3 Things That Improved Our Photography

Before & After 2It’s not hard to find lots of good information on the internet about how to improve your photography, and many of us take different journeys to get where we are going. We could write an exhaustive list of all the things you should do and know but it really boiled down to three main things that took us from there, the image on the left taken in October 2013 to here, on the right taken March 2015. 

1- Learn to shoot in RAW.

Before & After

Above- a JPEG taken in October 2013 Below- an edited RAW taken March 2015

The RAW file format is really and truly what your camera sees and records, from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows. RAW files may be far more forgiving of low light or high contrast situations but that doesn’t mean that you can simply rely on your RAW file to get you out of all trouble, it just means that you have more to work with later. Shooting in RAW is not an excuse for not getting everything right in camera- from your lighting to your composition. You still need to make sure all those things are the best you can get them. But it does mean that you can take control of the editing process rather than leaving to your cameras JPEG compression. This may not work for everyone, depending on what you want to photograph and what you want your images for, but it was an important step for us.

2- Learn to Edit

WM RooI confess that I actually love editing. It’s one of my favourite parts of the whole process. I can’t even draw stick figures but editing allows my artistic side to flourish and like most forms of art, sometimes I have good days where it all just works perfectly, and others days I can’t seem to make anything look good at all. Having said that, I love that working with RAW files in Lightroom means that no matter what I do to the image I don’t affect the RAW file so I can always simply hit reset and start again. I also know that I have a long, long way to go in my editing skills and I’m constantly working to learn new tricks, techniques and skills. But for all the instructional videos I’ve watched and books I’ve read, it boils down to practice, practice and practice some more.

3- Learn to use the Histogram

The histogram is the little graph that comes up and lets you know what pixels you have captured from pure blacks to pure whites and everything in between. WM Saltwater CreekAn ideal histogram looks like a little mountain or hill in the middle. You most often get these in perfect light situations because it’s the easiest for your camera to get a correct exposure level on. However the most use we have gotten out of the histogram has been in high contrast situations like sunrises and sunsets. Your camera can tell you what the correct exposure is for either the bright sky, or the dark foreground, but it can’t tell you what is best for both- or at least the best case medium. That’s where we have found the histogram to come into its own. It doesn’t take to many shots to tweak the exposure so that it doesn’t blow at either end. Also, when you are shooting on a bright day, and it’s really hard to see the view screen on that back of the camera, the histogram is still quite visible and can tell you how you are going.

So these are the big three for us. We’ve come a long way since the first time we shot Saltwater Creek, and still improved a lot since the last time we were there. That’s one of the reasons we go back time and again to our favourite spots because we know what images we are looking for and we want to get better at them. We have a lot of growth ahead of us on our photographic journeys and we are always keen to learn. We’d love to know what your big three are- what three things would you recommend?


28 thoughts on “3 Things That Improved Our Photography

  1. Pingback: What Is Orange? | Living The Seasons

  2. This is an excellent post and i like your approach to showing the results of your efforts over time. I agree with Ben that composition is vital. At the same time, I’m not sure I would collapse the Histogram into the Edit Category. As you point out, one should be looking at the Histogram while you are shooting. It is especially important when you are in a new and unfamiliar lighting situation, such as I was on a recent trip to Antarctica. Plus, you work with the Histogram again in the RAW converter software which I guess is part of editing. So it seems to me that it is sufficiently important to stand on its own as a separate category.

    • Thanks Robin. We’re pretty sure everyone has their own journey when it comes to photography, this just happened to be ours. While we totally agree about the importance of composition, it wasn’t one of the things that took us from there to here, so to speak. At least it was less of a factor than the three topics we mentioned. As we’d both been photographing for years we were pretty familiar with the basic rules of composition but we still weren’t getting quite the results we were hoping for until we’d learnt the three topics above.

      How did you go with the light in Antarctica? I must admit it sounds like a dream trip! -Dee

      • Thanks, Dee. Yes, I agree, that makes sense. On Antarctica, it was a dream trip, in part because it was like nothing I’ve ever seen, let alone photographed, and in part because we had good conditions most of the time. Your question about the light is a good one because I found myself constantly dealing with situations I hadn’t encountered before–no tripod, shooting from a moving platform, subjects that were suddenly shifting from huge landscapes to fast moving wildlife far away one second and right next to the ship the next. And all of this in rapidly changing light–high contrast to low contrast, etc. I don’t know what I would have done without the histogram on the back of my camera. I found myself shooting at very high ISO (for me) just to keep the subject sharp. So the downside is that some of the higher ISO images may not print as well at the larger sizes I prefer (e.g., 3 feet wide or larger), but they will be fine in the medium or smaller print sizes. Now that I think about it, this might be a good subject for a separate post. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • I don’t think we’ve ever let the histogram become our master, just that learning how to use it improved our photography. What would you say were some of the biggest influences on your progression through photography? -Dee

      • I’d have to say having (early on) a photo instructor who had been a combat photographer (Korea/Vietnam) – he gave me insight at being resourceful…playing the hand I was dealt…photography wise that is. All of which plays into my abandoned/Urbex shooting techniques.

        • Wow… that is pretty awesome. You’d definitely get lessons in resourcefulness from him.

          That’s the thing about photography isn’t though- it’s never just one thing or even one type of thing. There are so many stories to tell with images and each and every one of us has a different way to get there and show that. It’s one of the reasons I have a hard time understanding the feeling in certain sections of the photography world that other photographers are competition. It’s like saying other writers are competition. No one is ever going to tell the same story as you or have the same point of view as you or have the unique set of skills and vision that underlie your image. But that sense of competition is a whole other story.

          Learning from a combat photographer must have been pretty inspiring.

          • I cannot agree more with you – which is why I like the people I have met on WP – I have encountered a community who sharing thoughts and techniques, not competition. I can like any photo without feeling like the photographer is a threat – similarily, I can NOT like a photo, but still feel that it has merit for the photographer’s vision. Cheers!

  3. With Ben on the composition being so important. However, I think there are some individuals who have a natural talent for this, so the above points may represent more of a learning. They would be seen more as elements to overcome, more ‘technical’ and less intuitive. If that is the case then the above 3 may seem like more important steps in order to progress. Composition is, of course, vital. Just my thoughts. MM 🍀

    • Thanks MM… These were the three things that really pushed us along but they weren’t the only things. As has been mentioned, composition is certainly a big one.

  4. Thanks for a great read D&G, I find the histogram a mystery so now on reading this I will endeavour to get better at it and more knowledgeable so thanks. My only other thing that I find has changed since I first started is – composition. Really looking at your scene and composing it in a way that makes it more attractive than just a snapshot, following of course the Rule of Thirds (or not) and having a foreground, middle and background where possible. Really just thinking more about composing than just clicking. 🙂

    • Glad we could help 🙂 We have found it a really useful tool that saves an awful lot of frustration in the end. I do agree about composition, without it you simply don’t have a very interesting image no matter how technically perfect. -Dee

  5. I would probably substitute learning the histogram for learning composition, Learning the histogram is part of learning how to edit. Very nice post and a good info for those wanting to improve their photography.

  6. I went through the same learning curve! And it took my husband forever to convince me that yes, I needed a DSLR, even if it was just a Rebel. My old jpg pictures are still good and with some post processing, better yet. But I wish I’d switched cameras and shooting raw much earlier.

    I did finally go to a full frame sensor last summer – a Canon 6D. I love my Rebel, but the 6D does much better.


  7. Pingback: Saltwater Creek | Dee Gee's

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