Tips on Improving Photography?

There are so many articles published online as well as in photography magazines and books on tips and tricks to quickly improve photography. There are many variety of techniques or special methods to help the photographer to get better shots, or achieve photographs nearer to the perceived standard of "perfection". Many would pay thousands and thousands of dollars to attend workshops or photography training by the photography gurus. Some go extra lengths to achieve that status and to be claimed a "pro". I believe I am the weird one out from the norm. I rarely read photography magazines, I do read tips and tricks of photography online, but honestly, when it comes to real life shooting, practical photography can be so different. 

All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5 and M.Zuiko Lenses 45mm F1.8 and 12-50mm F3.5-6.3

High Above the Ground. 45mm F1.8

Left Behind. 45mm F1.8

Security. 12-50mm Kit Lens

Let me share a few small things which I have learned along the way. 

1) Improving Photography Skills Takes Time. Lots, and lots, and lots of time
The main mistake that many photographers (new ones, of course) did was to expect sudden jump or improvement in their photography, especially after they spend hundreds on photography books or even more attending some professional photography workshops. The truth is the same with learning everything else, it takes unquantifiable amount of time to practise and practise until you get it right. Some people may get it faster than the other, but if you have clocked enough time doing something, somehow you will find a way to get it right eventually, no matter how slow a learner you are. It took me YEARS to be able to shoot on the street comfortably, I did not just miraculously walk up to stranger and be able to take close up portraits of them. Patience is a very important virtue (in photography as well as life in general). You have to be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to learn. Give yourself time to make mistakes, and improve from them. Give yourself enough time to grow. Growth cannot be forced, and it will come if you have put enough time and effort. 

2) Practise Until You Get It Right, and then Continue Practising Until You Never Get It Wrong Ever Again
I always shoot at the same location. I go to the same streets. I shoot at some macro shooting locations again and again, for countless times already. I have shot the same sunrise scene for many times (ok I lied, I could never wake up that early). A lot of young photographer I observed would take pride and satisfaction when they have achieved something too early. You managed to understand the concept of wireless flash photography, and you have executed your first flash portraiture session. Then you show off, and you claim that you have accomplished certain level of photography. Good, that is one step forward, and one improvement which is worth celebrating. However, that is not the end of the journey, in fact you have just started. There are so many more things to be picked up along the never-ending learning curve in photography and being content too early will not do you good in your further growth. A lot of people do not see this, because all they cared was to show off how good they are in their photography skills. You have done it right, good for you, now lets do it again, and again and again until you will never ever get it wrong again. This is especially true in insect macro photography. 

Fruit Seller. 45mm F1.8

Hidden alley. 45mm F1.8

Blowing. 12-50mm kit lens

Eggs. 45mm F1.8

Meat. 12-50mm kit lens

Vegetables. 12-50mm kit lens

3) Shoot What You Love, and Love What You Shoot
Peer pressure can be a dangerous thing for photography. When everyone is doing the same thing you will be compelled to do that as well. Forcing yourself to take up something you do not like will not do good for your growth in photography. Everyone has different preferences, likes and dislikes. Find the subject that you love and you will be happier shooting that subject again and again. It can get lonely sometimes, but eventually when you are starting to show that you are betting better in what you are doing, you will be the one introducing the peer pressure in the group and before you know it people will start to want to do what you are doing! The bottomline is, you must enjoy shooting in order to be able to make the best of what you are doing. Start by shooting your favourite things. I like live music performance (indie bands) so you will see me being out there enjoying myself, banging my head to the heavy live music and merrily snapping away. 

4) Your Heart Matters More than Your Mind
Often many photographers get too carried away with camera technicalities that they have forgotten to feel the image with their heart, before clicking the shutter button. I also suffer from this, as I always thought of the shutter speed, ISO setting and aperture choices, as well as composition style, focal length and a heck lot of other parameters to control while shooting. As we have always been reminded photography is a lot about what we see, how we see things and how we translate what we see into photographs. If we only see the things we shoot with our minds, the photographs will come out dry, heartless and meaningless. Our hearts can add strong emotion and different level of meaning to a photograph, if we just stop thinking about all the technical perfection mess and just consider the subject itself. The stronger images are not the kind of images that you will awe over the lack of high ISO noise, or superior dynamic range, or better sharpness and accurate white balance. The impact-ful images usually will be able to pull some strings of your heart with gut-wrenching emotions, or drop your jaw looking at something completely unbelievable, or chuckle and smile at an photography with a joke or satirical meaning behind it. The extra "oooomph" in the photograph always, always comes from the heart. 

Friendly Stranger. 45mm F1.8

Legs. 45mm f1.8

High. 45mm F1.8

Market People. 45mm F1.8

Shopper. 45mm F1.8

Hidden Alley 2. 45mm F1.8

The Broom. 45mm F1.8

5) Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes, Because You Only Improve With Your Mistakes
Photographers, even very fresh photographers have ego issues. Generally. Even myself included. Period. Photographers do not like to have their photographs criticized, even though they openly said they accept feedback and suggestions to improve. Photographers do not like to have their mistakes pointed out, and would do whatever they can to show that their images are flawless and that they can do very well. Photographers will make you enemy number one if you said in whatever small way, their equipment (camera or lens) is not good enough or inferior to whatever other better system you would recommend to them. Ultimately, and obviously photographers do not want to admit that they are human. Humans make mistakes, ALL the time. These photographers also fail to realize that by hiding all their mistakes and not confronting them, they will learn a lot slower and their progress will be stunted. You have to allow yourself to make mistakes. Only through many, many, many failures will you be able to achieve success. 

Some more truths? Getting better gear won't improve your photography by much (it will help in some areas, but just a small, minor part that it is negligible actually). You won't improve in a short time, you may continue to read and attend workshops, but at the same time make sure you shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot some more, allow yourself time to learn from mistakes and grow. Do not rush. Photography learning cannot be forced. There are no shortcuts. You will improve, as long as you have an open mind and heart, and willing to go the distance. 

Flowers. 45mm F1.8

Raja Indra Putra with his OM-D E-M1!!!!

Like everyone else, I have a long way to go. No worries, because I know, I will have the time of my life shooting all the way. Lets shoot more, and complain less!


  1. The kitten with the broom! Too cute! And guy in the hidden alley, looks like he just "murdered" someone. LOL.

    Those comments aside, this is a great post. So often, and unconsciously we make these mistakes. I really can't agree more, photography is a learning process. No matter how good, there is always more and more to learn.

    1. Thanks Carmen, as long as we remind ourself that we need to learn and there is room for improvement, we cannot go wrong.

  2. There are no better ways to improve in any subject than 2 of the things that you point out: passion, and perseverance. Good article and pics Robin, I liked "The broom" specially!

  3. I agree that practice and keep practicing is definitely the best advice. Shoot and shoot some more. It's how you learn your camera inside out. Once you know how to quickly make setting changes they become second nature which frees you to think more about composition and get what you want to achieve with your shot.

  4. Stunning captures ...I think your passion for imaging is expressing itself amply !:)

    In your previous DEEPAVALI entry ...amongst the three of u capturing images u appear to have have captured the best skin tones:) ..were u using additional lights or had u positioned yourself in well lit areas and captured images of subjects that came by ?......just curious ..:)

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Skin tone is mostly done by Olympus, so I did not do anything, really.

  5. Thanks for this. Such a relief to come across such good sense and wisdom after some of the dross I've encountered recently on websites and blogs. As always, your message is accompanied by superb images. Best wishes on your continuing journey.

    1. Thanks Olli for the words of encouragement. I always share my photographs without holding back. After all photography is all about sharing!

  6. This is all excellent advice!

    I notice that there are few comments on this blog entry. I'm wondering if fewer people will read this because they already know everything and just need that next piece of equipment to get the greatest photos. I've met a lot of people like that. They buy expensive equipment (and more and more) but cannot get good photos on Auto.

    When I'm photographing sports, I often have to get the rhythm of people to get the correct shot. When it's swimming, I'm counting like crazy.

    I've often told people to do two things: put away the camera and explain to me what's interesting about the scene--what they would like me to see in a photo, and I tell them to learn every setting in the equipment before taking photos of something critical.

    1. Yeah, you have it right Sakamoto, we have to identify what is interesting about the scene before we actually start shooting it.

  7. I agree with Carmen about the kitten. Too cute! She's right about the alley guy as well, tho I bet he's nice...

  8. Great captures and words. I have been taking pictures since 1944. I consider myself a newbie because there is so much to discover. The first picture of mine picked up by the AP and others for world-wide distribution made me jump with joy! CAn you believe I used an Argus C-44R with three different lens,etc to make award winning photos! Now I focus on fun part. You are correct in so many areas. I especially like that comments about coming back to the same place and same subjects. Great. Too many wannabes bore me with pixel peeping and degrading comments about this camera or that. It'snot the camera, it is the person behind the camera.(Yes I have full frame camera and mirrorless with all the proper lens, but I do well with the Canon S95,Pany FZ 200, LX7, Oly ZX-2, etc. Best to you.

    1. Hey Dave,
      Thanks for the kind words. I am glad to find that although you use Full Frame camera you are still open to other formats and smaller cameras!

  9. The back alley looks creepy, dangerous for a lone girl to walk through at night. I like the first pic very much, the high above the ground shot.

    1. Hey Coffee Girl!!
      Thanks for the kind words. The alley was not that creepy actually, it is inside a market so no one will walk there at night haha.

  10. Hi Robin,

    A bit about me. I am from San Francisco, California US and been studying photography for a short time about three to four years now. I've taken strong interest in landscape, street, and portrait photography.

    I have been following your blog for a while now and is my first time commenting. This is an excellent post among many others. I couldn't agree with the list more. A couple more. There maybe disagreement with this one: the photos were not process right away. Often, they are move to the computer for storage and process no more than couple of days later. Another is one I started doing myself more recently. I make a print, 8x10, put it up, walk away, then come back to it and I criticize the photo myself.

    Hidden Alley 2 strikes me most. The expression of the individual, to says alot. Viewer can draw his/her own conclusion. Great work.

    1. Thanks Adrian for visiting and staying with my blog. I encourage my readers to comment more often, it is rewarding to be able to interact with you.
      I understand your suggestion of not looking at the image immediately after capture. This would allow the users to be disconnected from emotional attachment and then evaluate the images more critically.
      I love the Hidden Alley 2 too!

  11. Words of (timeless) wisdom. A genuine pleasure to read! The pictures are lovely, as always!

    1. BTW "the broom" is priceless!

    2. Thanks Andre, I won't call them words of wisdom, more like words of encouragement! Yes, I love the broom too!

  12. Robin,
    Very sound advice and tips.

  13. Practice makes perfect.
    No one is born to be a photographer.
    How often we marvel, eg at the superb skills of some soccer players but do we know how much time and effort they put in to hone their skills?
    Same applies for photography.

  14. Hey Robin!

    Wow, the picture of the kitten and the broom all by itself drives home all the points you made in the text. You can pick it apart for all sorts of technical deficiencies, but I would gladly hang that photo on my wall, and get joy from looking at it every day.

    Jay Maisel was once quoted as saying, "If you want to take more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person." I agree with that thought, and I also agree with you, that it takes many years of practicing taking photos to become good at photography, or good at anything else that is more than trivial in nature.

    It's the combination of the photographer's experience (hours spent practicing your craft) and experiences (what you have done in your life that make you who you are) that we see in most "wonderful" photographs. It looks like it was easy, but as you say, you cannot see all the hours that went in to creating the person for whom it was as easy as breathing.

    Best regards,

  15. Hi,Robin
    Thank you for your advice. For a slow learner your words are big encouragement!

  16. Hi Robin,
    Thank you for this wonderful sharing. The images are awesome and full of story but the playful kitten brings joy to my heart.
    I am longing for this lens 45mm f/1.8 for my event portrait especially in baptism or FHC as they want the precious moment. Most probably, we will get it in next year photography budget.
    I am not a photographer but an artist, a martial artist to be exact. I bring those mentality into photography that why I gather any information that I can get on photography either through books, magazine or internet. Then practice and practice as we normally did in MA. By the way, your blog is one of the main blog which I search for information and it's very informative and practical. Thanks God I found this blog and meeting you in person is like meeting my long lost sifu.
    May you have a great day.
    John Ragai

  17. Hi Robin, gorgeous photos again:) all of them very nice especially "the brooms" :) i noticed that you use 45 f1.8 very often at the street. which lens is your favourite when you are travelling? which zoom lens do you suggest? are you happy with 12-50mm? i am now using 14-42 kit lens with my e-pl5 and i am uncertain to swap it with 12-50. thanks.

  18. Hi Robin,
    Loving your blog and your photos. Your words are as fascinating as your photos.

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