I wanted put together a post that highlighted what I believe to be five key actions to taking better photographs. I asked myself, “What were my big a-ha moments while learning  how to shoot photography?”. So here they are! 🙂

1. Learn to shoot in manual mode.

I recently came across a study conducted by Sony that showed that nearly 2/3 of DSLR owners never take their cameras out of automatic mode. A lot of those consumers think that if you buy a more expensive camera, it will automatically take better pictures. Unfortunately this is not the case. If you put your DSLR camera into automatic mode you are officially the owner of a very heavy (and expensive) point-and-shoot. The great thing about a DSLR camera is that it gives you control. I shoot a lot of interiors and I love the fact that I can make the image as bright and beautiful as I want. Shooting in manual is not as complicated as you may think either, we’ve had over 1,000 members learn to shoot in manual mode over the last year. I still get excited every time I see someone post their first manual shot in our Facebook group. Here are some shots from some of our first-time manual shooters:

(Photo credit clockwise: Matt Knowlton, Susan Rodgers, Kristin Flanary, Jennifer Martinez)

Learning to shoot in manual mode is a game changer and once you know it, you will always know it. Camera companies will continue to make cameras better and better, with more megapixels and cooler features, but the basics of shooting in manual will never change. Learning how to use ISO, aperture, and shutter speed together is the first step in taking better photographs. Once you learn how to shoot in manual, you’re on your way!

2. Understanding light 

Light is everything when it comes to photography, and it can definitely make or break a shot. One of my a-ha moments was about hard light vs. soft light. Soft light is light that has been diffused or spread out in some way. Light can be diffused a number of different ways, anything from the clouds in the sky diffusing the sun, to the shade of a tree that is blocking the direct sunlight. A lot of lighting setups also come with diffusers that are often called soft boxes. Notice in the top image below how the shade from a tree has created soft light that is spread out very evenly across me, as opposed to the bottom image where the sun is hitting me directly and casting hard shadows.

I would encourage you to start noticing light all around you. Notice how it hits things, and the different hues of light at different times of day. Finding the right light can be one of the biggest challenges of getting the shots you want, but understanding a little bit about light will go a long way to taking better photographs.

3. Lenses

Just like learning to shoot in manual, using great lenses can be a real game changer. I will never forget hanging out with a group of photographers when I was just getting into photography and someone asked me what I was shooting with. I felt a little insecure because everyone there was shooting with Canon 5D’s and I replied that I only had a Canon 30D. He said, “The body doesn’t really matter- it’s all about the lenses, man!”. Turns out, lenses have more to do with the look and feel of your shot than the body of your camera does. Different lenses get different looks and are designed for different types of photography. Lenses also determine the Depth of Field of your shot through aperture, which is awesome for getting the cool blurry background called Bokeh. There are two main type of lenses- prime lenses and zoom lenses. Prime lenses are also called fixed lenses because they are fixed at one focal length only, and don’t have the ability to zoom in and out through different focal lengths like zoom lenses do. The rule of thumb with lenses is that you get what you pay for. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get a good lens at a good price, it just means that the more expensive lenses are usually built better, and have glass lenses instead of plastic.


4. Post-processing

I don’t know one professional photographer that doesn’t do some kind of enhancement to their photographs through post processing. Josh, who is the other half of Shoot Fly Shoot, owns a film lab that scans film for professional film photographers, and even they run their scans through Lightroom to do some post processing enhancements. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve downloaded my images only to find out that they don’t look as good when I get them on the computer as I remember them looking on the back of my camera. This day and age there are a lot of options available to photographers to help enhance their images.


Everything from Photoshop to Lightroom, I bet your favorite photographer is using one if not both of these programs to enhance their images.

5. Practice, practice, practice

Believe it or not, this may be the most important step of all. One of my favorite photography quotes says “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”. You can read every book and take every class on photography in the world (and understanding the basic principals of photography is important) but nothing will speed up your journey like shooting A LOT! I would also encourage you to go out and shoot with friends and other photographers, too. It won’t take as long as you think to knock out those first 10,000 shots! 🙂

Here’s an infographic for quick reference: