5 Surprising Habits That Will Make You a Better Photographer

When you’re learning photography, it seems natural to pay the most attention to the gear and techniques you use to create images. You’ve probably received advice about developing great habits like photographing every day, carrying your camera everywhere you go, trying different compositions, learning processing skills, and backing up your photos. These things are important, no doubt! But there is more to becoming a better photographer than that.

Getting the shot often comes down to being there at the right time, so these tips have to do with getting out in the field and staying out in the field. If you cultivate these surprising habits, you’ll surely become a better photographer.

Canon Beach, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell - better photographer

#1 – Research Locations

Before you set off on your photo shoot, doing a little research can go a long way to making better images. First, think about what potential subjects are available. I like to create a Pinterest board and start collecting images I like from the location. Once you get an idea of what is there, how can you create images that are different from what you have seen? Is there a different perspective you want to check out? Or maybe a night shot? Don’t forget to take note of the direction of light in the images you see. Imagine what it would look like at a different time of day.

Once you get an idea of what is there, how can you create images that are different from what you have seen? Is there a different perspective you want to check out? Or maybe a night shot? Don’t forget to take note of the direction of light in the images you’ve seen. Imagine what it would look like at a different time of day.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

This is the location where the Joshua Trees are the densest in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

The second part of your research should be looking at maps and figuring out where exactly the best subjects are located and how to get there. Is the location close to the road or will you have to hike there? How long will it take?

#2 – Watch the Weather

Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast will dramatically affect your photos. Remember, bad weather is usually a good thing for photography! Storms bring the potential for seeing dramatic clouds, wet leaves, and even rainbows. You’ll get photos with fewer people in them too.

Red Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

Waiting for a break in the weather resulted in this rainbow at Cathedral Rock, Arizona.

When I was visiting Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona, I noticed that there were a lot of people around and it was difficult to get a photo without a lot of tourists in it. Then it started to rain and everyone left. I waited in my truck for 45 minutes during the downpour. Mine was the only vehicle in the parking lot, and when the rain began to die down, I headed out and was rewarded with a beautiful rainbow. I had the location all to myself.

If a clear sky is in your forecast, instead of photographing your scene with a plain blue sky, you might have the potential for a great night shot.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to check when the sun rises and sets and when the moon rises and sets. If you’re going to be on the beach, tides are also important.

#3 – Carry Less Stuff

Whether you choose to go out with your camera and only one or two lenses or switch your whole system to a lightweight mirrorless system, you’ll undoubtedly find that you can hike farther and get to more remote locations with less weight on your shoulders. The potential for finding unique subjects and unique compositions increases the farther away you get from the beaten track.

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas, by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

I don’t think I would have made it this far up the hill if I had carried all of my heavy gear.

#4 – Don’t Forget the Comfort Essentials

Despite the last tip about carrying less stuff, it’s equally essential that you carry the right stuff to allow you to stay out there longer. Anything that makes you uncomfortable in the field will probably cause you to leave earlier than otherwise.

Thirst, hunger, being cold or wet, getting bitten by bugs and looming darkness are just a few things that can make you leave a location too soon. A few things on my “always carry” list are food, water, rain jacket, sweater, bug spray, and a headlamp. These items will get you more potential shots than that extra lens.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell habit better photographer

I probably wouldn’t have this photo if it were not for my trusty headlamp that I used to make my way back through the cacti in the dark.

#5 – Hike With a GPS

Getting lost is one of my fears when I’m out exploring, so I have started hiking with a handheld GPS. It took me awhile to get used to it because it’s not the fancy kind with built-in maps. All I do is mark a waypoint where I park my truck and then it tracks me as I walk. No cell signal or internet required. I can always figure out the direction to get back to my waypoint, or even follow my tracks to go back using the exact route I took to go out. It’s worth it to carry a couple of extra batteries for it too.

Now that I have the GPS, I am more willing to go off the trail and explore new things. It’s a whole new level of freedom!

Bisti Badlands, New Mexico, by Anne McKinnell - habits better photographer

At Bisti Badlands, New Mexico, it is very easy to get lost with no trails and strange rock formations in every direction. My GPS was a lifesaver.

Conclusion

These tips should help you figure out where to go when to get there and make sure you are comfortable in the field so you can stay as long as you like to get that special shot. Sometimes photography is a waiting game, but if you are comfortable you can be patient and wait for the magic moment to happen.

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