5 Camera Tips Pros Wished They’d Known Sooner

They say your first 10,000 pictures are your worst, or that it takes 10 years to become an expert. While we can’t necessarily refute those words of wisdom, we can share tips from our team of passionate photographers that may help shorten that climb to the top.

1) f/8 Is Usually Best

Without getting too deep into the details about optics and light paths, your lens has a sharpest point within the range of f-stops that you see on it. As a rule, the largest and smallest ends of the range are the softest, or least sharp, and f/8 or somewhere in the middle is where you’ll get the sharpest images. This varies by lens of course, but we suggest shooting your own test shots of the same subject at different apertures, zooming in, and seeing how that affects your images.

Tip: Don’t know what f/8 translates to in your photos? You can search for any kind of photo on SmugMug and then refine your search to see just the photos shot within a specific aperture range. Neat!

2) Cropping is OK

Unless you’ve jumped straight into big league macro or wildlife communities (where cropping is “cheating”) it’s totally fine to take your original photo and crop it so you have a better, stronger composition. Or maybe you just used the wrong lens and need a bit more zoom. Either way, it’s your trade secret and artistic decisions like this are part of what makes you – the photographer – unique.

Tip: You don’t have to crop before you upload to your SmugMug galleries. Use our handy Photo Tools to crop your images, or even Make a Copy and crop that one so you can compare the two and see which version you like best.

3) Renting is OK

You don’t have to own the gear to shoot with the gear. So you can’t drop $14K on a 800mm lens to shoot the next game? No problem – pay a pittance to have one for just the time you need, then send it back and call it a job well done. We can’t all be big spenders… even if we strive to get the perfect shot every time.

Tip: Our friends at Borrowlenses.com have a huge variety of photo, video, and lighting gear for every reason that needs a camera. You can even customize the amount of time you rent, if the standard time spans won’t work for you. Plus, SmugMug customers get an extra 10% off your entire order.

4) Editing is Essential

While we’ve stressed before that getting your photos right SOOC is good practice, it’s rare when a photo looks better raw than polished. Even the most perfectly-lit, powerfully-composed photo can benefit from a few finishing tweaks to color, sharpness, and other aspects that make pop to the eye. So even if you think that sunset couldn’t get better than it is, just give it a boost and see what happens. You just might like what you find.

Tip: You’ve got the power of Photo Effects (in your Photo Tools) and Picmonkey for the photos that live in your SmugMug galleries. But take it a step further with Lightroom: with the ability to sync and publish direct to SmugMug and pro-worthy features simple enough for beginners, we think you’ll be hooked. Check out the tutorials and see why.

5) Technique Can Solve (Pretty Much) Anything

Backlit subject? Contrasty sunset? Wind in your umbrellas? White dress, red walls? All of these scenarios (and thousands more) can throw a monkey wrench into how you thought the shoot would go, but you can still get the final photo you had in mind with practice, practice, practice. Study hard, stay inspired, experiment, and make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. The more you know, the more you can overcome challenges that would throw photo greenhorns into despair.

Tip: We can’t promise to have a ready answer to every problem, but we’re trying. As photographers ourselves, we strive to write and deliver photography-, website-, and business-focused articles on our blog, the SmugMug School website, and through our email newsletters. It’s our mission to help make photography (and whatever you do with it) more fun.

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8 thoughts on “5 Camera Tips Pros Wished They’d Known Sooner”

  1. Reblogged this on BARREL DISTORTION and commented:
    Just to note right at the top — I agree with these five tips. But while I do agree, I also feel it is exceptionally damning of photographers that most need to be told that “cropping is OK,” that “renting is OK,” and that “editing is essential.” That these tips need to be reinforced suggests that most shooters think a) that cropping is “cheating,” b) that you should own the insanely expensive gear you shoot, and c) that a truly great photo shouldn’t be edited in post-processing. No wonder so many non-photographers feel saying “you must have a great camera” is actually a compliment: as photographers, we’ve turned the creative aspect of photography into something to be defended rather than celebrated. That’s to say, if cropping or editing is cheating and you have to own inordinately expensive gear to be a real pro, then let’s be honest, photography is reduced to nothing more than a pricey graphic arts skill-set to be practiced with all of the creativity and passion of a forensic accountant. Frankly, this explains a lot about my fellow photographers, a community which I’ve never fully embraced for precisely these reasons.

    Let me elaborate. In the article, it’s suggested that top-tier wildlife or macro photographers regard cropping as “cheating.” OK, now go price out an 800mm lens on B+H. Go ahead, I’ll wait here. Exactly — it’s a down payment on a house. But if I shoot with a 400mm lens (still insanely expensive, most often), and crop to the field-of-view of an 800mm lens, I’m “cheating?” This is not the mentality of an enclave of committed artists. Art shouldn’t enforce artificial price barriers. Yeah, well, tell that the photographers. I’ve even heard photographers lament the availability of inexpensive quality gear in the current market. “Oh for the good old days when budding amateur shooters were priced out of the marketplace! Now everyone thinks he’s a photographer!” Look people, if a substantial bank account and a willingness to drain it for a hunk of glass is the primary prerequisite for membership in the photography club, it’s pretty easy to see why laypeople praise the gear and not the shooter — they’re simply following our lead. Throw in some of that brand-loyalty fanboy garbage that plagues most photography message boards and it starts to look as if photography is more about gear than art. And it’s photographers that are to blame.

    But it doesn’t end there. Why would shooters make such a big deal out of getting perfect shots out of the camera without editing or cropping? Well, let’s say you’re a sports or aviation photographer. Unless you enjoy pro shooter access, chances are you’re going to have to compensate for less than optimal shooting locations, bad light, or large distances between you and your subject by cropping and editing. Enforcing arbitrary standards on editing or cropping is often a subtle but effective way of nudging talented, but relatively unknown shooters out of the limelight. “Well, if this photographer was anyone worth knowing, he’d have been in a better position to get this shot without resorting to cropping.” Shooters protect the status quo when they’re the ones with the access. Access is not always handed out on merit. Getting it proves nothing. Look at the damn photos. Again — this is supposed to be art, right?

    Well, anyway — kudos to SmugMug for dropping some knowledge on the photography community. Let’s hope we all get the message, because if it’s all about gear, access, and cutthroat competitiveness, we might just as well drop the act and stop pretending to be artists. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to take up painting.

    1. Hi Steven, thanks for the extremely passionate reply… and for reposting this on your own blog, too. We love that so many of our followers are as nuts about photography as can be, so we know we’re in good company. Cheers!

      P.S. To all: don’t be afraid to let us know if there are topics that you think we should address or that you need help with. We’re always looking to find new topics that make photography easier, more fun, and more lucrative to all.

  2. I didn’t know f8, thanks! Do you know how were these photos taken http://jaybanks.ca/vancouver-blog/2014/06/17/seafair-garry-point-photos/? I mean, there is something disturbing, maybe the perspective of those landscapes? Is there some special lens for that? I’m just an amateur who started with photography a few weeks ago and to be honest, I didn’t expect that it’s so difficult to take a good picture: I’m constantly trying to learn what’s the secret and until now I thought that my photo camera is not good enough. Now I see that there is much more behind all and if I’m taking a photo I have to think about it before I press the button.

    1. Hi Petra, those are some great photos of a beautiful location, and we love to hear that you’re hungry to learn more about how to be a better photographer. The pics on that site are clearly a combination of being familiar with the location and being able to be in the right place at the right time (weather, night, etc). Mixed with a familiarity of how the camera works. But it’s not magic and it’s well within your reach, too. The benefit of digital photography is that you’re not limited by how many shots you can take, like on film, so keep shooting and making mistakes!

      We’re always adding new resources to our SmugMug School site, but you’re also welcome to just touch base with our Support Heroes to get photography help, too. Many of us are photographers on the side, and all of us love photos and photography. So don’t ever be afraid to ask.🙂


  3. sometimes Cropping is better than zooming and snapping a picture as the zoom image ends result is not that much convincing as it is in normal image. Thanks for sharing these other tips.

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