How Limitations Can Help You Grow as a Photographer

How Limitations Can Help You Grow as a Photographer



Have you ever said to yourself, “If only I had that lens, or this camera I’d be an amazing photographer”? Or maybe you’ve thought that if only you had more time or money, your dreams of being the photographer you want to be, would finally be realized. Many times as photographers we will have limitations put on us. Sometimes we may set those limits on ourselves, and sometimes they are limits that can’t be helped. Either way, we can use those limitations to our advantage and become better photographers because of them.

Set aside those “if only” thoughts. Push away those feelings of inadequacy. Don’t let those limitations hinder your progress as a photographer. Once we have gone through some of those limitations that can help you grow, you might even decide to limit yourself on purpose sometimes, just for the challenge.


I don’t have an expensive camera

Do expensive cameras make a difference? Of course they do. There’s a reason some cameras cost more than others. However, the person behind the camera matters a whole lot more. If you’re looking at your favorite photographer’s work and thinking that their camera is amazing, you may be right. Their camera is possibly amazing, but the reason you love their photos isn’t because of their camera, it’s because of what they do with that camera.

If you constantly think that you can’t do what you want to because your camera isn’t fancy enough, then you’re probably right. With that kind of thinking, you’ll always be waiting for the next purchase before you even try to get better. If you can convince yourself that your camera is good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like it, then your photos will change with your perspective. Find out what your camera CAN do, instead of lamenting about what it can’t do. Pull out your camera’s user manual, and practice until you’ve truly worn out your camera. You might decide to get the next big thing then, or you might have fallen in love with your camera so much that you wouldn’t dream of trading it in for a newer model.


I don’t have the right lens

Want to know a secret? For a long time I used my kit lens, and a 50mm f/1.8 on my first camera body. That’s it. I made those lenses work for me, and I learned how to get the most out of them. Want to know another secret? Now I use a 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4, and that’s it. Nothing else, ever. I’ve looked at other lenses, and thought about them a lot, but when it comes down to it, I really feel like I don’t want any other lenses.

I’ll often go through an entire session with only one lens on my camera body. I feel more free to concentrate on what’s going on in front of me, and capturing what I want. I’m completely comfortable and familiar with my lenses, and I know exactly what they can do. I don’t waste time switching to another lens, and risk getting dirt on my sensor. Your lens of choice may be different from mine, and that’s okay. If you are photographing other things besides portraits, you may very well need a different lens from what I have.

However, you don’t need EVERY lens. Figure out how to make the lens (es) you have work for you. Challenge yourself to work with the constraints of a 50mm prime, or even a kit lens. You might realize that you don’t need that expensive new lens after all.


I don’t have ALL the equipment

It’s exciting to dream about all the photography equipment you could buy. All the different flashes, reflectors, tripods, timers, camera bags, diffusers, and straps are calling to your wallet, begging you to buy them all. Money is a real issue for me, and likely for many of you, too. If it’s not something that you are going to use on a regular basis, see if there are ways that you can work without it.

There are many DIY ideas that will stretch your creativity. You might find that you can make beautiful photos, even without all the extra equipment. Sometimes having a limit to what you are able to purchase can make your creativity grow, because creativity is free. You can use it abundantly without hurting your budget one bit. Cameras don’t care if they’re stored in a bag you’ve had for years, that is worn on the corners (at least that’s what my camera tells me).


I don’t have any pretty locations available nearby

Wouldn’t it be great if we always had beautiful waterfalls and trees and majestic mountains right there to photograph? Unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. I live in a place that is actually truly spectacular, but when I first moved here, I was quite underwhelmed. It’s one of those places that takes time to appreciate, and sometimes certain camera angles to hide the parts that aren’t so photogenic. Look at your surroundings with new eyes, and you might find that you actually have a lot of gorgeous views. You’ll not only be able to make some beautiful photos, but you’ll be happier with your life and surroundings.

Sometimes you might be at a location that you must shoot then and there, and there’s not much to choose from. A back deck at high noon can work in a pinch. This is where your creativity and resourcefulness can come in handy. Hone those skills, and you will find that you are never at a loss for great locations.


I don’t have enough training or knowledge

Every photographer has had to say this at some point, we all have to start somewhere. If you are turning down opportunities to take photos, or scared to try something new because you’re afraid you don’t know enough, you’re selling yourself short. The worst that could happen is that you could learn what not to do.

Find every opportunity to practice and learn. Don’t let a lack of knowledge stop you from trying, instead, let it motivate you to learn more. While you are in the process of learning, remember the saying, “Fake it until you make it”. If you pretend that you know what you are doing, that fake confidence can pull you through, and you’ll gain more real confidence for the future.

***However, I must insert a warning here. Don’t agree to be the sole photographer for a very important once in a lifetime event, like a wedding, if you aren’t knowledgeable and prepared enough. You’re welcome.


I don’t have good weather today

Suck it up and get out there. That may sound harsh, but unless the weather is going to ruin your camera, give it a try. Some of my favorite sessions have been in the wind, in light rain or snow, or in freezing temperatures. If you always seek out comfortable conditions, you won’t stretch yourself to find new ways to deal with things. You’ll miss out on some very compelling shots, because you won’t be forced to make something less than ideal work to your advantage. You might get dirty, cold, wet, hot, or sunburned. Don’t limit yourself when conditions aren’t perfect.


I don’t have time

Quality over quantity will help you here. Instead of thinking you have to take 1000 frames at a time, challenge yourself to capture something great in 10 frames. Instead of spending two hours on one session, see if you can get a handful of truly great images in fifteen minutes. Sometimes when we have more time, we don’t end up with more great photos, we just end up with a whole lot of mediocre photos. Use your time constraints to help you focus on capturing exactly what you want, and not wasting time with thoughtless clicking. Use the little time you have to your advantage, and make every click count. Read: 6 Tips on How to Make More Time for Photography

Summary – let’s hear from you

What limits do you think are holding you back? Could you find a way to make those limits benefit you and make you a stronger photographer? Change your perspective on your limits, and see if you can make your photography growth limitless.

How have you found limitations have helped, rather than hindered your own growth as a photographer? Have you tried any limitation exercises on purpose? If so please share your actions and results in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week that are Open for Discussion. We want to get the conversation going, hear your voice and opinions, and talk about some possibly controversial topics in photography.

Give us your thoughts below on the article above on limitations and watch for more discussion topics this week.

See all the recent discussion topics here:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Melinda Smith was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

  • Dave Hallberg

    I have to agree with the idea that limits actually can help you grow as a photographer. At times I will take a trip into a nearby city with only one lens and spend a day shooting with it. I find that in doing so I have to stretch my creativity and use my imagination to catch a shot. I have gone with only a 70-300 mm lens and gotten some really cool (in my opinion) street shots and another time gone in with my 30 mm lens and caught things I never dreamed I could. I am by no means a professional, but I enjoy trying to expand my abilities and skills as a photographer when ever possible. I not only enjoy learning what I can do, but I also enjoy finding out what I can not do with each lens. I feel that putting a limit on equipment I haul around makes me push my limits as a photographer.

  • I have to disagree with the paragraph of ‘I don’t have the right lens’. As a macro photographer, when I first re-equipped myself with a new brand (from Canon to Fuji), I didn’t have a macro lens for about a week. And although I was very happy with most of my shots using my 35mm f/2 I had bought at the same time as my X-T1, it was making me quickly frustrated because I couldn’t get the reach I wanted or the framing I needed. I also couldn’t get close enough nor get the creamy bokeh I was looking for, knowing I could obtain it if I used my old Canon DSLR, but wanting to get to know my camera better. I do have to admit that I only used 2 lenses on my Canon (50mm f/1.4 and 100mm macro f/2.8), but I couldn’t have done anything without the macro one, so sometimes there IS the need to have ‘the right lens’.

  • I share your opinion about minimizing gear, Melinda, as that is exactly what I do. Whenever I travel, I carry just my 2 small mirrorless cameras, each one with a fixed prime (FF equivalent to 30mm and 85mm), no tripods nor flashes nor any other gear. I want to feel as free and light as possible to be able to walk and enjoy the trip on its own right, and the cameras are just companions that help me record scenes that I encounter along the way. This way, I end up with great experiences, and sometimes nice images too.
    Here is an example from my last trip, visiting a small town in the border between Thailand and Myanmar:

  • Paul Howard

    Any post that includes a Stuart Smalley reference is spectacular, in my book!!

  • Jessi Lashakmitis

    Great advice! I am always looking for different techniques to help get the best quality photo. Thanks for the share!

  • Keith Phillip Yeoman

    As an “ex” working photographer in Intelligence work, I was issued with a manual Nikon Fm and limited lens options, when I now look at the plethora or glass in my bag I often take stock of what I actually use and I use mostly a 24-70 a 70-200 and 105 macro outside of those 3 lenses the rest are either redundant or simply create an unneeded distraction. I have become a “lazy” photographer, no longer do I go out and shoot because I have to despite the conditions and I tend to use “poor” light conditions as an excuse. I agree with the article, get out there whatever the conditions, challenge yourself to use the available light and where necessary even just one speed light with a wireless flash controller can give some superb and dramatic shots, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg there are many 3rd party speedlights and controllers on the market. If we are sometimes short on inspiration simply scouring the Internet for images can give great insight in what can be Achieved in poor weather, just get out there and do it, I’m going to.

  • Fantastic thoughts, Keith! Thank you for the comment. 🙂

  • Thank you for your comment!

  • Yes!! So glad you got that reference! I debated about whether to put it in the article, because I didn’t know if there would be other Stuart Smalley fans like me. 🙂

  • Absolutely STUNNING photographs, Gonzalo. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s obvious that limited gear did not limit the wonder you were able to capture. I want to visit there, just looking at your photographs.

  • Good thoughts, Amaryllis. There are definitely times when you do need a certain type of lens to capture what you have in mind. Thank you for commenting and helping make good discussion!

  • Absolutely, Dave! I love that you have been able to use limitations to your advantage.

  • Thanks Melinda!

  • Tim Lowe

    Amazingly, I just left the following comment on another article. You’ve hit my points nicely.

    “In a lifelong attempt to improve my photography, I’ve lately found that I grow through adding constraints. Rather than photographing everything and anything, I need to train my eye to see good (hopefully great) images in the realm of the possible. “Gear” becomes more and more primitive. A camera, a light meter, a tripod. I’m teaching myself large format. It’s all constraints, strategy and light.

    The digital photographer can do the same. Turn off all those automatic features. Set your meter to spot mode. Learn the zone system and carry one prime lens. It is amazing what it does for creativity.”

  • Michael

    Great article for a hobbyist photographer like me Melinda. Considering the same photographic skills, with more advanced camera you usually get better results – no questions about. About 2 years ago I replaced my old Canon 20D with the full frame Canon 6D and my photos have been greatly improved. I can’t afford to buy fancy accessories but I am trying to substitute them with DIY stuff. I only wish to shoot more often as I have to do a lot of things around the house and keep myself in shape ridding my bicycle since I had to retire. However, I am trying to remember to get my camera ready whenever opportunities strike. I also use 90% of the time the kit lens EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM and sometimes my Prime 50 mm f/1.8 lens. I baby my new camera and never expose it to bad weather condition as I don’t want to harm my camera. I know it limits me to create interesting photos somehow but camera comes first for me. I am thinking to take my old Canon 20D to upcoming vacation where I am going to be in a beach with sandy and sea water environment so I am undecided yet. I have read a lot of digital photography books and articles plus my 12 years experience shooting gave me good knowledge base and skills. So, what should I do to even more improve the creative photo quality of my passionate hobby? Thank you!

  • Terri Valkyrie

    This is great! I was just arguing on another article (sent to me in the same email) about things that hold you back and the author stated that gear “may” be – while I argued that it never does – only lack of creative problem-solving does! So, I’m glad there were two points of view given – as for the other article I really did agree with most of it, just not that bit.

    I have a story – I had saved for nearly 2 years for a new camera body. While the one I had was fine when I started saving, a couple of things broke since (pop up flash doesn’t pop up and mode dial sticks) so I want a new one because I’m worried that my current one is on its way out. That is a good reason to replace it. Maybe the only good reason. I had enough money, but business was slow, so I hung onto it in case I had to pay bills. After the holidays I found that I did in fact need to pay bills (though it would have only taken about half of what I’d saved to pay them up) and when I went to get my cash stash, I found that it was gone. A visitor to my house had stolen it. I was so angry that I was put back to square one, that I had to make a New Year’s resolution not to complain about my camera/gear. It took awhile, but we’re in June now and I’ve created some awesome images that I really have come to terms with it not mattering. If my old body doesn’t make it, well, I’ll deal with it when it happens and if I have to go back to my old bridge camera, at least I’m still shooting (and I have awesome images I took with it too!)

    I’m ok with it now, I’ve made some smaller improvements to my gear (a solid tripod and a good bag) and that has improved my experience. While I would like at least one great quality lens, knowing what I have accomplished with the entry-level gear that I have, I know I don’t need to spend everything I have to be happy as a photographer and even make a few bucks doing it here and there.

  • Terri Valkyrie

    What I took away from that article is that you don’t need all sorts of lenses. The author does portraits and so has two great portrait lenses. You take macros, you have a great macro lens. I think that was her point.

    Me, I have 5 lenses, all fairly cheap – my macro lens cost the most at $500. I use every single one of them and while it may cost me in IQ, I use a lot of artistic license in Photoshop, so it doesn’t matter nearly as much to me that it’s all glorious SOOC, I’ll fix and enhance anyway, because that’s what I do. It’s different from what the author does, which is also different from what you do – and that is our own perfectly valid artistic expression.

    I may not “need” them all, but I use them all. There are lots of folks out there who have a multitude of expensive lenses they don’t even use. I think finding what you need and not worrying about what you think you want is the salient point.

  • That is so sad about your camera money being stolen, but I’m so glad that you were able to turn it into something positive. What an inspiration! Thank you for your comment. 🙂

  • I think that’s a great idea to take your old 20D on vacation. You won’t be worried the whole time about your camera getting ruined, and you’ll be more willing to go for that amazing sea shot! The best thing you can do to improve even more is to continue to practice. Practice mindfully, paying attention to what works, and what doesn’t, and you’ll see improvement very quickly. Have fun on your vacation, and get some great photos!

  • Your comment is perfect! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  • waynewerner

    I’ve probably taken around 10,000 pictures around my block. Of course a lot of those end out as garbage, because I’ve just been experimenting with a lens or some other technique. But I probably have a couple hundred shots that I’m really pleased with. I bet I could still come up with a few hundred more interesting photos from around the block if I really tried.

  • That’s awesome! Sounds like you have used your resources well. 🙂

  • Sandra Rossouw

    Brilliant photography. Once again proofs it is the photographer that matters not the camera.

  • Charlie Barker

    Wow, you sure capture the mood. Thanks for sharing your wonderful images.

  • Thanks a lot!

  • Thank you Sandra!

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