Lately, I’ve been getting asked about photography tips. Everyone is always looking for improvement, and I’m more than happy to help with anything I can. I am not a expert photographer by any means, but I do have my degree in Multimedia. Currently, I am a videographer, so I know about lighting, composition, white balance, etc. Ironically, I never learned photography. A lot of the concepts overlap, but taking still shots vs. movement is different. Right now, photography is a hobby for me; I focus mainly on food and landscapes.

Today, I have 5 Photography Lessons Your Manual Won’t Teach You, tips to keep in mind before you even think about shooting (a part of pre-production, if you will). They deal more with the thought process rather than technique. I hope it gives you a different perspective next time you shoot.

Image from So Many Things To Do, So Little Time on Tumblr

1. There will be people better than you. There will be people worse than you. Accept this and move on. You’re going to drive yourself crazy. We all do it, including me. You think you are taking great photos, then you start visiting other blogs and realize they are doing laps around you. Or you are constantly rejected by those popular food sites but have no clue why. Don’t give up! The most important rule is not to compare yourself to others. Focus on being better than you were yesterday. In other words, look at your overall improvement rather than comparing yourself. Trust me – I get so overworked on my photos not turning out how I’d like, but if I look back a year ago, I have accomplished so much.

2. Focus on one area of improvement at a time. I look at my pictures and see several areas of improvement. Instead of overwhelming myself, I focus on one area. Once I got that part down pretty well, I move onto improving something else. Lighting was a huge issue for me (and sometimes still is). First step was making a light box (more on that in another post). Now I’m starting to use natural light as much as I can. Of course, working full-time during the day makes it tough, especially during the winter. Once I improved my lighting, I focused on composition. What props can I use? What should I do for my background? Again, more on that later, but baby steps. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Chocolate Chip Cut-Out Cookies: left 2009, right 2012

Angel Food Cupcakes: left 2009, right 2012

Strawberry Smores Tart: left June 5, 2011, right June 7, 2012 (almost exactly one year)

3. Learn your camera. It doesn’t matter if you have a DSLR, a point and shoot, or an iPhone. A good photographer is one who understands what is going on and how the camera works. Sure, having a DSLR will produce sharper and higher-quality images, but that is no excuse for poor lighting or lackluster composition. Here’s a secret – read more than your manual. The manual is there to explain how to switch to Aperture Mode (Av mode), but it does not explain why you would or what the numbers mean. If it does, most of us just glaze over and get even more confused. The concepts didn’t click with me until I read a few tutorials. I recommend part 1 and part 2 from Kevin and Amanda. You can find more tutorials on my Pinterest board.

I started out with a very basic Kodak point and shoot. Then I upgraded to a little more advanced point and shoot, the Canon Powershot. This camera has the shutter speed (Tv mode), aperture (Av mode), and manual (M mode) modes. These are the same modes that a fancy DSLR has, but the difference was I had one lens and one lens only. Then one day, my friend was selling his Canon Rebel, so I bought it. Currently, I shoot with the 50 mm f 1.8 lens and the 28-135 mm lens. I highly recommend the 50 mm (f1.4 if you can afford it, but f1.8 is a good starter). However, you can’t get too close, so I use the 28-135 mm as my zoom lens. It is not a true macro lens (oh I’d love to buy one of those!), but it lets me get close enough. It is also the lens I travel with since I can take both wide and zoom shots without physically moving too much (very helpful when restricted like at the Grand Canyon).

Honey Butter Dinner Rolls

4. Be observant. This goes back to number 1. You find those people that are better than you. Instead of pouting, be observant. Why do you feel these pictures are better? The lighting? The composition? The creativity? When I look at a picture, I think about composition. What did that person use for the “floor”? What about the background? Is it natural light? Did that person use props to reiterate the flavors (bowl of berries, a honey comb, chocolate chips)? Did that person match the shape of the plate with the shape of the food (square plate for brownies, circle plate for cookies), or did that person use contrasting shapes (square plate for cookie)? Do the colors match the food (red for strawberry, yellow for lemon), or do the colors complement (blues and greens for strawberry and cherry)? Whatever you love about the photo, try to apply that concept to your own.

When I’m stuck for setting up my photo, I often go to Food Gawker, search for a similar item to mine (dinner rolls, bacon cookies, etc), and see how others set theirs up. Usually I take ideas from several photos and do what works for me. And if you don’t like anything you see, well why not? Is there something you thought you’d see but didn’t? Be the first then – go make it happen!

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

5. Breathe. You aren’t perfect. If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably know I judge myself way too critically. See, I imagine how I want my shoots to be, but then I may not execute it as well. It’s both a blessing and a curse. This also goes back to number 1. What matters is that you are better than you were yesterday. If things didn’t turn out as well (ice cream melted, you lost daylight, etc), then learn from your mistakes. For most of us, photography is a hobby. I have so much passion for it that sometimes I forget that this should be fun. I hold myself at a high standard because of my videography job. I feel that I should be really good at photography because I’m supposed to be really good at videography. I can say that because of my hobby, I am better at both than I was when I graduated college. That’s where I need to focus.

I hope I was able to show you a different perspective when taking photographs. You can read all of the tutorials in the world, but the most valuable information is experience.

What has photography taught you? Are there any lessons you want to add to this list?