How to become a Better Digital Photographer

Photography is a wide open palette of ideas about how we look at the world around us. Good photographers practice their skills by learning to look at the world through their own personal filter. Objects like buildings and people, how things interact and odd shadows and shapes that they come across, can be imagined in the frame of your camera.

The best way to become a better digital photographer

Practise taking photos. Always work with manual setting so that you force yourself to find out how to use your camera properly – don’t use the automatic settings, at all.

Go Manual – Be fully Hands On

Taking digital photos with the settings on automatic is not photography, and it won’t improve your knowledge of digital photography.

Who Wants Automatic Settings?

Automatic settings are for snap shooters who don’t care about the outcome, and don’t take intentional photos. The automatic settings on a digital camera will keep you in the dark about how to take a great photo.

Stay in Control of Your Photographic Outcomes

Learn, as the very first thing, to control the three points that interact on your camera settings, Shutter speed, F Stop, and ISO. Know why you need to use them, adjust them for each shot, aim for a great shot that will not need any photoshop tweaking afterwards.

Learn to Test and Adjust

When you practise adjusting the settings manually for each shot you see and take, you will fill your head with enough information to see how just a small adjustment to any one of the three settings can can change the look and feel of an image. Take enough shots and you will begin to develop an instinct so that each time you see something interesting, you will already have a strong idea of how to adjust the speed and light on your camera. this way you’ll start producing great looking photos.

You, Your Mind, and Your camera become One

The objective of using the camera to capture something special should all stem from your own mind, your own vision of the world.

The way you see things helps you understand what you are trying to do when you take a photo.

Become a People Watcher – for Real!

Photo: Sean P. Durham, Street Photography, Berlin, 2020. Copyrighted

Look Around Yourself, and Ask Lots of Questions

When you look at people in the street, watch their shadows, how they interact with their environment, their gestures etc, and get a feeling for their personality through observation – all within a few seconds of looking, then take a shot. A common pursuit in Street Photography is to work with shadows. Long shadows, cool shadows, warm and vague shadows all offer possibilities of a different type of shot, and outcome.

Think Like a Writer – Like an Artist

Watching people walk in and out of shadows, the face lit in sunlight, disappearing into shadows that cast strong dark shadows onto the body, we are observing a simple but dramatic event.

Look for the Action – Subtle actions are the stuff of Humaness

A person in action on the street. They are interacting with their environment. When a person walks, stops, sits, they express physical actions. Their body reacts to bright sunshine with a raised hand. Gestures in their hands and face create compositions of triangles, squares, and lines.

Watch and practice watching. You’ll begin to know what it is that you want to photograph. There’s nothing more exciting for a digital photographer than to get that feeling of seeing things that others pass by. A lot of things, subtle things, are happening on the street that many people pass by, don’t notice. They are too busy to stop. But a digital photographer who wants to improve their photography will take time to observe the subtle movements of the crowd.

Do this, observe, and practise everyday, if you can. You learn more from making mistakes than from trying to get it right all of the time. Your mistakes will show you the way forwards. If you photos turn out too dark, or out of focus, spend time studying them. You’ll understand that the focus is out becuase you probably concentrated very hard on another part of composition and got it right.

Pay Attention, all of the Time

There’s a lot to practice and a lot to get right in the practice of getting better at digital photography. Each component of what makes a good photo is at your finger tips, but each one needs your full attention to master it.

It’s not about the settings – you do that, you look at the light and set your camera for the light. Then you know that when your camera is balanced in the way it takes in light ; shutter speed, F Stop, and ISO settings, then you concentrate on composition, central colours, or shadows that dominate, you look for passages of light and darkness that create the whole composition and do your best to capture those elements.

You will get better if you practise often. Be focused and professional about study – avoid becoming an obsessive digital photography fanatic, obsession wears your mind out, and leads you down rabbit holes. If you allow your obsession to lead the way you will be studying all types of tricks that are fascinating but useless to you becoming a better digital photographer.

Your mistakes will show you what you should concentrate on when you next go out and take photos. Do you have a bad habit of camera-shake? Or are your photos too blown out on the highlights?

Your Camera Settings

If you are taking street photos, which is an excellent place to practise, then you should think about setting your shutter speed at around 1/250 or above, to capture movement without blurriness. The ISO may have to be clicked up to 200 ISO if the light is low – but you want that faster shutter speed for sure. Fast is 1/1000 shutter speed, but you need very good light for that. Some days are dull and cloudy, and some of the best street shots happen in covered areas like tube stations and doorways.

Try to aim at deeper depth of field in F stop settings, shallow depth of field (approx -F1,2 – F 11 ) will let you focus on a pin point, easily. You want character in your shots, not proof that you can focus tack sharp on the point of a nose. On a bright sunny day you can set your camera up to have an F stop at F11 or even F22, with the shutter speed fairly rapid, and the ISO at 200. The ISO is extremely useful. Many people think you shouldn’t use it. They are wrong, digital technology is powerful and the ISO , with proper settings won’t deliver a photo full of noise.

ISO and wrong settings for the light will end up with a photo full of noise if you use ISO to simply “lighten” everything up. It’s important to understand what ISO is, you should read about it, or watch a good video. It’s all fairly simple.

Put things together and ask yourself questions about why it’s important to think about this or that?

Find out what happens when the shutter opens and closes. Slow, fast, what’s the point?

Find out what happens, and what can go wrong when you take a photo with the ISO adjusted to higher settings than 100. How does ISO help balance the light in conjunction to shutter speed?

Find out why focus is easier at F1.8 than it is at F22.

Why do I get really dark photos at F Stop 16 and shutter speed 1/500 on a normally cloudy day?

When you find the answers you’ll start to take really beautiful shots.

Find the answers for yourself, then you can properly relate the answer to your own photography and ideas. You understand how you want to take photos, not how someone else does it.

Understand natural and artificial Light in conjunction with your machine (the camera).

Photography is about working with the magic of light and darkness. Think about this, it’s a big wonderful space that we can spend all our lives exploring.

Don’t go looking for Apps to replace knowledge – there’s way too much of that mentality around, and way too many “trick photos” that look good because of a Photoshop process.

Use Photoshop – it is powerful magic, but use it to enhance your work like a photographer uses the camera as a tool. Photoshop is an indispensable tool for any digital photographer who wants to improve and understand their work.

Photo of Bergmann Strasse, Berlin. Berlin, 2020. Copyright Sean P. Durham

Photoshop and other image software are really great. Treat them like your dark room, the place where you process your work, adjust a little light and darkness to get some art into the image, and learn to spend a lot of time with your camera, and little time with software apps during processing.

Photography is a joy, it helps us to see life and the world in a better light.