10X10: 100 ways to improve your photography: General tips for all photographers

Here are some suggestions that apply to everybody, regardless of what or how you shoot.

Disclaimer: As with every other article in this series, I’m assuming you know the basics already.

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Prague. Leica M9-P, 28/2.8 ASPH

10: Shoot raw and expose a little bit hot. There’s always a bit of potential to recover highlights in your raw files; some cameras more than others. Know how much yours can tolerate before blowing highlights completely. It’s not just a way to expand dynamic range; exposing hot and bringing down the exposure later actually reduces shadow noise, too. For those of you using a third party RAW converter that doesn’t read proprietary image settings, crank your sharpening in camera up to maximum – it won’t affect the raw file (only the jpeg preview), but you will be able to more easily see if things are in focus or not when using the image review screen.

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But we all have favorites. Billingham Hadley Pro. Leica M8, 50/1.4 ASPH

9: There is no perfect bag. Just accept it, and move on. Buy a new one if it takes your fancy but don’t expect it to solve all of your problems. Most of the time I only use a bag if I have other non-photographic items to transport. If it’s camera-only then it just goes over my shoulder.

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At the station. Note clean edges and overall feel of the image. Leica M9-P, 28/2.8 ASPH

8: Watch the edges of your frame. Your subject is identified by a) light; b) position in the composition; c) context. The edges add or remove context – and with it, distractions. Use them carefully.

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Spotlight. I’d have missed this if I was fiddling with my settings. Olympus E-PM1, Panasonic 20/1.7

7: Learn your equipment. You should be able to operate your cameras like it’s second nature. Muscle memory is your friend, and can make the difference between responding instinctively and getting the shot, or missing it altogether. Practice is the only way to do this.

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The ephemeral sushi. Nothing is in focus, the saturation is all over the place, there are hot spots, the color isn’t accurate…but somehow, it works. Olympus E-PM1, Panasonic 20/1.7

6: Look at lots of images. Famous works. Not so famous works. Flickr. It’s a good source of both inspiration and way of helping you to hone your sense of composition.

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But surely it will make me a better photographer!

5: Don’t buy new gear unless you’re sure you’re not the limitation. Make sure you know exactly what it is that your current gear isn’t doing for you and how the new gear will solve it.

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Hommage a Rene Magritte. Prague. Olympus E-PM1, 45/1.8

4: Look at other mediums of art for inspiration. It could be painting, design, architecture; for instance I love the way Magritte renders clouds, and I look for that kind of light when shooting skies.

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Gorilla in the shadows, Prague. Leica M9-P, 28/2.8 ASPH

3: Look for interesting light, not just interesting subjects. But of course it’s best to have both. The best photos present an unusual subject in an extraordinary way.

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Precision. I waited for both the sun and the bird. Nikon D700, 24/1.4

2: Be very, very selective with your keepers. Keep only the best. I throw away 99% of what I shoot. Not because it’s bad, but because if you shoot good pictures, then keeping only excellent will make you excellent after a while; if you shoot excellent on average and keep only outstanding, then you’ll be outstanding. And so on. Continually push and challenge yourself – set assignments, practice, tasks. Go outside of your comfort zone, and the persistence will yield results.

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Serendipity. Interesting things happen when you stick a compact inside a marine chronometer then do wide-angle macrophotography with it; this was my first time trying it. Ricoh GR-Digital III

1: Shoot lots. Practice, practice, practice. Experiment. If it doesn’t work, at least you’ve learned not to do it. If it does, great – another technique to add to the arsenal. I always get asked ‘how do I pick it up? How did you pick it up?’ and my answer is the same: I experimented and shot a lot. But I also made sure I made a note of what I did, so I learned something from the experience. When I started, I was probably doing a thousand frames a day – 99.9% were crap, of course – but slowly that ratio swung. Always carry a camera – even if it’s just your phone – and don’t be afraid to use it. MT


  1. Digital Adrian says:

    Hello Ming,

    First of all, thanks for the 10×10 series. I’ve learnt a great deal reading them.

    I’ve got a question about tip #10. To me this seems counter intuitive. I always learned that that it’s easier to ‘fix’ a underexposed image than an overexposed image, as blown highlights tend to be white and too darks shadows do not tend to be full black, but e.g. a very dark red. So there is more colour information to recover.

    Although I hadn’t considered the shadow noise, I expect overall noise can be reduced by slight underexposing, for lower ISO values might be usable (especially if you use older/less expensive gear).

    So, my question is, are my points valid, or misconceptions? Thanks.

    • Wow, this was an early post (and buried in the archives) – I didn’t realize anybody read it! Was going to relaunch it at some future point.

      To answer your question: try it and see. You must shoot RAW. It depends on the camera you use. Underexposure is easier to fix but noisier because you’re effectively telling the raw converter to amplify a small signal rather than modulate a large one; overexposure can be recovered by up to 2.5-3 stops for the right camera.

      • Digital Adrian says:

        Thanks for the reply! I’ll try both ways and see what I like best. But my camera (EOS 350D) only goes to ISO 1600 and is pretty noisy by then.

        That’s btw exactly how I came across this item, I was browsing through the archives and found the 10×10 series.

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