3 Workouts to Improve your Photography

3 Workouts to Improve your Photography


A Guest post by Jim Harmer of ImprovePhotography.com

Athletes would never consider showing up to a game without having practiced, so why is it that most photographers shoot for the “wall-hanger” photo every time they go out without ever practicing new techniques? Consider applying these new workouts in your photography routine and you will improve your skills and creativity.

1. The EXIF Drilldown

bayfrontNight_MG_2559.jpgIn my photography workshops, I often show my portfolio to introduce myself before the class begins. After showing a few pictures, someone will inevitably raise their hand and ask, “How did you shoot that one?” I tell them the answer, but then I show them how to practice guessing camera settings so they will know what to use in any situation.

The very best way to shoot like a pro is to analyse the work of the pros, and Flickr is just the place to look. Most photographers probably know that cameras save information about what camera settings were used to take a photo, and the information is saved in the jpeg image file. Some websites, such as Flickr, make this information easily viewable so photographers can see how other photographers created a photo.

To view this information on Flickr, find a photo and click the small text link on the top right of the screen that reads the name of the camera that shot the picture. Clicking this link will bring up a new page showing all of the camera settings the photographer used.

This photography workout simply requires going to Flickr or any other photo sharing website, finding good photos, and then carefully reviewing the EXIF data from the pictures. Ask intrinsically why the photographer chose those settings and what camera settings could change in order to improve the photograph.

When this photography exercise is implemented, the question, “How did he take that picture?” is asked much less often. With practice, knowing the correct camera settings is easy.

2. One Shot

Most photographers take tens of thousands of pictures over the course of a year, but only a handful of those photos really stand out enough to make their way to your portfolio of best images. Many good images may be captured during each time shooting, but rarely is an image captured that is truly stunning.

While all photographers understand this fact, their photography techniques rarely reflect it. Most photographers shoot hundreds of images and hope that some of them reach the level of quality necessary to make it into the portfolio.

Though this method of never missing the moment has some merit, it also teaches photographers that if the first or second photo of a scene does not turn out, it is acceptable to simply forgive and forget the mistakes and move on to something else. Therefore, this straight-forward exercise is designed to work that bad habit out of photographers: Go out and shoot, but do not return home with more than one photo. Click the shutter more times, yes, but delete each photo if it is not perfect.

Implementing this photography workout will teach photographers not to give up on a shot until it is perfect.

3. Ten Shots, One Subject

This workout works almost the opposite of the second exercise, but it has a similar purpose—keep shooting to capture the perfect shot.

To practice this technique, find one subject and work to capture ten photos of that same subject before leaving. I recognized the need for this exercise while teaching my photography students landscape photography in Naples, Florida. We went to shoot the famous Naples Fishing Pier, but, not to my surprise, all of the students set up their tripods at the exact same spot immediately upon arriving at the beach. Their photo included all of the pier and the sunset behind it. This was a perfectly reasonable composition, but the students had a difficult time thinking of new ways to photograph the pier in an interesting way.

I asked the students to all take 10 different shots of the pier. They struggled at first, but eventually ended up with beautiful photos. They photographed tiny details on the pier, captured photos of the water splashing up against the pier pilings, and shot the pier as a silhouette against the sunset. Soon the students discovered their initial photo of the subject was not quite as strong as the photos they took as they forced themselves to try new things.

When something captures your eye, don’t leave until you have shot that same subject in ten different ways.

As you practice your photography skills rather than simply shooting and hoping to improve, you will feel more confident in your ability to come out of any shoot with creative and technically-correct photos.

Jim Harmer is the author of five photography instructional books and writes the ImprovePhotography.com photography blog.

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Some Older Comments

  • Jeff Myors April 26, 2013 10:20 am

    I've tried a number of ways to access exif data on Flickr and I cannot find any. When you click on the small print link to the camera, all you get is the details of the camera and no settings.
    Got any suggestions???

  • JacksonG April 23, 2013 07:39 am

    Hi Jim,
    Any article that gets a robust discussion going is a good article.

    To Maureen:
    I shoot with a Sony A-390 and got a great book by David Busch on Amazon.

  • Faisel April 22, 2013 02:52 pm

    Great article! Let me start analysing EXIF. Thanks, Faisel

  • Peter Huggan April 21, 2013 05:12 pm

    Love reading your articles. They are inspiring and motivating. Most Of all I learn a lot which is what life is about.

    I have just spent 2 hrs of Flickr looking at some fantastic photographs. However, I have not been able to find the link you refer to on any of the photos. Could I be in the wrong section of Flickr?

    Cheers ....Peter

  • Steve April 20, 2013 08:30 am

    @haig, it's on the righ-hand side under Additional Info, but ONLY if that info has been provided and I think each flickr user has the option to show it or not.

  • Haig April 20, 2013 07:07 am


    I don't know when this article was written, but I went on Flickr, and there is no small text link on the top right of the screen that reads the name of the camera that shot the picture that I can find. Would appreciate it if you could you let me know where to find this on "todays" flickr.

  • aaanouel April 20, 2013 02:50 am

    Excellent article.

  • ronald April 19, 2013 06:36 pm

    im a photagrapher and take photos of giant orbs several feet wide and so on. i specially love wide and angle and macro.[

  • Martin April 14, 2013 03:11 am

    I really need to do more EXIF analysis, it's always something that is forgotten. I tend to only look to see what lens I used for the shot and what camera the picture was taken on.

    The 10 shot exercise is a great way to refine and develop the end result.

  • Steve April 13, 2013 08:29 am

    Michael & david I think you missed the point of the 10 shot exercise. I don't think he intends that you limit yourself to 10 shots, but that you should take at least 10 when you had originally had maybe only 1 or 2 in mind.

  • Bobgood1 April 13, 2013 04:46 am

    Years ago I use to take many pictures of the same view. This was the time of film, so it was more expensive. Now with digital, it would be more economical. Sometimes it pays to slow down and compose your pictures. Ten might be excessive, if you take your time some duplicates are okay.

  • mamka April 7, 2013 05:01 pm

    i like the way you explained the tips!, so detailed

  • mridula April 3, 2013 03:37 pm

    Thoroughly impressed with tips 1 and 3. I am not a one shot person. I am improving but still not there.


  • Michael April 2, 2013 09:38 am

    This is the first I've heard of cards failing from deleting shots one by one. I have heard that you should not delete the contents of a card using your computer's O.S., best to re-format in camera. But one by one using your camera I don't see how that could compromise a memory card. I delete plenty of obviously bad images using the LCD. Never had a problem with a memory card, ever. There is always a first time of course, but my impression is that they are pretty robust things.

  • David Sargent April 2, 2013 01:16 am

    ^I Agree, Michael. The world is evolving and while we have the technology to review our images on the lcd, it should be used for just a quick review without a critical eye, not deleting something you can't even observe well. The 10 shot rule is also really poor adivce to give. Maybe when you're moving out of the amateur stage and you need to push yourself, this might be a neat thing to try once or twice, but this rule breaks the most important guideline, which is to shoot, shoot, SHOOT. I rarely like to even think about going home before I fill up a card. 10 shots would limit your creative potential more than it would boost it. That wouldn't give me enough time to even begin to think creatively on composition/perspective.

    Overall, the concepts in these 3 "workouts" are there, but not for everyone and not the best advice.

    Also, 500px is another great photo sharing site to easily view EXIF data.

  • Fitzroy April 1, 2013 10:59 pm

    Whilst I appreciate the philosophy behind the 'one shot' approach, I have some issues with it:

    1) Deleting images one-by-one in the camera is likely to lead to the memory card failing earlier than it otherwise might. Deleting by formatting is the method advised by the chip manufacturers.

    2) Better photographs result from analysis of failures than from celebratingone-off triumphs.

    3) Many photographs look at lot better on teh bigger screen than on a small LCD display.

    4) The JPEG you see in the camera has been processed the way the manufacturer thinks it should. That might not be your way ... it usually isn't mine.

    5) Cropping (e.g. in Photoshop) often produces a better photograph than you would on site ... often simply because you have more time to recompose the shot.

    I never delete in camera, and practically the only shots I delete back home are those where the flash failed - and there's nothing to pull out of the shadows.

    One of my most-loved and admired photographs is a 'soft focus' (i.e. slightly out-of-focus) image of the face of the ring-bearer at a friend's wedding. It was cropped out of the RAW file and had no other work done on it.


  • Carolyn April 1, 2013 06:26 pm

    Great tips I'm completely new to photography completely! But Can't learn enough I have a Fuji fine pix hs30 exr loving it, but haven't yet gone out out alone to practice can't wait to do do. I get frustrated when reading how to do a certain pic, but then can't apply it myself!! But hey Ho I suppose it comes with experience and understanding settings
    Thanks for all advice x

  • Michael April 1, 2013 05:23 pm

    You're serious? You actually ask students of photography to delete every image that is not "perfect" based on a 3-inch Jpeg thumbnail? Amazing! How on earth can you evaluate an image for perfection from the back of a camera? I delete images based on the camera's LCD, but they have to be obviously unfocused or bad in some other obvious way. Also, 10. Why not just teach the students to work the subject. What if they stop and the 11th would have been the money shot? Sheesh the world is full of photography "teachers" these days.

  • Julie April 1, 2013 02:54 pm

    Good ideas. I also like Andrew's idea of shooting 24 pictures and not deleting. ;). Would challenge you to really think about what you want the finished picture to look like, settings, and composition much more carefully. It is easy to just casually click away dozens of photos and learn nothing from it. ;).

  • Leland December 30, 2011 07:33 am

    I like the 10-shot exercise, but I have to agree with yuiop completely regarding the 1-shot one. Deleting pics (or constantly zooming in to view them on the LCD) quickly drains your batteries, so you'd better carry a spare battery or two if you follow this "exercise".

  • Maureen Erb April 12, 2011 01:32 am

    Hi, I've been in the business for over 25 years. Last year I purchased my first DSLR and am still learning how to use all the listed information in the camera. Yes, I have a small info booklet that came with the camera, but would like to know where I could purchase books with more information.
    The camera I purchased is a DSLR-Sony A200 (the same body as the Minolta which allowed me to use all my lenses from my Minolta cameras).
    If you can be of help I would be grateful. We live in a small town (Barrhead, AB) and it's not always easy to find the right places.
    Thanks, Maureen

  • yuiop March 25, 2011 06:51 am

    I don't know how I would delete photos before I get home. Most of the time my photos look amazing on a 3 inch screen but horrible on a 40 inch screen.

  • kim March 24, 2011 04:36 pm

    to see your exif data on your picts on Flickr - click on your camera used (at the top part and to the right of the picture you are looking at - it is the link to your exif data!! its right after date uploaded (or taken, wheatever date that is).. both are blue links.

  • Mark K March 21, 2011 04:39 am

    I started trying that and its actually really effective; for now I am focusing on events or architectures in Toronto where I am intimately familiar with the shot, so when I do look at the extended tags there is a little bit of an Oooo I get it moment. Try it, it really helped figure out some things *especially* for night shots.

  • Mary McGrath March 20, 2011 03:01 am

    I don't see where the EFIX data is on any of the images I've viewed on Flickr, including my own.
    Could you give me a link to an example?

    Good tips! I deleted many of my images in the Caribbean before I came home so I didn't have to slog through them...

  • Paul March 20, 2011 01:30 am

    Good sound advice, bit like wedding photography.......... it pays to just slow down, shoot less. Ask yourslef if it's goodenough for an album? Shoot quality not quantity!

  • anonymous March 19, 2011 12:46 pm

    Great tips. Although, the photo shown next to the "One Shot" section looks like HDR -- which means that it was created using more than one shot, right? (I'm sure this author has many photos that are great examples of his "one shot" exercise, it's just curious that he chose to showcase a photo that could not have been a "one shot.")

  • Tyler Heibeck March 19, 2011 05:07 am

    Nice set of tips, especially the 10 shot idea. I do have some issue with the "only return home with one shop" exercise. I assume that you are making this decision based on how the picture looks on your camera, but this might be the worst way to figure out if you have the perfect shot. The LCD on the back of your camera is not match for a good, well-calibrated monitor or a print viewed in controlled light. I'd me more apt to decrease the number of shots I take and practice minimizing my shots. Shooting in manual and using a prime lens might be a good way to encourage this.

  • Barb March 18, 2011 07:58 am

    I really like your advice and tips they help a lot

  • Lorne March 18, 2011 04:30 am

    I found value in the article. Thanks for posting.

  • Harry Hilders March 18, 2011 03:12 am

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing.

  • Amitav Roy March 18, 2011 02:54 am

    hmm, i think you got that point very correct that we take a lot of pictures and hope one of them will be good. this is the problem with digital cameras i guess. but yes, lately i was thinking of reducing the number of snaps that I click and focus on clicking good ones. where there is something to look at. not casuals ones.
    let's hope this practice will do some good.

  • Andrew March 15, 2011 12:51 pm

    I think another good technique, that isn't quite as destructive as deleting until you have one perfect shot, is to go out and pretend you are shooting a roll of film.

    You can only return home with 24 images, and you can not delete any.

    That wat, you think more about what you are doing as you are doing it... and when you get home you can look at the ones you were not happy with and figure out what it is you don't like about them

  • joann, sidewalk chic March 14, 2011 01:00 pm

    This is a great post, Jim! I especially love the advice about shooting the right shot and getting rid of the rest. I usually take so many photos until I think I've got the right one. It'll be a nice technique to try to focus on getting it right early on.

  • Kat Landreth March 14, 2011 12:56 pm

    Thanks for these exercises. You're right that photographers should actually do practice exercises ust like anyone who wants to get better at something. I love the idea of guessing EXIF info.

    @Markor- Thank you for introducing me to fluidr! I can already tell it's going to be an amazing resource for me. I can't believe I didn't know about it already :)

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 14, 2011 04:19 am


    Try to get low on Landscape shot to get some interesting foreground like this kelp at Pacific Beach in California

    Oceans Pacific: http://t.co/2ts4JSc

    Regards, Erik

  • Will McA March 13, 2011 12:18 am

    Excellent reading, it's just the thing I think to re-inspire me.

    I find that with time, and perhaps because of increasing lack of motivation / frustration from the last time I wasn't happy with any of the results from a day out with my camera / trying to fit taking photographs and spending time with my friends in the same trip. I start rushing things and before I know it I'm taking two photos of something, not bothering to take much care over either, seeing that both are blurred, adding it to my frustration and then moving on to catch up with my friends.

  • Kathy March 12, 2011 11:51 pm

    I'm so glad you shared that information about Flickr. I look at the phots on Flickr a lot and study "why do I like this photo" so that I can understand what it is about the composition I like and then reflect on the "rules". Many times I wonder what the settings are, camera used and how the photographer executed getting the shot. Now I know where to look to find that info. HUGE help! Thanks so much!

  • vibhanshu March 12, 2011 07:38 pm

    Really thanks for the so valuable info... i will definitely work the way u said.. thanks again. :-)

  • W. Carlson March 12, 2011 12:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing good info.

  • Amy March 12, 2011 01:24 am

    Beautiful shot from Koreshan State Park!!!

  • Markor March 12, 2011 01:19 am

    Even more than Flickr I love Fluidr (based on Flickr) cause it shows exif information beside every picture;)

  • Mei Teng March 11, 2011 04:45 pm

    The ten shots one subject is a brilliant tip. Thanks for sharing. Will try this out the next time I am out shooting.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 11, 2011 04:14 pm


    About 10 shots - same tractor different view, different story!

    White Lightening: http://t.co/mYpU7W1

    Regards, Erik

  • ScottC March 11, 2011 04:05 pm

    Both sound like great practice techniques. I often take mutliple perspective photos but never thought about an exercise such that one.

    I'll definitely try the "one shot" technique, a lot of my photos are taken on-the-go and there's rarely an opportunity for more than one or two of each subject.


  • goggin March 11, 2011 03:19 pm

    The one shot is an interesting suggestion, but for my students I find that they get as much out of reviewing what they did wrong as much as what they did right. Also, but not deleting and showing images to other people there are often hidden gems that are "obscured" by what you as the photographer wanted out of the shot...it may not "work" in your mind, but other people may see something that you missed that will spark other ideas.

  • Rich Copley March 11, 2011 02:28 pm

    I like both the one and 10 suggestions, because they really force you to concentrate and move beyond simply feeling like you "got it."

  • Leslie Joy Ickowitz March 11, 2011 02:00 pm

    I like it here. I really like it here.

  • Adrienne March 11, 2011 12:28 pm

    These are great tips! I love them!

  • Kiran March 11, 2011 11:42 am

    I love the exif data analysis, never thought about this before. I usually shoot a tonne focusing on one subject!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 11, 2011 11:16 am


    I like the part about 10 shots, one subject. I spent the better part of an hour analyzing and photographic various parts and angles of this old rusted tractor, different lenses, stop, think, reshoot. There were just so many possibilities once you took some time and really had a look.

    From this shot, its hard to tell what this is, but the imagination can lead you to "Full Power"

    Scotty! WARP 2: http://t.co/r3N0lUi

    Regards, Erik

  • Chris March 11, 2011 10:40 am

    I'm not very impressed by this Jim Harmer's website. Poorly written articles and comments from him like "Ick. I don’t like doing studio work, either :-) It’s so stale! Do you have your photography online somewhere?" (right after arguing with people about how his over-the-top HDR is art and any type of photography has it's place) don't help my opinion of him at all. I would definitely not pay to attend one of his workshops.

    Oh, and anybody going to see David Hobby and Joe McNally tomorrow in Seattle, see you there!

  • Jazzmine March 11, 2011 10:22 am

    These photos look like they were taken in Estero Florida! thanks for sharing the techniques too!

  • Toni Aull March 11, 2011 09:42 am

    Jim, You are right-on!! So detailed...so simple, Graciously I thank you

  • Andre March 11, 2011 07:20 am

    I just discovered this site, it is really interesting.
    The last part of these techniques follows a bit what my teacher of photography used to implement long time ago (in the time of emulsion photography). Twice a week we had to go to a small park for a few hours. There we had to take a roll of 36 and of that roll at least two pictures had to be presentable and new. These were then discussed.
    I can tell you the first few weeks do not pose too much of a problem. Later one has the IMPRESSION that nothing cannot be done anymore. it is then that the creative is stimulated as one is forced to re-invent and re-evaluate not only the surroundings but also what can be done with the camera creatively.

    Keep up the good work