5 Tips to Help You Slow Down and Take Better Photos

0Comments

When you go out to take photos it can be tempting to start shooting right away with the goal of getting the ideal image or capturing the perfect picture. But before you get your camera out, it might be good to take the opposite approach and slow down. Way down. Let’s take a minute to consider some lessons you can learn from the age-old tale of the tortoise and the hare. Ironically, one of the most important things you can do when inspiration strikes is to move slowly like the tortoise, rather than rush along like the hare. The tortoise might not have been the quickest animal in the meadow, but he stuck it out and made it to the finish line while the hare had long since grown weary of the race and gave up altogether. As a photographer, it’s tempting to be a hare and race to photographic perfection, but if you look to the tortoise you see a much better example to follow.

image-001-mockingbird

Here are five tips to help you slow down and take better photos:

1. Study your surroundings

One of the most important elements of a good photograph is that of framing; how is your subject positioned relative to the environment? You might have already considered the subject of your photo (your child, your vehicle, a statue, a flower, etc.) but before you start racking up those pictures on your SD card, take a few minutes or more to consider where the subject is with respect to everything else in the area. Are there buildings, houses, or man-made structures that you could use to help make your subject stand out? Are there natural elements, like trees, shrubs, or rock formations that you could use to highlight features or colors of your subject? By pausing to consider everything else aside from your subject, you will be able to make better decisions about how to get the moments you are really striving to capture.

image-002-saint-francis

When I took this picture of Saint Francis on an overcast morning I had to consider not just the bust itself, but what else might help frame the photo. The quickest and most convenient option would have been to point my camera down and snap a picture, but by slowing down and taking time to consider everything else besides the statue it resulted in a much more pleasing image. I ended up crouching down low to the ground, and using the background elements to give the viewer a sense of space and context. By considering the environment and using that to inform my choice about how to take the photo, I was able to get a much better picture than I would have otherwise.

2. Wait for the light

You might not have a giant flash, or studio-style strobes and softboxes, but you can still get amazing pictures by using the best source of light anywhere – the sun. The downside is, you have to be patient if you really want to use it to its full potential. It might not be easy, but one of the best techniques you can utilize to take advantage of natural light is be patient and wait until it suits the needs of your photograph. Bright daylight is often not the best time to be outside and shooting, as the sun’s direct rays can be too harsh and create too much contrast especially if there are trees, building, or other elements casting big shadows.

image-003-bronze-man

 

Instead, take the tortoise approach and wait until the sun is lower on the horizon. An hour or so before sunset is one of the best times to be out taking pictures, as the low angle of the sun creates a much more pleasing source of light than when it’s directly overhead. Another good time to be shooting in nature is right after sunrise, as you still get the low angle and warm colors. I had to get up early to take this picture of a bronze pedestrian whom someone had bedecked with a bit of garland. But by waiting for the sunlight to be what I needed, rather than what happened to be available, I was able to get a much better photo.  It might not have been the quickest option, but it certainly yielded a much better image.

3. Be part of nature

Taking photos of wildlife does not always require a telephoto lens, but it does require patience. If you want to get good pictures of the animals around you, whether it’s in your backyard or on a hike up the mountains, it’s often best to be patient and let nature come to you. Animals will hear you coming and quickly scamper off, but if you stake out a good spot to wait for them you can be rewarded with some compelling photographic opportunities. A few weeks ago I wanted to get a picture of a squirrel, so I started chasing this one around while he looked for nuts and acorns. I soon realized this was an exercise in futility, as he kept running away from me! So instead I picked out one spot and just waited. After a while he crept back and started poking around near me, and I was able to get a decent picture.

Image003 squirrel

Nature can be a fickle mistress, and will often refuse to comply with what might seem like quite reasonable requests (“Hold still, little birdie! No, don’t fly away!”). But if you take time to be part of nature, and even let nature come to you, you will often be rewarded with much better photos than you could get by rushing into things.

image-005-snake

4. Let kids be kids

Trying to get a good picture of children can take all the fun out of a birthday party or an afternoon at the park. For many of us, our instinct is to be in control: “Look here everyone! Now say cheese!” Inevitably one kid will be smiling, one will be blinking, one will be staring off to the side, and one might even be crying. It might seem like getting a good picture of kids is almost impossible! Thankfully, there is hope. Instead of rushing like the hare to construct a greeting-card-worthy photograph, try taking the opposite approach and just let the kids play. Keep your camera ready, and use it to capture the kids just being themselves. The catch is, you could be waiting quite a while, but you (and the kids) will have much more fun in the process.

Image004 girl

I took this photo of my friend’s daughter while she and my son were playing around in the dirt, and even though it took a while and I got myself rather muddy in the process, I ended up with a picture that was far more interesting than all the posed ones we took earlier. Another advantage of this approach comes months later when you are looking through your pictures. Posed photos of children smiling at the camera might seem like a good idea at the time, but afterwards you will often find that these are not nearly as interesting as the ones where the kids are just playing around and acting natural. But if you are not willing to be patient and wait for these moments to happen, they will often slip by and be lost forever without you ever even noticing.

image-007-kids2

No fancy studio, no special camera gear- just sunlight and patience

5. Learn one new camera function, and learn it well

Cameras today have so many options, buttons, and dials it’s no wonder so many people shoot in Auto mode, and I can hardly blame them for doing so! Learning to operate your camera can be a daunting task, and if Auto takes pictures that are generally good enough, why bother with all the menus and knobs? I have seen so many people try to learn how to operate their cameras to take better pictures, but give up in frustration because it’s so overwhelming. The trick is to pick one thing and learn it thoroughly, and in doing so the various elements of exposure and photography will slowly start to come together.

For example if you shoot in Auto, try choosing the Aperture Priority mode (Av or A on your camera) and learn how to control the aperture of your lens to get better shots. Don’t worry about shutter speed, ISO, white balance, AE-L, or anything else just yet. All that is important, but it can wait. Once you spend a few days, weeks, or even longer getting the hang of adjusting the aperture, then move on to something else like the Shutter Priority mode (S or Tv on your camera) where you control the shutter speed and let the camera figure out the rest. You will soon start to see how the various elements of exposure (Aperture, Shutter, and ISO) affect one another, and how to control them to produce the amazing shots that have somehow always eluded your grasp.

By sticking with just one new camera function at a time you might not learn everything about your camera as quick as you would prefer, but you will likely avoid the frustration and burnout that often comes with trying to learn too many new concepts at once. After all, the hare might have gotten off to a quick start but we all know how that turned out. In photography, it pays to be more like the tortoise: slowing down might not seem ideal at first, but it will help you produce brilliant results in the end.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Ringsmuth is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as sringsmuth.

  • These are my thoughts exactly. Hurrying leads to a short-term, immediate satisfaction with little impact, while doing things slowly but thoroughly requires time, patience, but yields a long-term, long-lasting growth.
    Obviously some people are faster than others, each one has his or her own pace, never compare yourself with others, just know yourself, your objectives and goals, and work towards them as focused as you can!
    In one of my last sets of images, about Buddhist Monks in Thailand (where I currently reside), I had to wake up before dawn several days and wait until they walked by the spot where I was standing; it took lots of time and waiting, but I got pictures that I really like, and that’s what counts most to me: http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2014/04/saffron-robes-buddhist-monks-in-thailand.html

  • Good things need patience.

  • harold

    good advice that I need to follow, the heat of the moment always gets me

  • kathyishappy

    Slow and steady wins the race…and photography is more fun when you take the time to see that best shot.

  • You’re spot on about the time and patience aspect, Gonzalo. Those photos of the monks are beautiful (I especially like the ones midway down the page with the sun in the background) and you can’t get shots like this without a lot of patience.

  • Me too. I have often found that if I get caught up in trying to get the perfect shot in the heat of the moment, not only do I not get the perfect shot but I usually don’t get to relax and just enjoy whatever was happening either. I know patience is often what’s needed, but sometimes I have trouble with it too.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    lol, another method to help you to slow down is manual focus…

  • Thank you Simon!

  • Tim Lowe

    All good suggestions. One way to help you do some of these is my tip.

    PUT DOWN THE DIGITAL CAMERA AND SHOOT SOME FILM!

    Get an inexpensive used 35mm camera. Preferably one that takes your DSLR lenses. (If you’ve invested in crop format lenses, well… you blew it.) Then invest a few bucks in a changing bag, developing tank, some good quality chemicals and an inexpensive scanner. ($400 for the whole lot, tops.)

    You’ll be surprised at how much your photography improves. Of course, you’ll quickly be lusting after a medium format camera and a bunch of Carl Zeiss glass. 😉

  • Alternatively, you could also just buy a really tiny memory card and try to make each shot count, instead of taking a thousand photos of every little thing you come across. Of course this is still a poor substitute for shooting actual 35mm film (which is a great idea, by the way), but it would be a start…

  • All of this helps after the shoot as well. By being patient and purposeful while taking pictures you will have a lot less junk photos to delete when you get home. Great article. I like the idea of learning one aspect of the camera at a time to avoid burnout. thanks!

  • You’re right about having fewer junk photos to sort through! Being more purposeful and intentional while shooting can make things much easier when you are trying to find the good shots to share with friends.

    I remember getting my first camera with manual controls years ago and being completely overwhelmed with all the options. I think this is one reason so many people shoot in Auto–they think it’s just too much work to learn what everything does. But just like in the movie Ratatouille in which we learned that anyone can learn to cook, anyone in the real world can learn to master their camera. It just takes time 🙂

  • Richard Keeling

    Couldn’t agree more – I did exactly as Tim suggested a little while ago (except I splurged a bit more on the scanner). Picked up a used Canon EOS Elan 7E for $55, some Ilford b&w film, plugged in all those EOS lenses I’ve collected during my digital days, all completely back-compatible, and have been shooting very slowly and carefully since with this setup. You know what? It is endlessly fun and has rekindled my passion for the art of slow photography. Still kept my digital stuff of course, that has its own merits.

  • Tim Lowe

    Need help finding a Hasselblad 500 and a couple of Carl Zeiss chunks of glass yet? Actually, my gateway drug was a Mamiya 645 and a 70mm f/2.8. Can pick up a nice one for about $400… 😉

  • Rob

    Other tips – pre-visualize your shot. Use a tripod. Think through your ISO, aperture and shutter settings. Calculate the depth of field. Set not only your focus manually but the aforementioned aperture and shutter settings. Don’t worry about people staring at you and wondering what your doing — they probably aren’t or if they are, so what?

  • All excellent tips! It’s amazing what a little bit of planning and patience will do for your photos. Sometimes I still wonder what people will think when they see me all weirdly contorted or using my tripod just to get the shot I want. But even if they are…so what? 🙂

  • Tim Lowe

    I thought I had replied to this before. Shooting thoughtfully with a digital camera is not the same. The best you can do is place duct tape over the LCD.

  • outdoor princes

    I’ve shot a few times with a prime lense instead of a telephoto or zoom lens. It forces you to compose and get close to the subject. It forces me to “think” a little more about what I’m shooting.

  • Ron Dreyer

    Enjoying the ‘party’ instead of being ‘super-photoman’ was a hard lesson to learn for me as a proud owner of a DSLR, but some of the old film habits eventually returned…..

  • It was hard, but I eventually broke my habit of constantly checking the LCD screen after every shot. Like Luke at the end of Star Wars, I learned to know how my camera and lens operate and trust my instincts rather than always looking at the LCD to see if my shots are perfect. I disabled the auto-preview and rarely look at my shots until I upload them to my computer. Like you said, it’s still a far cry from shooting with film, but it certainly has helped me become a better photographer.

  • Absolutely! I only shoot with primes, and it’s a fantastic way to force someone to think more about composition when shooting.

  • Tim Lowe

    Go with the force, Luke.
    I mean, Simon. 😉

  • Graetdeal4u

    Great information! always looking for great idea
    http://www.amazon.com/Canvas-DSLR-Camera-Shoulder-Backpack/dp/B00HHZHEUA

  • I bought a 50 mm prime lens for my Nikon 3100 two years ago and I never went back to the zoom lens which originally came with the kit. I like the challenge of my 50 mm lens. It’s a great educator and it helps me to slow down and to think about composition: Which part represents the bigger picture? Which detail triggers an exciting internal picture inside the viewer’s mind? Wich angle is the right one? Which contrast or contradiction is catching the viewer’s attention?
    These are plenty of reasons to slow down and to think before one relaeses the shutter… Find many examples in our “grandparent blog” (our grandkids love the details … as well as the post-production fun), especially there:
    photos from Siquijor/Philippines,
    photos from Kaohsiung/Taiwan,
    photos from Surakarta/Java.
    Many thanks for a thought-provoking article and the encouraging discussion.
    Matt http://www.konniandmatt.blogspot.com
    .

  • I did the same thing, Matt, and I always recommend a Prime lens for anyone looking to expand their photographic horizons. Shooting with 35mm and 50mm lenses has taught me so much more about composition and framing, as well as the basic elements of exposure, than I ever would have learned otherwise. You have some beautiful shots on your blog, and keep up the good work!

  • Many thanks for your encouragement and feedback about our travel blog, Simon. Most appreciated. Which 35 mm prime lens would you recommend for the Nikon 3100 and for my way of travelling/shooting?
    Matt http://www.konniandmatt.blogspot.com

  • Others might have different opinions, but I can’t recommend Nikon’s 35mm 1.8G lens enough. It’s an amazing lens, and would suit you exceedingly well for traveling when paired with your D3100. It’s not too wide, but not too tight (I find that the 50mm, while fantastic in its own right, is often a bit too tight for casual shooting), and the f/1.8 aperture gives it a great deal of flexibility in shooting under a variety of conditions.

  • Thank you, Simon.

  • Richard Keeling

    🙂 I may yet get my hands on my dad’s 1950s Rolleiflex.

  • Tim Lowe

    Great start! Now, put your camera in full manual mode… 😉

  • You’re exactly right, Tim. I remember being so intimidated by manual mode a few years ago, but once you learn to read the light meter and adjust your settings accordingly, you can work magic with that big imposing capital M on the settings dial 🙂

  • Tim Lowe

    Yesterday, I dropped my light meter while taking a shot of a pedestrian bridge over a very busy street. It landed on the sidewalk and seems fine. Slow photography can be dangerous. 😉

  • Nisarg Mehta

    Thanks for the tips. Will try to implement it.

  • IceSwan

    Great article. It is/has been a steep (but fun) learning curve, so learning things step by step really helps, otherwise it gets overwhelming.

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!


DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed