I love photography, but I don’t consider myself a pro photographer (yet). What I can say for sure is that my photography has improved significantly in the past six years since I started this blog. Back at the beginning of this blog, I only owned a Sony point-and-shoot, and throughout the years, I slowly improved my technique and upgraded my equipment – jumping to a Canon DSLR, then to a Nikon, and most recently to Sony again.
The truth is that taking great photography is not just about the equipment, it is also about the eye and technique you apply when taking the picture. And of course, the post editing too. Yes, we all edit our photos.
What follows is a set of tips I’ve learned and followed throughout the past six years that have slowly taken me to where I am now, and hopefully, allow me to continue improving.
1. Do Not be Afraid to Invest in Used Equipment
We don’t grow money out of nowhere –at least I don’t– and top-notch photography equipment can be expensive. For the past few years, I’ve been the type of photographer who wants to improve consistently without spending a fortune, so I opened myself to buy used equipment that is still in excellent conditions and works like new.
For my Nikon D5200 (which I’m still using), I’ve bought used lenses like the Sigma 10-20mm, and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. Just considering them saved me a couple of hundred dollars, and as expected, the lenses worked just like they were brand new – no scratches or dust.
In fact, my most recent purchase was for a used Sony a7rii and a few lenses (in a bundle), something I would not have been able to afford if it was brand new as this camera is quite expensive (and not really under my budget). This move alone saved me over $1,000.
One place you can search for used equipment is KEH Camera, which is considered to be the world’s largest pre-owned camera store. Seriously, most items there are a real bargain.
Side Note: For my readers, I have an exclusive 10% off discount code on KEH Camera to purchase pre-owned gear. Use code: GLOBOT10
Also have in mind that as you buy and upgrade your equipment, you can sell your older equipment (if you’re not going to use it anymore) to offset the cost of that new one. I like doing this since it helps me financially to afford that newer (and probably more expensive) camera gear. KEH Camera also allows you to sell your used gear on their site, so it’s like a one-stop site for buying and selling as you upgrade. KEH offers up to 40% below retail prices and instant quotes on your gear so you can upgrade your equipment as much as you want. And of course, it’s not just cameras, they buy/sell all kinds of photography accessories too.
2. Your Equipment is Nothing if You Don’t Know What You Want to Shoot
Sure, a better camera and lens might give you some advantage in the quality of the picture, but even the best camera in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing will turn out crappy shots.
It’s funny that some of my most liked Instagram images were taken with my iPhone 5. Obviously, my Nikon d5200 has a better lens and capacity than the iPhone, but like I said, it’s not about the camera, it is about the photographer and what he does with the equipment he has available.
Treat your smartphone or tablet like a professional camera. Play with angles, exposure, color, and more to see which alternative looks best for the scene. I recommend using the ProCamera app for your iPhone since it is currently the best and most flexible camera app in the market.
3. Have a Story to Tell but Don’t Focus Only on it
As travelers and travel writers, we often go to new destinations with ideas of what we want to see and experience. Other times we go around with no expectations and are open to whatever happens. For me, a merge of both is one of the best ways to create a story with your image.
I know of photographers who study the destination beforehand, and once they get there, they work hard to get and recreate that one image they found online, or those few shots they fell in love with. And that’s it. Done. They plan their trip just for that, and the rest is just background noise.
It’s ok; that’s their style. I, on the other hand, sometimes have in mind the shot I want to get, but I’m always on the look for other shots that might be even better for that story (or stories) I might have in mind, or simply to tell the overall journey of my trip.
So for me, having a story in mind is great, but letting that story deviate and develop based on the events happening makes an even more significant story.
4. Take Spontaneous and Random Photography, Especially if You’re Living the Moment
This one has been one of the hardest for me to apply since I like some structure and idea behind what I do and shoot. With time, especially while running a blog, I’ve found myself writing a story, and suddenly I want to show a picture of the lady selling watermelons at the market, and oops, I don’t have a picture of the lady, nor the watermelons, because I didn’t think about it when I was there.
Back then; I didn’t believe it was “a monumental moment” that “deserved” a picture, yet, it stuck enough in my mind to make me want to share it along with those greater moments. What I’ve learned through travel writing is that a story comes to life through the small details and daily actions too, not just the grandeur and iconic places of your destination.
The best thing these days is that deleting a photo is just as easy as taking it, so if you’re worried about space, take some time to go over your pictures and delete the ones that truly say nothing. But first, be spontaneous and take pictures of random moments and actions throughout your trip. You’ll be surprised how many “golden nugget” images you can snap by simply capturing the normal day-to-day activities of your destination.
I wrote a post a few years ago about getting into the “photographer mindset” which I believe is still relevant and worth a read.
5. Take More Than One Shot of the Same Scene
If I like a particular place, icon, building, etc., I try to take more than one shot of it. Sometimes I play with the angle (higher, lower), I change position, I play with the aperture and time exposure, wider and narrower angle (zoom), light, and more.
I always want to take the “perfect” shot, but it doesn’t always come from that first click. With time and practice, you begin to learn how to understand spaces and light to get that “perfect” shot quicker.
I wrote another post sharing some of the best tips I know to help compose a great image while traveling.
6. Don’t be Afraid of Going Manual
Cameras are fully automated these days, and they do a great job snapping beautiful pictures. But, our eyes are better at capturing light than a camera is, so sometimes a better shot is taken when we take control of the aperture, time exposure, ISO, and other variables that define the quality of an image.
While I do still take tons of pictures in auto on a daily basis, I do like to get out of auto (manual) when there’s lower lighting (like a sunset or night shot), when I want to play with movement in the shot (like people or a waterfall), or when I want to introduce any other artistic effect in the shot.
Today, even iPhones have apps that allow you to control these settings manually, like the one mentioned previously.
7. Be Open to Editing, but do it Gently
We all edit our pictures, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you keep a sense of reality of what was the space you were shooting. I tend to adjust the contrast, colors, levels, and focus on specific items if needed. Like I mentioned before, our eyes are much more developed and can capture more light and color than what cameras can.
It is common for us to see a beautiful sunset, take a picture, and when we look at it back home, we feel like the picture looks quite dull compared to the real experience. That’s why we edit them; to try to bring them back to the experience we had, and in some cases, so get a bit creative with filters and coloring to establish a mood and ambiance for the story.
If I’m working on my computer, editing images taken with my DSLR, I use Photoshop and Lightroom (both are excellent for this, especially Lightroom). If I’m editing iPhone pictures, then I use the Snapseed app. This powerful app can transform any dull shot into a moving image. It’s easy to use too, so it is worth trying.
Also, if you want to get creative with filters, another good app is VSCO.
But, before you go crazy editing your images, know that over editing can instead ruin them, making them feel cartoony or with colors too shocking to feel right. So, edit with a keen eye and exert precision. This other post I wrote tells you about a few things to consider when editing your images.
Which other tips you think should be included in this post?
P.S. Don’t miss on the exclusive 10% off discount on pre-owned photography gear from KEH Camera with code “GLOBOT10“. I don’t know when the discount coupon will be pulled, so take advantage of this discount before it’s gone.