“I really don’t need any more photography equipment in my gear bag”, said no photographer ever!
We all know that is this far from the truth. Even if you have not voiced this thought out in the open, you have certainly thought it. Especially when you see a photographer that you admire rave about a certain piece of gear that they absolutely cannot live without.
We, photographers, get very upset when strangers compliment our gear over our skill. Yet we seem to fall into that same trap when we don’t quite get the shot we really want.-If only I had that fast lens, if only my camera could handle a low light situation, if only I had image stabilization on my lens, or if only I had a camera that takes more frames per second, etc., etc., etc.
Before you get ready to give up on the gear you have, I encourage you to look at your pictures with a critical eye and analyze if it is truly a gear limitation versus user error or inexperience. Now, I am not saying that the user is at fault in every situation. I will admit that in some situations gear is very important. For example, photographing a leopard chasing down its next meal or that sports car as it races around the track.
But in most cases, depending on your skill level AND the intended use of your pictures, you can get the shot with the equipment you already own. Here are some tips to help you.
#1 Perfect your composition skills
There are several different composition techniques that you can use to take your photographs from boring to interesting. Often just a small change can create a big impact. Are you finding yourself using the same center focused composition time and again? Try using the rule of thirds instead. Are you always photographing at eye level? Change your perspective and perhaps photograph from top-down or at a 45-degree angle.
#2 Take your camera everywhere
If you are really serious about improving your photography, one of the first things to do is to understand your gear. The best way to do that is to take lots of photos. Take your camera with you everywhere you go.
If you really want to improve your photography, you have to take lots and lots of photos. By taking lots of pictures, you will start to understand how to use your camera in different lighting conditions and what works and what doesn’t. You can only do this if you give yourself many different opportunities to photograph different subjects in different lighting situations.
Take this a step further by actually taking and using the gear you want to perfect. If you own a DSLR but find it too heavy or cumbersome, then perhaps it is time to buy a simple point and shoot or smaller mirrorless camera.
#3 Learn to read and analyze light effectively
One of the most important elements of photography is light and yet it is amazing how many photographers don’t understand this important concept. Also, not all light is equal.
Light changes during the day and different types of light can affect images differently. Morning light is different from afternoon light which is different from evening light (a.k.a golden hour) which is yet again different from blue hour. In order to really improve your photography, you must learn to distinguish these different types of lighting situations and how to effectively work in each situation.
#4 Use a tripod
A tripod is a very useful tool for you as a photographer. It opens up new opportunities for creative photography like low light or night photography. You can experiment with the light at night to capture really beautiful images.
A tripod can let you capture sharp images of non-moving subjects and blur out moving subjects, creating very interesting photographs. You can take this a step further by using a remote trigger that will also enable you to take long exposure shots without fear of camera shake.
#5 Learn to photograph in manual mode
Your camera is a pretty sophisticated piece of machinery with a pre-programmed brain (shooting modes). These modes can be found on the top dial of your camera and are generally labeled as P (Program), M (Manual), Av/A (Aperture Priority), and Tv/S (Shutter priority), plus other automatic modes.
Manual mode (or M on most cameras) is much like using an old film SLR, when they didn’t have buttons that do it all for you. Being the only option, photographers were forced to learn to use their cameras in Manual. In doing so, they fully learned how their cameras worked. Once you know how to properly use your camera, it becomes much easier to spot where you’re going wrong and to fix it.
Semi-automatic modes are good for some situations but, once you know how to properly shoot in Manual, you’ll find there’s no need for them and you’ll get better results on your own. Manual mode also gives you the freedom to make mistakes, freedom to bend the “rules” of photography, and in turn, gives you the freedom to excel in your art.
#6 Find great locations to photograph
Don’t just sit at home and expect great pictures to happen. Find local and state parks or perhaps even national parks that might be close to you (by close I mean within an acceptable driving distance) and look for potentially good spots for photography.
When shootig landscapes, you will have to envision your image to see what could look good and what may not. For example, a still lake is a great way to produce a mirrored image where the clouds, trees, and other objects are reflected on the lake. For portrait photography, drive around and see if you can find locations that will look good in the background.
The great thing about portrait photography is that a good background is often easy to find like a white wall, an old building, or an interesting fence. Use your imagination and you will soon be finding great spots all around you.
#7 Understand basic post-processing
Exposure or brightness, contrast, color balance, and tone/tint are some of the basic things you can fix in an image. There are many free post-processing software out there in the market that you can use to make basic adjustments to your image.
If you want to learn advanced editing techniques there are many options for you like Photoshop, Lightroom, Luminar, etc. Adobe has great creative editing programs that are subscription based (a fee every month). Maybe invest in these programs on a trial basis and see if they will suit your editing needs.
#8 Photograph in RAW
If you are still using JPEG for your pictures, it is about time to move to RAW. Most of the newer cameras today are capable of recording images in RAW format, so give it a try. A RAW image is called “raw” for a reason – it is an unprocessed image with a lot more colors to work with than a JPEG image.
It might not look great at the back of the camera when you take the photo but when you import it into your editing software, you have a lot more options to adjust to give it the look and feel you want. One caveat is that RAW images do take up more space than JPEG, so you might have to invest in memory cards with more storage and a larger hard drive.
I hope these tips help you understand your existing gear a little bit better. Sure, you may have reached a point in your career where an upgrade is absolutely required and essential.
If not, rather than investing more money in gear that you may not be ready for, try to improve your craft with what you have and a little extra effort.