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5 Tips to Stop Talking Crappy Photos Tips & Tricks

5 Tips to Stop Taking Crappy Pictures‏

By Gavin Hardcastle on December 30th 2013

Lets face it, 90% of the images currently crammed in to our hard drives are most probably just rubbish. I’m willing to bet that even the most successful photographic artists of our time take more throwaway images than keepers. There’s no shame in it, how else would we learn or improve without the invaluable practice of snapping away at every possible photo op? That being said, you might just be able to raise your standard and fill up your hard drive with ‘keepers’ or at least ‘near keepers’ by being more ruthless with your shutter finger.

5 Tips to Stop Talking Crappy Photos

Imagine if your worst shots were still of such a high standard that most other photographers would be green with envy or even appalled at the fact you deem them to be trash worthy. Here are five tips to train your eye and make you a more a discerning photographer by becoming a ruthless shooter.

Become a Ruthless Shooter

  1. Don’t even take your camera out of the bag unless you involuntarily exclaim ”WOW”. If the scene before you is average don’t bother.
  2. Don’t put your memory card in your camera unless you really feel the onset of a ‘keeper’ moment. Elevated heart rate and sweaty palms are good indicators.
  3. If you must take practice shots, remove your memory card first. The memory buffer will play back the last image you took. Check it to help with improvements.
  4. Imagine that you’re shooting with film and you only get 24 shots on a roll. Each roll costs a small fortune. Film shooters learned to be ruthless long ago with careful consideration for ISO speeds and color characteristics.
  5. Imagine doing a presentation about the shot you’re about to take. Is it worth talking about? If it’s noteworthy you’ve got a keeper.

You just became a ruthless shooter. Now only the cream of the crop will make it’s way on to your memory card. Unlike this rubbish below.

Stop Taking Crappy Pictures Now

To be fair, these tips are aimed more at the advanced user. If you just got your first camera and are still figuring out the basics, I fully recommend that you take a gazillion photos, download them and study them with a critical eye, it’s the best way to learn.

[REWIND: Book Review: Picture Perfect Practice by Roberto Valenzuela]

For advanced and professional users, you’ll be more fulfilled if the bulk of your downloaded images are worth the time and effort it took to shoot them. If you didn’t get a single good shot that’s okay, just chalk it up to practice and save some space on your hard drive by not downloading those crappy images.

It Works For Me

As an outdoor photographer, I lose a lot of keepers to bad weather, even with epic locations. If the light is bad, I won’t get any keeper shots. When that happens, I still keep shooting because I’m blown away by the scenery and I use those shots to give me compositional ideas that I can revisit when the light is right. In these instances, I almost never download the images to my computer. I may chimp through the images using the camera monitor and memorize the locations, otherwise, those shots are going in the trash.

How to Take Better Pictures

Since I began this ruthless streak just over a year ago, I’ve seen a major improvement in the quality of my images simply by shooting and downloading less. Spend more time really studying the composition you’re about to shoot and less time pressing the shutter. Your bank balance will remain healthier and you’ll save time.

Digital Isn’t Free

If you’re thinking that it costs you nothing to fire away and take endless pictures, think again. Bigger hard disks cost money (especially solid state), bigger memory cards cost money, but most importantly – time wasted downloading, backing up, previewing and editing crap pictures is something we should all be concerned with. After all, time is the most valuable thing we have.

What are your tips to improve the number of keeper shots?

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Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Vancouver Island, BC. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials at his photo adventure blog His fine art prints can be purchased from Find Gavin on Google+

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Mike

    A camera in the hand is worth two in the bag (I think that’s how it goes). I agree with Gavin’s comments regarding being ruthlessly selective but you need your camera ready to snatch that ‘street photo’ shot that can occur in the landscape world too!

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  2. Gavin Stokes

    Agree with a few of the posts, some poor tips. I have taken photos of average moments which have turned out to be great shots. Leaving your camera in your bag is a major mistake, great shots are everywhere all the time you’ll never be prepared for them if your camera is in your bag, if its in your hand your always looking for the next shot.
    Also it makes you lazy doing this, your always waiting for the perfect the light, the perfect moment, when great photos are taken in all conditions 24/7. Although I began with film and took a long time to change to digital I love the fact that I can shoot many shots and not have to worry abut how much film I have left, what ISO it is, should it be colour or black and white ( although it did condition me to be more selective). I’m pretty sure some of the greatest photographers had tons of contact sheets with only one image circled.

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  3. Si guy

    Yea not so sure about these. A wow moment can happen in an instant and these tips leave you largely unprepared. To necome a ruthless editor is more befitting. Also the dullest of photos can trigger a chain of memories once put together in something like a 365 album, all of these pics together become WOW moments.

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  4. Rodger Dawson

    Speaking sacreligiously, some RAW photos may initially be misjudged (poor color tone, composition elements inappropriate, etc.), but thanks to P-shop (+ various plugins), composite images can emerge (from some elements within the “crappy” shots) that are outstanding! Try doing that conveniently with film shots – or somehow wait for THE shot to magically/suddenly appear! Sure, sometimes, but many other great opps emerge back @ the computer.

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  5. shamb

    ‘Beauty is always unoriginal’.
    Beauty is defined, and therefore based on a set of common and well defined templates and attributes. If you are always driven by a sense of beauty in your photography, someone will already have done it before.

    Modern art is often seen as ugly because it follows fewer of those template, but that can make it much more original and cutting edge. So before you start following the same old set of templates (rule of thirds, hiring a pretty model, shooting only in good light and generally following accepted rules), ask yourself ‘am I setting up structures because I am trying to take something beautiful/commercial/safe when I should be aiming at something original?’.

    ‘Learning about movement creates better stills’
    If your camera has video capabilities, learn to use it as well as stills. The brain works in strange ways, and one of them is ‘learning two related skills makes you much better in both of them’. Developing a good cinematography eye will make your composition eye *much* better.

    Related to this is ‘take stories not pictures’. As individuals, we are nothing without our internal stories (aka memories): without them we would only be instinctive animals with no sense of context or history. The same goes for photographs: don’t create visual icons. Instead, tell a story.

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  6. Jeremy

    There will come a day soon where a roll of film WILL cost a small fortune.

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  7. Gabriel Moraes

    The Best advice is start using a film camera before beginning with the digital one.

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    Well put Gavin, I got really selective with my outdoors photo’s a while ago and its paying off nicely. Less time wasted trying to save photos, more time spent enjoying the ones that are actually worth it. Also a huge bonus finding other photographers that are constructively critical of shots. I can’t count the number of times that somebody has said, wow that’s amazing, yet in truth it was really mediocre.

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  9. Jonathan

    “Don’t even take your camera out of the bag unless you involuntarily exclaim ‘WOW’.”

    It works for you as an outdoor photographer, but this is terrible advice for street photographers and those covering events. You’ve already missed the decisive moment by then.

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    • Gavin Hardcastle

      Of course that would not work for street photographers, any good street shooter always has the camera out of the bag, it’s the nature of the street photography. My viewpoint here is more for outdoor, nature landscapes.

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  10. Jean Stapel

    I agree! I cut my teeth on film and although I really like digital…I still remember those moments in the darkroom when you pulled that freshly developed roll of film out of the rinse and finally got to see what you had – it was like Christmas every time!!! You knew you only had a limited resource and you took your shots very carefully – planned exposure, depth of field, composition carefully before you took the shot. Working for a newspaper you had to get the shot and you didn’t know if you had it until it was to late. Oh the memories……!!!

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  11. Christopher Prins

    Love the title Gavin, great write up mate.

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