Photography drills to improve your keepers rate

Photography is a skill as much as a craft. Although it is incredibly easy to take a decent photo, we will never take epic photos if we rely on the crutch that is the modern digital camera on auto mode.

Some skills need to be practised over and over to be internalised. Think of these drills as the scales and arpeggios of your photography: the more you work on them, the easier they become. And the dexterity they are teaching you will spill over into your daily creative photography practice.

1. Repetition, with limited options

These drills force you to look for the shot, to keep looking, and to find a photograph in difficult situations.

- Shoot the same subject 20 different ways.

- Write down 30 ordinary items on slips of paper, put them in a jar, and draw one every day. You have to shoot what you draw, and it has to be an engaging image.

- Take 50 images with a 50mm lens. 

2. Spot metering

If you can spot meter, you'll increase your chances of getting the exposure right first time, and you'll rely less on the exposure compensation dial.

- Put your camera on spot metering, and learn to find the mid-grey tone in every image to meter from. You'll need to learn how to move the metering point around the frame.

3. Try back button focussing

This is the Marmite option - you love it or you hate it. But people who press on through their initial dislike can learn to love it. It makes sense to separate the focussing point from the exposure point, so it's worth giving it a chance.

- Use back button focussing exclusively for a whole week, or month if you can manage it.

4. Check the histogram on every shot

The histogram doesn't lie. Get in the habit of checking the white point and the black point for each shot.

- Switch the histogram on in the viewfinder, and check it for every shot. (Some Nikons don't have this option - you have to review it after the shot and then retake if needed.)

5. Shoot blind

No chimping for as long as you can bear. (Chimping is where you review your shot on the LCD every single time.)

- Cover up your LCD, or switch off image review. You can only review your images when you get home, on a computer.

6. Critique your last month's images

A bit of self awareness goes a long way.

- Go back and be brutal with yourself. What could you have improved, even on your best shots? We can all improve at least one thing on every shot. 

7. Change the settings without looking at the dials

If you can use your camera without looking, you can concentrate on what's in the viewfinder. Without looking, you should be able to:

- change the aperture

- change the shutter speed

- change the ISO

- switch between manual and auto focus

- pop the depth of field preview button on

- use the exposure compensation dial

8. No cropping

Do you ever try to get it right in-camera? We can get in the habit of relying on editing for the best composition. I'm not saying you should never crop, but it's good for the soul to manage without it from time to time.

 - Shoot for a day, a week or a month without letting your self crop in post processing.

9. Recreate someone else's image

The idea here is not simply to copy someone's image and post it as if it were your own. You probably shouldn't publish it at all. But if you can replicate the lighting, the viewpoint, the relationship between the objects from another image, then you will learn how to apply these techniques to your own photography. 

- Pick an image from someone you admire and try to replicate it. 

10. Capture the basic design elements

Create a series of images that demonstrate effective compositional elements:

- repetition

- leading lines

- contrast

- symmetry

- asymmetry

- balance (What is Balance in Photography Composition)

- texture

- shape/form

- depth


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Emma Davies