My Thirty Top Photography Tips

David Wheater Photography, 30 Photography Tips. Golden Hour Sunset on Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copyright David Wheater. All Rights Reserved.jpg


Photography is a very subjective art and what appeals to one person can be very quickly dismissed by another. We all have wildly varying tastes - and thank goodness for that. It would be an eminently boring life if we all produced and liked exactly the same things. The following tips (which you can print out and pop in your camera bag) are just my own take on things, but I genuinely believe they can be helpful, especially if you’re just starting out in photography.

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1. Photography is about YOUR unique take on the world - your eye - your perspective. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Trust your own instincts.

2. Great photographs don’t happen by themselves. They require effort. Plan a project and get out there and enjoy yourself. Photography is a joyful pursuit.

3. Great art all happens in the mind. Connect and bond with your surroundings first, before pulling your camera out of your bag. Make it emotional. Ten years later you’ll be really glad you did - it’ll resonate in your photographs.

4. Be guided by your emotions. There’s a good chance that others looking at your photos will feel it too.

5. Try to do work that matters. Choose something that’s close to your heart and create a special project around it. You may even want to set up a small exhibition to show people your work.

6. Always be storytelling - especially with travel photography. Your first shots should take in everything to set the scene and then start picking off interesting details. This will make your photography so much more interesting to people.

7. Consider curating a small online portfolio to share your photos with family and friends.

8. Consider how you’re going to manage your photos and how you’re going to back them up. When your computer packs up you’ll be glad you did!

Remember - it’s all a “LAB Experiment”

Before EVERY shot consider,

  • Light

  • Angle

  • Background

& experiment!

9. It’s ALL about the light - chase it! It’ll elevate your photography more than anything else you can do.

10. Remember to never shoot handheld under 1/60 second. Ideally faster. The longer your focal length the faster your shutter speed should be.

11. To ensure your landscape shots are sharp from front to back use a small aperture from around f/16 to f/22. This will give you the maximum depth of field. Focus around 1/3 into the scene* (not the frame) to ensure your photos are sharp from the foreground to the horizon. (*note: You need to identify the point in the scene in front of you that is 1/3 of the distance to the horizon. This may take a few shots to find the sweet spot where everything from front to back is in focus)

12. To take great portraits of people and blur the background (bokeh) choose the widest open aperture your camera & lens will allow (e.g. f1.4 to f4) - but play close attention to your focal point, as depth of field will be very shallow. Always focus on a persons eyes.

13. To use the lock focus & recompose method choose a single auto-focus point in the middle of your frame. Aim this at your subjects to simultaneously lock focus and adjust your exposure (metering) and then, while keeping your finger half-way down on the shutter, simply move your camera to compose your shot.

14. Remember your semi-automatic modes - Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority (Canon Av & Tv - Nikon A and S). Av allows you to adjust your aperture and the camera automatically achieves an exposure and Tv allows you to adjust your shutter speed and the camera automatically does the rest. Av is particularly useful if you just want to concentrate on playing with your depth of field while allowing the camera to automatically expose your photograph.

15. To get the best possible quality shots and avoid noisy images, you need to shoot in ISO100. If you use a tripod this is always possible as the camera stays completely still and you don’t have to worry about taking shaky handheld shots. If you’re hand holding your camera, however, you need to keep your shutter speed up above 1/60th otherwise your shots will be blurry. For telephoto lenses you’ll need to be even faster.

16. If you’re taking handheld shots at night, or in low light, you may have to raise your ISO significantly. This is certainly true if your shutter speed gets below 1/60 second. This makes your sensor more sensitive to light and allows you to shoot at faster speeds to avoid blurred images. Remember that you can also switch your camera to “Auto ISO” and the camera will automatically choose an ISO to ensure your shots are properly exposed. It’s better to get some noise in your images than no shots at all. Noise can be reduced in editing software.

17. When composing your shots, always visualise the rule of thirds - two vertical lines and two horizontal lines across your frame. Place your main subject across one of the lines. Always leave negative space in front of any object travelling in a given direction. Look for “leading lines” which draw your eye into a scene e.g. pathways, rivers, railways lines, railings, converging lines etc. Don’t forget to keep you horizons level.

18. Remember to always expose for the highlights - essentially the sky over darker foreground. If you ‘blow out the highlights’ you’ll lose all detail and your photograph will look odd. It’s better to have a slightly darker foreground that you can adjust afterwards in an editing suite like Lightroom. Alternatively you can do this in camera by using a graduated filter which essentially blocks out light from the top of your scene i.e. a bright sky while allowing the bottom part of your scene to be unaffected and exposed normally.

19. If you want to check your exposure you can use your camera’s histogram display. Essentially, if you see all the pixels grouped to the right you may have overexposed your image and blown the highlights and conversely, if you see them all grouped to the left you may have underexposed your image and lost detail in the darks.

20. If you’re taking a shot that’s very important to you, be sure to review it. Zoom in to check sharpness and have a quick look at your histogram.

21. If you have time, consider using Live View on the back of your camera to compose your shot. This can be useful when using a tripod and a shutter release in an awkward position and also allow you to move your focus point around your frame to focus on your main subject.

22. If you find yourself getting serious about landscapes, consider using three essential filters - 1. ND grads which allow you to reduce the exposure in a brighter sky, while leaving the darker foreground unaffected, for an overall better balanced exposure. 2. ND Filters which simply reduce the amount of light entering your lens allowing you to shoot with slower shutter speeds (e.g. blurring a waterfall during the day). 3. Polarising filters simply reduce the effect of harsh light and can reduce glare from water, increase saturation and deepen blue skies. Make sure you spend more and buy high quality filters!

23. Always be experimenting to find new angles. Perspective is everything. Walk around your subjects 360 degrees and look high and low for interesting compositions. Sometimes the best angle is to be found just lying on the ground or setting up your tripod upside down. Don’t forget that simply shooting straight up to an interesting ceiling or a canopy of trees can be visually stunning.

24. When considering a shot, always slow down and take your time. As well as considering the best angle, always consider colour, texture and contrast. These elements are crucial to make your images sing.

25. Minimalism: photography is the art of subtraction. If you really want to take stunning shots, consider making your shots as simple and as uncluttered as possible. Especially backgrounds. This could be a single tree, a single flower, anything that you can simplify and isolate to enhance its appeal.

26. Symmetry: Splitting scenes into two equal parts can be very powerful, whether it’s a reflection in water or a window, or simply looking for patterns in nature or even buildings and architecture.

27. Finding and getting to a great location takes time and planning. Become a good weather watcher and consider using apps like the Photographer’s Ephemeris ( which can tell you where and when the sun will set in your chosen location.

28. For sunset shots always look for the best locations and landscapes facing west and try to arrive around 45 minutes before sunset to set up and scout out the location.

29. When you’ve finished shooting, always put you camera back in Auto or Program mode. This means that if you have to react very quickly you’ve got the best chance of getting a useable shot in the bag.

30. Always keep your batteries charged and put green rubber bands around them when charged. Before heading out on a shoot, always check you’ve got spare batteries and SD cards. There is nothing worse than realising you’ve left your batteries at home!

Above all else, try not to take shots just for the sake of it. If you can’t put into words what a scene means to you, before shooting it, then it’s unlikely to resonate with you in the years ahead.

And don’t take your photography too seriously either. If it’s not fun there’s not really much point.

UPDATED: February, 2019