So you’ve purchased or maybe been gifted a fancy new camera and you have a desire to take better pictures.

You may just want to see your subjects in better focus and properly exposed or you have always had the desire to create art with a camera.

Whatever the reason, what’s next? What skills should you build in order to become a better photographer and create the beautiful images you desire?

1. Master your camera and shooting in manual

It seems like a basic concept but learning to use your camera is a fundamental first step to creating amazing images. Modern cameras can do so much but do you know what happens when you actually press each one of the many buttons? What is buried in that menu system? Can you create sharp photos in a variety of situations? Do you understand how your meter works? Can you shoot in manual and effectively use the exposure triangle? Get out your camera manual and read up. I know, I know, it’s boring. But I promise you it will be worth it. Read as much as you can and then practice, practice, practice. Use your camera every single day. The better you are at quickly and effectively using your camera, the better your images will be.

portrait of girl in striped shirt smiling by Addie Sheahin

2. Learn to read a histogram

The histogram is a powerful tool for capturing great images straight out of camera. Learn to read your histogram while you are shooting to ensure you don’t lose detail in important highlights and shadows in your images. When you expose an image to the right or brighter, without blowing important highlights, your RAW file will contain more data and less noise for your final image. Did you know that the picture you see on your LCD screen may not be a true representation of the histogram for your image? Sure it will give you a general idea but the histogram is a more accurate tool to use.  Set up your camera so that you can see your histogram immediately after taking a shot then look at it and adjust your settings accordingly to get the histogram you want.

landscape photo of mountains by Addie Sheahin

3. Learn to capture light

Oh the power of light. Photography is, after all, the art of capturing light so it’s no surprise that learning to effectively use light in an image is a necessary step to creating beautiful imagery. So how do you learn to read light? Study it and practice. Observe light as you go through your day and take note of how the light and shadows might fall on a subject and how the camera might capture them. Practice shooting in all different lighting situations and then analyze your images, your settings and how you could change them to create the images you desire.

black and white photo of boy putting on his cleats by Addie Sheahin

4. Learn to use composition and design elements in your imagery

Learning to use strong composition and design elements such as symmetry, movement, color or lines, to name a few, will take your images to the next level and make them more powerful to the viewer. Study the masters of photography and art. Take note of how they use design elements to create powerful imagery. Then look for such elements in your everyday. Try to incorporate different compositional guidelines, shapes and other design elements to strengthen your images.

picture of girl holding a blanket and opening a bedroom door by Addie Sheahin

5. Learn your editing software

So now you can create a straight out of camera image that is well exposed, uses light powerfully and is composed to create maximum impact but the final image is still lacking. This is especially true if you shoot in RAW like I do. Some editing is always necessary to RAW images to create an image that accurately represents the moment captured. An important skill to develop is learning to use editing software to create images that match your vision. Whether it is Lightroom, Photoshop, a little of both or another editing software program altogether, learn as much as you can. And then keep learning. There are an infinite number of ways each individual image can be edited. Don’t be afraid to get creative and try new things.

sunset landscape photo by Addie Sheahin

6. Listen to your heart and observe

Finally, listen to your heart and observe. It seems so simple but it may be the hardest skill you will develop. Really slow down and take the time to carefully observe and see the beauty in the world around you and capture what speaks to you. This is what makes you and the images you create unique. Don’t get caught in the trap of comparing yourself to others but focus on creating images that make your heart sing. That is, after all, why you wanted to become a photographer, right? To create images that powerfully demonstrate how YOU see our wonderful world.

black and white picture of childs hands by Addie Sheahin