Tips for Building a Good Photography Technique

A red fox pounces on unsuspecting prey in the Kawuneeche Valley of western Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

A friend of mine recently decided he wanted to get into photography. As many first timers do, he asked me my opinions for cameras and equipment. I suggested a mid-range camera with good controls, something that would be easy to learn on and would allow him to grow. Once he received his camera he naturally wanted to use it. As most early photographers find, his vision rarely matched what was captured.

Since I’ve had a camera in my had since my birth (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration), I offered to help him learn the basics. Besides the technicals – f-stop, aperture, ISO, there are some fundamental items that have helped me develop my technique. As it may be helpful to others I thought I would publish the list.

Clouds form in the evening over Ft. Robinson State Park in northwestern Nebraska. Originally, a U.S. Army fort it has a checkered history in regards to the conflicts with Native Americans in the late 1800s.
Fort Robinson Twilight

1. Slow Down!

So often in our hectic day-to-day world we want to capture an image and be one to the next. I’ve always felt like 1 quality image is better than 10 ok photos. In fact, when I review my images after a trip sometimes I have 100 of images that seemingly seem the same. Maybe the light has changed a bit or the positioning just a tad to the right or left, but they’re minor adjustments for the final image. Sometimes it’s the first capture, sometimes the last, but I always take my time and try to get it right.

Storms Passing
Storms Passing

2. Be flexible.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been ready for sunset and pointed in the direction I thought the light would happen only to have the most beautiful light occur behind me. Because of this, I try to have 2-3 options so that I can be ready to change scenes if this occurs. I have to sometimes do this quickly which is a bit of a departure from “Slow Down!” but if I’m prepared it gives me more time to the get the shot right.

A baby rabbit chews on some green spring grass near Kearney, Nebraska
Tasty Grass

3. Have your equipment ready. (i.e. make sure your batteries are charged!)

When I take a photography trip I always have charged batteries, erased cards, and cleaned and organized equipment. It’s a ritual I perform before I leave the house. With that being said, I have issues with spur of the moment photo excursions close to home. Just a few months ago I drove to a refuge about an hour away and hiked for 4 hours only to have a beautiful sunset occur that I couldn’t capture. Why? Because the secondary battery I threw into my bag was dead! Was this the first time it this has occurred? Sadly, no. At least I got exercise, right?

Two aspen trees withstand time and the elements together in Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
Together Forever

4. Sometimes… there’s nothing.

Even the best photographers know that they could travel thousands of miles only to be able to capture no usable shot. Maybe there’s a never ending torrential downpour. Maybe the equipment malfunctions. Maybe I just didn’t feel inspired. When this happened to me in the past I’d kick myself for whatever the problem was. Today, I realize that capturing images at that time is just not meant to be. Relax, grab lunch (or a late dinner), and try again next time.

After an intense day of rain a beautiful rainbow appears over a canyon in the west area of Mesa Verde National Park.
Colors Across the Canyon

5. There’s beauty everywhere waiting to be captured.

When I was in college, one of my assignments in my photography course was to photograph 50 images no further than my backyard. This was absurd, I thought. I want to travel and photograph the world! Being a photographer based out of Nebraska, I’ve found much beauty in a state that is considered by many as “fly-over country”. Does this mean that I don’t want to travel to exotic locations? Not at all, but I’ve learned that even in our backyards there is beauty to be captured. Look closer and you might be surprised at what you find.

Dawn Over the Sandhills
Dawn Over the Sandhills

6. Your favorites are your Favorites.

I’ve found, my favorites are rarely others favorites. There are images that I’ve traveled hundreds of miles and then hiked for days to capture. To me, the effort level was high and so the image means a lot. There are other images that I spent literally 5 minutes capturing that are highly popular. Additionally, one image might resonant with an individual while others completely overlook it. Either way, people like what people like.

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