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6 Things I Did To Improve My Photography

Originally published in 2015.

I’ve always liked to take pictures, but for the longest time, I wasn’t very good at it.

When Sonia and Zoe were babies, though, I was pretty big into scrapbooking, and that really is what inspired me to learn how to take better pictures.

scrapbook page

Because no matter how good your scrapbooking skills are, if you don’t start with good pictures, your layouts will only be so fabulous.

Fortunately, this was around the time that digital cameras became commonplace, so that made it a lot easier to experiment and learn, especially for a frugal soul like myself.

(Had I needed to pay to develop film, I probably wouldn’t have practiced as much!)

sonia licking blue frosting

While there’s still a dizzying amount I still feel I could learn about photography, I can definitely see a big improvement between my 2005 photos and my 2015 photos.

(That’s a good tip, by the way. Compare your old stuff to your new stuff instead of comparing your work to someone else’s. It’s way more encouraging, and you can see your own progress.)

Here are the top things that have helped me improve my photos, and most of them do not require a purchase!

1. I learned to think about light.

Before, I used to just take pictures wherever, whenever and I paid no mind to light at all.   But once I started looking for good light and played around with different light directions, my photos improved a lot.

point and shoot

(Both of these were taken with my old point and shoot.)

A quick tip: try putting yourself in between the light sources and your subject.

Light Source   —->   You —> Subject

Also, try to avoid shooting in direct sunlight; morning or evening light is good, and if you have to shoot in the middle of the day, look for some shade.

2. I shot. A lot.

Digital is so great for this. I’ve taken scads of pictures in the last ten years and the practice alone has helped me improve so much.

Shooting, checking the photo on your screen, and then adjusting as necessary is a great way to learn by trial and error.

Did that work? No? How about this? No?

Wait, maybe if I move here….yes!

3. I read a lot of books.

I checked out nearly every book from my library about photography and read them all. I didn’t necessarily understand everything I read at first, but as I kept on reading, things started to come together.

I read lots of blog posts about photography as well.

4. I got a DSLR. And a 50mm lens.

While the person behind the camera matters more than anything (it’s possible to take bad pictures with a great camera!), good equipment helps too.

canon slr

An SLR (I got a Canon Rebel) takes a bit of practice (my first SLR photos looked worse than my point and shoot photos!), but it can turn out photos no point and shoot can rival, especially when paired with a good lens.

One super awesome thing? There’s almost no delay when you press the shutter button.   I hated the delay with my point and shoot.

The 50 mm lens also takes some getting used to, but it’s so great for shooting in low light and it gives you to-die-for fuzzy backgrounds.

5. I stopped using my flash

Flash pretty much always makes pictures look terrible (unless you have fancy-pants flash equipment).

flash vs no flash

(2005 vs. 2015)

Shooting in good light and turning the flash off improved my photos so much.

6. I started paying attention to backgrounds.

This matters for people, landscapes, food photography, and pretty much any other kind of photography.

cherry blossoms

An ugly background can be a distraction in an otherwise good picture and a great background can make a photo.


(2005-I should have probably moved the diaper and the clutter behind Sonia!)

So, pay attention to what’s behind and around your subject.


I hope these tips are helpful to you! If you’re looking for one place to start, I’d suggest paying attention to the lighting around you. If you know how to hunt for good light, your pictures will improve immensely, even if you don’t upgrade your equipment at all.

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Sunday 19th of September 2021

I love it that most of your tips don't require a fancy camera. I like to take pictures when we go on hikes but I don't want to haul expensive, heavy gear with me. You are so right--being aware of lighting has made a huge difference in my pictures. When I take pictures of people or, say, my cat, I also noticed that I was much happier with them when I got close to my subject. Thanks for the hints! Sometimes I find that editing tools are my best friend .....


Monday 20th of September 2021

Yes! Getting close to a subject and getting down onto their level makes a huge difference.

Jan Elizabeth

Tuesday 4th of August 2015

Some great tips here. I have a Canon Rebel as well, but I definitely underuse its capacities. Thanks for keeping things straightforward and making them seem attainable!


Saturday 18th of July 2015

Yup, good tips! As for equipment, I decided to go mirrorless, and I LOVE my Sony A6000. Use it mostly with a 50 mm lens.


Friday 3rd of July 2015

Great tips. I'm pretty surprised how affordable the Canon Rebel is on Amazon per your link. Maybe it's time to invest. Reading your blog has really made me think more about my family photos.. thanks for sharing!

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