When I first bought a DSLR, I thought I was pretty good at photography.
I’d been practicing with a digital camera for years. First, it was a 3 megapixel brick that we took on a family trip to Europe. Then, a lighter and slightly better quality digital camera.
Eventually, I upgraded to a DSLR and got serious about photography. I absolutely loved it – the photos I was taking were loads better than the ones I’d captured on my old shitty digital camera.
But when I look back at those photos now… to be honest, most of them are average at best.
The impact that buying a DSLR had on my photography skills was significant. Looking back and analysing what I’ve learned, there were certain lessons that stand out as an important part of developing my photography skills.
Here are 8 things I’ve learned about photography since buying a DSLR.
1. better equipment doesn’t necessarily mean better photos
Don’t get me wrong – I love my DSLR and it has been the number one contributor to improving my photography skills, but once I learned the basics of photography, I realised that these skills could be applied to photography with almost any camera.
For example, an iPhone camera in the hands of a someone who is good at photography will probably result in a better photo than a DSLR in the hands of an amateur. Photography is a skill, not just a piece of equipment.
Related post: How to take awesome photos using your smartphone
2. a quality lens makes a big difference
Yes, I did just say that equipment isn’t everything in photography, but it does make a big difference.
I was using the kit lenses that came with my camera for about 2 years after I bought it, which was fine – until it eventually came to the point where my photography skills had surpassed them. I felt like I could take better photos than my lenses would allow.
Related post: Choosing the perfect lens for travel photography
3. light is everything in photography
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the time of the day or the weather conditions will make a huge difference to how my photos turn out.
If I can help it, I now avoid taking photos in the middle of the day because I know my photos will look a million times better when the sunlight is less harsh in the morning or late afternoon. I also take note of the amount of cloud cover or shadows, and how these will affect my photos.
Photography is really about working with available light and making it work to your advantage.
4. how to focus my photos
Before, I would point my digital camera at whatever I wanted a photo of, and then let the camera focus itself on the scene. Now, I think carefully about what I want the focus of my photo to be before taking it.
The focus of the photo will depend on what’s in it. If it’s a person, their eyes should always be in focus. If it’s an object, I might try to blur the background so that the object in focus stands out. For a landscape, I might need to have everything in focus.
One of the best discoveries I’ve made is back-button auto focus, which makes it way easier to focus on a certain object when using manual mode!
5. always have my camera ready
I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed a photo moment and kicked myself for not having my camera ready. It’s an inevitable part of photography, but it’s something you can minimise by always having your camera accessible.
When I travel, I usually sling my camera strap over my shoulder or around my neck, which makes it easy to access at a moment’s notice. This might make me look like a dorky tourist, but it’s much easier than having to get my camera out of a bag every time I want to use it.
6. How to have fun with photography
Have you ever visited a popular tourist attraction, and noticed that everyone, and I mean everyone, is staring at it through the screen of their camera, their smartphone, or (god forbid) their iPad? Every gadget we own seems to have a camera in it, which has resulted in most people treating photography as something we have to do instead of something we want to do.
This isn’t to say that taking photos of things is bad, I just think that the point is to be creative and document the important moments in our lives, not just to Instagram the shit out of whatever monument is in front of us.
So instead of taking photos because everyone else is, I take photos because I really enjoy it. When I visit an attraction where everyone around me is taking the same old photo, I make an effort to capture it in my own unique way, and then put down my camera to enjoy the sight with my own eyes.
7. how to edit photos well
Photoshop has been part of my creative life ever since I was a teen. I used to mess around with the program when I came home from school, where I’d make grungy-looking art and t-shirt designs to post on deviantart (and no, I won’t show you my old account. It’s too embarrassing).
Since then, I’ve discovered what a powerful tool Photoshop can be for photography. Half of a great photo is getting the editing right. A few simple Photoshop techniques can take a photo from good to amazing.
8. backing up photos is essential
I usually copy my photos from my SD card to my MacBook, then every month I’ll backup those photos to an external hard drive and delete them off the SD card. When my MacBook hard drive starts filling up, I’ll move some of the older photos over to Google Drive.
By doing this, I have 2 copies at all times. I’ve heard way too many stories of people losing all their photos when something devastating happened to their hard drive or camera, and I can only imagine how upset I would be if this happened to me.