1. Full frame cameras are better
A full frame camera has a larger sensor than a crop sensor camera. That means you might get more megapixels or you might get larger megapixels or even both. But there are many more important factors to consider when choosing a camera than megapixels.
First, crop sensor cameras are generally smaller, lighter and much less expensive. Second, if you like to shoot wildlife, you’ll get extra reach with your telephoto lens on a crop sensor camera. A 400mm lens on a full frame camera is equivalent to over 600mm on a crop sensor camera. Also, if you like to photograph wildlife, a more important factor to consider above megapixels is frames per second.
A few years ago I went to Africa to photograph wildlife and took two cameras: a full frame Canon 6D and a crop sensor Canon 7D. I learned that the 7D was much better for my purposes because of the frames per second rate it was capable of shooting. The 6D (at the time) did 4.5 fps and the 7D did 8. That was a huge difference in the field.
2. Always use a tripod
A tripod is an essential piece of gear for any photographer and usually, you will notice a huge improvement in image quality when you start using one. However, “always” is one of those blanket statements that doesn’t always make sense (see what I did there?). I often notice photographers arrive on a scene, set up their tripod, and then try to find a composition they like. That tends to limit their possibilities since they are already stuck on the tripod.
A better approach is to go free hand until you find your composition. Then, when you find it, try to make your tripod fit in the exact position necessary. Sometimes you’ll find it won’t fit. Either the angle is lower than your tripod will allow you to go, or the tripod is not tall enough, or the position isn’t stable. When that is the case, ditch the tripod in favor of getting the composition.
3. To make better photos, you need better gear
Undoubtedly, you will reach a point in time when you need better gear to carry out your vision for what you are trying to achieve with your photography. But the most important thing is to have that vision. Before getting new gear, make sure you exhaust your current gear. Use every single function and feature it has and know exactly what it is you need that your current gear doesn’t have before you move on. Blaming crappy gear is just a crutch. A really good photographer can make great images with pretty much any camera.
4. Never put your subject in the middle
Ah, the rule of thirds. The golden ratio. The fibonacci spiral. All good tools when it comes to learning composition. But don’t forget about the beauty to be found in simple symmetry.
When you think about a person’s face, the most beautiful face is the most symmetrical face. It’s all about balance, equality of proportion, and harmony. The key to making a compelling symmetrical composition is in the perfection of the symmetry. A composition that is almost symmetrical will seem off, but one that is perfect will seem awe inspiring.
5. Manual is the best shooting mode
It’s beneficial to all aspiring photographers to learn to shoot in manual mode so you have independent control over every factor in making your exposure including aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It’s no doubt that it’s one of the best ways to learn how your camera works. However, once you’ve learned how to use manual mode, why not let your camera do what it’s good at? Cameras these days are smart and the fewer things you have to do manually, the quicker you will be at responding to a changing scene.
When you are on a scene, decide which factors are important to you before you select your shooting mode. For example, if you are trying to intentionally blur a subject, shutter speed is important. You can use shutter priority mode and let the camera choose the aperture and ISO. That way when you want to shorten or lengthen the shutter speed, you only have one thing to change and the camera will figure out the rest. Similarly you might decide that depth of field is most important, and if you’re using a tripod, shutter speed might not matter at all. In that case, aperture priority mode is most convenient.
6. RAW format is better than JPEG
This refers to the image quality you select in your camera’s settings. You can choose to have your images saved as either RAW files, JPEGs, or both.
RAW is better than JPEG only if you are planning on post-processing your photos, which most people do. A RAW file contains more data and therefore you have more leeway in your post-processing. However, if you are just starting out and you haven’t gotten to the point where you’re processing your photos yet, it’s probably better to shoot JPEGs.
In JPEG mode, your camera will make some decisions for you when it comes to color and contrast and your photos will look better straight out of the camera. Ultimately you’ll likely come to the point where you want to make those decisions yourself. That’s when it is time to make the switch to RAW.
7. Good photography requires good light
All light is good light. The trick is to know what kind of images to make under the lighting conditions that are available. Do you have harsh (hard) light? Look for interesting shadows or photograph in the shade. Soft light? Perfect for macro shots. Looking into the sun? Find subjects with interesting shapes for silhouettes.
Remember, as an artist, you are free to go about making your art any way you like. You can use your tools any way you see fit. The most important thing is to have a vision and then use your tools and techniques to help you achieve it.