Many new photographers think of themselves as “intermediate” photographers. They may have taken a few classes, or read a few books. But they consider themselves “intermediate” because they have only shot on a DSLR for a few years.
However, there is no need to feel like you’re behind the eight ball if you consider yourself intermediate. In fact, there are lots of opportunities to grow as a photographer in the intermediate level.
In this article, I will share with you some of the things that I have learned as an “intermediate” photographer.
1. Don’t Follow The Rules
Don’t follow the rules is the first tip on the list for a reason: it’s critical.
“Don’t put your subject right in the center”
You’ll have to spend some time getting to know your camera before you can use it effectively. Even if you’re an experienced photographer, you’ll need to know the fundamentals of affecting a photo’s mood. In addition, you must continue to expand your knowledge of photography by picking up new skills on a regular basis.
Just because someone tells you to do something, doesn’t mean you should.
“Don’t take pictures when it’s too sunny and the light is bad”
Photography is a creative endeavor that does not work well when approached from a preconceived notion. It’s possible that rules will work for yearbook portraits because every photo needs to look the same. You can keep following the rules if you’re just trying to make something look good.
What exactly do I mean when I mention the guidelines? Many of these may be familiar to you: Never take photos in the harsh midday sun. “Whenever possible, compose your photos using the rule of thirds.” “For landscapes, use a wide-angle lens; for wildlife, use a telephoto.” It’s important to keep your horizons level. In other words, “ensure that your main subject completely fills the frame” The list is endless…
“Don’t take pictures when it’s too cloudy and the light is bad”
While everything goes as planned, there isn’t much to get excited about.
To be clear, sometimes the best photo of a scene does coincide with some of the rules. Don’t misunderstand. However, the “best” photo of a scene and the “most rule-abiding” photo have little in common. The two are diametrically opposed.
“Your photos should have a clear and identifiable subject”
See how few photos that have gone down in history adhere to the rule of thirds, were taken during the golden hour, or utilized “the right” lens. It’s guaranteed that some of the greatest photographs of all time break every rule you could possibly imagine about taking great pictures.
“Your subject should fill the frame”
Some believe you must first learn the rules before you can break them. If that’s what you want to do, I’m not going to stand in your way. However, if you attempt to internalize all of the photography’s rules, both explicit and implicit, you will have a difficult time separating your personal style from them in the future.
“Keep your horizons level”
2. Focus On Emotion
Good photographs captivate us for a variety of reasons. They have a relationship with us. They arouse some sort of response in us.
When it comes to photography, the most important thing to capture is the subject’s emotions. Do you think your photo will be remembered by your viewer if they don’t feel an emotional connection to it? When people reflect on the work that influenced their own photography, do you think they’ll remember you?
The reason why I can still recall my favorite photographs (and paintings, songs, and movies) is that they evoked strong emotions in me, just as they did for the artists who created the works in the first place.
Do you know why we are so enamored with literature? No matter how ignorant or untalented we are, books give us a glimpse into the world’s greatest minds. If you want to think like Plato and Aristotle, Marie Curie, or Albert Einstein, this is your chance.
It’s the same with a stunning image that evokes strong emotions. You can see exactly how Ansel Adams felt when he was photographing Yosemite, because his photos capture that feeling. It’s there for all to see. It’s all in the way he put his picture together.
So, how exactly do you infuse your own photographs with such emotion? The answer is simpler than you might expect, but it’s also more difficult than it appears: You simply need to make conscious decisions.
Everything you do in a photo alters the emotional impact it has on the viewer. At what time of day are you taking pictures of this particular location? What kind of weather are we talking about? When it comes to your image’s color and contrast, do you have a strong or weak palette? When looking at your image as a whole, does your main subject stand out or does it blend in with the background?
All of these things require a choice to be made. To make a photo even more interesting, you can create dozens or even hundreds of variations. The majority of it is unintentional, and that’s a problem. Identifying these unconscious decisions and making them visible will allow you to better align the emotional scales of a photo with how you were feeling at the time. And your photos will be stronger as a result.
NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 8 seconds, f/16.0
3. Put In Some Effort
It’s simple to snap a few pictures of a scene quickly and easily. However, keep in mind the following advice: The best photos are the result of careful planning. Changing a photo’s “default answer” for a particular element usually necessitates some time and effort.
Is capturing your subject at “eye-level” the most efficient and effective method? Is the lens that came with your camera the correct one? Are you in the ideal position to make your points stand out?
The time and effort you put into taking good photos is well worth it. So you don’t need to run up a hill with your camera gear or do anything else physically demanding to get the shot you want! You can stop your car and get out when it’s more convenient to keep driving than to stop and get out. Or, at a promising location, attempting more than one composition.
If you put effort into your photos, people will come to terms with you.
It’s important to remove anything in the photo that detracts from the emotional message you’re trying to convey.
To do this well, you’ll need to be deliberate and thoughtful while out in the field. What parts of the picture help and what parts hurt must be identified. As a result, you’ll want to know how to fix the issues.
Is it time to reposition your camera or alter your composition? If you’re using studio photography, how about changing the subject matter so it better conveys your message?
While photographing, I devote at least half of my time to simplifying the message I’m trying to convey.
But don’t get too excited—it doesn’t mean exactly what you think it does. It’s not about making your final composition as empty and simple as possible by removing as much as possible from the image. That is not the case! Sometimes that’s what you want, but your goal might be the exact opposite; you might want to take a photo that appears chaotic and disorganized.
Even if you want your photo to be a chaotic mess, you can use the same principle of simplification. Just get rid of anything in your photo’s composition that doesn’t add to the image’s sense of balance and harmony.
This is a chaotic photo. That was my goal; I achieved it by simplifying the photo and getting rid of any details that take away from the message.
5. Find Good Light – For Your Subject
Keep in mind the first rule? There aren’t any guidelines to follow. Photography doesn’t have a good or bad light that applies to all situations.
A good photographer knows how to choose the right light for their subject. Your subject may convey intensity, gentleness, subtlety, loneliness, or warmth depending on the type of light you use.
When the subject and the light in your photo are in tune, your photo and the emotional message it conveys will come across as seamless. You’ll make sure your message flows smoothly.
Photographers love the “golden hour” around sunset and sunrise because it yields beautiful results with a wide variety of subjects. Soft sunlight and vivid colors can convey messages that are completely at odds with your intended message. What about disorder, commotion, and turbulence? Or do you prefer nuance and melancholy? A storm cloud passing overhead or dense fog may provide the best lighting for your scene.
The best lighting is that which enhances your subject and gives it the appearance you desire. There is a lighting condition that works best for any subject or emotional message. It’s possible it’s not the one you’re hoping for.
NIKON D800E + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/10.0
6. Look Behind You
Photographers are usually very devoted individuals. When we focus solely on what’s in front of us, it’s easy to forget about everything else. However, the best photographs don’t always occur in the direction you expect them to.
Keep looking around when you’re out taking pictures so you don’t miss anything interesting. Keep an eye out for things behind you, as it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on to the other side. Seeing an amazing scene from a different angle has allowed me to take some of my favorite photos, but I’ve also missed out on many others.
I was taking pictures in the opposite direction and nearly missed this rainbow; in fact, I did miss it at its most vivid, since I was running to this location as it faded away. If I hadn’t looked behind myself, I wouldn’t have gotten anything at all. I wouldn’t even have known there was a rainbow.
7. Refine Your Photos in the Field
While the subject is still in front of you and you can refine your composition, your best opportunity to improve a photo occurs shortly after the shot is taken. This is it; there’s no going back once you’ve blown your chance and the framing or message aren’t clear. Photoshop can only do so much.
Most of the time, I’ll photograph a scene multiple times, each one building on the previous. Though not always the case, the later images tend to work the best because they’ve been given the most thought.
Work with it a little more if you have a promising composition or pleasing lighting! Take a picture and analyze the results to see what works and what doesn’t. Increase the quality of your image as much as possible in the field by paying attention to every detail.
Looking at a nearly perfect photo on your computer and realizing that one small change would make it perfect is one of the worst feelings in the world. Later on finding out your composition was never refined in the field, resulting in the failure to capture the shot you were hoping for.
From the beginning to the end, here’s how the series looks:
Attempt 1: A boring composition and no clear emotional message
Attempt 2: It has more emotion, but the composition is too messy
Attempt 3: Getting better, with light that matches the subject, but can be simplified further
Attempt 4: Bingo. This is why you refine photos in the field.
8. Watch the Edges
Photographic distractions seem to be more noticeable as they get closer to the photo’s edge. Even though they aren’t what we immediately gravitate toward, the edges of your composition are just as important to me as the center.
Photoshop’s cloning feature can be used to remove distracting pixels (although some photographers prefer not to use it or are prohibited from doing so as part of their job). You can achieve the same result by selectively darkening and changing the contrast in distracting areas.
However, this can only be fixed in the field. From the beginning, keep an eye out for the composition’s edges so you can account for them when framing the shot. Even if you can’t or don’t want to eliminate all distractions, think about them while you’re out in the field. Check to see if they add anything to the picture you’re trying to capture.
9. Watch Your Primary Subject
Distractions of a different kind include anything that has nothing to do with your primary subject. A lot of the impact can be lost if your subject is hidden.
That isn’t always the case (as mentioned in tip #1). Showing only one eye of an animal through a patch of leaves works well when your main subject is partially obscured.
However, if you accidentally cover a portion of your main subject, it can be distracting. With the exception of a blade of grass blocking part of your foreground subject, your photo will look amazing. It’s also possible that you’ll get a great concert shot, except for the performer’s eye being obscured by a piece of confetti.
So, keep an eye out for your main topic. In the event that something less important gets in the way, double-check that this is what you want.
10. Put It Into Perspective
Perspective – the ability to move forward and backward to alter the relative size of everything in your photograph – is an often-overlooked compositional tool.
When photographing a tree against the backdrop of a mountain, the tree may be enormous, while the mountain appears insignificant from afar. I’m curious as to what you do.
The solution is as simple as moving backward and changing your point of view, making the tree appear smaller in relation to the mountain. Then use a longer lens to close in on your subject and enlarge it so that your subjects are the same size in the frame.
Giant tree, tiny mountains. That’s because I walked close to the tree, exaggerating its size versus the background
A different perspective, captured by standing back so the tree shrinks relative to the mountains. I then used a moderate telephoto lens (70mm) to get both subjects the size I wanted them in the frame
11. Look For Interconnectedness and Visual Puns
When two elements in a photo have a striking resemblance, it serves as a visual tie that unites the image. Some of these are downright “visual puns” that reveal the photographer’s motivations for taking a picture.
Taking pictures of people in red T-shirts while they walk past a red fire hydrant is analogous to doing just that. Or a reflection of a lighthouse in a pool of water that is shaped like a lighthouse in every way.
This degree of interdependence does not always occur. Rarely will you come across something like this. Stay curious and you might come across something that inspires you to take a great photo.
The shape of the rocks on this hill are quite similar to the shape of the clouds: long, thin lines. That makes the top and bottom halves of the photo feel more interconnected and purposeful.
Taking a walk at noon is the best time to capture a beautiful sunset photo.
To be fair, Tip #1 did state that the light at sunset isn’t always the best and that the light at midday wasn’t always the worst. Alternatively, you could say, “The best time to take a good photo at noon is during sunset.” It’s still relevant today.
Searching for scenes involves imagining good places to return in the future when the conditions are optimal. Whatever your interest in photography, you’ll always learn something new about where to take pictures if you just look around for a while.
There is an art to scouting locations in photography, and if done correctly, it can provide you with many options for shooting.
Scouted photo, taken in early afternoon
Final photo, when the sun touched the mountain
13. Form a Vision
Taking great photos involves visualizing the finished product in your mind. Can you conjure up the most perfect image of the thing you’re looking at? Before you even take the picture, can you see how a professional photographer would set up the shot, post-process it, and then print it?
Think of the perfect shot to capture the scene you’re looking at. Take action to make your dream photo a reality. Look at this image for instance:
NIKON D800E + TAMRON SP 15-30mm F2.8 @ 15mm, ISO 100, 1/40, f/9.0
I had been photographing sunrises from this vantage point for hours before I took the image above (thanks to the long sunrises that occur in Iceland during the summer). I saw a rainbow appear over the area I had been photographing as I hiked back down for breakfast. I could see the photo in my head even though I wasn’t in the vicinity at the time. That’s why I ran back: I knew how it’d look and that it was worth it.
The rainbow had already faded by the time I noticed it. But I waited because I was confident in the photo’s worth. Another one appeared less than thirty minutes later, and I was able to capture one of my favorite images from the journey.
14. Match Your Tripod to Your Composition
This is related to the third tip, which is to put in some effort.
Most photographers begin by composing their shot while their tripod is set to its highest setting. This is completely incorrect. Instead, experiment with compositions that are entirely freehand and unrestricted by the use of a tripod. Only after you’ve located the ideal shooting location should you synchronize your tripod’s settings with your framing.
In other words, you’ll miss out on all kinds of great framing opportunities, including quite a few of the best.
This picture would not have been possible at tripod level, because it would have been too low. The only way to capture this unique perspective with the fence was to climb up the fence and shoot it hand-held.
15. Capture Your Subject Doing Something
It’s nice to take pictures of the landscape. It’s nice to see a picture of a bird. It’s nice to take a picture of yourself.
Do any of them, on the other hand, stand out? There is a story behind each of the images that you remember.
One of the most powerful images that stuck with me was of an orangutan using a leaf to protect his head from the rain. “Holding,” “to shield” are key words here. I took this picture of a person performing an action.
Are sand dunes photos from a nice day more likely to stick in your mind? Or was it a photograph taken as a sandstorm approached and transformed the atmosphere into a hazy, swirling jumble of newly formed sand dunes?
Try to get a shot of your subject doing something, even if it is as simple as a slight smile or a quick jump over some water. If you enjoy landscape photography, consider capturing a scene that tells a story, such as a recent snowfall, a vibrant sunrise, or a strange cloud. Photographs that tell a story will remain in your memory longer.
NIKON D800E + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1.3 seconds, f/16.0
16. Walk Farther
Don’t just work harder on one photo; work harder on your photography as a whole, and you’ll see the difference it makes.
Wake up for sunrise every day, no matter how tired you are or how gloomy the sky looks. Go for a half-hour walk further to see what else you can discover. Even if you’re afraid to photograph strangers, go out into the city and take pictures of the people you see. Even if you don’t think you’ll learn anything from it, check out a book on photography anyway.
This image of a rainbow over the Potala Palace was captured by landscape photographer Galen Rowell after he ran out of time to get his camera bag from behind some bushes. It quickly rose to fame as one of his most recognizable images.
“Walking farther” is a broad term that encompasses a variety of different activities. It refers to going the extra mile to get the shots you want and to improve your overall photographic abilities.
17. Wait for Patterns
The most interesting things you see while photographing will vanish in an instant, leaving you scrambling to snap a picture before they’re lost forever.
Although it’s annoying, it’s not the end of the world when this happens. After all, patterns underlie a great deal of the world’s phenomena, both natural and social. There’s a good chance something that happened once will happen again.
Remember the photo I took in Iceland of a rainbow in tip #13? Even though I missed the first rainbow to appear, I wasn’t discouraged. I stayed put because I had a feeling another one was going to form soon. That’s exactly what happened.
Another Icelandic example: While photographing an iceberg in a glacial lagoon, a bird flew by and caught my attention. I didn’t get the shot because my camera was set for landscapes rather than action. However, not long after, the same bird flew past the same iceberg once more. It seemed to be going round and round in circles. As a result, I adjusted my camera’s settings and waited for the perfect moment. When it flew by a third time, I snapped this picture:
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 800, 1/800, f/2.8
The cyclical bird.
18. Be Selective
In photography, there’s a dirty little secret: Only show your best work. You’ll give the impression that you only take good photos if you only show people the ones you like.
That being said, the majority of what I produce is dreadful. The vast majority of them are unsuitable for publication. But I’m aware of this, which is why I only show the top 1% of results (or less). As a result, my portfolio appears far more impressive than it actually is.
Even the greatest photographers in history have more duds in their portfolio than gold medals in their awards. The great American photographer Ansel Adams once said that a good crop consists of twelve significant photographs taken over the course of a year.
To be clear, this does not mean you should only show twelve photos a year. Even so, exercise caution in terms of what you choose to display. Your portfolio’s average quality is affected by each photo, so you want to be on the high side of that scale at all times.
19. Don’t Avoid Bad Weather
Photographers have a saying: bad weather makes for interesting shots.
This is a simplified version of the story, as you’re well aware. Having bad weather doesn’t help you achieve a happy, upbeat mood or the vibrant colors of a clear blue sky.
However, bad weather has a strong emotional message because of how atmospheric it is. Bad weather can make amazing photographs if you are able to find a scene that goes well with it.
So, even if it’s raining, snowing, or foggy, or there are wild clouds in the sky, don’t be afraid to take pictures. Naturally, if there is lightning or some other danger, focus on your personal safety. But just because it is a gloomy day does not mean that you should stay inside. The feeling of doom and gloom is extremely conjuring.
20. Think About Your Scene Abstractly
What do you see when you look out into the world?
A portrait of someone or a canyon with clouds in the sky are two obvious examples. There are abstract qualities like light, color, and shapes hidden beneath the surface of each photograph.
Even if the sun is directly overhead when you take a picture of a mountain, the underlying composition is a blue triangle with a yellow circle above it.
In a portrait photo, the subject is centered in an oval surrounded by lines and shapes that help anchor the image.
You’ll find that your compositions become more creative and structured if you can think of your subject in an abstract way, reduced to the patterns and colors it carries. You’re not trying to take a portrait photo; instead, you’re attempting to balance the colors in the foreground and background to produce the most pleasing image.
Taking a good photo and dissecting it will almost always reveal that the design is still sound. Its emotional message is frequently the same as the literal one.
21. Memorize Your Camera
The final piece of advice on this list is to learn how to use your camera quickly and efficiently. Learn everything there is to know about it, from the buttons to the settings. This article’s emphasis on composition and creativity does not negate the importance of the technical aspects of photography. Every technical choice is, in a sense, a creative choice disguised as a technical one.
You’ve stumbled upon a breathtaking view, but the time is running out because the light is fading. Grab your camera and start snapping away. What are your plans for the rest of the day?
The first step is to set up your shot. Choose a tripod based on the composition you’re working on. Pay attention to what you’re saying. To get a sufficient depth of field, use the appropriate settings and a closer distance between the camera and the subject. Decide on a starting ISO value. The correct exposure can be achieved by selecting a shutter speed that is appropriate for the scene. Examine a safety photograph. Anything that’s broken or needs to be fixed can be adjusted. Repeat.
Having your camera memorized makes everything so much simpler. You should be able to tell which button is which even if your eyes are closed. Before you take a picture, you should be able to look at a scene and tell whether your camera will overexpose or underexpose it.
Practice makes perfect (as do the rest of the tips in this article), and understanding a piece of equipment’s quirks comes with using it for a while. Another reason to avoid the upgrade cycle is that if you’re constantly changing your camera gear, you won’t have the time to get to know your current gear well.
This list should help you continue your photography quest. When you go out and snap images for yourself, you may only recall a few tips. Write down any new ideas you have. Keep this list or any other resource handy. Photographers enjoy sharing information and knowledge. You may often learn something that took them years to master in a few minutes.
Above all, keep trying new things. Have fun. Something about photography drew you in — the artistry, the technical aspect, the excuse to get out into the world. Don’t lose that spark, and you’ve already grasped something vital, whether you’re an expert or a newbie.