Home » Podcast » 5 Most Important Things to Focus on to Dramatically Improve Your Photos Fast

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. We only recommend products we fully support or use ourselves. Our full disclaimer

Episode #139

5 Most Important Things to Focus on to Dramatically Improve Your Photos Fast


UPDATED: June 5, 2023


Overwhelmed by all you want (and need) to learn to become a better photographer? Zero in on just these 5 things and you'll see lightning-speed improvement in the images you're creating.


Make the most of your practice time

Learn tips on how to think more objectively about composition, experiment with different styles, and get portfolio reviews.

Becoming a skilled photographer is all about enjoying the creative journey so we put an emphasis on practice, playfulness, and having fun as fundamental elements for improving your photography skills.


You'll Learn:

  • How to ask questions and be curious about focus while still embracing a subjective way of viewing the world.
  • Common things that the human brain notices or is drawn to (e.g., edges, blown highlights).
  • Why it's important to get objective advice from honest portfolio reviews.
  • The value in exploring different styles one at a time and thinking more objectively about composition techniques such as the exposure triangle (i.e., f-stop, background sharpness).
  • That practice is key for progressing in photography—and that having fun is equally as important!


Episode 139: 5 Most Important Things to Focus on to Dramatically Improve Your Photos Fast

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/139

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
[00:00:00] Jaymi: Welcome to this episode of Impact, the Conservation Photography podcast. And Joe, welcome to the show.

[00:00:07] Jo: Hey Heidi. Hi. Thanks for having me. I'm excited about this

[00:00:11] Jaymi: I am too. We have a really great topic for today and this is gonna be a lot of fun to talk with you about, because I feel like I've been talking with you about all of this stuff since you picked up a camera years ago, and so it's gonna be really fun to hear your perspective on these things as well as, you know, just dig into to some of the fun details.

[00:00:30] Jaymi: And today we're talking about the five most important things to focus on to dramatically improve your photos quickly. And this is a topic that came up for me that I wanted to cover on the podcast because I've actually been getting a lot of questions about this lately from my. Email subscribers. So I sent out an email to everyone and said, Hey, let me know what your biggest challenge is right now in photography, and I will send you my very best device.

[00:00:58] Jaymi: So people were writing in with their [00:01:00] questions or their challenges. And then I would do a video reply back to them with my, my best tips. And a lot of photography questions like how to, photography questions came up and usually I'm so busy covering things like composition and storytelling and that sort of thing.

[00:01:13] Jaymi: We don't get into some of the. Okay, but how do I actually make the photos prettier information? So this is gonna be fun.

[00:01:20] Jo: Yeah. Yeah. I'm really excited about that because as you know, I get so excited about just seeing the subject look a bird. That's what I've been looking for, that I completely forget all that other stuff. And so I just little by little remember all these things, and so I'm excited to talk about 'em all again.

[00:01:37] Jaymi: Yeah. Well, when you first picked up a camera, All of the buttons in the settings and everything can feel overwhelming and trying to figure out how to get the photo to look how you're imagining it in your head and making sure that all of your settings are there to do that. I mean, that alone is overwhelming.

[00:01:54] Jaymi: And then you're thinking about all of the other things like composition and, well, what's my style and am I [00:02:00] really improving and all this other stuff. What were some of the big things when you got started? You were like, if I could just figure this out, I know my images would be better.

[00:02:12] Jo: Yeah, so, well for me most of the things I like to take photos of are animals and they move, especially birds move a lot. So a lot had to do with , I, I think you called it the exposure triangle. Or you know, basically making sure that the shutter speed was fast enough so that it wasn't blurry and that, oh, how do I make that background fuzzy

[00:02:39] Jo: and well, what do I do when it's too light in the back of the bird in a tree and now I can't see the bird cuz it's all dark and you know, so figuring out how those buttons. Make the right stuff happen so that then even if it's not a perfect shot, I can do something in post-processing, you know? But at least [00:03:00] then I've got something to work with.

[00:03:02] Jo: And so, you know, Nope, Joe, your, your shut speed's not fast enough. You're never gonna get that bird looking clear and sharp because he moves too fast. Oh, okay. Or your lens is so long, you're not, that's not gonna happen. So think about that, or you know, so the technical parts of understanding how those pieces work together was big, really big.

[00:03:20] Jo: So yeah, I think that was the very first thing that made a big difference for me.

[00:03:24] Jaymi: Yeah. And oh, I mean, what you're really getting into is. One of the biggest ways to improve your images quickly. Is getting out of auto mode so that you've got that control over how your images look. But then the first stumbling block inside of moving away from auto and in into manual is, okay, what is the exposure triangle and how are these different setting.

[00:03:47] Jaymi: Playing with each other. So I think that really, if you wanna suddenly improve your images, deciding, okay, I'm gonna leave auto mode and I'm gonna get into manual mode and make [00:04:00] active decisions on, okay, I do want to. Freeze the motion here, or no, I wanna have some blur in those bird's wings.

[00:04:08] Jaymi: Or I want a really soft background, or, no, I want all that background in focus. Now you're actively making decisions about those images and taking control, and you're right. Figuring out that exposure triangle. So the exposure triangle has three points on it. One is aperture, so that. Basically your camera's pupil.

[00:04:30] Jaymi: So how open and dilated is it, or how close down is it? And that's gonna affect that blurriness of the background. It's saying, here's how much light I'm gonna let into the sensor. And with that is, okay, how blurry is that background? The second point is that shutter speed.

[00:04:47] Jaymi: That's sort of like the camera's eyelid. How quickly is it blinking? And that also affects how much light is coming in. But it also affects, does it freeze motion or let motion blur? You know, a slower shutter speed means blurry or [00:05:00] motion A, a faster shutter speed means it freezes that motion. And then the third point of that exposure triangle is your i o.

[00:05:07] Jaymi: And that's sort of like your camera's. Like if the think of the retina of your eye, how sensitive is that to light? And so if you are using a really low i s o, that camera retina, the sensor isn't a sensitive delight, so it's not gonna record as much. And a higher i s o makes it more sensitive to light.

[00:05:24] Jaymi: So all those things in combination are what work to. Allow you to say, okay, I'm making a decision about how I want this image to look, and now I'm gonna dial in those settings and take how I want that image to look, plus the laws of physics and make this happen. And so really taking control of that plane with it, having fun with it, and deeply understanding how those triangle points affect each other, that is definitely going to improve your photography fast.

[00:05:54] Jaymi: And I know it's big and intimidating and scary. Man, it gives you so much control on the [00:06:00] decision

[00:06:00] Jo: Yeah. Well, and, and you know, I love science and I love nerding out about reading about the physics of why all that happens. And I would go read all of that and then completely forget it all over again. And, and so finally I just got into, you know, okay low. F stop means fuzzy background.

[00:06:22] Jaymi: Yep.

[00:06:23] Jo: And um, things like, okay, if it's dark boost my I I s O.

[00:06:29] Jo: You know? And so I just basically just kind of turned it into those things to tell me, under these conditions, make this change. And that just, then I stopped trying to think about it, and then it wasn't so complicated then I, because I was overthinking it,

[00:06:46] Jaymi: Yeah.

[00:06:47] Jo: and so,

[00:06:48] Jaymi: It's funny cuz there, there are different personality types in photography and some people love to dig into the physics and the mechanics and the gear and the tech. And then there's people like me where I'm [00:07:00] like, I just know that it works when I do this. And I remember when I first got started in photography, I think I started, I don't know, maybe.

[00:07:08] Jaymi: Five or six years before you did something like that and you, I, I had a Cannon Rebel, T one I, or you know, whatever it was. The very first one in the rebel series and you bought me a book by Scott Kelby and Scott Kelby does all of these great books.

[00:07:26] Jaymi: He has Kelby One, which is a online photography training website, like really fantastic resources. And I loved the that book so much because it basically said, don't worry about why. Just, just know it works. Just trust me on this, do this button to make this work. And I was like, oh my God. Thank you. Thank you so much.

[00:07:45] Jaymi: I don't have to think about all of it, but it is, it is really important to figure out, okay, so what is my personality type like and what. What do I need to do to really feel like I understand the [00:08:00] exposure triangle and then it starts to become automatic. So for you, it's like I could really nerd out and have fun with the physics side, but that's not what helps me when I'm holding the camera.

[00:08:08] Jaymi: What helps me when I'm holding the camera is when the F stop is a little number. That's a blurry background. When it's a big number, it's a sharp background. When the shutter speed is a low number, it means it's slow and things will be blurry when it's. Like, I guess a smaller fraction or a higher number, however you wanna figure out, cuz. I, I always forget that a shutter speed is fractions. It's one over something, and rather, I think, oh, it's a faster shutter speed is a higher number. It's 25000th versus 250th, and so whatever you need to do to really wrap your brain around it. Put the effort into that because when you start to understand, if I do this to the f-stop, these other two points of the triangle are gonna be impacted and I need to make decisions about that to pull off this image.

[00:08:57] Jaymi: That's when you, you grab that steering wheel of [00:09:00] photography and yes, there is that like, oh, I was making nicely composed images for a long time on auto, and then it feels like . Now I'm making terrible images because I'm in manual, but all of a sudden you skyrocket

[00:09:11] Jo: I was so frustrated with the fact that everything was always blurry and I was like, oh man, I am never gonna get this right. It was like, but it never looks like Jamie's.

[00:09:21] Jaymi: Men. Meanwhile, I'm like, but mine never looks like

[00:09:25] Jo: yeah. Right,

[00:09:26] Jaymi: we all have our person, we're like, why can't we shoot like

[00:09:29] Jo: Yeah. And then and then finally at one point you said, well, Joe, your sugar speed's way too low for these birds. They're, you know, they're just like splitting around and doing their thing and even if they're sitting on a branch, they're looking and they're changing their position.

[00:09:45] Jo: And she goes, you gotta bump this way up. And, and. I was like, oh, because everything I read said this, you know, this over, this should be fine. It's like she, yeah. If you're just standing still taking a portrait of a person, you know, or not a [00:10:00] five year old, which is moving just as much too, you know? So it's like, oh, so that's all I needed to know and boom, big change.

[00:10:07] Jaymi: Yeah,

[00:10:08] Jo: And then when, when I could start connecting the dots to be able to say, oh, so if I can't get this to be. Good enough under these light conditions because it automatically wants my shutter speed to, with this f stop to be too low then I either need to go find a tripod , or I need to go do something different to go get that shot if that's what I wanna do Under those light conditions. That was huge because now all of a sudden the stress went away about, why can't I ever get this? Well, because the physics isn't gonna let you.

[00:10:46] Jaymi: Yep. Exactly. And so that's the thing is like you can move into manual mode and, and master all of that and be constantly working in manual mode. And there's a lot of photographers who are like, manual is it. That's the only way that I will [00:11:00] shoot. I'm not one of them. Somebody else figured out how to make my camera work so that I don't have to think about all of that at once.

[00:11:07] Jaymi: So like I have my I s O always as auto i s o up to a certain point, like, okay, if you're gonna go past 6,400 or if you're gonna go past something else in order to bring in enough light, well now I need to make an active decision because it might be a noisy image, but I'm gonna let my camera decide where that ISO needs to be.

[00:11:26] Jaymi: But I know that I wanna maintain control over. How I freeze action or the background, whatever. So I can take control of those two points of the triangle and let the camera figure out the third point. But , mastering why those three points are affecting each other and what's going on allows you to know, oh, well in this situation, I'm gonna go into aperture priority mode, because that's the one.

[00:11:51] Jaymi: Corner that I really wanna keep control of, and I'm gonna let the camera figure out other things. But I understand that if I stay in aperture mode and these lighting [00:12:00] situations are the way they are, the camera might choose a shutter speed that's too low and I might get blurrier shots. Okay? Now do I wanna make a different decision so it doesn't mean.

[00:12:09] Jaymi: By mastering the exposure triangle, you're gonna be in manual mode and always be controlling all three corners. But it does mean that you understand what you can take control of and why and when you might need to take control of another corner, and why, and most importantly, why your photo's not working.

[00:12:26] Jaymi: If you take a photo and it's not working, you know why? And can.

[00:12:30] Jo: yes, yes. I loved that because when that, when those things finally clicked, which I still have a lot to learn always, but when that, when that finally clicked, I was like, oh my gosh, and I got the shot I really wanted. When I got that chipmunk last year right next to the cherry blossom on the tree in Tahoe, I was like, oh my God, this is gonna be so cute. And

[00:12:55] Jaymi: yep. And you knew exactly what you needed to do. To get it to [00:13:00]

[00:13:00] Jo: exactly.

[00:13:01] Jaymi: So, so that's the first thing that if you are thinking, I really just wanna improve my photos, well, the first thing to do is, Hey, do I know everything about the exposure triangle? Do I understand what aperture is and what it does? Shutter speed, what it is and what it does, and iso what it is and what it does, and how those work together.

[00:13:22] Jaymi: If you don't know that, oh, start. Just start there and you'll see your photography improve dramatically cuz you get why. The second thing to do to dramatically improve your photos fast is to focus on sharp focus. Like make this an obsession. When people are trying to figure out, okay, well how do I improve my images? They're always coming up blurry. Why are they blurry? Why are they blurry? There's different reasons why. Uh, Image isn't sharp, and so making this an obsession will help you figure out what's going on so that you can fix that sharpness, because sometimes it's because [00:14:00] your shutter speed is too low, and there might be a little bit of camera shake, so even if the subject is staying still, you might actually be moving, or even the image stabilization in your lens might be causing it to vibrate a little bit.

[00:14:13] Jaymi: There's so much that can, especially if you're using like a telephoto. There's so much that can happen that causes a little bit of blur. So shutter speed might be there. How you're deciding to use autofocus and the points and the different settings that are inside your camera and available to you that might be causing the problem because you've.

[00:14:31] Jaymi: Think that you're focusing on the animal's eye, but the camera is focusing maybe just forward of it on the bill of the bird, or just behind it on a feather, and you can't figure out why. So there's all kinds of reasons why there's a little bit of blur going on. And so if you really focus on, okay, I know that my image isn't coming out sharp and I wanna figure out exactly why I'm gonna experiment with this, I'm gonna play with this and really dig into that, that's gonna dramatically improve your photos.

[00:14:58] Jaymi: Like really caring, not just caring [00:15:00] about like, oh, I got a cool composition, but is that composition sharp where you want it to be

[00:15:04] Jaymi: sharp? And why? If it isn't, why isn't it?

[00:15:08] Jo: Yeah. And that's the thing that. I'm in The mode of learning now is under what kind of conditions do I want to have different settings for that. I've got the light figured out from the, from that standpoint, but then it's like, okay, I'm spending so much time remembering how that goes, that then I forget the, the auto focus point or, okay, do I have.

[00:15:32] Jo: Because I do most of my stuff with the telephoto lens, and so, you know, how am I holding it and do I have something I can rest it on? And oh, yeah, I'm using the car as a blind. Okay, great. I rested on the hood and then my husband decides to shift and the car right then, and the, and the hood goes.

[00:15:49] Jo: And I was like,

[00:15:49] Jaymi: Or your motor's still

[00:15:51] Jo: Oh yeah, yeah,

[00:15:52] Jaymi: vibration or, yeah.

[00:15:54] Jo: Right. Yeah. So there's all of these things that it's like, oh yeah, I forgot about that. And so I'm still learning all of all [00:16:00] of those things or, oh, yeah, why did I, oh shoot. Because I moved my auto focus point down to the left of this, of the, of the frame.

[00:16:09] Jo: Because of the last place I was at and I forgot to move it back to the center, and now I'm focusing in the whole wrong place. No wonder it's not working. I'm focusing on the bird's stupid tail instead of his eye. It's like, oh, duh. You know? So yeah.

[00:16:25] Jaymi: Yeah. And that part of that is getting so wrapped up in the moment that you're not watching where your auto focus point is or what it's doing. And then there's also settings that really help you out in your camera. So depending on your camera body, are you using the single auto-focus point or are you allowing assist auto-focus points to kind of come into play?

[00:16:44] Jaymi: And are you allowing then, Too much freedom of the camera to decide what to focus on or not enough freedom of the camera to decide if you're using auto focus there's all these little things, but I think the key is like when it comes to the [00:17:00] second most important thing, which is focus. Is really, it comes down to, get really curious about what's going on with focus. So yeah, there's the frustration of, oh, I missed the shot, but why is out of focus?

[00:17:12] Jaymi: Is there heat dissipation from the ground that is causing waves and that is what's causing it to look blurry. Maybe you're doing everything perfectly right and it just happens to be something in the atmosphere that is causing some blur. There's so much to. Comes into play when it comes to focus that becoming obsessed about focus, but more importantly, obsessed about why something isn't turning out. I think it makes you incredibly knowledgeable about all of the things that you can play with and pay attention to and test out and try, and it takes some of that frustration at yourself off of you because you're like, oh, well it's not about how I messed up or didn't get the shot.

[00:17:52] Jaymi: What was going on? Let's find out. Okay. I see. Because it's blurry like this, like maybe everything in the shot [00:18:00] is perfectly sharp except for the subject itself. Oh, my shutter speed was too slow. Maybe the whole entire shot is a little bit blurry. Oh, I wonder if that has to do with heat, or I wonder if I really just had my auto focus point, like look at it critically and think about why that is.

[00:18:17] Jaymi: And then you don't have to be mad. You're just like, okay, I'm gonna go experiment. I mean, of course there's gonna be those moments of like, well, I can never make that moment happen again, and I miss the shot and oh my gosh, you know, those

[00:18:26] Jaymi: are, you can't fix that. But the next time you're out in a moment like that, you can be that much more prepared.

[00:18:33] Jo: Right. Great. Ooh, good tip. Okay.

[00:18:36] Jaymi: All right, so we have first really understand that exposure triangle, aperture, shutter speed, and i s o, and just get nerdy with it, but then simplify it.

[00:18:45] Jo: Little number. Fuzzy background,

[00:18:47] Jaymi: Little number, fuzzy background. Yeah. You don't have to be all, you know, perfectly. You've got the lingo down in the perfect terms or whatever, like whatever works for you so that you remember it when you're out, but get really clear on what's [00:19:00] going on so that you can understand quickly what to do with your settings to master getting what's in your head.

[00:19:06] Jaymi: For that image into your camera for that image. The second thing is get obsessed about sharp focus. And yes, of course you want each image to be focused how you want it to be and be really nice and tack sharp. But if it's not why and play around with that. Cause there's so many reasons that come into play for focus to not be crisp and clear.

[00:19:25] Jaymi: So get curious and get obsessed with that. Now the third thing that will dramatically improve your photos fast is thinking objectively about strong composition. So this is something that popped up for me recently because I was getting some comments on some social media post, I can't remember what it was anymore, and people were dropping their images into the comments and one person dropped an image that objectively.

[00:19:51] Jaymi: Was a really crappy image. Like it was just a terrible shot objectively. But that person was [00:20:00] like immediately very defensive in just posting it. So they posted the photo and said, people don't like my images because they say that I don't edit them or process them, but it's my creative vision about the world.

[00:20:14] Jaymi: And that's all that. And it's like, I really appreciate that you hold strongly to your creative vision, but if everybody is telling you that your images suck, there might be a common denominator here. So if you want to dramatically improve your images, think objectively, you bring subjective composition, style and all that into it.

[00:20:37] Jaymi: But first is this objectively a strong image. And so think about things like, if I'm centering my subject, does it make sense for it to be centered or should I really be using a rule of thirds Here , listen to feedback from other people. How are they interpreting that moment? And so this is where you can get a lot stronger in being able to look at your [00:21:00] images objectively when it comes to composition by getting portfolio reviews.

[00:21:04] Jaymi: Now, whether that is with other photographers or editors or just friends and family who you trust, to be honest, start getting feedback and be really open to that feedback.

[00:21:13] Jo: That is great because I, I, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to

[00:21:16] Jo: interrupt. Okay. So you're right because as I'm, I mean, like I said, I. Very, very amateur photographer. But the idea of learning a little bit at a time about what makes good composition. So not trying to go read a book or , take a class and then try and do everything all at once about what makes a good composition.

[00:21:38] Jo: And then having someone who knows what they're doing critique and say, okay, well this, this is why you, don. Get this feeling that you were looking for, or this is why it's hard to pull out what your real subject is. Your background is too distracting. Oh, okay. So think about like, again, for [00:22:00] me, if it's an animal, if it's a bird on a pond and they.

[00:22:03] Jo: Paddling along. It's like, don't take it in front of the color. That's exactly the same bush color behind it. Wait until it gets in front of a contrasting color so you'll see it more And use a s a lower depth of field. So you had a fuzzier background. So you see your subject a little. All those little tiny things you know each time learning a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, and not trying to learn it all at once.

[00:22:30] Jo: Was huge. And having someone who could coach you, like you would say, you know, this is, this is why, this is what's going on here. And it's not about me, it's about how people see stuff.

[00:22:43] Jo: It's about how people interpret stuff.

[00:22:45] Jaymi: Yes. That is such an important point. It's not about you as a photographer, no one's insulting you. They're saying, oh, when I look at this image, here's what I'm seeing, or Here's what I'm not seeing, or Here's how I'm reacting to it, or whatever it is. And you can [00:23:00] take that as.

[00:23:01] Jaymi: Just input about like, oh, interesting. Okay, the next time I go out, I'm gonna watch Where are the branches? Is a branch cutting through the head of my subject because that was such an issue that came up in my images. Okay, I'm just gonna watch for that for the next week or two or, and having that coach, like we all have a person or two that will show our images to who we really trust.

[00:23:22] Jaymi: And then having that coaching is so helpful. So it's, it's not necessarily that you have to give up your subjective way of seeing the world and your style and your approach, but bring in. What is more objective information about composition? There's a reason why there are rules, quote unquote rules for composition.

[00:23:44] Jaymi: There's a reason why rule of thirds watching your edges, not like watching where your horizon line is in relation to the subject. There's a reason why all of that exists because there are things that we universally notice and see and react to when we're looking in images. And so [00:24:00] if you're able to take that information in, then you'll be able to have stronger and stronger images really quickly because like you said, you can get some feedback from one portfolio review or one session with a friend and be like, oh, I'm gonna watch that, and then the next time I go out, I'm gonna look for that.

[00:24:15] Jaymi: I do that a lot with my students and conservation Photography 1 0 1 students can submit their images for feedback, and so I. I'll say, okay, well, I'm noticing in, in all the images that you've submitted here, there's this one thing like, see how there's always something random coming in on the edges?

[00:24:31] Jaymi: Watch your edges. The one thing I want you to think about when you go back out is watching your edges and only allowing into the composition what it, what should be there, what adds to that image. Don't include anything that will detract from that image, and just pay attention to that next time you go out.

[00:24:46] Jo: Yeah, see, see, the other thing is on the flip side, as the recipient of the critique, Having somebody who um, so I'm sure there's lots of people who listen to this, that know what they're doing in terms of taking [00:25:00] pictures and so critiquing in a way that is objective and sort of removed.

[00:25:06] Jo: So it's not like, well, you didn't think of this or you didn't do that. It's like, no, you go, oh, see, this is what's happening here. So this is what you have to think about when you go again. It, it totally takes away the defensiveness for me.

[00:25:20] Jaymi: Yeah.

[00:25:21] Jo: Now all of a sudden it's, it's not about what I did, it's what I can do differently, what I can do better.

[00:25:28] Jo: And it's also not about the fact that I thought of something wrong. It's about, no, this is how people see things. This is how people interpret things. This is what comes across. So this is what you need to think about when. Creating your composition, you know, and so how people deliver that critique really makes a big difference for how I can hear it too.

[00:25:52] Jaymi: that's a great point. Choosing who you want to review your work, I think is a really important decision. So [00:26:00] thinking objectively about strong composition is kind of our, our third thing, but really the, the like three A is. Think about who you want to have reviewing your images on maybe a regular basis.

[00:26:13] Jaymi: And are they someone where you really do accept and are open to the feedback that they give you because you feel really comfortable that they're not talking down to you or they're not they're not someone who causes you to just immediately feel defensive, but rather it's about how do we improve your images?

[00:26:30] Jaymi: And there are definitely people out there that I. Tend to maybe not realize how they're phrasing things, so it ends up

[00:26:39] Jaymi: not

[00:26:39] Jo: be completely helpful, completely helpful, but you hear it and all of a sudden you go, well, but, but, but you don't understand. What I was trying to do was this and was trying to, and then you, next thing you know, you're trying to explain yourself and you realize, why am I going there?

[00:26:54] Jo: This person's trying to help me. I gotta step back and listen to what what [00:27:00] they're saying. Yeah.

[00:27:02] Jaymi: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And man, it is challenging because when we create photos, we're doing it out of love and excitement and a passion for the subject and a passion for the craft and all of these things. And we put our heart and soul into it. And so it's really hard to remove yourself, but if you are willing to truly listen and, and not be.

[00:27:24] Jaymi: That person who posted the comment who's like, I don't care what they say, you know, I'm gonna follow my, my own creative vision. It's like, okay, keep making sucky photos. Then you know, you have to kind of step back and say, well, is there something really valid? Does that help me in my journey? Can I take that information and play with it?

[00:27:41] Jaymi: And if I end up not liking it, then I don't have to listen. But at least I tried. You know, there's all kinds of ways to

[00:27:46] Jo: That is so funny when you say that cuz the first thing that comes to mind is one of my sons, when they were young and learning to spell, and they would spell the word wrong and we'd say, Well, people [00:28:00] aren't gonna understand it if you don't. He goes, well, I know what I'm writing. It's like, yeah, but sometimes other people have to be able to read what you're writing. And so when people say, well, I don't care about the rules. Well, that may be true, but other people are trying to see your photo.

[00:28:15] Jaymi: Exactly. I think that we do sometimes make excuses. With things like, well, I don't really, it, it's about what I feel, and so I'm just gonna go with that. Oh, oh. Another favorite one is like, well, I'll only use natural light because that's real. Photography is using natural light, and it's like, Okay, limit yourself.

[00:28:35] Jaymi: Have fun with that. It's, I think that it's an excuse because you're scared to learn how to use artificial light, or you're scared to move into that, or how can I add artificial light, or how can I add lighting in a way that still feels like natural light, but makes the photos that I really wanna make.

[00:28:53] Jaymi: You know, you can, you can use only natural light, but if you're saying that because it's an an excuse because you're fearful, [00:29:00] well now let's go ahead and assess that. Like what, what's intimidating you? How can we kind of take some steps into this realm and, and play with it so that it's not intimidating and.

[00:29:10] Jaymi: People who are like, well, I'll never post-process my images because this is what was really there. And it's like, well, no, it's what your camera recorded, which actually isn't often the same as what your eyes saw. Post-processing can really help. How about we master that? And sometimes it's just a fear of using those tools and, okay, well if that's intimidating, let's break it down.

[00:29:31] Jaymi: And it, you don't have to hold that defensiveness that ultimately limits you.

[00:29:36] Jo: Right, right. The point is you're trying to produce an. How you produce the image based on how you capture it, and then how you process it may or may not make any difference. The idea is you're trying to come up with a thing at the end, which is an image,

[00:29:52] Jo: and so yeah, I, I like that, that freedom to recognize that there's lots of ways to get [00:30:00] there.

[00:30:00] Jaymi: Yeah, absolutely. And thinking about this objectively, like, okay, there is my interpretation of it, but also are people going to. Appreciate this image based on how we tend to view things really how have an open mind and think objectively about strong composition that is going to make a dramatic difference on your images.

[00:30:23] Jaymi: if you are someone who's really getting started right now and you're in that mode of , I just wanna play with stuff, this is the perfect time to say, okay, I'm gonna keep playing, but I'm also gonna listen to what other people are saying about my images and really , think about how I can use that information to go experiment with different ways of composing images in the field.

[00:30:43] Jaymi: Takes in that feedback and play with that. And it doesn't mean that you have to change who you are as a photographer, but it will dramatically improve those images. Okay. I'm also, right before we hit record, we're like, we're gonna make this a short fun one and we're already, you know, we, we just get so into this.

[00:30:58] Jo: You get to it. Yeah, so we [00:31:00] just love. Out together. It can't help it.

[00:31:02] Jaymi: So the first thing is really dialing in your understanding of the exposure triangle. The second thing is getting obsessed about focus, and if your image is soft for some reason, why, get super curious about why that is an explorer. The third thing is thinking objectively about strong composition. What is needed in your image?

[00:31:25] Jaymi: To create a more strong composition and listening to that feedback. The fourth thing is to lean into a style that you like and thoroughly explore it, but one style at a time. So here's what I see a lot with photographers who are new and just diving into photography. I did this at the start as well, is you're just getting going and you don't really have a style.

[00:31:52] Jaymi: Or you don't really know how you like to create images. You're exploring all of that. So you go out and you get some [00:32:00] photos and you bring them back and put 'em in Lightroom or whatever editing software you have, and you start to say, okay, well I think I'm gonna go with the sepia preset. Okay, click okay.

[00:32:10] Jaymi: But some people might not like sepia. They might like. Really vibrant color. Okay, I'm gonna use that preset too. Okay, so version two is that one. Okay. Now I've got two versions of that image that are both okay, but some people might like it like this, or maybe I wanna explore using this. And pretty soon you have six versions of that photo that are all processed differently, or you have a portfolio of 10 different images.

[00:32:32] Jaymi: All of them have some sort of other random preset. There's no actual style to it. It's very clear that you are still experimenting and that you haven't figured out what your vision is or what you really like yet. That's okay. Like explore and experiment. But if you wanna dramatically improve your images fast, pick one of those ways that you wanna explore or experiment [00:33:00] with a look and really lean into that for a while.

[00:33:03] Jaymi: Like really explore it. So if you go out and take a bunch of photos and you come back and you're like, well, some people might like it in black and white, or, what if I play with that? Okay, play with black and white. What do you need to do? Cuz black and white and color are very different things. When you're leaning into black and white photography, you're thinking more about pattern.

[00:33:21] Jaymi: Texture, shadow direction of light. All right? Lean into black and white. Explore that for a while. Make that the only thing you do for even just two weeks, three weeks. Make that the only thing you do and lean into it. Decide on something to play with and play with that fully. Like really let yourself swim around in it. And I. When you let yourself do that, rather than bouncing around, you start to explore. Okay? Why am I making this photo like this? Like what's going, like, what am I trying to make happen here?

[00:33:52] Jaymi: What effect am I trying to get? Is my heart really in it? Am I really, is, is this style really helping to convey what [00:34:00] I'm hoping to convey? Or is it actually not lending to this moment, but taking away from it? So, I'm not saying don't explore different styles. I am saying pick one and lean into it. And that will very quickly improve your strength overall in how you're thinking when you're looking through the camera, in how you're looking at the image, when you are processing it, in, how you're thinking about composition and impact overall.

[00:34:26] Jo: Okay, so I. I'm still a little confused about the whole style thing. Cause so you gave an example, for instance, of black and white in color. Okay. I get that. What are other kinds of examples of when you say style that I would be thinking.

[00:34:41] Jaymi: That's a great question.

[00:34:42] Jaymi: So I think that when you're first starting out, when you're thinking about your style you're thinking more about like, well, what kinds of images am I really creating? Am I someone who's like really leaning into very. Bright, vibrant photos, or am I really leaning into [00:35:00] photos that tend to be kind of softer, have that very Boca background.

[00:35:06] Jaymi: Do I really lean into portraits of things or do I lean, like, what do I really lean into there? But I think that as you start to advance and you start to get a handle on that, that's, that's kind of just compositional. Stuff. It, it is style, but it's more like compositional style and, and technique. I think then as you start to advance, you lean into, well, my style is more photojournalistic, or my style is really more emotive, cinematic, or my style is more, you know, whatever it may be. You, you start to lean into sort of a realm of, of work. My style is really intense vibrant macro images that show intense detail of macro subjects, something like that. So, so it kind of, I think it's Uh, Interesting complicated question to talk about style, because you can think about style in different ways. Your style can be how you approach [00:36:00] the image itself, but also how you approach a topic in itself. Like if you are a photographer and you have a photojournalistic style, your images have a certain look, very world press, or like if your style is more that, you know, emotive, cinematic, then maybe you're, you're thinking more like, oh, well this is something that would work in a fashion magazine, or it's something that would work in the pages of Mother, which is, you know, a new publication that we just talked about.

[00:36:29] Jaymi: So I think that style is something that is complex and evolves over. And I think that once you start to get to a certain point in your photography and your practice and you start to get more and more experienced, suddenly your style is really apparent because it's what you continuously fall back into no matter what.

[00:36:47] Jaymi: So like for me, it took me a long time to actually figure out and, and embrace what my personal style was because I kept thinking, oh, in conservation photography, it's all storytelling. It's the, it's what you see on the [00:37:00] pages of Smithsonian or so I have to be very photojournalistic.

[00:37:03] Jaymi: So I kept pushing myself to shoot in a way that looked more photojournalistic. That's not my style. My style is very shallow depth of field, using light to bring in emotion using a lot of foreground elements that we peek through to get to the subject, like, And it, I didn't think that that was where I needed to go for my career, and so I kept pushing against it, but finally I embraced that and was like, oh no.

[00:37:31] Jaymi: Conservation photography, you get you. You get to have it look like anything you want. This works perfectly well for telling conservation focused stories, and I know that I can lean into that style and tell a story with that vibe, and it will be very strong imagery because I. That style leaned into it, it becomes something that I'm recognized for, and that's one thing that I think you'll know is when you have your style dialed in and you embrace it and it's something that you're using, someone can look at your [00:38:00] image on social media, scrolling through social media, and they don't have to see the name at all, but they'll be like, oh, that's so-and-so's just recently. I was scrolling through Instagram kind of quickly and saw a photo of a black bear scratching its back against a tree. And I was like, that's a Carlton Ward Jr. Image. And I stopped and looked and yep, sure enough, so I think once you really dig into that, that's where you start to recognize, oh, style is this way that you are as a

[00:38:25] Jo: great. I get it. Yes, yes, I get it now. Yeah. And, and so what your point is, is, is prac, well not practice, but explore.

[00:38:34] Jo: Different ways and find where your heart is, and then you know what makes a style like that too, right? I

[00:38:42] Jaymi: Yeah, but that's, that's, the caveat is explore one at a time, even if you're only gonna dedicate a week or two or a month or two.

[00:38:50] Jo: Uhhuh

[00:38:51] Jaymi: I think that when you're starting out, it can feel scary to lean into that because you think you're missing out like there's a bit of a fomo or an [00:39:00] uncertainty around it.

[00:39:01] Jaymi: Allow yourself time to just be like, this is all I'm gonna do. Put a 50 millimeter lens on your camera and you're only shooting with that for three weeks. You know, like really lean into that one at a time. Don't play around with 38 presets in Lightroom, cuz you're never gonna figure out what actually works for you and what you like, like, play around with one preset for a little while. Okay. What's working, what isn't? If, if it's not working, why? Okay. Move on to the next thing you know.

[00:39:26] Jo: Yep. Yeah. Got it. Great. Okay. Oh, I gotta go practice that. That sounds fun.

[00:39:32] Jaymi: So that was number four. Now, I did say that this episode was gonna have five important things, but we accidentally rolled our fifth thing into the third thing, which was when you're thinking objectively about strong composition, it's amazing to get portfolio reviews from people and to be able to use that.

[00:39:49] Jaymi: That was actually supposed to be our fifth thing, so, so we'll just say this was actually four important things, but some of them have elements to

[00:39:59] Jo: How [00:40:00] about, here's some stuff to think

[00:40:01] Jaymi: Here's some stuff to think about that will be really helpful. So let's, let's wrap up. So of the, these things, the stuff

[00:40:09] Jaymi: that will, that will dramatically help your photography fast for improvement, the first thing is really mastering your understanding of the exposure triangle.

[00:40:20] Jaymi: So even if you're not going full manual on your camera, still understand what is the exposure triangle. And when I think about aperture shutter speed and I s O. What are they doing for exposure and how are they interacting? Because then when you understand that, you're gonna know why your images are coming out the way they're coming out, and you can make active decisions about the way that you choose settings that will then give you full control over those compositions, that style, all of the things that you wanna have control over.

[00:40:53] Jaymi: So even if you're not using manual, you'll understand, oh, when I put it on Aperture priority. Here's why I'm not getting the shots that [00:41:00] I want, or if I put it on shutter speed priority, here's what's going wrong because I understand what's happening to the other two points of the triangle, when I take control of this one point.

[00:41:09] Jo: And your, and your other point that was a companion to that one is, is then let the camera do the work that you feel is okay to let it do so.

[00:41:19] Jaymi: You can be full manual. And for those people who are like manual or nothing, hey, more power to you. I'm not one of 'em. I say take it off auto cuz Otto's not doing you any favors unless you are only first learning how to use your camera. Once you start to actually wanna be a photographer, Otto's not doing you any favors, so pull it off of there.

[00:41:40] Jaymi: But at least understand that exposure triangle because you'll know, okay, if I'm gonna put it in aperture priority and let the camera think about everything else. I think is great. I at least understand that, okay, well my aperture's doing what I want it to do, but why is it still blurry? Oh, because the lighting condition means that it has to have a slow shutter speed, so the [00:42:00] camera's picking a slow shutter speed.

[00:42:01] Jaymi: Oh, okay. Now I need to think about, do I need to bump up my I s O in order to have a faster shutter speed so that this aperture. You've, you've got that exposure triangle locked in. So exposure tri triangle, master that exposure triangle, master your understanding of it so that you can take control when you want to take control.

[00:42:20] Jaymi: The second thing, get obsessed about sharp focus. If you're. Image is soft. Why? Let's explore why that is. Don't beat yourself up that your image is soft. Ask why is it a slow shutter speed? Is my auto focus point off? Is my manual focusing off? Is it heat atmospheric conditions? What's going on?

[00:42:41] Jaymi: Is it vibrations from the motor where I'm stabilizing my camera on the window of the car? You know what's going on? So get obsessed about asking questions and being curious about focus. Then think objectively about composition. Yes, embrace your own subjective way of viewing the world, [00:43:00] but also remember that we all are looking at your images and having reactions to them.

[00:43:06] Jaymi: So what are common things that the human brain notices or is drawn to? . Like for instance, we're all drawn to random things poking in from the side of a composition. So really think objectively like, oh, I gotta watch my edges, or blown highlights. Our eyes are drawn to bright points in a scene.

[00:43:27] Jaymi: So if you're blowing out your highlights, that's gonna impact the way that someone sees it. So think very objectively about, okay. I wanna bring my vision of the world into this, but how are people gonna react because of the way that the human brain is built? Get really objective about that. And then, so three A was get portfolio reviews and lots of them, especially with people who are gonna be honest with you, but honest with you in a way that you're willing to hear, so that you can take that advice and run with it.

[00:43:58] Jaymi: And the fourth [00:44:00] thing is to experiment with style. And lean into different styles and play with that, but lean into one at a. Like really dig into one at a time and explore it, swim around in it, have fun with it. Really go for it. And you can always change that style up. You can always move on. But give yourself ample time to explore one at a time and stay focused and see what you learn inside of that, what you love, what you don't love, what you wanna change up.

[00:44:27] Jaymi: And that's gonna actually really help you I think in these other areas of. Okay. I'm thinking more objectively about composition because I'm looking at my style and understanding what I love and don't love about how I'm approaching this. And it's gonna help you in maybe thinking about that exposure triangle because that exposure triangle is critical to how compositions turn out.

[00:44:49] Jaymi: Is it a fuzzy background? Is it a little f-stop fuzzy background or big F-stop shark background? You know what's going on in there? So it's gonna really, I think, help you dig into the other [00:45:00] aspects that we've talked about today as.

[00:45:02] Jo: And I love all of these. Because the message throughout all of these that you've been subtly saying is Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

[00:45:14] Jaymi: Yes, exactly And play. And play. Have fun with it. Like this is something that we do for fun. You know, this is something that we. Picked up because we were curious and excited. And then I think the deeper we get into photography, the more we beat ourselves up about getting it wrong, or not knowing enough or messing up shots or being overwhelmed.

[00:45:38] Jaymi: And it's like, well remember why you picked up a camera cuz it's fun. Let's experiment, let's play, let's grow, let's learn.

[00:45:45] Jo: Because even if you're making a living, Like Papa used to say, your job should not be work. So even if you have a job that you make a living out of photography, you're doing it because you love it. It's not work to do [00:46:00] it. It's not work to have to go out and practice or to go out and experiment.

[00:46:06] Jo: It's because you love doing it.

[00:46:07] Jaymi: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Cool, Joe, well, thank you for talking through all of this stuff with me. It's always really fun that we get to kind of go through, oh, this is what it was like for me and oh, that's, you know, here's where I'm at now, and we can really dig into how our own experiences are, frankly, pretty universal, I think.

[00:46:27] Jo: I hope so, cuz I, I hope people listening to this get as charged up as I am right now. Now I'm ready to go pick up my camera and go out in the yard again. You know, it's spring, the flowers are out and the. These are going and it's like, oh, we wanna go back out there.

[00:46:40] Jo: So thanks for getting me so excited, and hopefully other people are too.

[00:46:43] Jaymi: I hope that you run outside with your camera

[00:46:46] Jaymi: today and go, just start fiddling around with all of the settings and you know, have fun with that.

[00:46:52] Jaymi: Cool. And for everyone listening, I hope that you head outside today with your camera. Take some time to pick up your camera and just mess around [00:47:00] with it.

[00:47:00] Jaymi: Like what is one area where you're feeling stuck in your photography and that you really wanna improve your photos? You might have 60 years of experience behind a camera, but there's always gonna be one area. So what is one area where you know that you wanna go grow in the photos that you're taking, and go play with that today.

[00:47:17] Jaymi: Go experiment. Have fun. Get out there, shoot, , be happy, and we'll talk to you again next week


Rate, Review & Follow on Apple Podcasts

Love listening to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast? Please consider rating and reviewing us! Reviews help us reach more photographers just like you who want to make a meaningful impact with their images.

Head here on your mobile device, scroll down to “Write a Review”, and let us know what you love most about the show!

While you’re at it, tap “Follow” so you’re sure to get all the episodes – including bonus episodes! – the moment they drop. Follow now!