Forget Camera Settings and Make Better Photos
Do you really want to improve your photos? Then forget about camera settings for a while and focus on what’s really important. You don’t make better photos because you know what every button on your camera does. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to make great photos in auto mode but it seems like there’s some shaming going on in photography communities when someone reveals shooting in auto mode and not knowing all the settings of their camera.
I think I only know about 10% of my camera’s settings and features and I probably use only 2% of those settings. I would really like to see Pentax make a cheap version of my 645z with just the basic functions. I would buy it in a heart beat. Of course you need some basic knowledge of how your camera works but don’t ever let someone tell you that you’re doing it wrong because you’re shooting in auto mode.
Related Read • Is The Best Travel Camera Medium Format?
I’ve spent a year traveling with my Pentax 645z and the only camera settings I’ve used are basically aperture and ISO. I shoot in aperture mode 99% of the time. You’ll learn how to make better photos if you focus on other things rather than complicated camera settings.
How to make better photos without knowing camera settings
The important thing to learn is composition. It’s what a good photograph is all about and knowing how to compose a shot will drastically improve your photos. It doesn’t have anything to do with knowing all the camera settings. One of the best ways to learn about composition is to look at photos of photographers you admire. Look at their photos and analyze where they place the subjects and how they compose the different elements in their photos.
I’ve looked—and still look—at hundreds of photos of photographers whom’s work I love. It’s also a good idea to try and copy some photos or compositions when you’re a beginner. You’ll learn how to make better photos and how to look for interesting compositions when you walk around. No camera settings needed, auto mode will work!
Rule of thirds and golden ratio
So, there are basic concepts regarding composition and while it’s good to learn about them, they’re not laws you have follow or get punished. It’s a controversial topic on internet forums but if you’re a beginner, they will definitely help you. The rule of thirds and golden ratio are good guidelines to start making your own compositions but just try not to cling onto them too much—rules are meant to be broken.
Again, it’s helpful to look at the work of other photographers and see how the rule of thirds and golden ratio apply to their work. I did a little experiment with one of my photos and it made me wonder about whether or not you should consciously use them or if it’s just something that comes naturally when you have an eye for photography.
Anyway, you can read the post and see the ‘experiment’ if you join me on my Patreon page. I’d love to hear your take on this…
If you want to make better photos, you need to tell a story or at least give the viewer a set up for a story, depending on what kind of photography you like. You don’t need to know every camera setting there is. As a travel photographer, stories are the key to good photos and to improve your general photography. And for me, it goes beyond telling a story with just the photo, because I like to write—captions are important and add value to the story.
But also, if you don’t like to write, it’s important that your photo tells a story. It’s the difference between making good photos and making great photos. Essentially, make sure a photo is not just photo of a subject. You need to grab the attention of the viewer with more than that. Camera settings are just a small percentage of being a photographer.
Leave the viewers wondering about what they’re looking at—not because they don’t understand it but because they’re intrigued. What’s going on behind the image?
Single image stories can often be just as powerful as a photo series because of what’s not included in the frame.
A photographic series goes even further though. Creating a narrative with a series of photos is not easy but it will teach you how to make better photos. You have to look at your own photos and figure out what works. You’ll have to add and remove photos or decide if you need another shot to make it work.
Whether you like to write captions or want to let your photo tell the whole story, it’s key to have one. Stories make photography interesting and it’s important to learn how to tell one if you want to make better photos. You can make a great series without knowing camera settings. Just use auto mode and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
Depth & focus
Ok, so two things. First of all, go deeper. Make your photographs more than a shallow documentation of something. When it comes to travel photography, it’s about taking your time. I’ve decided to try and stay longer at places I travel to. Just like I did when creating my series ‘Behind The Redwood Curtain’. I want to soak up the atmosphere and learn about the surroundings before I start snapping around.
If you want to make better photos, you have to slow everything down. Think about what you’re creating and why. It doesn’t matter what purpose your photography has but you have to be aware of it so you can work towards that purpose and goal.
Related Read • Exploring Will Inspire You Not Only to Take Better Photos
Second, focus. A mistake a lot of beginning photographers make is taking photos of everything. That’s OK if you’re a beginner or you’re satisfied with your photos but if you want to improve your photography, you’ll have to focus. Focus on a genre of photography and become a specialist in that genre. It’s one of the best ways to drastically improve your photos.
Focus your energy on the one genre of photography you really love. Learn everything about it and look at the work of other photographers in that genre. You can’t be good in everything. Focus.
Take a lot of photos instead of studying camera settings
If you have to choose between studying camera settings or just going out and take photos. Pick the latter. Take as many photos as you can. It will help you to make better photos but you’ll also learn how to look and anticipate when you’re walking around with a camera.
After I just graduated from photography college, I got a job as a product photographer in a company and lost my connection with photography a bit.
Related Read • Become the Photographer You Want to Be: My Story - Part 1
I decided to take my camera every day and document the road to work. It not only improved my photos but also taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted to do with my photography. It helped me to set a goal and to focus towards achieving that goal.
Taking a lot of photos is good to improve your photography but also to learn what path you want to follow. It took me a few years to find out what genre of photography was right for me...
P.S. If you you want some advice on photography, traveling or your career, you can join me on Patreon. I’ve set up an online photography platform and community on Patreon where I post exclusive content about my work and travels. You can also ask me questions directly or show me your photos for feedback. Hope to see you there!