10 Moves to Higher Level Photography

Breaking out of our habits when we photograph takes motivation,
thought and a willingness to experiment. Be aware, prepare and dare to…

Abstract color photo of people in rain by Jim Austin


1. Think like a Child

How would a child take this picture, never having learned adult rules and constraints of composition? Try photographing what is in front of you right now, within arm’s reach.

2. Tilt It Into a Fresh Landscape

Instead of following a routine of making the horizon level, consciously try to vary the angles. I tilted this horizon so the lines of the side of my boat would lead to a New Jersey harbor summer sunrise.

Angled photo of boat and sunrise by Jim Austin


3. Hike It into High Key

Overexpose a back-lit subject by at least two f-stops. Concentrate on getting the shadows lighter, until they are mid-tones. In post-processing, you can accentuate these even more while adding some color to areas that are not pure white. It’s easy to get stuck in a trap of exposing for a perfect histogram. Let go of this trap as you blow out the highlights of the image.

High-key image of little girl by Jim Austin 

4. Reverse the Lens for Macro

If you have interchangeable lenses, try this macro move. Take off your 50 mm lens, turn it around, and hold it even with and flush to the camera body lens mount. Experiment with your zoom lens too, using the zoom ring to do the focusing. You’ll be surprised at how close you can get to your macro subject now. Be cautious to avoid windy conditions and dusty areas, to keep the camera’s sensor from getting exposed to dust. If you want, you can also buy adapters to do this reverse lens macro, so you don’t have to hand-hold.

Reverse lens macro photo of newborn lady bug by Jim Austin


5. Turn Gear into Travel

Sell an expensive lens and replace it with a Rokinon or Sigma for a third of the price of the big name brands. Now, use the money you saved to take a photo trip to somewhere you’ve never been. It’s not about fancy gear. No one remembers what gear you have – can we recall what brand of paintbrush Leonardo used?

6. Look Elsewhere to Learn

Instead of photographing, spend an entire day looking at the work of others. Take a long look behind the scenes at how a top photographer sets up their lighting. Visit the library, download a book or buy a how-to guide by a top pro. Unlearn what you think you know about making photographs.

7. Complete Three in a Hundred

First, for each day of 3 days, make 33 images. You don’t have to go on a sweaty expedition – just amuse yourself by finding some intimate landscapes or small scenes in front of you. Pay close attention to the lighting. Second, edit from those roughly 100 shots, deleting all but 3 images. Third, work on those 3 images, and polish them in post-processing. It’s fine to have the urge to share all your photos, but practice editing and sharing only your best images.


Photo of flower at sunrise by Jim Austin

8. Find a Colorful Day

For an entire day, photograph a single color that you rarely ever photograph. Let go of f-stops, shutter speeds and exposure to allow your brain to look into the varying hues of a single color under different lighting conditions.

9. Gift Yourself on Saint Ansel’s Day

Lusting for a pricy new lens? Find some gift paper and wrap up one of the lenses you already own. Choose a lens you haven’t used in awhile. Place your “gift” on a shelf or in the garage. Circle a date on your calendar, weeks or months into the future, to mark St. Ansel’s Day as your personal photo holiday. When the day arrives, open your new gift. I did this with a wide angle zoom last winter, and was surprised at how much fun it was to get that “new” lens feeling this spring, photographing with a lens I had not used in 4 months.

Photo of Buddha statues by Jim Austin


10. Move like Google Earth

Dance, weave and fly your camera to a vantage point you’ve never considered. Take it lower – even on the ground. Move it higher – even overhead like a pro journalist. Look behind you. Doing so, you’ll create fresh and interesting photos. Bob and weave with your camera and think about moving in closer to your subject.

Go out and experiment and see where your creative mind takes you.

by Jim Austin
All text and photos: © 2012 Jim Austin. All rights reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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