Beat Your Best Photo With These 5 Tips :: Digital Photo Secrets

Beat Your Best Photo With These 5 Tips

by David Peterson 7 comments

Sometimes we get stuck. Maybe it’s been years since you produced your last great work. Maybe you’ve settled into a certain style of photography, and you just need to open your eyes to see what’s possible. Every now and again, I challenge myself to create a picture that’s better than my very best. It’s the most difficult thing for me to do as a photographer, but I’ve noticed that once I cross that threshold, everything improves dramatically. Here’s how you can beat your very best.

Get Into a Totally New Niche

We often get so far into a particular niche of photography that we lose sight of all the possibilities around us. For the time being, you may have exhausted whichever niche you typically shoot in. Sometimes you shoot so much of one thing that you start to get jaded and uninspired. When you can’t take the time to see what’s around you, you’ll just do what you usually do. It’s hard to improve on your best photography when you’re still shooting with the same skill set.

By learning a new niche, you effectively force yourself into a completely new way of seeing things. You’ll have no choice but to get more creative. There’s so much to learn out there. You could literally pick any theme, and you would be well on your way to improving upon your best work.

Learn Post Production Techniques

Most photographers are absolutely stunned when they see what post production techniques can do for them. The difference is like night and day. If you have never played around with Photoshop Elements or tried my Photoshop tutorials, I would highly recommend doing so. You will immediately produce your best photo ever after trying out a few simple techniques. It’s so effective I guarantee it.

Why is post-production so important? Color and sharpness are everything in photography. They can literally bring dead photos to life. Most pictures taken on point-and-shoot cameras are done using some kind of automatic mode, and automatic modes are generally bad at producing great colors. With just a few small tweaks, you can transform a boring photo into something truly outstanding.

There’s just no way colors this bright could have come
straight from the camera. All great photographers
use some kind of post-production.

Get To Know Someone Who Is Better Than You

We usually don’t even see or understand the limits we set for ourselves. That is, until we bump into someone else who lives in a totally different world than ours. A good photography mentor is miles above your skill level. The only way to feel good about hanging out with a person like that is to learn as much as you can in a very short period of time. We tend to be as good as those around us. Sometimes the best way to get your best photo is to simply put yourself in the presence of the very best. It will push you in ways you can’t quite comprehend.

Now how easy is this? I can’t really say. I will say it is a matter of showing up. Just ask your mentor where he or she is off to next and if you can join them. You don’t need to make your mentor feel like he has to teach you something. Just being around someone better than you is a lesson unto itself. Go along and observe, or offer to help with the grunt work like carrying heavy loads. That’s all you have to do.

The late Steve Jobs had an interesting thing to say about this. At the age of 12, he called up Bill Hewlett (the CEO of Hewlett-Packard), and he asked him if he could get some spare parts for a computer he was building. Now most of us would think the CEO of a large corporation wouldn’t have time for a 12 year old kid, but not so. Steve not only got the parts he needed, he got a job at HP that following summer. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Create your own light

Oftentimes the difference between your current best photo and the photo that will beat it is very small. Perhaps it’s a misplaced shadow. Maybe you’re missing detail in an area that could use it. These are the sorts of issues that lie outside the bounds of ordinary photography. At this level, light becomes a tool very much like paint. You have to learn how to apply it in just the right amounts in order to get the effect you want. No fine tuning means your images stay the same for years to come.

You should be happy to know that we’re currently in a lighting renaissance. The power hungry bulbs of the old days are being slowly replaced by much more efficient L.E.D. lights. L.E.D. lights are so powerful that they can produce as much light as a flash, all while consuming a lot less power. Mark my words. Flash photography will soon be a thing of the past.

If you don’t have the budget to buy a nice set of L.E.D. lights (about $300), consider starting off with some portable reflectors. They’ll help you tweak the light around you when it’s nice and sunny outside. With enough practice directing the light, you will eventually beat your best photo.

Take Your Camera Everywhere

I know it’s sometimes a hassle, but I’d be foolish to tell you there isn’t some element of luck in all of this. Every once in a while, you just bump into something incredibly beautiful. If happens to be more beautiful than anything you’ve ever photographed, there you go. You’ve got your best photo ever (assuming you’ve followed the above tips).

Bring your camera everywhere and keep shooting. You might just get lucky.

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  1. Nancy says:

    Hi David, Im sure Ive read this before but its always good to refresh the mind. I had been in a slump with my photos. Seems I took a photo of every tree and flower in Brussels. I have two friends that are also into photography but live in different villages. I set up a Facebook page for the three of us and every two weeks one of us picks a topic for a challenge then we post and critique them on or page. It has been fun and challenging because we all have different interest. Cant wait to get back to the Dash. Im going to join in February for the ABC dash, that sounds fun and challenging. Not sure why this went on the Long exposure link too.

  2. Mike FD says:

    I may be old fashioned - I don't know if that is the right word but nothing turns me off more than a photograph that has bee obviously doctored. Our brain has a wonderful memory and when you look at some photographs they are more unreal than surreal. I don't mind the latter too much, but a well constructed photograph or an interesting photographic perspective to me is more pleasing.

  3. Ian Bock says:

    Hi, David.
    Lynne, even if incapacitated you can take photos. I have taken many on my dining room table using simple paper backgrounds and lights.
    I have made winning photos of a dandelion, backlit using an LED torch.
    Diane, get out and look at other's photos in books, magazines and exhibitions.
    There are many photos to be taken within walking distance of most places, even suburban streets like where I live. I have made an audio-visual of letter boxes in my street.

  4. stan Phillips says:

    A suggestion for Lynne Marais,

    Being confined indoors only 'incapacitates' your ability to take photographs outdoors. Take David's suggestion seriously - do something different - try 'indoor photography'. Macro-photography is a totally different world. Try taking a close-up photo of the face of a watch or the diamond in an engagement ring! Take different views of a flower with different parts in and out of focus. Look around your home with a 'new eye' and you will see all kinds of interesting items to photograph. a challenge I remember from years ago, make an album of photographs taken within one minutes' walking distance of your home. It forces a photographer to take a fresh look at the surroundings. I challenge you to create a photographs album of photographs taken in your own home. Don't forget to consider 'post processing' - you can create a montage of several photographs.

  5. Lynne Marais says:

    Hi David! I find your tips so refreshing, easy to understand, and very motivational! I am incapacitated right now with a back problem so unfortunately confined indoors. But, as soon as I'm mobile, I'm going to apply all your fantastic tips, Further to Diane's question: how do we get ourselves out there as amateur photographers? What a fantastic way to make a living!!!

  6. Diane Darlow says:

    This post makes me want to pick up my camera and go. I have reached a plateau though. Wherever I go I feel as if I have been there and wasn't excited about my photos. I DO need to be stretched, but its like I want to take pictures that will cost me money now - models and landscapes are pricey. Any ideas?

  7. claude says:

    Good morning David. It's always a delight to read and learn from your tips. I have been applying it, and it realy makes the world's difference. Thank you so vey much.

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