5 ways to stop being a luck photographer {and start taking pictures on purpose}

5 ways to stop being a luck photographer {and start taking pictures on purpose}

We’ve all been guilty of taking pictures with our eyes closed. Just go crazy, go on a shooting spree and see what happens. See what happy mistakes you can pawn off as well-thought out, purposefully captured portraits. Here are 6 ways you can identify yourself as a luck photographer:

  1. You take way too many pictures. A one hour session results in 500 shots to sort in your computer
  2. Your sessions take hours longer than they need to
  3. You feel panicky, nervous and out of control while you’re shooting
  4. You can’t explain to someone later on how you made a portrait or the settings you chose
  5. You either shy away from manual all together or you ‘wing it’ and take the same shot over and over with different settings ‘just in case’
  6. Your clients are confused as to why they spent hours with you, witnessed you taking a bajillion photos but they only ended up seeing 20 of them (note: clients will ask this anyway, but the less you rely on luck, the less they will ask)

I have been guilty of all of the above, and not even that long ago. Believe it or not, I’ve been a very good fake at times. In the beginning, I posted images that had rave reviews from readers inspite of the fact that they were just lucky shots that I couldn’t recreate if I wanted to. There are a few reasons why this can be dangerous to a photographer who is charging for their sessions:

  1. Your clients have gone to your website for a product but when they come to you for their session, you won’t be able to produce the same product for them.
  2. Following on from the above, some of you might know of the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree. He was enticed by the leaves of the tree, but when he approached it, there was no fruit. He cursed it and it died. Being a haphazard photographer is like a tree of leaves enticing clients who later find that there isn’t actually any fruit. A business built on these principles can’t last.
  3. You will smash your own confidence if you rely on luck. You will feel out of control and deep down inside, you’ll know that it wasn’t really YOU creating the images.

When I look back, I can see that I have learned many things from my lucky shooting days. I learned about composition. I learned about self restraint and, most importantly, I learned how to stop shooting for luck and how to start taking pictures on purpose. Here are the things I wish I knew back then to get started sooner:

  1. Learn Light – I can’t just call myself an ‘available light photographer’ and claim to only shoot in natural light to get around learning about lighting. When I wanted to stop being at the mercy of the sun, the location, the time of day, I buckled down and learned the (surprisingly basic) things you need to know to take control of the light. Someone once said, “I’m an available light photographer. My Speedlite is available.”
  2. Learn Your Camera – This is an obvious one, but needs to be said: learn how your camera sets exposure and why. Aperture, ISO, shutter speed and white balance. Force yourself to shoot in manual (or one of the in-between modes likeaperture or shutter priority modes.) and see what the different dials actually do.
  3. Learn Posing – I had to stop taking pride in being the anti-posed photographer and start actually learning about the art of posing subjects (particularly children) so that I could stop shooting like a maniac, chasing them for a square mile and just waiting for them to stop and look at me, all the while filling up a 16gb memory card and giving myself a helluva lot of sorting to do later on. I bought and utilized posing guides from Skye Hardwick to take control and make portraits rather than just take pictures. (update: check out the dPS Posing Guide too).
  4. Try Bracketing – When you’re just starting out and you want to make sure to nail your exposure, bracketing can be a super useful tool. Before discovering it, I would take three different photos all while quickly moving the dials with my thumb to alter the shutter speed or aperture to get three exposures for one image. With bracketing, you can take three photos at once, all of different exposures and then choose later on which one is right for your image.
  5. Have Restraint – When I shoot now, I probably trash only 10-15% of my images (in contrast to 80% in the beginning) and only for reasons like blinking or a cat running in the way. I don’t click click click the shutter. I set up the shot, take control of the light, capture the image and when I’ve got it, I move on to another. I think there must be such a thing as shutter addiction. It’s so satisfying to hear the shutter clamp down and know that you have actually captured something: that you have harnessed the light and made it yours.

No photographer just woke up great. It’s been a long haul to get where I am and I recognize that I’ve got a long way to go. You never get to a point where you know 100% of everything there is to know about photography and that’s what makes it such an exciting hobby or career.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Hayden January 12, 2012 09:45 am

    OMG so true.....hence 11000 images over a 3/4 year period. As i get more critical and......professional (ish) i know know its about timing and light for me - but i still so love my "un posed" shots. Spur of the moments which are my personal shots - work and play balance.

  • Glenn January 3, 2012 05:28 am

    Enjoyed the article Elizabeth and agree about being more daring with using manual mode. I am a big shutter priority fan because most of what I do is hand held and it helps with reducing blur. However, anyone serious about becoming better at photography will need to go full manual and stick with it until it becomes second nature. I am working on this myself and find it to be a challenge which is both fun and exiting.

  • C. Diane January 2, 2012 02:56 am

    Firstly, I want to say HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! I have taken the kids and family too. I am going to post the picture and dont know if it will go through. Let me know what cha think about this portrait of those lil kids. I am going to set my own website but haven't try one yet.


  • Average Joe December 30, 2011 02:48 pm

    I mostly agree with this, but when it comes to shots with me, I rarely take multiple shots at the same time and sometimes I wish I did. But I can definitely understand where it would get to be a problem... Now I need to go learn more about bracketing...

  • rayleigh leavitt October 21, 2011 07:01 am

    I was talking to an amazing photographer last night (Tammy Warnock of True Blue Photography) and she told me that she usually clicks the shutter about 32 times in a session and 30 of them are keepers. The other two are blinks! LOL I was amazed! But then again, I took a workshop with David Beckstead who is one of my other photography heroes and he said that he takes a million photos and sometimes he doesn't even look through the viewfinder! So when you said shoot with your eyes closed, he practically does! And he does that because amongst all those crazy shots, you often end up with one perfectly stunning shot that is way more creative than what you might have thought to take if you were over thinking it. So there are different strategies that work awesome for different people! :-)

  • Mark G. June 20, 2011 09:38 am

    Someone has been reading my mind.! There comes the point when if you are going to get more serious about the craft than you were yesterday when you have to stretch the envelope artistically, creatively, and technically.!! That means stepping outside the comfort zone of AUTO and letting the reasons you got into photography come to bear. We WANT to create images and feel in "control" and to do so, you have to take this leap. Thanks for saying what I have been feeling and hopefully putting into action in as many ways as I am able to see, imagine, or create.!

  • MJ April 22, 2011 02:36 am

    LOL @ “I’m an available light photographer. My Speedlite is available.”

    I shoot mostly with strobes. Someone told me that they shoot with "Gods light"...I told them "God made strobes so I do too"! lol. Ones technique is personal. There is plenty of room for all of them in this big ole Universe.

  • senior pictures April 5, 2011 03:28 pm

    Wow that just summed up about 99.9% of my local competitors LMAO !!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tooooo many people decide they want to learn photography but once they buy one forget about the whole "learning" part ... WOOOO HOOO I bought a camera !! I'm a photographer now !!!! .... hahaha don't work that way.

  • Iain March 21, 2011 10:44 am

    I was very bad for this as I've only really taken up photography in the age of digital. I would take dozens of photos of the same thing from slightly different angles or different exposures so that I was bound to get the "right" one along the way, though sometimes I didn't!

    I consciously tried to get myself out of this habit, but was failing until I took up shooting with film. I know someone mentioned this earlier in the thread though I haven't had time to read all the comments, but shooting with film really changes the way you think about your photography for two reasons.

    1. You can't just check the shot afterwards and adjust what's wrong so you take much more time to get it right, you think about it far more.

    2. You have a very limited amount of shots, even f you take a couple of rolls with you, you still don't have the hundreds or thousands that you have with digital, and each roll costs money, so again, you think and plan each shot far more carefully.

    I've found that using (and developing) film has changed the way I approach my digital photography too. It's made me much calmer while shooting, I take time to compose and think about how the shot will look, I check my meter readings, I check my focus, I use my preview button to stop down the aperture to check my DoF, and I firmly believe it has made me a better photographer. Sometimes I don't even look at the image after I've taken it, and only when I get home and see it on the computer.

    If you're interested I discuss film quite a lot in my blog (linked above).

  • chew March 21, 2011 03:40 am

    Great article. Thanks for these tips. It's good to be reminded at times.

  • phoe March 20, 2011 08:30 am

    A very good article. When I learned how to shoot in manual setting, I began to understand
    even more about myself, my camera and my surroundings.
    I learned that if the settings I choose were not good enough, I would'nt get the picture. Like when I learned how to play the card game Cribbage, if I did'nt count my points correctly, I would'nt get the points.

    I thouroghly enjoy the articles from here,

  • Lalo March 12, 2011 08:50 am

    Thanks for the article. I was just like what you described a a couple of years ago. I believe I'm better now but I know it is a long way to go.

  • Amy Gillespie March 7, 2011 08:38 am

    I am interested in the action or process you used to edit the photo attached in this post. It has a sunny, light and yet almost vintage look to it. What did you do in post production??

  • Diana February 26, 2011 07:28 am

    This is EVERYTHING I needed to hear.

  • Kim February 11, 2011 10:56 pm

    Another keeper Elizabeth! I am on that cusp right now having made the big jump into manual shooting. I am putting off folks looking for sessions til I feel really REALLY confident fiddling with all the settings.

  • MBB February 10, 2011 11:53 pm

    This is going to be off subject, but I must say I find it quite annoying to sometimes read the condescending comments posted on here about amateur photographers and how their inexperience draws amusement. Wasn't everyone once at that stage? This is the Digital Photography School where people come to LEARN. I really believe that if you need to cast amateurs in a negative light and have a good old laugh at their expense, that you do it on a hyped up, try hard photographers blog and not where thousands of amateurs come everyday to learn, only to be put down when they realise a blogger may be talking about them...
    Sorry if that seems negative, but I see it a lot and it's starting to turn me off coming to the site to learn more and more...

  • Christy February 9, 2011 04:50 am

    I hardly reply on blogs but seriously... this article rang close to home for me. I've been thinking about this post for days and this last weekend I went out to shoot with confidence and feel like I did a little bit better. I'm still a "luck" photographer but so freakin' eager to learn more. I definitely need more help with posing and composing a creative shot. I'm still working with getting the mechanics down but feel a lot more comfortable than my first shoot in August. (first shoot meaning taking pictures of my 2 friends who modeled for me - gotta love that) Anyways, thank you for the article. I really, really enjoyed it.

  • James Baumgartner February 8, 2011 10:22 am

    I'm not a professional photographer, in fact, i'm still at school, but i really enjoy spending time doing aviation photography. I find i'm a bit of a shutterbug because the aircraft are moving so i hold the shutter button down to get a few shots to get a good one. Does anyone have any tips on aviation photography, or more in general, general outdoor photography?


  • Trep Ford February 8, 2011 09:10 am

    Elizabeth is so right. Great shots can be made on purpose, if we take the time to learn.

    I recently went to a night time exhibit of holiday lights in a very well-to-do neighborhood. The display was gorgeous, and the parade of inexperienced photographers toting expensive cameras provided a constant source of amusement. I have nothing against expensive gear (if it does what you need it to do), but none of these folks had taken the time to do what Elizabeth spells out so well in this article. Shutters were clicking like mad, people were using flash at distances WAY beyond the range of any flash ever made, wobbly hand holding prevailed over tripods or steady stances. I'm sure they'll all be quite baffled when they get home and see nothing but a blurry mess. The best, most expensive camera in the world won't help you much if you haven't taken the time to understand what photography is all about. These folks really needed to read this article.

    To Elizabeth's list, I would add only one additional point, and this isn't about the technical side of photography so much as it is about the power of self expression: "Before you shoot, take the time to really connect with your subject and wait for that inner "YES!!" before you fire."

    This is something I learned this from my wife. When we met, I was the more technically experienced photographer and could rely on 80% or more of my shots turning out the way I wanted them, in terms of composition, light, exposure, focus, depth of field, etc. She asked me to teach her more about the technical side of shooting, and I happily did. But when we'd get back from shooting something together, I often felt more of a positive emotional reaction to her images than to mine. Hers might have been less polished and technically predictable than mine, but hers GRABBED me in ways mine didn't. Often, standing side by side, we'd shoot the same subject, and her shots had more FEEL. They touched me more. Why?

    I kept wondering what she knew that I didn't know. Only some of my shots really grabbed me or touched my heart, while most of hers did. I learned that I wasn't always taking the time to wait until the moment when I felt real excitement about my subject. She did. If she doesn't feel the rush, she doesn't shoot.

    I looked back over a few zillion of my shots and started thinking about what I was thinking and feeling when I took the very best shots. And I learned. Truly great images not only have to be technically on target, they require that the bloke or lass holding the camera feel excited about what they see when they look through the gear. Your subject moves, changes expression, blows in the wind, has variable light flickering over them ... Wait until that moment when you feel a thrill in your heart ... a sudden rush. This is your aesthetic sense saying NOW!!! Its a part of you that knows when all the design elements of the image are just right to reach the human heart ... THEN fire.

    My shots became so much more SATISFYING, not just technically good, after I learned this. Hey, it only took me 30 years. ;)

  • cwilly February 7, 2011 03:50 pm

    It's wonderful to get tips like this. Thank you very much. I am inspired to go out and try some more..

  • Darren Rowse February 7, 2011 01:09 pm

    Skip - I didn't pay anything for a book. This was written by Elizabeth :-)

  • Elizabeth Halford February 7, 2011 03:58 am

    @Erik: I'm a bit confused as to why you keep posting images like this. Perhaps you should visit the forum where they can receive the exposure you're looking for? (pun intended!:)

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 7, 2011 03:31 am


    This seductive shot was taken with the photographer flat on his stoamch to match the position of the model. Softbox lowered and angled to illuminate her torso...lovely and very deliberate!

    The Look: http://t.co/lvERSw1

    Regards, Erik

  • jagannadharaju February 6, 2011 12:47 pm

    this is really a good article - i am recently trying to teach my friends not to click without seeing and dont click because there is nothing going waste or don't click to see how the picture is coming and then make adjustments to get it better... i can now show this article to them that you too think the same and i am not wrong...
    i have also learned the main theme behind behind being lucky... ;)


  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 6, 2011 10:20 am


    This was a deliberate shot to capture Sadness from our model, Jovis. Nothing was left to luck, from the pose, to the subtle lighting! Preparation and knowing what you are looking for in advance is the key!

    Sadness: http://t.co/w5XEULO

    regards, Erik

  • Brantley February 6, 2011 01:44 am

    So, I read this article and I found this really interesting. Most of my photography is centered around fine art, however, I've started to open up to doing more portraits (for hire). My first client was a co-worker of mine that wanted me to shoot her 20 month old at a park. I don't know much about posing, but how can you pose a 20 month old? I ran around the park for a an hour try to get in front of him at much as possible. I took 800 shots! I was shooting in Aperture priority mode, to control depth of field. We were trying to go for a candid look, so the mother and I did not attempt to pose him.

    Post processing was a bit of a downer. It started to hurt my confidence was I was flagging "reject" on the majority of the shots. In the end, I ended up with 43 images (some of them were dups in B&W), which I was enough to give my client what she wanted and she was thrilled with the images I have her.

    Is there a book or website that explains how to handle children of different ages and the recommended way of shooting them?

  • Babar Syed February 6, 2011 01:43 am

    I enjoyed it completely,very helpfull tips,Thanx for sharing with us.

    God Bless All.

  • Mihail Iliev February 5, 2011 10:01 pm

    I don't agree! Taking a lot of photos from different angles does help a lot to find a good composition. Playing with the controls is great too, of course only if one understands the basics.

    One year ago I used to take 500 photos and select 10. Now I do the same except that those 10 are of much better quality. Nowadays there's many that would have qualified as good enough by my last year standard. But... my standard now is higher. So?

    By the way, I am an amateur and so I don't care about explaining to clients.

  • mandi February 5, 2011 01:02 pm

    I will defintatly take this and lear. it really describes me, I feel i am getting better. i'm starting to get more control and less accidents. my deleting is less and less. my nerves are less and less. tomorrow morning i have senior pics, hope i'm able to get allot.. The weather controles me for sure. I try to avoid the super bright sunny days specialy noon. I'm always wishing i lived in seattle hehe. anyways check me out on facebook and let me know what you think. give me a review if you want! http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Andreasen-Photography/168213295825 fan me!!

  • Erik kerstenbeck February 5, 2011 12:29 pm

    Continuing our Studio Series with our lovely model Jovis, here we have her with a very edgy looking B.C. Rich electric guitar. Not much room for a soft look, or seductive glance. Jovis was instructed to give a fierce look, fire in the eyes! I think it worked without going over the top or just getting ugly like some more current professional work by others – models often look like the just swallow a bitter pill or want to kill you!

    Fierce!: http://t.co/XsyKGTB

  • glenda Fincannon February 5, 2011 09:47 am

    I can't believe he paid $399.00 for a book on posing!

  • Don Bird February 5, 2011 07:52 am

    Andrew i kno what your saying i do concert potography a lot in small clubs its hard when everthings moveing fast
    i just keep clicking and sourt through later i tryed taking my time it doesent work with concert photography.

  • Mariana February 5, 2011 06:36 am

    Hi, I loved your post. I'm an amateur photographer becoming pro and I'm glad I'm on the right track. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Gerald Woods February 5, 2011 05:38 am

    The Posing Guides website does not appear to be a very good one. It's difficult to read and rambles. The author tries to impose on those who download his work greater responsibility than the copyright laws allow, as well.

  • George February 5, 2011 02:42 am

    This make me feel bad! But totally right specially in my case.

    I wish Erik Karstenbeck will stop trying to get his money's worth here also with his photo's, they are very nice, but it just makes me feel worse.

    Dam you digital world!!!

  • Steph February 5, 2011 02:21 am

    This article is so timely for me. After a two day outing at the river I came home with a thousand shots and I told myself this has to stop. I got my first DSLR about a year ago and I have been shooting in manual for over 6 months, but I know I'm not deliberate with my pictures and I am always a bit nervous about not getting the shot. I'm not even doing portrait photography yet because I know I have this problem. You've calmed me down a bit and I feel encouraged to take my time, really learn and figure out exactly what I'm doing and not just kinda what I'm doing. I don't need to be in such a hurry. Great photographers don't become great overnight so I don't know why I should be any different. Thanks again!

  • Michael Minick February 5, 2011 01:57 am

    I don't know what this says about me, but I almost always shoot in both styles. I'll shoot set-up shots until I get what I want and then I 'throw open the doors' and shoot the lucky way (which feels very liberating).
    Mike M

  • John February 5, 2011 01:41 am

    Thanks for the great article.

    This is something I've had to overcome as well. I don't use a "professional" camera because I don't have a "professional" budget, but majority of the time I can force my little Canon XS to get the image I see in my mind's eye. Actually, I tend to think using my cheaper camera has forced me to learn some of these things so I can capture the images I wanted.

    Thanks again for the great article, Elizabeth. I always enjoy reading you.


  • Lonnie February 5, 2011 01:36 am

    Wow!!! You really nailed me on this!! Guilty as charged.....Great insight.

  • delicious beam February 5, 2011 12:59 am

    Dear Elizabeth,
    You are the most wonderful teacher. Of course you are a very adept photographer as well but I just wanted to let you know that your tutorials via all of the publications which you do, your blog, your site and here are some of the best learning tools as well as inspiration tools out there. We appreciate what you do and how you do it!

    Thank you very much and keep inspired!


  • kunal February 4, 2011 07:28 pm

    really well written. and good points as well :)

    http://kunalmithrill.blogspot.com ~~~ bursts of joy ~~~

  • Skip February 4, 2011 06:40 pm

    Darren! You know I love you man... but $400 for a BOOK? I'm sure it's a great read, and full of very valuable information... but I can make a pretty good down payment on some nice Nikon glass with that much money! It's hard to believe with so much information, and so many tutorials out there on the internet, that anyone would be willing to pay $400 for a book these days... except for college students, of course. Maybe that's the target audience. But not a single copy listed on Amazon for resale? Seems like even a good photographer might buy it, read it, and sell it! Or is it just to darn good to part with, once you have one?

  • Rob Milne February 4, 2011 05:57 pm

    I have a great idea for those who want to try film as opposed to digital, to force themselves to use the correct settings first time. Put a thick piece of gaffer tape / masking tape over the LCD on your camera. Set yourself a task, AND a limit of exposures, and shoot without the benefit of instant view, histograms, and delete button. You will be surprised how many panic when they don't have those instantaneous options. Try it with a little group of friends .. Very interesting.

    Regards all .. Rob

  • Cora Judd February 4, 2011 05:47 pm

    Guilty. I'm just now realizing that if I want to level up I have to learn the aspects of photography I've been fearing/avoiding. (Although, my coolest shot ever was grabbed through a car window while driving in the rain). What a motivating article - thank you!

  • otama February 4, 2011 04:38 pm

    While I enjoyed your article I tend to disagree with not taking a lot of shots. I like to take a lot of shots when using a slow shutter speed at the beach for example because the waves are constantly moving and the only way to get the effect you want is to take multiple shots and decide your favourite later. I also like experimenting with white balance to get different effects and by taking more than one shot, I can again decide which one I like better later. When photographing landscapes is also a good time to take lots because of how dramatically the light can change the photograph in such a short time and lastly, I'm not sure about everyone but I know I certainly have problems seeing the photo on the little LCD but by taking multiple shots with different f-stops or shutter speed etc, means you won't regret not using that f-stop later on.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 4, 2011 04:14 pm


    So here is another shot from the studio - our direction was dramatic and soft and inviting look with a Fedora on our model Jovis. Nothing complicated, no Photoshop needed, One Shot, One Kill (As they say in Spiner School) And nothing left to Luck!

    Model with Fedrora Black and White: http://t.co/0nZKC6E

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 4, 2011 03:02 pm


    Here is one last one, planning was everything. Communication to the model to imagine just taking a bath, drying off and someone knocking and opening the bathroom door! Surprise!

    Surprise!: http://t.co/FdKVCiV

    Again, simple lighting, stunning result from great forethought

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • p.shani February 4, 2011 02:31 pm

    Hi! i am an amateur photographer.I get wonderful tips >i know these tips will help me become a pro.thanks.

  • plain_jo February 4, 2011 01:44 pm

    How can I learn lighting? I am really interested in light but it just seems to go over my head when I try to learn about it, or I forget everything right away.

  • Jitender K Chamoli February 4, 2011 01:02 pm

    It's being long time i have been reading all post here, I like them very much and I had learn a lot from them.
    Thanks DPS for all the Articles.
    Thumbs Up..

  • Tammy February 4, 2011 12:36 pm

    I felt like this article was written about me! Although I do know a little more than just 'luck', and seem to have pretty good 'luck', I still feel like I don't know what I'm doing in the aspect of lighting and camera settings. I have read and read, but reading something to me just doesn't seem to work. Seems I need hands on experience to understand and have to understand HOW or WHY something works before I can grasp a concept like camera settings. Light, I can SEE visually how it works. It's the adjustments I need to make in the camera, or flash to work with the lighting. Sigh, this article made me feel a little better in that maybe I am not the only one in the world who has been at this level... and there is hope? I feel 'lucky' that I usually am always able to get a lot of good pictures, but I still feel like it is luck, because I don't FEEL like I know what I am doing. I get nervous every shoot, and hate it! I want to KNOW what I am doing all the time, not just part of it. Thanks for making me feel like I am not alone. :-)

  • Kathryn February 4, 2011 12:19 pm

    This article is brilliant! Thank you so much! I am moving away from "spray and pray" and really learning to use my camera! I love Skye Hardwick's book and posing guide! It is a great resource! Thank you for the wonderful article!

  • Jimsan February 4, 2011 12:14 pm

    Yup, I think you hit the nail on the head here.

  • ZoZiZo February 4, 2011 11:54 am

    Once attended a workshop where the main advice was 'take a lot of pictures'..... (?!) Well, I go with your advice - at least I try to take less photos or at least be more consious about the image before I press. But well, just got back from shooting a wedding - A bright lighted hall, but the moment the bride walked in - al lights out : with bride walking down the aisle in dark wedding hall with a bright spotlight on her... agggggggggghhhhh, just felt back in the lucky-shoot-a-lot-and-crossed-fingers-some-shots-are-usuable-routine ; (
    I got lucky and got away with it, but some hands on tips about using flash in event photography would be most welcome!

    Thanks for this post - makes me realise just to push harder - and that there is hope ha ha ha!

  • Rachel February 4, 2011 11:32 am

    Great article at a great time. But mostly I am in love with the divine photo!!

  • Gemma February 4, 2011 11:30 am

    Some really excellent advice here Elizabeth - thank you.
    Filling my computer with a million terrible images is the last thing I want - quality over quantity wins every time.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 4, 2011 02:22 am

    This image is of our model Jovis, taken in Studio. The dark and subtle lighting really accentuate the blue gloves which frame Jovis’s face. The secret to the shot was knowing that we wanted an old style hollywood look and that dictated everything from poses to lights. And we let Jovis know what we were thinking and she just knew how to pose!

    The lighting setup was quite simple. We used a black backdrop, large softbox with grate at around 90 degrees. Strobes were controlled with a Pocket Wizard.

    Blue Gloves: http://t.co/w50vyKh

  • Tubz February 4, 2011 02:18 am

    Thank you for this post! It made think a lot of how I take photos and where I need to improve.

  • Jenny February 4, 2011 12:34 am

    Wow! This article was spot on. I take so many "just to be safe" shots and get depressed when there are so few keepers. This article gives direction and hope. Feels good to not be alone.

  • Andrew February 3, 2011 11:24 pm

    There is nothing wrong with taking a heap of shots though. Especially when I am shooting bands on stage etc and getting paid by a client, by the time I react to extremely fast moving subjects.....the moment is often gone. And I seriously could shoot my SLR in full manual in my sleep! If I miss something I can't get the opportunity back once I get home. I know exactly what I want to shoot in my head, and firing off bursts makes sure I don't miss the moment. There are plenty of people too who have the opposite problem. They buy a nice camera, but it sits in the draw for years until someone goes on holidays or gets married!

    My clients have never asked why I only have 20 shots etc after shooting a gazzzilion! As long as they get the shots that they need they are happy. I don't ask the bank teller how he sets up his cash draw, or the plumber how much the stock in his van is worth.

  • Kirk Fuson February 3, 2011 10:46 am

    Thanks for the great post Elizabeth. You have pinpointed a lot of the growing pains we all have to go through. I think that points #1 & #2 = 90% of the puzzle. I witness shooters on a weekly basis that don't understand either their camera and more often light. I hope more people read your post and decide to get serious about understanding their camera and how to use it in all situations. Great post.

  • Martin Soler HDR Photography February 3, 2011 09:35 am

    A great article, for newbies and oldies. So much in there I've been guilty of over the years. However as Tyler says right above, it's fun to do some luck. Because I also find myself going out and not shooting anything because I know it's going to turn out wrong.
    Yet one of my great pics was a luck photo: http://martinsoler.com/2009/11/30/lonely-path-of-fall/
    Other photographer with me didn't even want to set up his camera.
    But I admit it took a lot of photoshopping... :-)

  • Tyler Robbins February 3, 2011 07:56 am

    I miss being a luck photographer.

  • Ambition February 3, 2011 04:25 am

    Great article! I read an article a day on DPS during lunch. This was very timely and practical advice. Thank you, Elizabeth!

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer February 3, 2011 01:48 am

    I agree that the more experienced you get as a photographer, the fewer, far fewer, photos you take during a session. Clients are sometimes surprised when I get the shot I want in one take. That's just because of experience and having taken hundreds of shots at sunset on the beach, it does not take very long now to get dialed in to the correct settings.

    I like the comment about "natural light photographers." When I hear that I think "amateur" and basically someone that just does not know about lighting, especially strobist (off camera) lighting. No way you will be able to get sunset portraits like these without off camera flash skills:


    Getting comfortable with manual mode for both your camera and your flash really helps with strobist confidence. Manual mode in general is good to use for photographing at the beach at sunset.

  • Andrew February 3, 2011 01:48 am

    I do not think that making several shots with slight differences in camera setting is such a great sin. I would say it is not greater than shooting in RAW and postprocessing each and every picture.

    All is good as long as composition is what you intended. When the composition itself is the result of luck, then you have an issue. I am occasionally guilty of both.

  • Stuart Bailey February 3, 2011 12:07 am

    Great post again Elizabeth :-)
    I've learn't so much from your articles on DPS.

    With clients I find it's helpful to go for a coffee with them first and get to know them a bit and what type of shots they are looking for. It means that I can the go away and plan the type of shots I need and think of the set up, poses etc.
    Take time to think about your composition and why you are taking the shot before your hit the shutter button.

    Stuart Bailey
    Photography 1031
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/photography1031

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 2, 2011 06:00 pm


    This is another shot of our model Jessie in a somewhat less dramatic pose. Here we wanted to accentuate her flowing hair, red lipstick and of course, her piercing blue eyes. She was lying on a horizonal branch of a enormous tress, legs propped up against another branch to get her dress in view. How she managed to stay in that position for the next 5 minutes as we fine tuned the shot was amazing…and it was starting to rain. Fun! (And again, we thought this through in advance...except the rain naturally)

    Piercing Blue, Trash the Dress: http://t.co/vu10c5e

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • Beorne February 2, 2011 12:52 pm

    Thank you! I was beginning to wonder if I was the only person that ever thought that I owned a nice DSLR just to take hundreds of snapshots. Your article has helped me.

  • Brett Cox February 2, 2011 11:17 am

    Great read. Quick, to the point, and important tips. I know my greatest weakness is posing.

  • Nick Bedford February 2, 2011 09:44 am

    I don't think learning to shoot film is that important to be honest. Film is simply a different medium in which to store your image (with different results). If your intent is to shoot digital, it's not the be all and end all if you haven't touched film.

    Learning to back off on the trigger is something that can be learned regardless of medium. With experience and knowledges comes the ability to naturally want to wait for the moment or make sure you're capturing the shot correctly. That being said, when doing a photo shoot for someone, digital provides the ability to absolutely nail the exposure and composition without so much as a quick chimp. It's not about the lack of ability, it's about making sure everything is as it should be before everything is dismantled or the pose is forgotten.

    There's always things you will miss when looking through the viewfinder or a shot might seem good but not really work as well as other similar shots. Nothing wrong with take a couple of each and finding the best. Sometimes people blink, sometimes an elbow might move, etc.

    But yes, getting rid of luck is the best thing you can do for your photography and photography career if that's what you are aiming for.

  • Larry Lourcey February 2, 2011 08:37 am

    Couldn't agree more. Love the term "Luck Photographer" lol

    People need to understand that a pro camera doesn't make you a pro photographer. You've gotta learn the skills!

    Twitter: @larryphoto

  • cpando February 2, 2011 06:38 am

    (sorry for the caps lock but I wanted to shout it)

  • Alexander February 2, 2011 05:10 am

    Nice article. I just bought myself a second hand SLR using rolls of film. With only 24 or 36 shots per roll it forces me to think about all the settings before pushing the shutter button. With the very low prices on second hand camera's this might be a suggestion to do.

  • Barbara Sweeney February 2, 2011 04:58 am

    Thanks for the article, really interesting to me. I am trying to learn the basics, but seem to forget everything I've learned when I'm out on a shoot. Trying to get to know my camera and learning the differences.

    Thanks Karina for info on light.

  • April February 2, 2011 04:49 am

    Shooting film also helps you slow down and learn what works. Somewhat expensive, but totally worth it in the long run.

  • Chris February 2, 2011 03:18 am

    http://www.strobist.com/ has everything you need to get started. Start with Lighting 101 in the drop down menu's on the right.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 2, 2011 03:00 am


    This article is spot on. When I first started shooting models, I was instantly asked, "So what do you want me to do?" My answer was a Deer In The Headlights Look....and the results showed it. Rushed compositions, tons of crappy images and not too much fun at all.

    Now before I even approach a shoot, I do research on the location or check it out in advance. This gives me a feel for what I want to create within the constraints of the setting. Then I formulate several photographic visions and sketch or picture them in mind. On location, I explain this to the models so they understand the poses and the mood.

    Of course, be prepared to improvise, cause you cant stop Mother Nature!

    It had just started to rain in this shot...

    "I'm Sorry, Honey" Trash the Dress: http://t.co/gRPm2nt

    Regards, Erik

    Kerstenbeck Photyographic Art

  • karina February 2, 2011 02:49 am

    so will you please do a how to post on lighting. would love to learn, but don't know where to look to learn... any suggestions on books to read?

  • Alanna St Laurent February 2, 2011 02:12 am

    Wow, I cannot believe how much this article hit home for me. Ii's been a struggle to learn the appropriate ISO-shutter speed-aperture recipe for each situation I shoot in. I am self taught so at times it feels like I am flying by the seat of my pants. Thanks for the helpful article to move past this dilemma.

  • WBC February 2, 2011 02:04 am

    Great article, and very helpful!

    1. A think a lot of people would read this and suddenly see that they do this.
    2. They will see there is a better way
    3. You give them some solid starting points to start working on it and give them hope they can do it

    I will say right now I am somewhere in the fuzzy area between... I am getting better at setting up the shots and envisioning what it will be like on the sensor. Sometimes I do lapse back into just shooting, but that is getting to be farther and farther apart. I don't do it professionally though - but when I do anything like that it is usually for a friend or family and that can be a different kind of pressure all together.

    I am forwarding it on to a few people!

  • Tanlin February 2, 2011 01:51 am

    Great write up! So true about the first point.

  • Stewart February 2, 2011 01:50 am

    This is something I hadn't thought about before. Very interesting read.

  • James Brandon February 2, 2011 01:44 am

    Great stuff here Elizabeth, this is vital info for any beginner starting out.

  • Randy Bayne February 2, 2011 01:43 am

    Thanks for a great article. Application in process.

  • Anne McQuary February 2, 2011 01:38 am

    Sometimes we read something at just the perfect time. I feel like this could have been written just for me. Thank you. I'm going to bookmark it and come back to it again and again.

  • Nathaniel Albrecht February 2, 2011 01:35 am

    Haha! Loved the fig tree analogy ;)

  • Mei Teng February 2, 2011 01:34 am

    The link in Learn Posing doesn't work. I was hoping to read more posing tips.

  • amy February 2, 2011 01:26 am

    excellent article today Elizabeth! I think this is me!! Ack!

  • Joseph Danzer February 2, 2011 01:25 am

    As always great information. I am working toward the goals you have mentioned in the post. I am still around a 50% luck photographer though I do usually have a well thought out plan. Sometimes they just don't come together as well as they should. Every time I read a post like this it just makes me want to be better that much more.

  • Larry Eiss February 2, 2011 01:17 am

    Thanks for an excellent article! I am just beginning to crest this particular hill myself. I got to a point where I simply didn't want to take photographs at all because all I was doing is taking thousands of snapshots with a professional-looking camera. Now I am actually working at the craft of becoming a better photographer. It has done wonders for my confidence and for the quality of my work. This article has put into words what I have been thinking about and it helped organize my thoughts and galvanize my determination to persevere.

  • Erin Myers February 2, 2011 01:07 am

    What great tips! Thank you so much for posting this!!

  • Pam W February 2, 2011 01:07 am

    Wow Elizabeth...this is so funny, I had a dream last night that I was faking it....I think it's for sure time for more education. This post was very helpful for where I'm at right now.

  • Juanita February 2, 2011 12:44 am

    Thank you for this post. It was so relevant and will make me think and plan better....


  • valerie February 2, 2011 12:44 am

    Haha, the quote from nr.1 (speedlite) really made me laugh! Great article, very true.