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Ask any photographer what’s the most common question the get asked,
You can be guaranteed that they will have the same response!

“How do I take better photos?”

I have been extremely lucky to have met many talented and generous photographers who have offered me advice. Without their valuable advice there is no way I would have become the photographer I am today.

So along with some tips that I’ve picked up over the years, I’ve asked other photographers to share their own secret techniques about how they take their photos to the next level.

1. Get in close

If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. If you feel like your images aren’t ‘popping’, take a step or two closer to your subject. Fill the frame with your subject and see how much better your photo will look without so much wasted space. The closer you are to the subject, the better you can see their facial expressions too.

2. Shoot every day

The best way to hone your skills is to practice. A lot. Shoot as much as you can – it doesn’t really matter what. Spend hours and hours behind your camera. As your technical skills improve over time, your ability to harness them to tell stories and should too. 
Don’t worry too much about shooting a certain way to begin with. Experiment. Your style – your ‘voice’ – will emerge in time. And it will be more authentic when it does.

3. See the light

Before you raise your camera, see where the light is coming from, and use it to your advantage. Whether it is natural light coming from the sun, or an artificial source like a lamp; how can you use it to make your photos better? How is the light interacting with the scene and the subject? Is it highlighting an area or casting interesting shadows? These are all things you can utilise to make an ordinary photo extraordinary.

4. Ask permission

When photographing people, especially while in countries with different cultures and languages, it can be hard to communicate. In certain countries if you photograph someone you are not ‘supposed’ to photograph, it can get ugly and rough very quickly if you are not careful. So out of respect you should always ask permission.
On my travels 

I have started shooting a series of school children. These are all posed portraits and they are looking down the lens. My interpreter helps me with the language and I limit myself to smiling, shaking hands, giving ‘hi-five’ and showing them the image on the back of my camera once it is done. You would be amazed how quickly people open up

5. Use flash during the day

You might think that you should only use flash at night time or indoors, but that’s not the case at all. If it is an extremely bright day outside and the sun is creating harsh shadows on your subject, switch on your flash. By forcing extra light onto your subject, you will be able to fill in those ugly shadows and create an even exposure.

6. ISO

There are questions to ask yourself when deciding what ISO to use:

What time of day are you shooting? If you are shooting outside during the middle of the day you will need to use a lower ISO such as 100 or 200. If you are shooting at night time without a tripod you will have to increase the ISO to a higher number to be able to record the light on the camera’s sensor.

Will the subject be well lit? If your subject or scene is too dark you will need to use a higher ISO such as 800 or 1600.

Do you want a sharp image or an image with more movement in it? Using a high shutter speed to capture fast movement might mean that you need to use a high ISO to compensate. Likewise, if you’re using a slow shutter speed to capture blur you will need a low ISO to compensate.

Don’t forget, increasing your ISO increases the grain or pixel size in your photo. So don’t use an ISO of 3200 or 6400 if you don’t want a photo with a lot of ‘digital noise’.

7. f/4

f/4 is my ‘go to’ aperture. If you use a wide aperture with a long lens (200mm-400mm) you’re able to separate the subject from the background. This helps them stand out. Works every time.

8. Read your camera’s manual

The best way to know what to do with your camera is to actually read the manual. So many people miss this really important step on their photographic journey. Every camera is different, so by reading the manual you’ll get to know all the funky things it’s capable of.

9. Shutter speed

Being aware of your shutter speed means the difference between taking a blurry photo and a sharp photo. It all depends on what you are after. If you are shooting a sporting event or children running around in the backyard, you probably want your subjects to be in focus. To capture fast action you will have to use a shutter speed over 1/500th of a second, if not 1/1000th to 1/2000th. On the opposite end of the scale, you might want to capture the long streaks of a car’s tail lights running through your shot. Therefore you would change your camera’s shutter speed to a long exposure. This could be one second, ten seconds, or even longer.

10. Focal length

Keep it simple. I shoot with two prime lenses and one camera; A 28mm and a 35mm. For everything. I use the 35mm lens 70% and the 28mm lens 30% of time. It takes some time to get used to it, but once you work it out, shooting primes is the only way to go. It means you have to work with what you have and you can’t be lazy. Basically, this means more pictures and less fiddling around with zooming and maybe missing moments. It also helps for consistency. If you’re working on a project or a series, keeping the same focal lengths is a great way to maintain a powerful sense of consistency

In close-up nature photography, there’s a constant battle of trying to find that perfect balance between a sharp subject and an out-of-focus background.

An out-of-focus background is essential to a good close-up photo, because it helps draw attention to your main subject.

But, it’s not always easy to get that nice background. Sometimes the background is just too close, or your subject has a lot of depth (forcing you to try a smaller aperture, which then puts more of the background in focus).

So, how do you deal with this constant battle? Well, here are a few ways:
#1 – Determine the most important part of the image

The first thing you should think about is the most important part of the image. You might think this would always be your main subject, but sometimes the background plays a larger role. Ask yourself what grabbed your attention about this particular flower or insect: did you see the background first? Or, perhaps your subject is extremely rare, so just getting any kind of photo of it is the most important thing.
#2 – Use the depth of field preview button

Once you’ve determined the most important part of your image, then you can start looking for that perfect aperture by using the depth of field preview button. When you set the aperture and then press this button, you can look through your viewfinder to see what the image will look like at that aperture. The button is usually located on the front of your camera, near the lens mount.
#3 – Don’t obsess over sharpness

Sometimes it’s really easy to focus too much on getting the sharpest image possible, because it’s one of the things you can immediately see in a photograph and there are simple rules to follow for getting sharper images. But, good composition is more important than sharpness. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a little sharpness (by using a wider aperture or moving your camera closer), if it means a better composition.
#4 – Don’t be afraid to keep searching for a better subject

If you’ve tried photographing your subject from a bunch of different angles and apertures, and still can’t find a good balance between an out-of-focus background and a sharp subject, then you may just have to look for another subject. Don’t think of this as a failure, just remember that good nature photos take time.

Once you snap some photos, the memory card becomes the most important part of your camera, because it’s responsible for transferring your photos safely back to your computer.

Just like any kind of technology, a lot can go wrong with memory cards. And the last thing you want to happen is to lose all your photos after capturing some spectacular shots, right?

So, here are some tips that will help prevent you from running into a memory card disaster:

1 – Format a new memory card as soon as you get it

Even if your memory card came “preformatted,” it’s still a good idea to format them again with your own camera. And, only format the card from the camera itself (and NOT when it’s inside a card reader that’s connected to your computer). This will make sure the memory card is using a file system the camera recognizes.

2 – Use multiple small cards, instead of one big one

With the huge memory cards available today, it’s tempting to just buy the largest one so you won’t have to switch cards. But, what if your 128GB card fails? Then you just lost thousands of photos! That’s why you should use multiple smaller cards, to spread out your photos and reduce the probability that you’ll lose them all at once.

3 – Always leave a few extra shots on your memory card

Your camera probably has a number on the screen that tells you how many photos you can take before your memory card is full. This number is only an estimate, so if you happen to take a photo when your card is actually full, you may corrupt the data on the card. To avoid this problem, always leave some extra space on the card.

4 – Always safely “eject” your memory card from the computer

When you’re done transferring your photos to your computer, make sure to “eject” them properly and don’t just yank it out of the reader (or yank out the USB cable). On Windows, there should be an icon in the lower right corner of your screen for safely removing USB media, and on Macs you can just use the eject button on your keyboard. This is important because although you may think the computer is no longer reading/writing to the card, it may still be accessing it for some reason. Ejecting it will tell the computer to stop communicating with it, so you can take it out safely.

5 – Format your memory card, instead of deleting all photos

Formatting your memory cards is sort of like resetting them, and making them “fresh” again. It will help correct any disk errors that may have occurred during your last shoot.

6 – Store your cards in a safe place

It’s important to protect the contacts on your memory cards, because the smallest piece of dust can cause reading/writing problems and ultimately loss of photos. To protect them, always store them in the case they came with (or get some if they didn’t come with a case), and don’t leave them lying around on your desk.
7 – Turn off your camera before removing the memory card

Although this may seem like a no-brainer, there’s already been a few times where I almost forgot to turn off the camera before removing the memory card. If you yank out the card with the camera on, there’s a chance you may remove it when the camera is reading/writing to it, which could potentially damage files on the card.

8 – Use a good quality card reader

Although the reader merely reads the memory card, there’s still a chance it can damage the card. That’s why it’s important to always use a good quality reader. The best thing to do is use a reader made by the same manufacturer as the cards you use.

9 – Don’t push your batteries to the limit

If you push your batteries to the limit and wait until they completely run out of energy, then there’s a chance they’ll run out at the exact moment your camera is writing to your memory card (which could cause data loss). To avoid this possibility, put in a fresh battery as soon as your camera indicates the current one is low.

10 – Don’t use the same card on multiple cameras

If you used a card to take 40 photos on one camera, don’t put it in a different camera to take more photos. The two cameras (even if made by the same manufacturer) may have different file system requirements or architecture, so mixing them between cameras could corrupt the data on the card.

11 – Only use good quality memory cards

Photos are known to disappear “mysteriously” with cheap off-brand memory cards, so always buy good quality cards. You don’t have to get the top of the line super-mega-fast-10,000x-warp-speed-gold-plated cards, but you shouldn’t get the no-name cheap ones either. Personally, I’m a big fan of SanDisk and Lexar.

Taking care of your camera and lenses is important if you want these investments to last long.  Ensuring proper care is also a surefire way of getting the best out of your lenses in terms of performance. Thus, it is vital to know which elements should be avoided if you want maximum protection for your photography gear.
Your camera’s lens is one of the most sensitive parts of your camera. Once it is destroyed or affected by high-risk elements, it might not function well anymore, and your camera can be rendered either “injured” or useless.

Your Camera Lens’ Enemies

Here are some of the most common “enemies” that can devastate your lens and ultimately, your camera.

  1. Sand.
    Once sand gets into your camera, you should be prepared to miss out on some action. Your camera, including the lens, may not function properly. Just as your camera’s moving parts will be affected, your lens will be, too, as it might get some scratches after contact with sand. In addition, it’s going to be difficult taking photos with lens covered in sand!

    If it’s impossible for you to stay away from or avoid bringing your camera to places with sand, you should take extra care and make sure that your camera is protected. For example, if you need to shoot anywhere near the beach, seal your camera inside a bag and don’t forget to always put on the lens’ cap. Always bring cleaning brushes and microfiber cloth (the soft variety) so it will be easy for you to brush off the sand.

    Pay close attention to your surroundings and the scene you are shooting. If you see people playing in the sand, stay away from that area. Don’t expose your camera and lenses to such an environment.

    Regularly clean your camera and lenses. Use your brushes to remove sand grains after every trip to places like the beach. Likewise, pay attention to and constantly clean the moving parts of your camera, especially the rings.

    Remember to always put your gear inside your bag; and always put the cap back on after using the lens.

  2. Dust
    Dust is another high-risk element that your lens should not, in any way, get into contact with. It won’t scratch your lens and other camera parts, but it can do just as much harm as sand. If it gets into your lens, it can also get into the inner parts of your camera, which may inflict some damage on the image sensor.

    Therefore, as in battling sand, you need to keep your camera and lens constantly covered and protected. Since dust can be found anywhere, it is safer to place your camera inside a sealed container or bag. And once you’re in a safe, dust-free, sand-free area, clean and wipe your camera with a soft cloth and brush. The brush will help remove tiny particles of dust that might be hiding in corners and little spaces.

    Also, be sure to have your camera and lenses regularly cleaned by a professional. You can do the cleaning yourself, but hiring a professional cleaner to do it is better and will assure you of total camera care.

  3. Oils and Chemicals
    These elements will not harm just the lens, but the entire camera as well. These are regular oils and chemicals that some of us use on a daily basis, like sunscreen, body lotion, and insect repellent, which contains DEET (diethyltoluamide). DEET is an oil, yellow in color that helps protect against mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and other insects. It is also considered a solvent and is said to dissolve some types of plastic. So, if your camera or lens gets into contact with an insect repellent, the DEET in it can (and will) eat away the plastics in your gear.

    The oils and chemicals that can harm your lens and other camera parts are those that we regularly use on our bodies. So, as a precaution, do not use any of these oils when you go out on a shoot.

    To remove oils, chemicals or any sticky substance from your lens, you will need a clean piece of microfiber cloth and a lens cleaning solution. Do not apply the solution directly on the lens; pour a small amount on the cloth. Be careful not to pour too much solution on the cloth; use just enough of it to moisten the cloth. You can also use rubbing alcohol if you don’t have a cleaning solution. Again, use just a small amount.

  4. Salt
    Salt is another high-risk element that should not get in contact with your camera gear. Exposing your lens to salt or saltwater (when you’re in the beach) will expose it to the possibilities of corrosion. Salt accelerates the oxidation on your camera’s metal components.

    Protect your lens by using a UV filter – or a haze filter. This will prevent salt from getting into your lens. Additionally, always bring a clean microfiber cloth, one that’s lint-free, that you can use for wiping off films from salt or saltwater. If you want to be extra sure that your lens is salt film-free, use a lens cleaner and apply it to the cloth before cleaning your gear.

    You might also want to remember that we release salt when we sweat or perspire. Therefore, be extra careful when you are shooting in warm locations or when it is summer.

  5. Humidity
    High levels of humidity are also an enemy of your lens. Once humidity sets in, fungus will grow on some of your lens’ elements, and under its coatings. If this happens, whatever photo you take will come out blurry. Since fungus thrives in humid places that see no light and only has a little air, you should not store your camera and lenses inside your bag for an extended period. If you really need to store your gear for a period of time, you should have a regular schedule for taking them out and letting them “see the light” – or use a dry box.

    Even if you’re not working on a project or a shoot, regularly take out your camera and capture some interesting shots. Use your camera and lenses; don’t just store them inside the bag, as this will invite humidity and fungus.

If you regularly clean your camera and lenses; if you know how to use and protect them properly, you won’t have to worry about the enemies beating you. Your creative investments will be safe.

The temperature may be plummeting but that doesn’t mean you need to pack your camera away until the spring.
Winter can be an exciting time to get outside and expand your photographic portfolio. When the ground is enveloped in a blanket of white, even familiar surroundings can take on an entirely different perspective, and there are many opportunities to capture unique images. Winter does present certain challenges that photographers normally don’t have to deal with during other seasons

  1. Keep you batteries warm.
    Cold batteries will lose their charge faster than warm ones, so bring a couple of spares and store them inside your jacket to keep them warm and they’ll last longer.
    Batteries lose power at low temperature, and the colder it is, the faster the drain happens. While this applies to all batteries, the latest generation fares much better than its predecessors. The best rechargeable performers are lithium-ion followed by NiCad and NiMH. They should all function satisfactorily down to 32° F (0° C). As for non-rechargeable batteries, lithium-ion is the best choice. Avoid alkalines entirely, as they perform poorly in the cold.

    Even though batteries may appear exhausted in cold weather, they will regain their power once warmed back up. The recommendation is to have one or more spare batteries when out in the field. Keep spares in a warm inner pocket and switch them when needed. A hand warmer placed in the pocket with the spare batteries will keep them toasty and help them recover faster.

  2. Keep your camera cold.
    Once your camera is cold, If you are planning a trip out in the cold, leave the camera in the coldest room in your house.  you’ll want to avoid warming it up too fast. Storing your camera inside your jacket or bringing it straight into a warm room can cause condensation which might fog your mirror or, even worse, short your electronics.
  3. Look for contrast.
    Snowy scenes are perfect for eye-catching high-contrast images. Look for rock formations, tree branches, buildings, animals or people that stand out from the white background.
  4. Give some scale.
    A blanket of snow can make it even harder to determine scale in a winter landscape. Including buildings, people or other features gives your view a sense of size and distance.
  5. Watch where you walk.
    We don’t just mean don’t end up thigh-deep in a snowdrift (although be careful of that too). If you’re hoping to shoot pure snow, make sure you don’t walk over areas that you’ll want to photograph.  However, some footsteps leading into a scene can give a great photo opportunity.
  6. Shoot RAW and overexpose. 
    Cameras don’t see snow quite the way the human eye does, meaning that it can often appear grey or blue, rather than pure white. Shoot in RAW and step your exposure compensation up and perfect the image in post.
    Armed with the knowledge of how the meter functions, it’s then a simple matter to achieve correct exposure by adding positive compensation (overexposure). I find that even on an overcast day, or in shade, a snow-covered scene will need to be overexposed by +1 stop, or exposure value (EV). Bright sunlit snow scenes may require +2 EV. Be very careful at going beyond +2 EV compensation, though, as things will start to become blown out with loss of detail.
  7. Protect your gear.
    When you’re not actively shooting, keep your lens cap on to stop snow and moisture from getting on your lens and, ideally, equip yourself with a lens-hood as well. Waterproof covers are available but in a pinch a plastic bag with a hole for your lens and an elastic band to secure it will do.