The Best Single Piece of Advice I Can Give You as a Photographer

My son Luke wearing a WWII naval captain's hat in the Canadian War Museum.

If there's one question I hear most often it would be something like this, “I don't have much free time, nor money for better equipment, but I want to take better photos.  Is there something easy I can do?”  There are many variations of that question, but I generally assume that when someone's asking that it's implied that their intention isn't to move into doing it professionally, but just want better shots of their kids/travels/hobbies/collection of cats/etc.  Whatever your motives are, it's a great question, and yes, I always have the same answer across the board: Bring your camera with you wherever you go.  Just to be clear, NOT your phone, an actual camera.

Before you kill me, let me make it quite clear: cell phones have great cameras!  They're comparable to, and in many instances even have better quality than point-and-shoot or SLR/DSLR cameras. Even better than just being a camera they offer phenomenal applications, and access to things like Pinterest and YouTube for inspiration and direction.  I personally use my cell phone all the time to take photos.  But I also bring a camera.

Why?  Well, for me there are two reasons:

1.      Cameras cut the cords

People seem to struggle at focusing on their environment when their phones come out.  I have an awful tendency to pull out my cell phone for one purpose, then find myself lost in e-mails, social media, music, games, or in asking important existential questions of Google such as, “whatever happened to Winnie from the Wonder Years?”  Or worse, I'll be opening my phone to take a shot and get distracted by a text message or phone call. 

These things don't happen on your camera.  When you pull out your camera you can push all of that to the back of your mind and focus on your subject and what you want to do.  Of course you're not going to nail every shot, heck you might not nail any of them, but that can be even better in that you can look back and learn.  That's when you can pull your phone back out and figure out where you could improve for next time.  Read a blog post, watch a video, ask your friends for feedback, or engage the online photo community.

2.      Cameras cut the excuses

Too often people will talk themselves down from stepping up and taking a photo.  I call it the 'Instagram Bubble.' The Instagram Bubble is a magical phenomena where people become only comfortable taking photos of a limited range of subject matter, and angles, that would be typically seen on Instagram (selfies, food photos, photos of their feet on a beach... you get the idea).  Let me also be clear: I love Instagram!  Taking photos of any sort is a step in the right direction to becoming a better and more competent photographer.  But it becomes an issue when people become SO comfortable with operating in that small bubble that they avoid shooting other subject matter.

When you bring a camera that isn't a cell phone, specifically one where it would take more effort to get the photo onto platforms like Instagram, then you have a tool that you can mentally associate as something different than a simple social media tool.  Gone are the excuses you feed yourself of, "well I only have my cell phone, it's not going to be good enough." Which again, in many instances is entirely untrue to begin with.  Now, armed with camera in hand, you can feel psychologically free of the Instagram Bubble, free to confidently step into other forms of photography and take any photos at all.  You can be free to challenge yourself more, free of the distractions that a phone may present, and free of reasons to convince yourself that you shouldn't take a photo. 

There are endless avenues you can follow to developing as a photographer.  While there's no sure-fire single method that will work with anyone, to me this is the best advice I can give you:  Bring a camera and use it.  It will teach you to think like a photographer, to frame, to notice relationships, to understand your camera, and most importantly to be comfortable with photography.

All of the photos I've put into this blog post have been from me putting that very concept into action.  The shots above are from the National War Museum, and the ones below are from a Nutella cafe I found downtown Ottawa at the corner of Lisgar and Metcalfe (You should totally check them out, they have GREAT food).  I took them while I was out and about, without the intention of taking photos, but just taking them because I was there and saw an opportunity.  Now get out and do it yourself!