5 Tips for Improving Your Photography

5 Tips for Improving Your Photography

One question I get asked all the time is what advice I can give for improving photography skills. Of course most people want to hear that I improved my skills by purchasing a better camera or taking a class. While upgrading your camera gear or taking a class or classes can certainly help you improve your skills, these steps won’t magically improve your photography overnight. We’ve all seen people with amazing photography gear who produce mediocre images. On the flip side, there are also lots of people creating stunning images on their smartphones with free editing apps. I am far from an expert in photography, but I can offer a few simple tips that will help you start improving your photography today.

1. Take lots of pictures

Memory is cheap. The amount of memory you have should never limit the number of photos you take. If you’re shooting with a modern smartphone, you should have ample storage space for hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. If you’re shooting with a camera, I highly recommend picking up a couple of 64GB cards. SanDisk Extreme is a reliable, affordable option.

Taking lots of pictures allows you to make a lot of mistakes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles, lighting, and settings. You can always delete the photos you don’t like later.

2. Start editing your pictures

Most people don’t realize that the vast majority of photos they see on websites and blogs and in magazines and other publications are edited. Even when you take well composed photos with the proper camera settings, most likely you’ll want to do a little editing or post processing. Learning how to crop a photo and adjust the light settings is a great start. Get in the habit of editing photos before you share them online. If you’re editing on your computer, Google Photos and PicMonkey are both great free software options. If you’re editing on your smartphone, you can also use Google Photos or one of many other photo editing apps like Snapseed (Android | Apple) and Afterlight (Android | Apple).

3. Challenge yourself

Regardless of your current skill level, it’s easy to stagnate and keep taking photos without really improving. Sometimes it may be helpful to set goals or challenges for yourself. A challenge can be anything from taking architecture shots to adjusting your ISO and white balance manually. In 2011 and early 2012, as I was building up my skills before purchasing a DSLR, I participated in several weekly and monthly photography challenges. While I didn’t produce a ton of great shots from the challenges themselves, they pushed me to consider a lot of subjects and perspectives that I wouldn’t have photographed on my own, which was integral to bringing my skills to where they are today.

Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day has remained one of the most popular challenges for five years or so. Check out the current challenge list right here. I also have a (not recently updated) long list of daily, weekly, and monthly challenges over here.

For some people, a class may be a great option, too. If you want more accountability and companionship for specific assignments, think about a class. There are numerous local and online classes, many of which are very affordable. To get started, check out Alisa Burke’s Snap Shot Delight.

4. Share your photos and be open to critique

Putting yourself out there creatively is scary. Even professional photographers still have those “but what if everyone hates it?” moments. At some point, you just have to start putting your photos out there, even when you’re still an amateur. Typically family and friends are really supportive and will encourage your creative pursuits. (If not, maybe you need some new family and friends.) This encouragement can be the push you need to stick with photography.

Getting constructive feedback is also important to keep developing your skills. Personally I’ve gotten some of my best feedback from Toby of Photorec.tv and his Patreon only Facebook support group. Many photography communities are largely focused around gear rumors or “pixel peeping,” which is an industry term for picking apart photos just for the sake of being a snob. Toby has cultivated a supportive community that offers helpful tips without being condescending. It’s critical to find fellow photographers who will build you up and make you better.

5. Follow really good photographers

A tried and true method to improve any creative skill set is to study the best people in the industry. One of my favorite ways to follow photographers and process large quantities of photos each week is Instagram. I love having a single feed filled with fantastic images and very little distractions (i.e. minimal personal updates, no incessant article sharing, limited ads). To get started, try using the Explore function and typing in subjects of interest such as Chicago or Rocky Mountains.

I try to stay conscious as I’m viewing images, considering what I do and don’t like about different images and how I can apply their techniques to my own work in a way that’s meaningful and original. If Instagram isn’t your thing or you’re looking for another place to create a stunning photo feed, Flickr, DeviantArt, and Tumblr are also great options, and they’re all available as smartphone apps.

Should I invest in a DSLR or mirrorless camera to improve my photography?

Returning to the gear topic, if you’re shooting with a smartphone or a basic point and shoot, I encourage you to learn all of the settings. Newer smartphone cameras have an impressive array of settings in the built-in camera. You can also download an app like Manual (Android | Apple) for further control. Get comfortable using these settings. It will help you make the transition to a mirrorless or DSLR camera more smoothly because you won’t be as reliant on Auto modes.

If you’re really serious about becoming a great photographer, there will come a point when you’ve exhausted what you can do with a smartphone or point and shoot camera. At this point, think about investing in a mirrorless or DSLR camera. I have more info about the gear I currently shoot with on my resources page.

Do you have any basic tips for improving your photography? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

More resources to improve your photography:



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Friday Favorites 7/8/16

Jason Peterson 4th of July 2016{via}

The above shot from Jason Peterson is by far my favorite fireworks photo from the 2016 4th of July (and possibly all previous 4th of Julys). It’s SO DIFFERENT from anything else I’ve ever seen. Who would have thought that a black and white image of fireworks could be so amazing? Plus, Chicago skyscrapers. Always amazing.

Also, on the topic of photography, I LOVE photos that tell a story. Check out The Denizen’s feature on official White House photographer Pete Souza and Photo Collective Studio’s shots from The Bike Prom in Salt Lake City.

I decided to make our powder room Bath, England themed because I recently found an amazing set of Bath postcards I picked up in Bath back in 2000 (I save a lot of postcards), and it seemed to fit that room. Then I picked up this print. I wanted one more wall art piece to complete the space, and I just wasn’t finding anything else I liked on All Posters or Etsy. On a whim, I searched Pinterest and came across this amazing artist. I’ve got a few prints ordered and am so excited to see the room come together.

This article about digital hypocrisy. I could write a whole post about this topic. People frequently underestimate how the behavior that parents and teachers model in front of children is integral to their development. The topic of digital consumption only becomes more and more relevant each year.

Of course I can’t write a favorites post without talking about cats at least once. This comic and this comic are both so true. And does it get any cuter than this photo? Kills me every time.

This has been my go-to appetizer for social gatherings this summer. I’ve already made it twice, and I have the ingredients to make it again tonight. So delicious and so easy.

Finally, also on the topic of food, I have big plans to make these two salads for weekday lunches in the near future: Asian Ramen Noodle Salad and Chopped Brussels Sprouts Salad With Chicken and Walnuts.

What have you been loving lately?
Feel free to leave links in the comments!



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a birthday tradition

Jake’s birthday was earlier this week. He always wants funfetti cake for his birthday. Some years I make cake (which isn’t one of my strengths), and some years I make cupcakes (which is more my speed). Usually I buy a box mix, but I made cupcakes from scratch this year, largely because a standard box mix make two dozen, and I really only wanted one dozen.

Funfetti Cupcakes

Funfetti Cupcakes

Funfetti Cupcakes

Funfetti Cupcakes

Funfetti Cupcakes

Funfetti Cupcakes

I made the original funfetti cupcake recipe from How Sweet It Is. I made a half batch of the frosting (and still didn’t use all of it) because I’m one of those weird people that doesn’t like super sweet desserts or tons of frosting on cake or cupcakes. I think that the cupcakes taste very similar to the standard box mixes but even better because hello, from scratch with fresh buttercream frosting. Jessica also has an updated version that she made into a super cute mini cake for her son’s first birthday in December. Go start your weekend off right and make a funfetti dessert.



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the first year of Hobbes

Hobbes black and white

As of a couple weeks ago, Hobbes has been in our lives for a whole year. A lot has happened this past year, and Hobbes has such a dynamic personality that it’s actually hard to believe that he hasn’t been in our lives for more than a year. Of all the cats I’ve lived with over the years, Hobbes has definitely challenged me the most, especially during the first couple months. He was often way too excited to sleep during the day unless he could calm down on someone’s lap (which made it…tough to get anything done), he frequently got into the garbage and any food item sitting out (i.e. a bag of pretzels on the counter), and he constantly chased the other two cats around the house.

Hobbes is really lucky that he’s so cute.

baby Hobbes on the suitcase

It’s hard to stay mad at that face. (And yes, he’s sitting on a suitcase.)

Thankfully Hobbes has mellowed out quite a bit over the last year. He still has a lot of energy and loves to play with us and the other cats. But he’s much less naughty and has learned how to calm himself down independently, even when there are people around.

Today I’m sharing just a few highlights of the past year with Hobbes.

We purposely adopted a young male cat because we thought that he would be a good fit with our two slightly older male cats. While it’s always a transition bringing new cats together, these boys have all done amazingly well together.

Ares and Hobbes with the laundry basket

all three cats on the guest bed

Hobbes and Apollo on the dressing room window seat

Hobbes is just as snugly as he is playful. He loves to curl up right next to or on me or Jake for minutes on end and is happy to tuck in with us at night, too.

baby Hobbes on my lap

Hobbes snuggled up with Jake

Like many cats, Hobbes loves to “help” with jewelry making. He actually usually does pretty well settling down and not attacking everything mercilessly.

jewelry helper Hobbes

In recent months as I’ve picked up cross-stitch again, Hobbes has also discovered the joy of “helping” with cross-stitch, especially the pattern.

Hobbes under the cross-stitch pattern

Hobbes thinks that laundry days are the best days ever. He loves getting wrapped up in sheets and placed in a laundry basket, and he almost always insists on getting under the fitted sheet when I make the bed again.

Hobbes in the sheets

Hobbes in the sheets

And he has no fear. About basically anything in the house.

Hobbes in the food container

Hobbes in the washing machine

Hobbes is extremely active and frequently requests to play fetch with toy mice. When he’s in the right mood, he’ll fetch a couple dozen times in a row.

Hobbes playing with a toy mouse

Finally, one of the joys of moving and working on painting projects in two houses has been having a ladder in the house. Hobbes loves to the climb this step ladder and will do it on command for company (don’t judge).

Hobbes on the ladder

We love you, Hobbes! We can’t wait to see what this next year holds for all of us.





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