Three Photography Lessons This Photog Learned the Hard Way

by Laura McPherson | September 19, 2012

Even though digital photography has made taking great photos and snapshots more accessible, photography is still a technical subject. So much goes into a great photo, from the camera’s capabilities to the lighting to the cooperation of the subject (toddlers and pets are notoriously fickle), there will always be an element of chance in taking a photo that makes people stop and say, "Wow." So how do the pros build entire portfolios of awesome photos? They do it through a combination of practice and learning, often the hard way. By being aware of these three must-know lessons you can improve your own photography and avoid similar mistakes.

Lesson #1: Always check your pre-sets.

Every pro has at least one story about a photo shoot that had to be re-done. Especially in the beginning of a pro photography career, these stories tend to revolve around not checking the camera’s presets. This can ruin an entire day of shots; if you were shooting your daughter’s play in a dark theater the last time you used your camera, the settings from that shoot will not match a sunny outdoor scene the next time you bring the camera out. You might see that every photo is overexposed, or if you were using the Tungsten setting your daytime shots will all have a green cast, especially on your subject’s faces yuck!

Make sure that your settings match the scene each time you turn the camera on, and always preview the photos you are taking when there’s a lull in the action just to make sure you and your camera are seeing the same thing.

Lesson #2: Learn everything you can about your camera.

Even point and shoot digital cameras have settings that can make your life easier, but sometimes these are buried within the menus on the camera and other times these settings must be set manually. The only way to know if your camera can do something that allows you to live more in the moment and less in worry that the photos won’t turn out is to learn about what your camera can, and can’t, do. For example, many photographers are surprised to learn that their camera has a burst mode, which allows them to take photos continuously without taking their finger off of the shutter button. This is awesome for shoots with active subjects, since the photographer doesn’t have to stop and refocus between each shot.

Take the time to read the owner’s manual for your camera; it is perfectly acceptable to reward yourself with coffee and cookies while doing this. If the owner’s manual isn’t as helpful as you hoped, camera manufacturers often have how-to videos on their websites that help explain key points in the manual so you know how to make the most of your equipment.

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Lesson #3: Don’t give up.

Probably one of the worst mistakes a photographer can make is giving up before they’ve even gotten started. It is easy to become discouraged when shots consistently turn out differently than how you thought they would, but here is one of the secrets of photography: It happens to everyone. This is why wedding photographers will take thousands of shots at a single wedding, as a type of insurance policy against "surprise" photos. The difference between a pro portfolio and yours is that you can’t see all of the bad photos the pro took they’ve been carefully edited or deleted. The lesson here is not to give up on your digital photography, or at least not until the kids leave for college.

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Tips-n-Tricks #169

Go out trick or treating while there is still light out has many advantages. One is for picture taking. Remember to get down on eye level with your little one to get the best photo of them. Also get photos of them going up to the door by themselves or with Mom or Dad holding their hand.


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