5 Simple Tips to Improve Photography Without Upgrading Your Gear

Note: I have written about improving photography without upgrading gear before (dealing with photography basics, composition, etc). You can read them here (click). This entry will be more focused on simpler, straight to the point tips that can be easily applied. 

We constantly find excuses to justify the purchase of that higher grade lens, or a better, more expensive camera bodies. I too suffer from lens lust (that awesome Panasonic Nocticron 42.5mm F1.2 is always lingering at the back of my mind). However, it is prudent to remind ourselves from time to time that upgrading our gear does not improve our photography. The greatest weapon that a photographer possesses is his vision: how the photographer sees the world around him, with his unique artistic sense and perspective. 

There are many advanced tips, tricks and hacks available if you are keen enough to do some Google-ing around, and we are living in the era not short of any information within reach. Photography basics must not be skipped and there is no shortcut in photography, hence the crucial components that produce great photography such as composition, lighting and basic control of the camera must be learned and applied. 

I shall do my best not to be too repetitive of what have been shared before. Instead, I am sharing my own practices that I normally use when I am out shooting on the streets. The following 5 tips are simple, easy and plainly straightforward, no rocket science involved!

1) Lower Down Your Camera, Low Angle Perspective Can Create Dramatic Shots

Low angle photography works very well in many, many situations, and I employ this extremely often in my street shooting. We often shoot through the viewfinder of the camera, being at our eye level, which produces very natural looking, realistic images. Every one sees the world that way naturally, and it can appear too ordinary and plain. By purposefully forcing the viewing perspective away from the eye level, and lowering it down to the waist level, or even lower, all the way to the ground level, a different perspective can be opened up and often the composition can result in a more dramatic manner. Surely, this will not work all the time, but why not give it a try and see how it can change the look and feel of your image outcome?

This is where cameras with tilt screen, or swivel screen comes in handy. Many cameras these days, both DSLR and mirrorless ILC cameras have such functionability. Or else, lie down on the floor and get dirty! Some dirty shirt and pants are better than spending thousands of dollars upgrading your gear.  

By lowering down the camera to the ground, I can include the KLCC Twin Towers into the frame, creating a more compelling image. 

Also, using a long lens with low angle can create interesting outcome: you see more of the background, supporting the main subject. The bicycle acted as the secondary subject in this frame. 

When the structure (bridge) has interesting patterns, revealing the repetitive lines and design can add impact to the photograph. The camera, was again, very close to the floor. 

2) Find Reflections

I always, always keep an eye out for reflections. Mirroring a subject, or adding a reflection of another subject into the original subject can always generate beautiful results, if arranged and composed carefully. Reflections can be easily found if you are shooting in a rural environment, with plenty of glass, or reflective material such as car surface, metal panes, or even glossy walls and floors. Reflection can also be found on puddles of water, which is abundant after rain. 

Window Glass is the most commonly used reflection source for me, as this is abundantly available throughout the urban settings that I shoot at. 

I could not remember what this was reflected off but I do not think it was glass. 

The building window is reflecting the opposite cityscape, which served as a dramatic backdrop to the people walking in the building. 

Even a simple reflection off a drain can add much drama to an otherwise, boring shot. 

Puddle of water!

3) There Is No Need to Show Everything. Partially Hidden Subject Can Add Mystery and Interest

I think it is in our human nature to just capture as much as possible, and try to fit everything within our frame. We are not reporters or journalists (they do need to tell the truth and report the news) so we can choose what to show and what to hide. Sometimes, intentionally hiding a part of the subject and extend the imagination of the people who view your photographs. 

Adding that mystery can make a more interesting photograph. Instead of showing everything, remember, sometimes less is more. 

Instead of shooting a man sleeping by the street, I just included a few items in the photograph for the viewers to fill in the blanks. 

I can choose to go low and shoot the cat hiding under the table, or just shoot the cat who actually hid the face in the shadows. 

For some reasons, I quite like this shot, though we never get to see the face of the man behind the box. 

I could have shot the two people while in the light (coming from the ceiling, leaked) but I waited until they were in the shadows, creating a silhouette-like shot.  

4) Capture the Motion. Show That Your Photographs Are Not Static. Add Dynamic Energy Into Your Shots. 

I have shared this before, about slowing down the shutter speed to capture more interesting shots. Who says photographs cannot show motion? Capturing motion blur can add much energy into an otherwise, static and plain shot. To do this, I simply turn the mode dial of the camera to "S" mode, which is the Shutter Priority, and slow down the shutter speed to achieve some motion blur (how slow the shutter speed depends on the speed of the subject as well as how much motion is intended to be captured). A little bit of motion can turn an ordinary looking photograph into something else entirely!

Slow down the shutter speed to do panning shots (there are many, many tutorials available online how to do this), or shoot subjects with motion blur. 

Very simple, panning shot

I have found a very interesting background, and I added the walking man in blur to add impact to the frame. 

The motion blur conveyed some important information: the direction of the spin, and the purpose of the machination. 

5) Repetitions. Find recurring patterns, or similar subjects. 

Being a street photographer has taught me to be very observant and pay attention to contradictions between subjects and backgrounds, or subjects vs subjects. Besides the juxtaposition (which is the usual approach to create excellent street photography), finding similarities and composing them together within a frame can also be interesting. 

Same shirt and similar walking patterns

Similar concept as previous photo, but with more powerful background and different perspective. 

Non-human subjects, repetition can be applied as well. 

There you go, extremely easy to remember and apply tips on getting a better shot, and can be universally used for a wide range of photography subjects. 

I acknowledge that many of you (people who have been dabbling in photography for a while) may have used most of the tips I have shown you, but do bear in mind that I am speaking mostly to newcomers to photography. I am doing my best to share simple and practical knowledge, and I have my own photographs to illustrate my sharing. I personally practise these straightforward steps and I find them useful for my own shutter therapy session. 

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  1. Ah, you make it seem so simple! And these tips really are, if we can just keep them in our mind while our eye is in the viewfinder!

    But surely in your files you could find an example that embodies all 5 hints in one photo? :)

    1. I am always keeping things as simple as I can. I don't think I have all 5 tips fitted into one frame! That is overdoing it!

  2. Great post, as always, Robin. Number 3 is priceless. Thank you.

  3. Great tips and gorgeous photos. Were you using an Olympus camera?

    1. The photos were from the older collection, a mixture of all different cameras.

  4. Great tips, wonderful photos!
    Thanks a lot Robin for another very inspiring post!

    1. Hey António,
      Thanks for the kind words. My pleasure to share!

  5. Great tips, Robin. You know, I would like to do street photography in my country, but I find it particularly dangerous at least in interesting public places. Carrying a $2K equipment around can be really tempting for robbers. I wish I could have more 'freedom' to do street photography here ... Thanks anyway for the tips..There are still some 'safer' areas for me to use my caneras :)

    1. hi Miguel,
      Where exactly are you at? I'd think there are not that many countries that are more dangerous than Malaysia.

  6. very informative and educative

    thank you Robin

  7. 0.5: Try every setting on your camera until you actually learn to use it. I see far too many people complain that their equipment isn't any good and they need something else--which doesn't fix things. They end up with loads of equipment but no good photos.

    Experimentation is always a good thing. Thanks for making us think.

    1. Very good tip indeed. Trial and error has been a powerful method, even in all kinds of real life applications in medicine and engineering.

    2. The version 4.0 E-M1 firmware has got me back to basics, along with the replacement of my shutter. I'm finding all of my settings again and learning the new functionality. The updated Panasonic GX8 firmware with post focus functionality is interesting also.

    3. Oh did you get yourself a Panasonic GX8? How is the camera?

    4. The GX8 is like a combination of the GH4 and E-M1. It's practically perfect, and for me, the size is great. I really appreciate the video capabilities, so that I have two strong video cameras and I don't have to worry that the video doesn't match.

      It also has a cute leaf shutter-type sound. It seems odd that I have 3 micro Four-Thirds body, especially in one backpack, with several lenses. I can take everything fairly easily but it's heavy still.

  8. Simple yet effective. Great tips Robin!

  9. Love the shot of the abandoned trailer. Lovely set of colors that is tranquil and includes a little mystery for the viewer(why is the trailer left there on the side of the ditch?).

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Patrick. Indeed, sometimes we do not have to answer everything in the photo, and leave some room for imagination!

  10. This is simply amazing tips. We should print out as vinyl stickers.

    1. Oh dear, I don't think the tips are too hard to remember?

  11. Add two tips: 7mm is not just so you can add more field of view into image it allows for fore ground / background 3D look.
    Second in food photography and all photos sometimes cropping in creates a stronger image. See veggie burgers in website: Veggiepowerburgers.com
    Love all your tips Robin very helpful.
    Bob in chicago

  12. Thank you! I like the dog lying on the ground picture.

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  14. .. oh, it changed my visions of how to shoot immediately. Robin it's worth to read this repeatedly and adopt to heart ..

  15. Excellent tips. Thanks so much for sharing.