Digital photography can be an addicting hobby. The medium offers instant feedback you don’t get with film (unless you’re shooting Polaroid), and large memory cards allow you to experiment with angles and lighting to your heart’s content. If you’re past the beginner stage and you’re looking for some new ideas to help improve your shooting experience, check out these tips for some inspiration. And if you have any that you’d like to share, please feel free to add them to the comments section.
1. Shoot in Raw
Most digital cameras are set to capture files in JPG format out of the box. This is very convenient, as it allows you to quickly share files with friends and family—without the need for post-processing. But you’re giving up a lot of control by not shooting in Raw—which is an unprocessed file that contains the image as the camera’s sensor captured it. A Raw file allows you to tweak colors, exposure, black levels, sharpness, and other attributes with much more flexibility than an already-compressed JPG allows. You will need software to work with Raw images. Your camera may have a bundled solution, but a dedicated program like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC or Phase One Capture One Pro will deliver more tools and better results.
2. Consider Off-Camera Lighting
You may have already added a dedicated flash to your camera so that you can avoid the harsh light created by the on-camera flash. But if you really want to experiment with flash photography, moving the flash away from the camera is key. It’s easier now than ever to take advantage—brands like Godox offer affordable wireless flashes with automatic TTL metering for all popular systems, and you can step up to and spend more on Profoto lighting to handle the demands of regular, professional use.
There are many different choices for off-camera lighting. You can opt for a portable battery-powered flash that can also be used on-camera, or opt for more powerful studio lights. The portrait above was shot using a single Elinchrom monolight with a reflector for a stark, high-contrast look. But you can use different lighting modifiers like a softbox or umbrella for softer, more even light. And if you’re working outdoors, a portable reflector to fill in shadows is a useful tool, although you’ll need an assistant to hold and position it.
3. Try Some Different Lenses
Chances are you’ve already moved away from the 18-55mm kit lens, either opting for a better quality zoom or a fast prime lens. But if you’re stuck in a creative rut, or just want to experiment with some new types of photography, a specialized lens can really come in handy. You can opt for a super-sharp macro lens that can focus close and fill your frame with small objects. You can go in the opposite direction and grab a Lensbaby, a creative lens system that allows you to adjust the plane of focus, creating photos that have a sharp point of focus that gives way to soft, swirly, dreaminess.
If you have a mirrorless camera your choices are even more vast. There are numerous lens adapters available that make it possible to mount virtually any lens to these cameras for use in manual focus mode. More interesting options include CCTV lenses, which are generally very fast, but produce images with extremely soft corners, Russian rangefinder lenses like the Industar-69, and lenses from toy cameras like the Holga.
4. Keep Your Sensor Clean
If you’re the type to change lenses in the field, there’s a good chance that you’ve got some dust on your image sensor. This is often invisible at wider apertures, but if you take a photo at f/5.6 or smaller these spots can distract from your photo. A simple blower, like the Giottos Rocker Air Blaster, is a simple (and whimsical) tool for dust removal. For more persistent spots, consider a cleaning kit from Visible Dust and Lenspen or, if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, a professional cleaning is in order.
5. Replace Your Strap
If you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting, you should be comfortable. If you’re lugging your SLR or mirrorless camera around on the neck strap that came in the box, don’t. There are dozens of third-party options out there—many of which are more comfortable and practical. My current favorite is Peak Design Slide Lite, a good fit for mirrorless cameras and full-frame SLRs alike.
Sling straps, like those from BlackRapid, are often used by event photographers who carry multiple bodies with heavy lenses attached. They’re a good match if you have a telephoto lens with its own tripod collar too. I still reach for one when using a big zoom lens.
6. Invest in Support
A camera strap is important for handheld photography, but you’ll also want to add a quality tripod. It’s an invaluable tool for making landscape and long exposure images, or exploring beyond our world with astrophotography.
You’ll spend a bit more on a quality set of carbon fiber legs and a good ballhead, but you’ll find that they’ll outlast your camera. We don’t review a lot of tripods, but like the Peak Design Travel Tripod for its extra-small folded form factor. Trusted brands like Gitzo-Manfrotto, MeFoto, and Sirui are also safe bets.
If you pick a tripod with an Arca-Swiss compatible head, and I recommend you do, you can make your life a little easier by adding a compatible base plate to your camera. I keep a Really Right Stuff Baseplate on my full-frame mirrorless so it’s always ready to go on a tripod, no fiddling with quick release plates required.
7. Mix Your Media
Today’s digital cameras don’t just capture high-quality still images, they’re also very capable video cameras, and you can share video clips on your Instagram feed with the same ease you do images. There are some stories that are best told with a photo, but others require a bit of motion and sound. It’s a different skill set, and one that’s beneficial to learn.
If you’re more interested in video tools, check out our favorite cameras and accessories for getting started with vlogging, and think about adding a powered gimbal for Steadicam-smooth handheld video.
8. A Drone?
You don’t have to just take images when standing on level ground. Adding a drone to your tool kit makes it possible to grab shots from perspectives you’d never be able to get otherwise. Most drones can capture 4K video and Raw format images, and current models are safe to fly (assuming you follow the rules). Check out our top picks in the category.
9. Print Your Work
It’s easy to share your photos online or to view them on a digital picture frame, but if you take a photo that you truly love, it deserves to be printed. You can print at home on an inkjet, but for the best results you’ll want to go with a dedicated printing service. Many of our favorite photo printing services offer fun ways to display your work, including prints on canvas, metallic paper, and true black and white photo paper for a classic look. You can also opt for a custom photo book, an update on the classic family album with your photos printed directly onto the pages.
10. Upgrade Your Camera for the Right Reasons
If you’re enthusiastic about your photos, you might be itching to buy a new camera. There are plenty of reasons to upgrade, but you don’t always have to have the latest camera to take good photos. If you’re using an entry-level SLR or mirrorless model, you’d be better served moving up to a higher-class body rather than a higher-resolution camera of the same class. Semi-pro cameras offer clearer viewfinders, more physical controls, better autofocus, and sturdier construction.