DTS Photography Tips For Improving Your Photography

A variety of cameras, lenses, batteries, flashes, and memory cards

Photography is a beautiful medium for storytelling.


And, all things considered, it's pretty easy to get into photography. Digital cameras are super affordable, and nearly all cameras have an automatic setting that lets you point, compose, and click.


But what if you're ready to kick it up a notch and take your photography to the next level? What do you do when you're ready to stop shooting on automatic and start getting the most out of your camera? How do you use your passion for photography as a powerful discipleship tool?


To help you on your way, I created this comprehensive guide of 10 Dos and Don'ts of Photography. As a staff member at YWAM Orlando with more than 10 years of photography experience, I want to share my God-given gifts with our DTS students so they can make the most of their own talents, and get a taste of what's to come in the Media Track during the campus phase of Discipleship Training School (DTS)..


This list just scratches the surface of the vast world of photography, but if you're new to the craft, it should certainly help you on your way. Read on to get a first-hand account of some of the best photography strategies. If what you see sparked your desire to turn your photography into an outreach opportunity, DTS may be the right path for you.


I hope you're blessed by this list of practical photography tips that you can start implementing today!

5 Photography Dos

1. DO Practice

It probably goes without saying - photography is an art. Every good artist takes time to hone their craft.


It’s easy to look at the work of many photographers on Instagram and chalk up their beautiful images to “natural talent,” but the truth is those photographers were once beginners. As a new photographer, you can expect to take hundreds of exposures to produce just a few that you like.


This makes sense when you consider that other artists - let’s say, painters or dancers - must spend many, many hours developing technique before they’re ready to perform. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!


Helpful Photography Exercises for Practice

  1. Pick a Skill: Identify one aspect of photography that you want to improve, and practice that specific skill on a few shoots. Do you want to better understand the effects of shutter speed? Practice using different shutter speeds. What about becoming a master of lighting?  Be intentional about shooting items in different lighting conditions, and observe how those conditions make your subjects look. You won't succeed if you try to master every technique at once.
  2. Find Inspiration: Identify a photographer whose work you like, and emulate them for a few shoots. To clarify, this isn’t the same as copying a photographer. Try instead to identify what you admire about the photographer’s work and incorporate that into your images. Do they create moody and dramatic landscapes? Then practice shooting landscapes. You may need to go out at different times of day and in various kinds of weather. Are they publishing breathtaking portraits?  Grab a few friends and practice your portrait and posing skills.

Remember, the purpose of these exercises isn’t necessarily to take photos you love but to practice the skills that eventually will help you create the images you imagine.

portrait photography changing with time and practice

2. Do Learn to Shoot in Manual

One of the most appealing aspects of digital photography is how accessible and instant it is. Anyone can pick up a camera, point, and press the shutter. However, shooting in full auto leaves a lot on the table in terms of creativity and quality.


Your camera and lens are powerful tools that allow you to paint many different kinds of strokes - why miss out on this variety by letting the camera decide what to do for you? Full auto is designed to take a well-exposed photo under normal conditions and, more often than not, your camera will not choose the settings that will create the pictures you’re imagining.


However, shooting in manual mode gives us full creative power over the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO - the three tools that make up the foundation of every photograph. If your main camera is a cell phone or a point-and-shoot, take courage: most cell phones come with a manual or “professional mode” now.


While these modes don’t give you the exact freedom of a DSLR, they still allow you to control many of the details.


Learning to shoot in manual will take work and plenty of practice, but it’s well worth the effort. There are plenty of resources available that make learning to shoot manually more accessible than ever, including the Media Track here at YWAM Orlando. 


3. Do Pay attention to the Light

Photography has everything to do with light. Without light, we wouldn’t have any color, shape, or form to photograph in the first place.


In photography, not all light is created equal. Light can make your images look soft and moody, or vibrant and energetic. It can smooth rough edges or create harsh lines. Generally speaking, intense light from tiny sources tends to create dramatic shadows, while soft light from large sources creates soft and smooth shadows.


Taking Pictures on Sunny vs. Overcast Days


Have you ever noticed that photos taken on sunny days look very different from photos on overcast days? In fact, people generally look better in photos when the sun is hidden behind some clouds.


Photographers are very well aware of how light impacts their photos. They often use light to their advantage. Some may shy away from photography on rainy days, but portrait photographers know that an overcast sky produces some of the most flattering light for photos of people. Others enjoy the challenge of photography on bright, sunny days, and produce unique and dramatic images as a result.


The best way to start your journey of light mastery is to begin observing how light affects the appearance of things throughout your day. Keep shooting in a variety of lighting conditions and learn what works. Pay attention, take good notes, and study your results, and you'll successfully learn how light and photography interact.


4. Do Learn How to Edit Photos Properly

A good photographer aims to do as much work in the camera as possible. It’s usually much faster to fix mistakes while you’re shooting than it is to fix them in post-production. But even the best images usually benefit from a bit of editing after the fact.


Learning to edit your photos properly will help you to produce more consistent results while expanding your creative toolset.


Digital cameras tend to produce images that appear flat and lack contrast, leading to a lifeless feeling. To combat this, a good place to begin is with some gentle exposure and contrast adjustments, followed by a little sharpening. The tone curve is a powerful tool that is supported by all professional editing software and is featured in many apps.


By manipulating the tone curve into an “S” shape, you can fine-tune the look of the contrast you’re adding to your images. This is an easy way to add a pop to many photos that would otherwise appear dull and lifeless.


before and after images of edited photos

[Most photos will benefit from at least a little editing. Images on the left are out-of-camera. On the right are those images after post-processing.]

5. Do Zoom With Your Feet

Did you know that the zoom ring on your lens often isn’t the best way to “fill the frame” with your subject?  It’s true! You can zoom in with your feet.


I’ve witnessed many amateur photographers use their zoom lenses to get closer to their subjects when a good deal of space is left between them and the subject matter. We want to make sure our photograph is only filled with content that matters.


Simply moving closer to your subject makes this easier. It also creates much more intimacy and a feeling of closeness in the final image. That’s not to say that your zoom lens should be left at home; it is an important tool that allows photographers to change their perspective through the field of view, and a way to add compression to an image.


These techniques are helpful tools when used properly, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse never to move your feet.


5 Don'ts of Photography

1. Don't Be Afraid to Try New Things

Photography is an art and a learned skill and the best photographers never stop learning. To keep growing as an artist, and to keep your photography from growing stale, you can't be afraid to try new things.


Here are some unique ways to switch up your photography:

  • If you normally photograph landscapes, try some portraits or street photography.
  • If you’re glued to your telephoto lens when you do portraits, practice using a wide angle.
  • Try shooting from new positions. Get up high and photograph your subject from above or get closer to your subject or try shooting from farther away.
  • Try adding new poses to your portrait photography.

As you become comfortable trying new things, you’ll discover a lot of things that don’t work for you, but you’ll also find the things that do. Through this process, you'll develop new ideas. Eventually, creating on the fly will become second nature, and you’ll become a much more well-rounded photographer as a result.

2. Don't Suffer From Location Envy

The definition of location envy is feeling discouraged and unmotivated because the places we live and shoot aren’t as beautiful as what we see on the Internet.  


Social media is a powerful tool that connects us with artists that inspire us. However, if we fall into the trap of comparing our own work to that of what we see online, we can quickly become discouraged.


Millions of beautiful travel photos are uploaded to Instagram every day - photos taken in beautiful and exotic locations. Some of our favorite photos are portraits of fashionable people hiking lonely trails along misty, emerald mountains, and sunset-selfies on the sandy shores of remote islands. We can begin to think that if only I was there, then I also could produce beautiful photographs.


This couldn’t be further from the truth; the longer we sit around wishing we were someplace beautiful, the less time we spend discovering and capturing the beauty in our own backyards. The places most familiar to us can sometimes leave us feeling bored or unmotivated. We assume we’ve seen it all, and there’s nothing new to shoot.


Giving Into Creativity No Matter Where You Are


What’s the cure for this kind of creative slump? Try to look for some fresh perspective.


Identify what you love most about where you live and try to capture that in your photography. Have eyes for the changing seasons. Look closely for details you may have never noticed.


In addition to the international artists you follow, look for local artists online for inspiration. Don't forget to explore! Find areas local to you that you’ve never been to. I can almost guarantee that you haven’t exhausted all the resources within even a mile of your home.


Remember, traveling to new locations can be inspiring and effective at stirring up our creativity, but if we limit ourselves by believing that our creativity is bound to our geography, then we can no longer expect to improve or advance our abilities.


3. Don't Rush to Upgrade Your Equipment and Photography Items

Here’s an old saying I live by, "The best camera in the world is the one you have with you." I would add to that: the one you have with you and know how to use is the best.


There is a temptation to think that to improve our photography, all we need is something better: a better camera, a better lens, or maybe a better computer for editing. The truth is that most of us can improve our photography dramatically just by using the equipment we have in a better way.


You may be eager to upgrade the hand-me-down, entry-level DSLR that your Uncle Bill gave you when he got a new camera. But if you don’t know how to shoot in manual mode, your photography probably has a lot of room for improvement before you shell out cash for new gear. In fact, you may not even know enough yet to decide exactly what new equipment to purchase.


If you’re thinking about upgrading, consider whether you still have a lot to learn from what you already own. When you can identify exactly how your equipment is holding you back from creating the kind of work that you’re imagining, then you’re probably ready for an upgrade.

The best camera is the one you have with you.  Here are a few pictures from a series I took at a concert using my cell phone. ]

4. Don't Stand Still

Here’s a super simple and effective hack for adding variety to your photography: Move around!


Photographers should always be looking for new perspectives, and the best perspective is rarely at eye level. Try changing your height to dramatically alter the feel of your photos. Or, get low to emphasize the height and drama of your subject. Photograph from above to make your subjects appear smaller or more approachable.


Try photographing your subject from different angles, and look for the best foreground to incorporate into your images. This is super helpful in developing your ability to visualize your subject from different angles. It will certainly help to unlock more of your creative potential.


5. Don't Hide Behind the Camera

Let’s face it. If you’re a photographer, you love to be behind the camera. You should! But, it’s important to not let your camera become a barrier to participating.


It can be super easy to miss out on incredible opportunities and interactions because we are so focused on capturing the moment.


As Christians and missionaries, we are called to make disciples, and while we certainly can use our art as a vehicle for discipleship, sometimes God will call us to get in there and engage the lost with a more hands-on approach.


How does this benefit my photography, you may ask? As you engage personally with those around you, you’ll gather fresh perspective and inspiration for when you get back behind the camera. You’ll often find that these personal interactions lead to more shooting opportunities.


It can also be valuable to allow others to photograph you. As you observe other photographers in action, you can assess how they communicate with and position you to inform your own photography practices.


Become a Professional Photographer at Discipleship Training School

At YWAM Orlando, we welcome DTS students from all backgrounds and walks of life. Whether you like taking photos, enjoy making videos, or are searching for new, creative ways to spread the love of Jesus to everyone you meet, DTS is for you. In our Media Track, you'll get the training you need to master photography for a lifetime of missioning to the lost from behind and in front of the lens.


Apply for YWAM Orlando's DTS today!


Written By:

Thomas Rutt | YWAM Orlando Staff