3 tools to make your photographs 1000x better.

3 tools to make your photographs 1000x better

3 tools to make your photographs 1000x betterLast year, one of my big goals was to learn to shoot in manual mode. I signed up for a class, learned how to actually use my DSLR, and called it a success. It’s been one of the more satisfying goals I’ve achieved in the past few years, and the benefits–more confidence, better pictures, preserved memories, a nicer-looking blog–are obvious.

Blog posts are seasonal, and my attention has been drawn lately to posts I wrote in spring 2013, and 2012, and (heaven help us) 2011. And oh my, the difference in the photographs is incredible. I’m definitely still learning how to use my camera: I feel clumsy when I’m trying to quickly adjust my camera settings, and I fear I’ll never understand white balance.

But looking back at the photos I took just one year ago, it’s clear my skills have improved 1000% percent.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 4.20.03 PM

If you have a DSLR but don’t know how to use it, I highly recommend the Shoot Fly Shoot video training class I used. I purchased Photography 101 and Photography 102 (because I’m a sucker for a package deal) but honestly, Photography 102 is still over my head. If you’re new to manual mode, 101 (with about 3 total hours of video lessons) is a great place to start.

If you want to improve your photography skills, I’d really encourage you to take the leap today. I wish I’d done it sooner. (Get 30% off with the code SFS30.)


If online video classes aren’t your thing (or you’d rather spend $2 instead of $50) then I recommend Courtney Westlake’s ebook The Spaghetti Shots: how to take better photos of your kids during everyday life. This short guide by Courtney Westlake explains the basics of manual mode–ISO, aperture, shutter speed–that are covered in the SFS course. She also goes into focus, white balance, equipment, editing, and tips for photographing kids.

I love Courtney’s philosophy: don’t try to capture “perfect” photos of your kids, capture the moments that capture what your life is really like–even if (or especially if) that looks like spaghetti all over their faces.

The Spaghetti Shots is on sale TODAY for $1.99 at Amazon. Tomorrow it’s back to the regular price of $4.99.

unforgettable photograph

I just got The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life by George Lange and I’m completely smitten. This book assumes you can shoot in manual mode. Trusting you have (a tiny bit of) technical expertise, Lange teaches you how to improve your eye for a good photo. He aims to capture moments, not just subjects.

Many of Lange’s suggestions are applicable to those of you using point-and-shoot or iPhone cameras, but you’ll be able to apply much more if you know how to shoot in manual mode.

This is a modest-sized paperback, but it’s packed full of gorgeous, unusual, and surprising photos, making it bona fide coffee table material. (The Unforgettable Photograph is available as an ebook, but trust me when I say you’d much rather have the paper version.)

Do you have any favorite photography tips, tools, or resources? Share them in comments! 

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  1. Ann says:

    Things finally clicked for me after reading this short tutorial post over at Chookooloonks. Figuring out ISO — higher ISO if you need to “catch” more light — has been the biggest game changer. I know my photography has improved because my husband now hands the camera over to me if we need to catch an important moment or event — it used to be the other way around!

    Will definitely be checking out our book recommendations! I still find kids challenging to photograph.

  2. Caris Adel says:

    I’ve been back on a photography-learning kick for a few weeks. Checking out those books. I’m going to second shoot a wedding with a friend and that scares the snot out of me, but it should be fun too.

  3. I asked for a 50mm lens for Christmas and it has made my close up photos 100% better. I take a lot of interior shots for my blog and this lens (which is relatively inexpensive) makes them so clear and does that blurred background effect, which I love. I still need to learn to shoot in manual mode. I’m thinking I need to invest in a good tripod too.

  4. Shelly says:

    Thanks for these excellent resources. My daughter is taking a homeschool photography class, which is really just a book and photo assignments. The book explains how to use the manual settings, but, since each camera is different, it gets confusing. I even took her to a camera shop where they explained everything to her, but I really think she would benefit from a video series like this.

  5. Kim says:

    Ditto to the Exposure book by Peterson.
    I think my biggest breakthrough came when I realized it was possible to become a better photographer. I had spent years taking tons of really bad photos, but met a great photography instructor who taught me how to see and shoot. With a good teacher and regular practice, you can make amazing progress with a good teacher and regular, intentional practice!

  6. Breanne says:

    Take thousands of pictures. Then repeat. Play around with the camera and ask advice/pointers. Copy photos you like from others and keep tweaking to find your style.
    And marry a professional photographer who switches to a music career and gives you critique if you ask. 😉

  7. Cristy M says:

    It’s awesome that you learned those skills and are still pursuing it! What about sharing photos and digital videos with family? Any great tools for that?

    • Ann says:

      I’m really happy with my Canon Rebel T3i after having Nikon D50 (though in all fairness, the Nikon was old and I had no idea how to use it). It’s nice to have the video option with kids.

    • Anne says:

      We bought an old (old Canon D30 off a photographer friend who was upgrading. It’s not fancy but it does the job (and I definitely don’t have anything to compare it to).

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