The Most Valuable Photography Tips Ever – Results of a Social Media Survey


I recently asked the following question on social media: “What was the most valuable photography tip you ever received?” Needless to say, I received a plethora of really useful tips from the audience. Some were spot on, others were debatable. I thought it would be fun to post a few here and expand on them briefly.  Let’s get started with the most valuable photography tips ever.

The best zoom lens is your own feet

That is often true but please don’t try it if you are photographing a polar bear and her cubs or a bulky football player running for touch down. Get the right tool for the job! On the other hand, I must say that on any given photography workshop, the day my students do their best work is when they use a fixed focal length lens. I really believe in the power of limitations.

Look for the light

The day I understood how to see the light and how to harness it, is the day my photography took a leap forward. There is no bad light, learn to assess the quality and quantity of light and work with. It’s all about learning to use it to your advantage.

See the light and use it to your advantage. ©Valerie Jardin

See the light and use it to your advantage.
©Valerie Jardin

Get close. Then Get Closer

Okay, I had to smile because this one came from one of my former students. I could hear myself say that exact same sentence. Learn to see photographically and make stronger images. Photographers tend to leave too much ‘stuff’ around their subject. The viewer gets lost in the chaos and doesn’t know where to look. Less is often more. It’s important to learn to crop in camera and using a prime lens is a great way to learn to see photographically. Learning to remove distracting elements from your frame before your press the shutter is essential to improving your photography.

Get close. Then get closer! ©Valerie Jardin

Get close. Then get closer!
©Valerie Jardin

Stop thinking and shoot

Before you press that shutter you should know why you composed the way you did. Using the ‘spray and pray’ approach will certainly get you some lucky shots but not much satisfaction. You obviously stopped because you saw something that grabbed your attention, work the scene and follow your instinct. Don’t over analyze at the risk of making a technically perfect image with no story or feeling. Perfection is not always the goal.

Never stop practicing

There is no better way to improve your craft than by exercising those ‘visual push-ups’ daily. You don’t even need to leave the house. Experiment with anything, make an ordinary object look extraordinary. Go ahead and use your camera phone even. The tool doesn’t matter, your vision does.

Don’t use the flash

Okay, I have to use a ‘Sammonism‘* here and remind you to “Turn the darn flash off!” This tip applies to your camera or your phone.

After you’ve taken the shot, look behind you.

For sure! If you are photographing another sunset, the scene lit by the golden light behind you may be even more spectacular.

Look behind you! Everyone was looking at the sun setting over the river Seine in Paris, I looked back and was struck by the beautiful golden light hitting the bridge posts.  ©Valerie Jardin

Look behind you! Everyone was looking at the sun setting over the river Seine in Paris, I looked back and was struck by the beautiful golden light hitting the bridge posts. – ©Valerie Jardin

Shoot in manual mode

That may not always be your best choice. If you are shooting landscape then I would say yes, by all means, shoot in manual and take full control. If you are shooting street photography for example, shutter priority or aperture priority may be better choices. There is no coming back to get the shot again, so let the camera do some of the thinking for you or you’ll miss the moment.

Lighten your load and expand you creativity

A comfortable photographer is a happier photographer. Take one camera, one lens and let those creative juices flow.  It will save your back too.

Shoot for yourself. Don’t try to get approval of others.

So true, unless you need to please a client, of course. If photography is a hobby, why should you care what other people think of your pictures, as long as you like them? That said, having a critique of your work in order to improve on it is one thing, and I would highly recommend it. But, the need for gratification via ‘likes’ on social media is something you should try to learn to live without. If that is the goal then I would recommend posting a daily kitten picture to get your fix. Then just shoot what you love (if it’s kittens, then it’s a win-win). In all seriousness, not every genre of photography will get ‘Oohs and Aahs’ on social media. For example, street photography is not understood and appreciated by the general public like landscape photography. Is that a reason to shoot landscape if your heart is in street photography? I hope not or you’re a photographer for the wrong reasons. Follow your heart and your work will shine!

Stop reading and start clicking

It’s good to read about photography and get inspiration online and in books but that should not replace your time behind the camera. You are not going to get instantly better after reading an article or watching a tutorial. You are only going to get better if you shoot often. Period.

Slow Down

Having unlimited shutter clicks without a cost factor attached is both good and bad. Good for the learning curve. Bad because it tends to make us lazy. Start shooting as if you were shooting film, make every shot count and you will have more keepers at the end of the day. Slow down and know why you are about to press the shutter.

Practice, practice, practice. Any ordinary object can be a great learning subject to exercise those 'visual push-ups' ©Valerie Jardin

Practice, practice, practice. Any ordinary object can be a great learning subject to exercise those ‘visual push-ups’  ©Valerie Jardin

Never pack your camera away until you are back home

You never know what is going to cross your path. Keep that camera handy, and always on.

Take the lens cap off

Better yet: Leave it at home.

Happy shooting!

Please share some tips that made a difference in your photography in the comment section below.

*In reference to our friend and photographer extraordinaire Rick Sammon

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

  • Keith Starkey

    Thanks very much!

  • KimJCaro

    It’s good to read about photography and get inspiration online and in books but that should not replace your time behind the camera. You are not going to get instantly better after reading an article or watching a tutorial. You are only going to get better if you shoot often. Period.

  • JvW

    Why did you link to an online store? There’s enough spam in the world.

  • Mohak Adav

    DPS is my guide to photography 🙂
    Thank You for all articles .

  • JvW

    “The best zoom is your own feet”. Everyone says that, along with go manual -you handled that one well- and shoot raw. As with everything in photography, it’s a matter of opinion and the kind of photography you do.
    I like a zoom combination. Distance is perspective. Ideally I like to foot-zoom (left, right, up, down, forward, backward) without looking at the camera, to get the perspective I want. Then I lens-zoom to fill the frame the way I want. A zoom lens is just a big collection of prime lenses in one tube. And this goes for point and shoot cameras as well.
    Beginning photographers/zoom lens users (again, type of photography makes a difference) often neglect that perspective part, just lens-zooming to frame with little or no regard to distance/perspective. That’s where prime lenses (fixed focal length) can force more attention to detail. But they can also force you not to take the frame the way you really want.

  • Spoonie

    Ok, but zooming with your feet won’t change the angle of view of your lens. A 100mm lens is not a 35mm lens but like you are standing closer to your subject. Although I see why you would say this, a zoom lens is nothing like a collection of primes, my prime lenses all have close focusing distances around equal to the focal length multiplied by about 100, my zoom lenses are more like the something 2/3rds near the longer multiplied by 100, not to mention the larger apertures on orimes. These things can make a huge difference to the composition of an image.

  • Spoonie

    I see “turn off the flash” all the time, and there are a legion of people who refuse to use it, they prefer “available light”. But the skill that may possibly improve your photography more than anything else is LEARN TO USE THE FLASH. Syl Arena’s book on speed lights is the best place to start if you want to learn.

  • Gareth

    This content is so bloody inane.

  • Valerie Jardin

    Good thing it’s free then 😉

  • Valerie Jardin

    @Spoonie. Good point and great ressource, thanks for sharing with others. Evidently that applied to built-in flash only and targeted at beginners. Anyone who as taken the time to read my friend Syl’s book is not the target audience for this beginner tip article.

  • Jared Lawson

    Great work for this, I would say each of these are extremely helpful – while overwhelming to new photographers, they will undoubtedly improve every one of your pictures

  • Leave the lens cap off. Leave it at home.
    I can totally vouch for that. I saw a video by DigitalRevTV where they deliberately smashed the lens (plus a UV filter) from the front, and they had to try really hard to break it. From that day till today, I have just used a UV filter to protect my lens from any scratches and left my cap behind. It is a hassle to carry that cap around and to come home realising that you have lost it somewhere.

  • So true and helpful guidelines! The key to improve, for me, lies in 2 points basically: “learn to see” and practice non stop. Also, look for feedback from people you admire, be open to criticism but, at the same time, follow your own path and intuition.

  • Flash gets a bad rap because people want their photos to look like the scene as they saw it. But that’s not art, it’s documentary. Art is when the photo looks better than your eyes can see, or when you caught more than that little detail–you caught the entire context.

    I always hope people will notice the difference when they get their first quality camera and then take the photos and start editing. When you edit, you learn what you did right and wrong, and then the next time you shoot you have in mind things like, “I want to use a flash to fill in the shadows which messed up my other shots and I couldn’t ‘fix’ in iPhoto or PhotoShop.”

  • Often you need to zoom for technical reasons. If I’m shooting something tiny, it’s better to have to zoom all the way out than to have the lens centimeters away from the subject.

  • Sure, ideally we would all be carrying around a few different prime lenses. But that’s not really possible. Just like a soldier heading off to battle, you choose the weapons and armor which are going to be most useful for that particular battle. You don’t carry every weapon you’ve got. Ultimately the best piece of equipment to carry and use is your brain.

  • I used to agree with that until I started telescope astronomy. That filter is a cheap buffer between your lens and your subject which reduces the performance of the lens. The lens is made of high tech glass with light sucking coatings. The filter is flat, highly reflective, and simply doesn’t have the same optic quality as the lens.

    If camera companies really wanted to make filters work like they’re supposed to, you would be able to insert them between the lens and the sensor, where they’re not the outermost piece of glass.

  • So just take it off for some subjects. If you shoot often at wide open apertures like I do the filter quality really isn’t an issue.

  • I’ve deleted that comment Valerie was just spam

  • Link has been removed.

  • Phil H

    Well said Valerie….

  • John..I didn’t really know that. Thanks for the advise. 🙂
    So may be I will try clicking with filter on and another with filter off and see how much difference does it make.
    I think the point Darlene is making might be correct, landscape might not show much difference to the final image. But yeah, since you are doing telescope astronomy where small errors/noise can really shoot up, not using a filter would make sense.

  • Jack O Bocchino

    I’ve been turning around on a regular basis. Even wrote a few words about it last fall.

  • Spoonie

    Not wanting to carry around multiple lenses still doesn’t make it possible to change the angle of view with a prime lens by zooming with your feet, nor does it make a zoom lens like a prime. But yes, you use what you have and use your brain.

  • Spoonie

    Digital cameras don’t need a UV filter, film is more sensitive to blue light than other colours in the spectrum, so in the film days people just left the UV filter on for a bit of protection and they had a dual purpose. Digital sensors don’t need a UV filter, if you want to protect an expensive lens with a filter try a quality “protection filter” (it’s a clear filter), some people will tell you this will degrade your image, but given there upwards of 8 bits of glass in your lens already, it’s arguable if 1 more bit of optical quality glass would really make that much difference. If you want to see for yourself, take a pic with the filter on and the same image with it off and see if you notice any difference. Your lens might be really hard, but the coating on it isn’t and can be chipped or scratched easily (which can affect resale value if you plan to trade up at a later stage). Weather sealed lenses are not weather sealed without a filter either. It comes down to why you are using the filter (as a filter or for protection) and personal preference, and remember, it goes on and comes off easy.

  • Adam Welch

    Absolutely outstanding write up. Tips that anyone can put into practice.

  • Samuel Chung

    Have fun always works for me 😀

  • asim khattak
  • asim khattak
  • harsh vardhan

    Funtastic! Really inspiring! Very useful! Thanks a lot !

  • Notum

    I would say the tip “The best zoom lens is your own feet” istn always correct dont forgett that distance/focal length also is a deciding factor

  • Four Terriers

    I stopped shooting for others’ approval when I realized that an out-of-focus, under-exposed, over-processed image of a sunset would always get more positive feedback than a carefully crafted black-and-white image shot on film with zero processing and expert focus and tonality – even from other photographers. My goals now are to better my previous month’s work every month, and to see things I have overlooked my entire life. Now when I get a compliment, my thank you is as sincere as the compliment given.

    I hope I am a better photographer; but I know I am a happier one.

  • Freddy

    The best camera is the one you havealways with you

  • PPL

    Hi Valerie, I read your interview on extraordinary vision, congratulations on getting published there and on your work and teaching. To me “learn to see the light” still is the most important tip. OK you ranked it second to “learn to see and search for the best point of view : perspective” although you used more simple words and images with the feet metaphor. Both are equally important.

    “Get close, then get closer” is important, but what’s just missing before that is “choose your subject”. Without a subject, even if it’s just a pattern in the pavement, light and viewpoint and closing in are meaningless. Very nice and easy reading article though, it will help all photographers, even experienced ones can benefit from this, we all tend to stick to our habits, and some are bad. Je vous souhaite beaucoup de réussite pour la suite de votre vie de photographe et de vie tout court!

  • Mesko

    Thank you……. That’s just what I needed. I always read tons of articles, book and websites but don’t shoot nearly enough. I read everything under the sun…… I’m probably a photography scholar at this point………now, I plan on letting my shooting catch up to my photography IQ….. Thank for the motivation!!!!!

  • skipc43

    The tip about not packing your gear until you are home really hit home! We returned to Bayonne, NJ after a week long cruise to Bermuda, and I had packed my camera and lenses for the trip home. Big mistake! We went out onto the deck while waiting to disembark, and I missed a beautiful shot of the Manhattan skyline with just enough fog to make what would have been one of the best shots of the cruise.

  • Jozef Filo

    You hit it!

  • Meri Clason

    , , , and how about don’t pack the camera away just because you’re at home? You never know what will show up in your own back yard!

  • Kiril Varbanov

    Get a DSLR or mirrorless camera. From experience, the real photography starts with RAW. The PAS cameras are *mostly* useless, if you want to leap to the next level.

  • dantefrizzoli

    Practice! Good tip thank you.

  • p3k

    I laugh when I see or hear the “tip’ ‘shoot in manual!’, as if somehow something magical will happen if YOU set the [same] exposure as the camera would! 95% of “manual’ shooters do that! Shoot aperture priority & for the times you need to over/underexpose, use exposure compensation, much quicker & faster control over DOF & shutter speeds. And the no flash bit? How about renaming it learn WHEN & HOW to use your flash. I’m so tired of seeing underexposed backlit people shots & harsh face shadows on sunny days, when a bit ‘o fill flash would have cured it!

  • It’s pretty common for people to make these mistakes in twitter even I sometimes make these mistakes but also if I may add people should lessen the hashtagging of every word besides from your post will look kind of dirty it would also make you post look a kind of improfessional

    Learn Social Media Tips

  • Jens Carl Klitgaard

    I have a little opposite approach to “Stop thinking and shoot” – I have a “If you think it – shot it”. If I look at something and think: “Would that be a good shot?” I’ll take the photo. I have done this after re-thinking some scenes and thought “that would actually have been a good shot” :o(

  • Andy Whiteman

    Spot on – I would add if you have a DSLR or mirrorless camera learn about and shoot in RAW – when I started in digital with a D80 I shot mainly JPEGS – now I am digging the better ones out I realise how much I have restricted myself.

  • Andy Whiteman

    Can’t agree with the “zoom with my feet” – yes primes are GREAT but trying zooming with your feet when what you want to capture means walking on water. I am travelling and use a 18-250mm Sigma Zoom most of the time – sure it ain’t perfect but it really gives me the flexibility I need….the 24mm comes out for street and high ISO – the 50mm for portraits (cropped sensor). My 10-20mm Sigma zoom is perfect for BIG skies!

  • Ian Marshall

    Remember reading somewhere think it was Henri Cartier Bresson “If your pictures aren’t good enough you aint close enough” that has been my mantra ever since

  • edwaste

    It was Robert Capa.

  • the sad corollary to Robert’s mantra is that he got too close and was killed by a landmine in South East Asia

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