My Top 6 Lessons Learned in Photography

I was thinking about the various things I have learned about photography over the years. What did I learn?  How did I learn it?

I thought it might be helpful to share some of my insights about my top 6 lessons learned. Most of these things I either learned from other instructors or sometimes from making horrible mistakes. I don’t recommend making horrible mistakes, but that is sure one way to learn a lesson. 😉

Lesson 1
Pay attention to what you are doing and get it right in camera.

This lesson was something I learned a long time ago (like 35 years ago)!  I think it was really beneficial that I started out in photography back in the days of film.  I shot many many rolls of Kodakchrome 64 slide film.

After I took a series of photographs, I had to send the film off to Kodak to be processed.  With slide film, the developed film is then cut into individual photographs that were placed in cardboard mounts and I would have to show the photos using a projector.  So the photograph I saw in the slide was the actual image I created in the camera.  Whether or not I properly exposed the photograph, I would see the results. There was no faking it.  If I did a bad job, my slide was ruined. I had to get it right.

The fact that the results were not immediate (because I had to have the film developed) meant that I really had to pay attention to what I was doing, otherwise I was wasting a lot of money.  As a student in college, I didn’t have much money, so I payed attention.  My meticulous attention to details (because I had to save money) made me a better photographer.

Even in this digital age, it is much better to get your photograph right in camera rather than just leaning on “fixing” the image after you took it. If you start with a well-exposed shot, you will always end up with a superior end result.


Lesson 2
Manage the shutter speed carefully.

Depending on the light available, ISO, and aperture you have chosen, you will end up with some shutter speed value. I learned this the hard way, but I learned it:  If I do not have the shutter speed fast enough, the photo will not be sharp because of hand vibration / movement.  The general rule of thumb for hand-held photography is to make sure the shutter speed is at least 1 / focal length (of the lens). If you are shooting with a 70-200mm zoom lens with it zoomed to 200mm, then make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/200th second. Technically that rule is for a full frame sensor camera. For a camera with an APS-C sensor, you should modify that rule to take into account the “crop factor” of your camera (usually 1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon).  A 200mm lens on a Canon Rebel would effectively be 200 x 1.6 = 300mm. So make sure the shutter speed is at least 1/300th second.

Many lenses these days (and some camera bodies) have image stabilization that allows you to break these rules a bit.  So the rule is approximate.

You also need to take into account the movement of the subject. If there is a lot of movement of the subject, you may need to use a shutter speed even faster than the rule of 1 / focal length.

Lesson 3
Manage the depth of field.

You are in control of the depth of field through your choice of aperture. The depth of field is the range that appears to be sharp in front of and behind where you focused.  Choose carefully depending on whether you want a deep or shallow depth of field.  A low f/number yields a shallow depth of field. A high f/number yields a deep depth of field. This is something you should think about in every shot you take because you are in control. Don’t let the camera decide for you. It is just a machine. It has no idea what you want unless you tell it, by controlling the aperture.

Lesson 4
Change your perspective.

Sometimes it is good to just stop looking at the world the same way you always see it. Change your position and angle. Mix it up a bit. Look up.  Look down. Look behind you. Raise your camera way up high. Put it down on the ground. Sometimes that change in perspective will lead to a shot you would have missed.

Lesson 5
Light is ultra important.

Pay attention to details about the qualities of light including angle, direction, number of light sources, light ratio, diffusion, reflection, shadows, etc. A photograph is created by light. It is the most important ingredient in any photograph. Better light leads to better photographs. Master lighting techniques and I can guarantee your photographs will improve. That is true whether you are in control of the light using flashes/speedlights or shooting with natural light. You can’t really control the light in nature, but you can come back to a location at a different time of day or time of year and the light will be different.

Lesson 6
Practice, practice, practice.

There is no substitute for practice.  Keep taking pictures.  Assess the results. Make mistakes and learn from them. Just keep shooting. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Take classes. Learn more. Do more and your photographs will improve. As Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Yes, there is more to it…

I could keep going, but this is all for now.  Post processing your images (editing on the computer) is also quite important to add the finishing touches to take your photos from “good” to “great,” but it all starts with what you do with your camera. Get that right first.

Happy Picture Taking,
Kevin Gourley

Kevin's book "30 Practical Tips for Better Photographs" is available in print and on Kindle devices!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *