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Here is the second set of my ten tips for habits all photographers should use to become better image makers. Good digital image making and the process of photography starts with knowledge and cognitive skills. I found that these habits and behaviors sharpen my photographic skills and elevate my awareness of the photographic process.

OBSERVE AND UNDERSTAND THE QUALITIES OF LIGHT: Pay attention to light – all light, even the absence of light (shadow)! Observe the intensity and direction of light and how it falls in your scene.  Understand the reflectivity of subject tone and surface and how you can represent them in your image.  How much light do you have on your scene and how does it affect the subject?

Learn to see “photographically”. Light is your instrument as a photographer, you are a “light writer” ( photo graphikos in Greek or photo graphis from Latin).  Examine the transition from highlight to shadow in your scene; learn to recognize the contrast and dynamic range of your lighting.  It is all about light so master your understanding of how it affects your image making.

UNDERSTAND EXPOSURE – MAKE GOOD EXPOSURES: There is no better guarantee of quality then a accurately exposed image. Proper exposure, the measuring, recording, color balancing and setting selection determine the quality of your data. The better the data quality at the point of image capture, the better your image will be.  Practice using your light meter on subjects of a variety of tones – make note of how it responds to differing of conditions.  Understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (the exposure triangle). Learn how to interpret and refine the information included in the histogram.  Understand what the meta data means on your camera display so you can analyze the quality of your exposure.  Learn how to use exposure compensation and bracketing to really refine the quality of the exposures you make.

DESIGN & COMPOSE YOUR IMAGES CAREFULLY: Crop with your camera and remember to move your feet and your position relative to your subject and the direction of light.  Really examine the contents of your frame and judiciously decide what subject elements are visually interesting.   Be disciplined in the visual arrangement in your images, edit with your camera not your computer.  Look at your frame and select the image components to include and exclude carefully.  Fill the frame!

ALWAYS WORK ON A COPY- never the original image file: This is an essential habit in the era of digital photography.  In film we had a fixed staring point…..the negative was permanent,  and it contained a finite amount of information that offered a finite set of options for visual interpretation.  Remember that until you make a backup copy your digital photo is a one of a kind original.

Make it a habit to make copies immediately after uploading them from your camera to your computer, even before looking at them!  Back up your images onto removable media as often as you can and keep a remote archive.  Redundant copies ensure that you can always go back to your original source material.   In the future you will have an expanded set of post production options for what you can do with those files so mare archiving your habit

LOOK AT OTHER IMAGERY: Start looking at the photography and images in your daily experience critically.  Look at all art and design – analyze your response as a viewer and consider how to recreate those effects in your images.  I would encourage you to start learning about some of the great photographers from the past.  The luxury of books of photography is nice but do not forget tools like GOOGLE images.  You have a virtual connection to the works of thousands of photographers a mouse click away!   De-construct an image to define the creative and technical choices made.  Look for inspiration – steal good ideas!


I hope that you embrace these suggested habits to build your photography skills. They work for digital photographers of all skill levels and I recommend them to all of the students at my photography workshops and photo tours.  For more information on my program of photo classes and tours got to info@testoftimephoto.com.

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Over the decades I have spent being a student and teacher of photography I have learned many techniques and methods to make better photographs.  From the good old days of darkrooms and fixer fumes to the wave after wave of rapidly evolving digital image making, photography has been my constant learning experience.

From that, I have developed a set of habits that I encourage my photography students and old hands with cameras to embrace and make their own.  Some of the ten tips (5 in this post,5 more to come)  I provide to improve your digital photography may seem a little obvious but remain important.  The fact that they are obvious may lead to them being easily overlooked.  This is a distillation of insight acquired in over thirty years of learning and working at becoming a better photographer and will help you do the same.

ALWAYS BRING YOUR CAMERA :  The number one reason why people miss good pictures is because they don’t have a camera with them! Make it a habit to always carry a camera with you, because you never know what you could miss.  If you do not have your full digital SLR kit with you at least consider carrying a point and shoot camera. Compact digital cameras are simple to bring everywhere.  A basic camera, with a few memory cards, batteries give the capacity of taking thousands of images.  Be ready to shoot and make the most of your everyday observations and moments. Photography skills are built by making images not by wishing you had your camera with you!


Scenes from digital photography workshops & photo tours offered by Dan SplaineSHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT! and then Shoot more : If you think you shoot enough – you don’t (especially if you have a digital camera, because there is no added cost to taking more photographs).  Why take just one picture if you can take several?  Make a regular habit using and operating your camera in a wide variety of shooting conditions. Attempt to make images in ordinary and exceptional moments of your daily experiences to practice your photographic craft.

Are you in a place you may never visit again?  Your opportunity costs (the price of getting there) is a major investment when compared to the minimal cost of making digital photos.  Is this something you will ever see or experience ever again?  Is this such a common experience that you  have never looked at it for its image  potential ?  Take a picture, because even the most boring day-to-day scenes can become historical in just a few years of time.  Practice your skills on a daily basis.


TRUST YOUR EYE: Studying the laws of composition is fine, but when it comes down to it you must trust your eye.  Make a conscious effort to scrutinize the arrangement of the subject elements in your scene thoughtfully. When you frame the shot, move your camera position and fully explore the scene. When you find an angle or composition that FEELS good to you, take the picture immediately!  After the first frame, which is your instinctive response, you can (and should) get several more shots.  Compare that sequence of shots on the computer to learn about your photographic point of view. Your personal style will change and improve with time.  The viewpoint you take with a camera is distinct and interesting. Trust your instinctive response to the view of the scene and build your trust in your point of view.

Train your eye: Look at the photographs you have taken and analyze them,  begin to critique your own work. How does it match up to what came to mind (pre-visualization) before you pushed the trigger?  Did the image turn out like you planned? Do you like the composition? Critically analyze the aesthetics, the emotional impact and the technical features of your photographs.

This self-review stage is essential for you to improve your photographic skills and style.  Examine how the light source and direction affect the scene. How well did you capture the scene as you visualized it?  How was your focus control and the accuracy of your exposure settings?  Deconstructing your image making techniques and comparing the results to your creative intent builds your photographer’s “eye”.

Know your camera: You don’t need to memorize every feature right away, but over time you should be comfortable enough so that operating your camera becomes second nature. It’s like learning to shift gears or ride a bicycle – only when the machine controls become instinctive are you really driving.  Understanding the mechanical functions and how they affect your images is essential to gaining control over your results.  What does your F stop selection or aperture do to change the look of the photo?  How does your light meter respond to different subject conditions? What settings can you select to match a particular lighting situation?  Practice using your camera controls in no pressure shooting conditions so you will be ready for your more important photographic opportunities.


This collections of habits for building your photographic skills is the first 5 of 10 that I offer to digital photography students that attend one of my photography workshops.  To learn more about the workshops and tours please contact me at info@testoftiemphoto.com.

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