if it is provided. This can help reveal the thought process of the photographer and what they did to create a particular image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-800

Look for light.

There’s a saying that amateurs focus on camera gear… professional photographers concentrate on profitability… and photographic masters look for light. Regardless of the camera that you are using, it will be capable of producing wonderful photographs if you find the right light for your composition.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 54 mm, efov 145.8 mm, f/9, 1/250, ISO-800

Experiment with composition.

The number of composition approaches that are available to use is virtually endless. Take some time to ‘work a scene’. Try a wide range of composition approaches. Move around. Change your shooting angles and perspectives. Experiment with different focal lengths and apertures. This is one of the best ways we can push and expand our photographic creativity. And, appreciate our current gear more fully.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, 1/25, f/5.6, -0.7 step, ISO-200

Get the best exposure possible.

When composing any image getting a good exposure is always a critical element of success. If your camera has onscreen warnings about overexposed highlights and underexposed shadows, turn on that feature and use it. Use exposure compensation when needed. Experiment with different metering modes. Depending on how the sensor in your camera performs and reacts, you may find purposely underexposing an image is helpful… or exposing to the right (ETTR). Experiment with your camera gear and learn how to use it to best effect given the lighting conditions.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110 mm, efov 297 mm, f/7.1, 1/25, ISO-1600

Review old photographs.

Personal improvement is usually a slow and incremental process. It can be discouraging at times if we do not recognize our own improvement over time. Reviewing old photographs can be instructive and motivating as it can help us appreciate the progress we have been making with our photographic skills.

Seven Stairs to Heaven waterfall, Coromandel Peninsula New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13 mm, efov 35 mm, f/16, 1/8, ISO-160

Focus on the best image possible.

There is a huge difference in trying to create the ‘best possible image’ rather than the ‘best image possible’. The first orientation infers that a photographer will wait for ideal photographic conditions before creating an image. The second perspective is one where a photographer does their work under a wide variety of photographic conditions, many of them far from ideal. Through it all, they focus on creating the best image possible given the conditions they face. Humans grow and learn the most when they face and overcome adversity. Not when things are handed to them on a silver platter.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 Nikkor 10-30 mm f/3.5-5.6 non-PD @ 14.8 mm, efov 40 mm, f/5, 1/4, ISO 800

Believe in yourself.

We fall short of reaching our potential in life when we fail to believe in ourselves. This holds true for our photographic journeys. The moment that you truly believe in your own potential as a photographer, is the moment that you will begin to use more of your talents and abilities. Your photographs will improve as your belief in your potential increases.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 157.2mm, ISO 3200, 1/8, f/5.6

Embrace failure.

Never failing tells us that we have not tried hard enough… that we have not pushed our current capabilities to their limits. Until we fail, we can’t define how much more we have to learn, and how much more potential growth lies ahead.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-400

Never fear success.

Sometimes success can hold us back. Moments of success give us glimpses of our potential. These moments can serve to raise the bar in terms of the expectations we set for ourselves for the future. Some people fear that they will not be able to improve on their past successes. They look at past successes as luck or a ‘flash in the pan’. Or something that they will never be able to achieve again. That can cause people to look backwards to the past and hold on to it. Rather than focus on the future. Fearing success locks our potential in a self-induced cage.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-360, 16mm Vello extension tube

Compete with your own best self.

So much of life is wasted when we compete with and compare ourselves to others. The only competition that matters is when we compete with our own best selves. Competing with our own best self allows us to express our creativity with abandon. It is the foundation of us developing our own, unique photographic style.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 120 mm, efov 240 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture Hi mode, subject distance 2.8 metres

Ignore critics.

The world is full of people who spend their days criticizing others. If you goal is to be mediocre in life… listen to them. If you want to live life more fully… reach more of your potential… and make a difference with what you do… ignore critics.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6 1/1600, ISO-125

Buying new camera gear…

At some point, many of us will eventually buy some new camera gear. There are many good reasons to buy new equipment. For example, if most of your photographs are captured at high ISO’s it would may make perfect sense for you to choose a full frame camera. If we want to grow in our photographic craft we need to think hard about the investments we make in camera gear and what personal growth opportunities it actually provides to us.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 170 mm, efov 340 mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-1000, subject distance 1.3 metres

If the new camera we are considering doesn’t offer any new creative options or functionality when compared to our current camera… it probably will not push our existing photographic skills to any meaningful degree. Remember that camera sensor size is only one factor of many to consider when choosing a camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/3200, ISO-6400, subject distance 6.2 metres

When we’re dedicated to improving our photography it can make sense to choose camera equipment that has the potential to truly challenge our current photographic skill level. Consider cameras with additional functionality and unique capabilities. Equipment that provides new creative options that you have never used in the past. These factors could be far more important to our growth as photographers than sensor size.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 with STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200

Buying some additional lenses, flashes, or accessories for your current camera may be a better investment than purchasing a new camera body. Especially if those items help to expand the overall functionality and creative options of your current kit.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-6400, subject distance 3 metres

It’s not the tool.

Improving our photography can be an exciting and never-ending journey. Often we look to our camera gear as the main determinant in that quest. Truth is, the cameras we happen to own are simply image creating tools. Improving our photography is driven more by how we define ourselves. By our attitude. And, by the goals we pursue. Fundamental to our growth as photographers is our willingness to accept challenges… experiment… and learn.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/4, 1/20, ISO-3200

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4 thoughts on “Improving Our Photography”

  1. you covered all the bases quite nicely

    back in 1969 as I embarked on an adventure that I figured I had pegged, but had zero actual knowledge of, a crusty old man tried to set me straight

    minus the expletives and bad grammar it would have resembled an edited version of your last sentence,,,Fundamental to your growth as (insert here) is your willingness to learn.

    apologies for the edit and happy holidays!

  2. Hi Tom,

    Your advice is sound and all the more relevant especially when the internet trolls and armchair photographers seem to be duking it out bashing cameras not of their own liking. Two of the tips resonate really deep – embracing failure and never fearing success. Every bit of technological advances helps but photography is not just about specs or features. If we probe deeper, it could be a way to see the world in a new light.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thanks for adding your perspectives! I agree that there seems to be lots of gear bashing going on in many chat rooms. It is such a waste of time… especially when we consider how much more productive it would be for the trolls to actually be out and creating some images.


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