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Five Tips for Creating Great Photographs

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Photography is more than just following the rules. Nicole S. Young, author of Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots, goes beyond lighting and composition advice and shares five useful tips to help improve your photography.
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If you're a photographer, you probably consider yourself an artist, right? Well, if you don't, you should. Being a photographer is about crafting light, sculpting your surroundings, and bringing others into your world with the resulting images. Whether you photograph portraits, landscapes, or boxes of cereal, you do what you do because you love photography—not because you think you'll strike it rich as a professional photographer.

So now that we've established that you love photography, you probably want to go out there and create some great images. But there's no "right" way to make a photograph. I could list all of the "correct" ways to compose, light, and set up a shot, but if we always stuck to those rules, photography would get boring very quickly. I do think that it's important to know those rules, so we can avoid unintentional mistakes, but we should never limit ourselves artistically. For these five tips, I wanted to go beyond the typical "composition and lighting" advice to give you a little bit more to think about when creating photographs.

Tip 1: Know Your Gear

It can be easy to get caught up in the "artsy" side of photography and forget that we're working with a very advanced mechanical tool that uses math and science to help us create our images. I'm no math whiz (I cringe whenever I have to do anything that requires long division), but I've embraced the fact that light ratios, f-stops, and focal lengths all deal with numbers, and their settings will always affect the outcome of my images. I also know that ignoring this fact will push me backward in my unending journey of photography.

I cannot stress enough that you need to know your camera, lights, and all of your equipment inside and out. Learn when to use which lens, focal length, aperture, and shutter speed. Do your best to grasp as many photographic concepts as possible. Learn the rules—and then break them. The more you know, the more you'll be able to use your skills instinctually; you won't have to reference your user's manual or just scrap the shot because you didn't realize that your camera can be set in a certain way. The gear you use is only a tool, but the closer you get to mastering each piece of equipment, the more control you'll have over the outcome of your images (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 This image was photographed with a Lensbaby Composer. I've spent a lot of time with this lens, which is manual-focus and can be tricky to achieve sharpness, but working with it often is beneficial on occasions when I need to focus quickly and accurately.

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