How to be a better photographer

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SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
Social media has turned everyone into a photographer. We’re all snapping away — sometimes blindly — without thinking about whether the picture we just posted was really all that great. And throwing a filter on your picture? That’s a poor substitute for actually making a great photograph that everyone will comment on. The next time you find yourself snapping away with your phone, point-and-shoot or DSLR, use these tips to be a better photographer and make better pictures.

Know your light

One of my favorite photographers is Cliff Mautner, a wedding photographer in Philadelphia and widely-known as a one of the best wedding photographers in the world. He likes to say that it’s not how much light, but the quality of the light that’s really important for good pictures. You can shoot in the worst place in the world — like a hotel room — if the light has shape and dimension, it’s all good. One of my favorite places to photograph is in front of a window with the lights in the room turned out. I can create many kinds of pictures using one window.

Practice, practice, practice


Photography without intentional practice will get you nowhere. Your pictures won’t improve and your vision will stay the same every time you actually do take a picture. The same angle, the same moment and the same smile. If you want dynamic, interesting and remarkable pictures, practice. With any great talent, musical, dramatic performance or otherwise, practice is essential. Same things goes for photography. By the way, the most overlooked part of practice is failure. You have to fail to see what you can and cannot do. Trying something out for the first time and failing informs your decision-making process and let’s your creativity take over.

Find 'the moment' within the composition


How do I judge a really great photograph from an almost great one? The quality of the moment. Regardless of what type of picture it is, a still-life, landscape or portrait, there is always a moment. If you’re careful when you compose and light a photograph you’ll snap the photograph at exactly the right time. When I’m photographing, I like to look through my viewfinder and watch first. I want to make sure that I see a moment that is worth taking a picture of. Sometimes I have to be very quick. And, like a baseball player in the batter’s box, I miss more than I hit. Still, the more at-bats I get, the more times I’ll connect and make a remarkable picture.

Become one with your camera

A great camera is one that’s easy to use and does what you need it to very quickly. Knowing your camera upside down and backwards is so important to making great pictures. Many cameras have specific limitations; some point and shoot cameras won’t take a picture right away when you press the shutter, and some cameras won’t focus quickly enough and don’t work well in low light. Knowing your camera means you know both its limitations and also its strengths. For instance, I can quickly go from manual to aperture priority, I know how to shoot with my flash "off-camera" and I know how to move from f11 to f1.2 in the blink of an eye. I have become so in-tune with my camera that I can almost operate it in my sleep! By knowing your camera you will naturally take better pictures.

Here are some pictures from a wedding at the Sanctuary in Sedalia, Colorado to illustrate my tips. There are a number of different kinds of pictures made in different lighting conditions. When looking at these pictures, see if you can pick out some of I tips I wrote about in the pictures.



Colorado Springs wedding photographer Sean Cayton loves remarkable photographs and the stories behind them. You can see his wedding work at caytonphotography.com, his personal work at seancayton.com and his editorial work in the Colorado Springs Independent. Submit your photo and the story behind the image - no more than two a week, please - to sean@caytonphotography.com for consideration in upcoming blogs.

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