Five Simple but Critical Steps to Take Your Photography to the Next Level

So you’re out walking on a beautiful day with your camera, snapping pictures of everything you see, feeling creative.

Are you taking hundreds of pictures, hoping that maybe, just maybe you’ll get a good shot? Do you have a plan for those images? Perhaps you want to make a book or put together an online portfolio?

Here’s a more important question: Are all your pictures taken with the automatic functions on your camera?

If you work under the assumption that the camera knows best, you’re probably coming home with a collection of “spray and pray” images. You’ve also amassed a huge collection of pictures that you didn’t put much time into and didn’t think about before you took them — all because you let the camera make the decisions for you.

So what did you get for all that work? Probably not much, I’m sorry to say.

If you’re serious about your photography, there are several factors to keep in mind even before you take the lens cap off.

To create fine art photography that you love, it’s important to be intentional about developing beautiful, well crafted images.

Photographic work created around a specific concept is much more likely to be interesting to the viewer in the long run, rather than waiting for a happy accident.

Take this image for example. This was a result of a couple of days of research. I was out on an early morning hike with my dog and my iPhone and I was particularly attracted to this beautiful oak tree.

I snapped a few pictures and noticed I was more intrigued by the light and the sky than I was by the tree.

I also saw that the shape of the branches created a heart and the sun was shining through the heart!

This wasn’t a complete accident, as I like to play with direct sunlight for different effects, but I didn’t notice the heart until I looked at my work. Here is my first go at this picture:

Heart Tree

Remember, this image was taken with my iPhone as I wasn’t out on a professional photo expedition, just a hike with my dog. But, I knew there was a possibility for a fabulous image here.

So a few days later, I came back with my “big gun,” my 35 mm Camera. The conditions were completely different, and here’s the image I produced:


You can see the quality of the image is significantly better, but the sky isn’t as interesting.
To me, this project is still in progress. I’m sure next time I go back, the conditions will be completely different, and who knows what I’ll come up with!
The angle of the sun won’t rise forever in the branches of this tree. And here in Southern California, that green grass is fleeting, so I’d better go back soon if I’m going to complete my work with this tree.

What would it be like if you could go out and shoot a fraction of the number of images you usually do but come back with 10 times the amount of quality pictures?

Would you feel better about your art? Would you take less time post processing your imagery? Could you take your photography to another level and learn something new every time you went out?
I’m betting the answer is yes.

Five Simple but Critical Steps to Take Your Photography to the Next Level

With just a little planning and study of how photography works, you’ll be considerably closer to creating fine art images.  Here’s how you get there.

Five Simple but Critical Steps to Take Your Photography to the Next Level

1. Identify the reason you’re creating these images. Do you want to put together a photography book or ebook? Maybe gifts for Christmas or entries in an amateur art show? When you know your goal, you’ll be that much more focused on getting what you want from your images.

2. Know What You Want your pictures to say. What’s your theme? What do you want to explore? You may not know the story until you’ve explored the topic fully, but have a sense of where you’re going before you venture out and you’ll be much more likely to “say” something cohesive in the end.

3. Understand Your Subjects. Have you done your research?  Do you have to travel to get there?  When will your subject(s) look the best?  

4. Play With Focus. You can say volumes with selective focus.  If you want your subject to stand out in the picture,  blur the background, by using the widest aperture on your Digital SLR (lowest number on the aperture dial).

5. Leverage the Light. Time of Day is crucial with your photography project. Stop shooting during the brightest time of day (when the sun is straight overhead). Noon only gives you harsh lighting. (I know you value your sleep, but if you value your art more, you’ll get up early to catch the light.) If you’re serious about creating effective images, shoot when the light is soft — either early in the morning (within an hour after sunrise) or in the evening (within an hour of sunset).
With a little forethought and planning, you can take your images to the next level.


If you need more help with your personal photographic vision and how to apply the elements discussed above, we offer many different photographic workshops in person and online. Please explore our website for more information on our photo expeditions, or online classes and blog at:





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Holly Higbee-Jansen

Co-Owner and Workshop Leader at Jansen Photo Expeditions
I am a passionate photographer and workshop leader, and I have been exploring my fascination with light since I was a young child. As a co-owner and guide for, I love taking our small groups of clients to beautiful places to help them explore their photographic creativity. Join us on one of our photographic workshops in the American West, Iceland and Central America: or take one of our online photography classes.  Live life creatively!  Reach me by email at:
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