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Man wearing a yellow rain jacket and black backpack
Photography Tips for Beginners

Camera Backpacks Reviews For Travel and Hiking

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After my trusty backpack of 17 years finally bit the dust, I was ready to upgrade to a camera bag even better than the bag that had escorted me through high school and accompanied me on trips around the world. Quality was key, but could I find a bag that would serve me another 17 years and meet my needs? They just don’t make ’em’ like they used to, right? I spent a year searching for the perfect camera backpack, almost certain I would need to make concessions, but to my pleasant surprise, I found what I was looking for.

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What should I look for in a camera backpack?

Each person’s needs are different, but I wanted an all purpose travel camera backpack I could use as a carry-on, a daypack, and hiking bag. I realize I had high expectations, but I had hoped the perfect travel bag was out there. Here are the requirements I was looking for:

  1. Backpack with camera compartments that fit a DSLR Camera, 17-20 mm lens, 70 mm lens, and 150-600 mm lens.

  2. Small enough fit under the airplane seat, but large enough to fit a 3-day weekend’s worth of clothes. 

  3. A nondescript backpack that easily transitions to a daypack

  4. Comfortable for long hikes with removable hip straps for non hikes

  5. Fits a 15 inch laptop

  6. A place to store a large water bottle because no matter what activity I am engaged in, I need to stay hydrated.

Each airline has different requirements, but on average a personal item is about H 17″ x W 10″ x D 9″ (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm). Carry on size is about 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm). 

Photography Backpack Reviews

Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II

Dimensions: H 19 x W 11 x D 9, personal item size



This Lowepro camera bag was my top choice because it met all the requirements listed in the previous section, which goes to show more money doesn’t always mean better. The bag fit comfortably for long periods of time, so much so I thought for a moment I left the bag behind somewhere. 

Peter Mckinnon Backpack

Dimensions: H 22 x W 13.5  x D 9, carryon size

Large carryon size backpack with a DSLR camera, 3 lenses, a tripod, a laptop, and clothes



Nomatic’s Peter Mckinnon backpack is designed by a professional photographer who included every feature on the go photographers need. This high-quality bag leaves nothing to be desired and is the perfect all-in-one travel bag that allows you to go from the airport to the trails in style and comfort. If you carry minimal gear, you may consider the insert that converts to a backpack when you need to carry less gear.

Lowepro Freeline Camera Backpack 350 AW

Dimensions: H 19 x W 11.5 x D 8, personal item size
Small black camera backpack carrying camera equipment and a few other items



The Lowepro Freeline 350 AW is perfect for everyday use, but is not a suitable all-in-one camera backpack for weekend travel or hiking. This lightweight camera bag converts to a regular backpack and great for street photographers.

PRVKE Travel and DSLR Camera Backpack

Dimensions: H 17 x W 11 x D 6.5, personal item size



The PRYVKE is a versatile bag that converts from a camera backpack to a regular backpack. The bag is stylish and functional with its waterproof exterior, and theft resistant design gives you peace of mind on the trails and exploring the city. 

Mindshift Gear Backlight

Dimensions: H 18.5 x W 10.6 x D 7.1, personal item size



I’m going to be honest here, how did this bag make other top camera back pack lists? Any positive features one can say about this back are overshadowed by its inaccessibility and weight. To access your gear, the expectation is to turn the bag to your front with the hip pads clipped in the back. Then you open the back of the bag all the way and use the neck strap to keep the flap open, which blocks your view in the bag. I cannot stress enough how unnecessarily ridiculous this approach is, and I would not recommend this bag.  


Woman wearing a backpack while hiking in Arizona
Large male elk roaming through a field of yellow flowers.
Photography Tips for Beginners

6 Basic Tips for Stunning Wildlife Photos

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Wildlife photography is one of the most challenge types of photography because you need to be quick, can’t get close, and can’t guarantee a great shot; but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Good wildlife photos give us the opportunity to admire the details of animals we would never get to see otherwise. Have you ever been that person pointing at a tiny, dark speck in a photo, trying to prove you saw a bear on your hike? I’m right there with ya; missing a photo opportunity because of inadequate equipment and/or skill is frustrating. That’s why I’ve put together a list of simple animal photography tips to help beginners capture stunning wildlife photos without the frustration.

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Taking Pictures Of Animals Requires Patience

Great Blue Heron Catches a Fish for Dinner
I spent an hour and a half with this heron and in that time I witnessed him fish a few times, fly to a couple different spots, and learned the body language he exhibited before flying or fishing. A couple hours is a more manageable time frame than months on site.

Watch BBC’s Birds of Paradise (free on YouTube!) and you’ll see what I mean by patience. Most professional outdoor and wildlife photographers will camp out in one location for weeks or even months, waiting for the perfect photo opportunity.

The average person doesn’t have that kind of time, but spending a little time observing makes a difference. A couple hours is a more manageable time frame and is enough for wildlife photographers to gain the animal’s trust, learn their body language, and capture a few different behaviors. Slowly inch forward to get closer or get another angle; never make sudden movements or loud noises, and always respect the animals space and habitat.

Essential Gear For Wildlife Photographers

Ordinarily I would say equipment doesn’t make you a talented photographer, but with wildlife photography gear matters. You still don’t need expensive equipment, but a quality telephoto lens and a fast camera makes noticeable improvements to pictures of animals.

The Best Camera for Wildlife Photography

Critical features to consider when purchasing a new wildlife camera is the frame rate (FPS), the number of auto focus points, and the camera’s performance at high ISOs. The frame rate refers to the number of images the camera can take per second; a frame rate of 6 FPS or more increases the likelihood of capturing that perfect moment. Cameras with 45 or more autofocus points improve focusing speed and allow more control over where the camera focuses. Low light situations may need a high ISO to compensate for the faster shutter speeds, so you’ll want a camera that performs well and produces less digital noise at high ISOs.

Recommended Wildlife Cameras:

What To look For in A Lens For Animal Photography

A telephoto lens has a focal length over 200 mm and many will tell you that is sufficient; in my many years using a 300 mm lens, a 200-300 mm lens is sub par. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who live or work with wildlife or livestock, there will probably be a significant distance between you and the animal; any focal length less than 400 mm could leave the animal looking small and need substantial cropping. If your budget allows, I recommend at least a 600 mm lens. Besides the focal length, you will want a lens with image stabilization to reduce camera shake, a fast focusing speed, and is light enough to hand hold.

Recommended Telephoto Lenses:

You Don’t Need A Tripod For Shooting Wildlife

Most beginner wildlife photography tips will tell you to use a tripod, but I disagree. Animals aren’t waiting for you to capture the perfect shot and time is fleeting; tripods are cumbersome and time consuming. Hand-holding the camera gives you the flexibility to set up quickly, adjust positions to get the best angles, and capture gorgeous pictures on the fly. Prop the camera up on something in the environment or use your camera bag to stabilize the camera or this awesome trekking pole/monopod combo.

Camera Settings for Wildlife Photography

Large male elk roaming through a field of yellow flowers.

To get started in wildlife photography, you need a basic understanding of the exposure triangle to capture sharp wildlife photos. Here is a breakdown of how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO impact wildlife pictures:

Fast shutter speed

If you are using a telephoto lens, you must use a faster shutter speed to accommodate the higher sensitivity to movement in longer lenses. The slowest shutter speed for sharp hand-held photos is “1/focal length”, so if you are using a 600 mm lens then you will want a shutter speed of 1/600 or faster to reduce motion blur on fast moving subjects such as birds in flight.

Wide Aperture

The best aperture for wildlife photography is the widest aperture your lens will allow. Wider aperture settings create the soft, blurred background and allows more light to reach the sensor to compensate for the reduced exposure at fast shutter speeds. 

Auto ISO

The animal will move, potentially in and out of various lighting conditions; you need a variable that is flexible and changes as quickly as the animal moves. Using auto ISO automatically adjusts the camera’s sensitivity to light, allowing you to adjust the shutter speed or move from shade to light without having to tweak your settings with every little change in the scene.

Save A Custom Setting

The secret to spectacular wildlife photos is in the custom settings. Most wildlife won’t stick around long enough for you to adjust your camera settings, so it’s crucial to be fast and ready for the unexpected. Save the optimal wildlife settings to one of your custom modes, which are marked as C1 & C2 on Canon and U1 & U2 on Nikon, that way you never have to waste time altering the settings. I typically leave my camera in sleep mode and set to my wildlife custom setting, so all I have to do is lift my camera.

Recommended Settings For Wildlife Pictures:

  • Shutter Priority
  • Shutter Speed: 1/640 (for a 600 mm lens)
  • ISO: Auto with a max of 12800
  • Exposure Compensation: 0 or +1 to slightly over expose
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Auto Focus Operation: AI Servo
  • Auto Focus Select: Zone AF
  • Drive Mode: High Speed Continuous

Wildlife Images At home

Squirrel Snacking a Walnut in a tree

The pandemic has taught me you don’t have to stray far from home to see wildlife – in fact, I’ve recently learned Austin is a birding mecca. While you won’t find the crown jewel of wildlife such as bears and lions everywhere, you can find something unique in any location.

In my suburban condo I’ve seen birds, mice, squirrels, lizards, frogs, and snails; and in the Texas Hill Country I have access to everything from rare birds, bats, horses, cattle, coyotes, deer, and more! We tend to forget about all the awesome wildlife photo opportunities that are close to home because it’s not as rare or special to us as it would be to our viewers, so don’t forget about where you live!

For more inspiration check out my wildlife photography gallery


Wildlife photograph of a Screech Owl
Photography Tips for Beginners

How To Use Negative Space In Photography

Many photography compositions rely on positive space to fill the frame and guide the viewer on a journey through the image; the many details in the frame contribute to the story. If an element is missing, the story could be become incomplete or unclear. Negative space is unique because it relies on emptiness to tell the story and provide the viewer a single point of focus. Though absent of overt details, negative space is not nothingness; the unused space plays a significant role in the overall tone and emotion in a photograph. 

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What is Positive and Negative Space In Photography?

Negative space is a composition technique where the area around the focal point is subtle, produces minimal context, and doesn’t divert the eye from the subject. We often associate this technique with emptiness, but negative space doesn’t have to be blank. Patterns, textures, or objects add depth and direct the viewer to the focal point rather than taking the viewer on a journey through the photo. Positive Space is any part of the photo that draws attention, which includes the subject and any supporting details.   

How Does Negative Space Impact Your Photos?

Stroll Through Vast Sand Dunes

Negative space is often said to accentuate the subject, which is true with minimalist and high contract images where the focal point is the subject.  However, emphasis on the subject is not always the goal, depending on the color tone, the subject, and framing, negative space helps convey an array of emotions which become more important than an object in the image. Light and airy pictures create a sense of calm, relaxation, and contemplation, while dark and moody images appear mysterious or provoke feelings of isolation and sadness.

Framing the subject on the outer edges creates a sense of scale or feelings of solitude.

The amount of space in front of a moving object tells the story of a journey; more negative space gives the feeling of a long journey or adventure, and less negative space creates speed. Space behind the subject expresses a difficult or completed journey. 

Tips For Applying Negative Space In Photography Composition

Composition is a critical aspect of photography, but is one of the hardest things to teach; it’s something that just you learn with practice. Negative space is a great compositional technique for novice photographers because it’s a deceptively easy; the only requirements are a blank space and a subject. If you aren’t comfortable with photography composition yet, start with these minimalistic negative space ideas as a straightforward introduction to the basics, adding more complexity as you become more skilled in the style.

Look for Complimentary Colors

Color theory suggests combing colors opposite each other on the color wheel are complimentary colors that are visually satisfying when used together and provide a stark contrast. Using a complementary color as the negative space or background adds details without distracting from the subject, contributes to the tone, and helps to emphasize the subject. Analogous colors, which are adjacent each other on the color wheel, may be too similar and the subject will blend in with the background.  

Orange and teal is a popular editing style that emphasizes the two colors opposite each other on the color wheel. 

Use Vertical or Horizontal Lines

Add multiple subjects and maintain the minimalist style by placing three objects in a vertical or horizontal line.  Placing the objects in a meaningful order tells a simple story and is an easy introduction to framing and composition for new photographers. 

Wide Aperture

You don’t need a solid background; a wide aperture blurs out distracting backgrounds and allows you to create negative space anywhere. 

Use Rule Of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a basic photography composition where important elements of the photograph are composed on the imaginary lines of a 3×3 grid. Off-centered points of interest give a more natural balance and places greater emphasis on the elements at intersecting points. 

Look for Patterns or Texture

High contrast or vibrant backgrounds may distract from the subject, so look for subtle repetitions or shapes that could serve as the image background. Patterns and textures add depth and direct the viewer’s eyes to the subject. Use the subject to break the pattern and make the subject stand out, or the frame subject so the pattern leads the viewer to the subject.

Negative space should take up most of the Image

Just because a photo has some empty space doesn’t mean it is using the negative space composition. To use negative space effectively, an image should contain roughly 1/3 positive space and 2/3 negative space. There is a delicate balance;  if the subject takes up too little space, the photo could appear dull and empty. If the focal point takes up too much space, the image could become cluttered or unbalanced. 


Monk in yellow robe reading a book
Pinterest Pin Negative Space - Pink Flower on concrete, tree in fog, woman in rice hat
Muslim Man in a black shirt and black turban plays with a camera.
Photography Tips for Beginners

Beginner’s Guide to Better Photography

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As a beginner, I convinced myself I needed to shoot in full manual, and my photos needed to look a particular way. I’ve been guilty of not following the advice below which stunted my growth as a photographer; I saw a tremendous improvement when I finally set aside my pride and followed these simple tips. Whether you are brand new to photography or looking for a refresher, this beginner’s guide to better photography provides tips and techniques that are sure to put you on the path to success.

1. Good Starter Cameras

photo of person holding camera

The best beginner photography camera is the one you already own. I used a point and shoot cameras for years before I bought my first DSLR, so don’t convince yourself an expensive camera will make you a better photographer. It won’t.

Point and shoot digital cameras are capable of more than we give them credit for and are a low-cost introduction to beginner photography. Learn basic photography skills on a phone or point and shoot camera and use them to their limits before upgrading to a DSLR.

The Best Beginner Photography Cameras

No animal will be too far for wildlife photographers shooting with the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS massive 960 mm zoom and 10fps.

Landscape and travel photographers will love the 18.5 mm lens on the Fujifilm XF10.

With an f/1.4 -2.8 aperture, the Panasonic Lumix LX10 is an impressive starter camera for macro photographers

If you don’t know what kind of photography you will love, try the Panasonic Lumix ZS70 which a perfect all-around camera.

2. Start With Simple Pictures

Photo composition is critical to good photography and learning how to frame your pictures takes practice. Start with a plain background and a single subject to learn the basics, such as focus and exposure, then sprinkle in more complexity as you grasp the basics of photography. Negative space is a lesser-known composition technique that is a perfect starting point for beginner photographers to build their photography skills and create beautiful images.

3. Take Your Camera Everywhere

Camera Bag

Carry your camera with and taking a lot of pictures is the best way to develop your photographer’s eye. Practice taking pictures and over time you’ll see what scenes will make great photographs and which scenes won’t. I use this adorable, nondescript camera bag that looks like an average purse to keep my equipment safe and organized when I’m on the go.

4. Learn Basic Composition Techniques

Photography is not an exact science and there isn’t a formula for applying composition techniques, but basic composition rules are great ideas for beginners to get started. Once you understand how to frame your images according to the rules, then you can break the rules.

5. Don’t Be Ashamed Of Auto Mode

Camera Settings

I’m sure you’ve heard that to improve your photos, you need to get out of auto mode; that is a harmful myth. Professional photographers understand all of their camera’s settings and how to adjust them to their needs, but if there is an auto mode that suits their needs, they will let the camera do the heavy lifting. Cameras do an excellent job determining ideal settings in most cases and is a great way for beginners to learn the basics. Rather than frantically trying to figure out manual settings at the moment and subsequently missing a shot, don’t be afraid to use auto mode. Later you can study the settings the camera picked and try to understand why those were optimal settings – eventually you’ll learn how to adjust the camera settings to better suit your needs.

6. Focus on Photography Techniques

The best way to learn photography is to be intentional; take pictures of the same subject from different angles or use different settings, then evaluate your photos in playback mode and make adjustments until you’ve reached the desired result. Don’t blindly shoot a hundred photos and hope that one of them comes out. The spray and pray method doesn’t challenge you to improve your skills, and poorly composed photos or inadequate settings don’t get better in higher quantities. There’s a big difference between taking a lot of photos with intentional changes and hoping for the best.

7. Zoom In On the Photos In Playback Mode

Review your images on your camera's LCD screen before finishing your shoot.

Speaking of reviewing your photos, zoom in on the focal point to check for the correct focus and lighting. The tiny screen LCD screens are deceptive, lack detail, and lead you to believe you have the perfect photo only to find the image has camera shake after viewing the image on a bigger screen. Magnifying the image in playback mode is a simple technique that provides more detail and all but guarantees you’ll walk away with quality photos.

8. It’s Ok To Edit Your Photos

If someone has told you real photographers don’t need to edit their photos, they don’t know what they are talking about. Every professional photo has been edited to some degree. Photoshop allows photographers to blend multiple photos and Lightroom enables photographers to edit in bulk. Don’t think for one minute we won’t take advantage of this. Photography is an art you can make it your own, it doesn’t matter how little or how much you edited your photos.

9. Look At Other People’s Photos

Photography Gallery

You gain inspiration from looking at other people’s work. When you feel uninspired, look at other people’s photos to spark new ideas; evaluate the composition, lighting, and other elements you like, and consider how to give the photo your own flair.

10. Learn Photography In Small Chunks

Mastering new skills in photography takes time and won’t happen overnight. One simple beginner photography tip is to break the components of photography down into manageable pieces and attempt to master a single aspect of photography at a time. Focus on photography essentials first, like the elements in the exposure triangle, master a specific style, or practice composition techniques. You’ll never finish learning photography; don’t rush the process and focus one element at a time.


Beginner photography tips pin
Person holding a small mirror reflecting a camera.
Photography Tips for Beginners

40 Creative Photography Ideas When You Need Inspiration

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

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Fun Challenges for Beginners to Improve Photography Techniques

Challenge yourself with these photography ideas that encourage you to explore new styles or skills outside your comfort zone and strengthen your basic photography techniques; restricting your equipment and photographing other styles is a way to inspire fresh ideas and gain new skills.

Use Only One Lens

Spending a day using same lens helps to understand the strength and weaknesses of that lens for any situation.

Shoot Horizontal and Vertical

Horizontal Image of Tom Branch Falls

Challenge your photographic eye by taking horizontal and vertical pictures of the same subject and see how the scene transforms with a different perspective.

Wide shot of Tom Branch Falls and surrounding trees

Shoot Only In One Mode

Aperture and shutter priority modes give you control of a single element while the camera automatically controls the other settings. Restricting yourself to using only one mode for a day is an excellent way to pick up the basics of photography and how they impact the photo.

Use A Phone Camera For Photography

Phone cameras take great landscape photos with minimal variations in ISO, aperture, and shutter speed; challenge yourself to push the limits of the phone and create artistic pictures using the hidden tricks of phone photography,

Wrong Lens

Intentionally photograph with lenses not best suited for that subject, such as using a landscape or telephoto lens for flower photography. Discover how to use a lens’s limitations to your advantage to expand how you mentally see pictures and create unique photos. 

Capture Nine Critical Photography Elements

In a single location look for interesting ways to showcase the essence of light, shadows, lines, texture, color, size, depth, patterns, and negative space. 

Photo Editing

Amazing photography doesn’t happen after the shutter clicks, the best photos come to life in post-processing. Experiment with various editing styles, master an unfamiliar tool, or research new tricks in your favorite editing tool.

Avoid Looking At The In Camera Images

Challenge yourself to learn the exposure metrics (shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and exposure compensation) found in the viewfinder, which will aid you in learning the elements of the exposure triangle and boost your photography skills with and without the LCD screen. 

Experiment With New Photography Lighting Techniques

Lighting is one of the most vital components in photography, which is applied artistically to impact tone, color, and exposure. Invest in artificial lighting equipment and explore the diverse ways light alters your images.

Black and White

Using this popular photography technique is a great way to become comfortable with harsh light and create cool photos where light is the subjects.



Create unique images using abstract photography that leaves the viewer wondering what it is.

Tell A Story In A Photo Series

Tell a complete story in 5 images or fewer. 

4 Seasons  

Show the transition of the same season through the changing seasons.

3 Colors

Capture and image with only three colors.

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Look for photography inspiration in a common object or illustrate a routine such as a cup of coffee or a morning routine and turn them into unique pieces of art.


Photograph something to look different than it does in reality. Ideas for deceptive photos could be objects appearing larger or smaller than they are or capturing images of landscape in an urban environment. 

Unusual Subject

Take pictures of a subject most people wouldn’t.

Look Up

Photograph something from underneath it, for a more compelling subject chose something you wouldn’t ordinarily see the bottom of. 

Look Down

Take a picture while looking down; this would be a great opportunity to explore drone photography.

Mirror Reflections

 Photograph a reflection without showing the camera in the reflection.



Create unique images that showcase the elaborate architecture used to build bridges.

Something Old, Abandoned, Or Broken

Pictures of old, abandoned objects or buildings create a beautiful juxtaposition of art and the forgotten.

Disposable Cameras

Taking artsy photos with a disposable camera is a fun retro challenge that allows you to focus on composition since there is zero setting controls or the ability to view immediate results. 


Capture murals, texture, patterns, and history in this simple but powerful subject.


Photograph the intricate details of antique doors.

Portable Subject 

Carry a subject, like a lens ball, with you and have it in every picture

Tilt-Shift Photography

Photograph a lifelike scene with action figures, toys, or miniature cities.

A Glitch In The Matrix  

Inspired by How To’s by John Wilson, capture artistic photos of obscure things that don’t belong where you spotted them. For example, shoes on a telephone wire.

Your City

Go sightseeing in your own city and take pictures of iconic murals, buildings, or landmarks.

Picked And Edited By Someone Else

Sometimes we are own worst critic and it’s entertaining to see what others like about your photography or gain a new perspective on the images you capture. Coordinate with a friend to photograph a similar subject, then swap the raw files, then each of you chooses your favorite image of the other’s to edit for them.


Bad weather such as snow, rain, and fog creates the most interesting art photography

Stages of Life

In a single photo, capture different stages of life without using human subjects.


It’s natural to become desensitized to things we see every day and forget to search for interesting ideas close to home; it’s surprising what you notice when you open your eyes to the things you look past every day. If you are in a creative rut and need a challenge to inspire you, try these photography project ideas that are designed to help you see photo opportunities in seemingly mundane places and challenge you to think in new and creative ways.


Photograph something that starts with each letter of the alphabet

100 Steps

Go on a long walk and stop to take a picture within eyesight every 100, or whatever interval you choose. Don’t skip any stops and force yourself to come up with innovative ways to capture what is available.

Pick A Photography Theme  

Pick a theme such as color, shape, or objects and try to photograph subjects that represent that theme.

Spell Words With Photographs 

Choose a meaningful word and attempt to find interesting letters that spell the word.

Re-Shoot Old Photos

Recapture your old favorite photos or improve ones you didn’t love.  

Oil and Water Challenge

Place multicolored paper under a glass container full of oil and water, stir, and use a macro lens to take artistic photos of bubbles and vibrant colors for a cool photo project with common household objects.

Visit Your Favorite Place 

Visit your favorite place and use imagery to portray what makes your favorite place special to you.

Recreate Famous Art

Add your own creative flair to recreations of famous art or challenge your skills attempting to create an exact replica.

Artistic Photos Scavenger Hunt

A way to get creative and have fun with photography when you are out of ideas is taking artsy photos of pre-made scavenger hunt finds

Products Recommended in This Post


Photography Inspiration Pin
Pinterest Pin - List of creative photography ideas
Golden Hour silhouette in the Great Smoky Mountains
Photography Tips for Beginners

Top 3 Reasons To Hate Golden Hour

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Golden Hour is a small window of time in the hour just before the sun rises or sets and is famous for giving off a soft light with a golden glow. The internet will tell you to avoid shooting at any other time of day, photography apps help predict the golden hour, and other photographers chase that golden hour aesthetic like there is a pot of gold at the end.

I’m not other photographers and I hate the golden hour. There, I said it! This is probably the most controversial opinion I hold as a photographer, but hear me out! When I first started photography, I spent too much time stressing out about being in the right place at the right time and it took the joy out of photography. Opening yourself up to other types of light brings a whole other world of creativity and individuality, so here are my top three reasons photographers should shoot all day long.

Golden Hour Is Restrictive

There is no such thing as poor light. Shooting in various lighting conditions challenges you to think more critically about how to place your subject to leverage the light you have. Experimenting with compositions and light outside your comfort zone helps you grow as a photographer; choosing to only shoot in one style of light hinders that growth. You can shoot in a style of photography best suited for the current lighting conditions, or you can adjust your composition to avoid unfavorable light.

It Doesn't Challenge You To Improve

Rather than seeking the ideal conditions within your comfort zone; rise to the opportunity of meeting the demands of the environment. Unless you work in a studio the environment will be perfect; learn to work with the lighting you have and create beautiful images in spite of imperfections. 

Sun Rays Shining Through Dense Trees at Soco Falls

Composition In Hard Light

Some Photography Types Require Harsh Light

The soft light of the golden hour is a subtle transition from light to dark. By contrast, the transition from light to dark in hard light is abrupt and definitive. Shooting in full sun has a poor reputation because of the shadows harsh light creates. While many photographers have demonized shadows, some types of photography appreciate and require the stark contrast between light and dark. If used correctly, high contrast light creates drama and dimension to a photo.

Examples of Photography That Embrace Hard Light

calm creek reflects large, white, boulders on the shore.

Reflective Surfaces

Reflections are the light bouncing off a surface, without light there is nothing to reflect.

Shadows Example


Shadows can strengthen the focal point and add balance and contrast to an image.

Brandenburg Gate Silhouette Example 


Silhouette photography exposes for the background, leaving only the outline of the subject visible.

Leaves and moss grow on an old tree in high contrast black and white during midday full sun.

Black & White

Black and white photography relies on the high contrast of light to create various tones of black, white, and gray.

I don’t bring up these points to say we should never shoot during the golden hour; that golden glow is quite enjoyable. It’s really the hype and dependency on the golden hour that I hate; there are 22 other hours in a day, why are we limiting ourselves to only 2? Shoot what you want, how you want, when you want, and learn to embrace what the scene gives you.


Three Reasons To Hate Golden Hour Pin
Small Yellow Pine Warbler Bird through green trees
Photography Tips for Beginners

Beginner’s Guide To Better Pictures Of Birds

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

Table of Contents

Birds loved me before I loved them; they always seem to flock to me and pose for pictures, and over the years taking pictures of birds has grown into my favorite pastime. I’ve used budget equipment and learned through trial and error as I improved my skills to get where I am now. I have formed a comprehensive list of bird photography tips I apply to produce beautiful bird images, but the ultimate tip for excellent pictures of birds is patience.


Bird photography is one of the few styles of photography where equipment matters; without the correct equipment, great bird photos are next to impossible.

Brown Thrasher  bird perched in a tree
Brown Thrashers have 1000 song types which is more than any other bird species.


A telephoto lens is anything more than a 200mm lens, and some wildlife photographers recommend this size lens for bird photography. In my experience, 200 mm is an awfully small focal length for birds; anything less than 600mm isn’t ideal for bird photography, even at close range.

Name brand lenses at that focal length can approach $10,000, so I highly recommend the Sigma and Tamron lenses for the same quality under $1,000. Before I upgraded to the Sigma 150-600 mm contemporary lens, I used a 300 mm lens for years. It may be more difficult to capture close-ups of birds, but it does a decent job for those on a budget.





Many “best cameras for wildlife photography” list recommend the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, but that price tag is just insane. There are far more affordable cameras on the market for hobbyists who love taking pictures of birds. When purchasing a new camera for bird photography, all you need is a fast autofocus, a continuous mode of at least 6 frames per second (fps), and a 9 point autofocus grid.





Not all memory cards are made equal, and a quality SD card with a fast read/write speed allows you to burst for longer periods of time. I truly noticed the difference when I upgraded from 70 MB/s to 170 MB/s. B&H Photo has a wonderful explanation on how to understand your SD card; in short, the higher the MB/s number, the faster the card will be.





I use the same custom settings for bird photography as I do for other types of wildlife, which I explained with greater detail in my guide to wildlife photography. For this post, I will further explain the camera settings important in bird photography.

White Crowned Sparrow perched in a tree with a white background
White Crowned Sparrow


Continuous or burst mode allows you to press and hold the shutter button while the camera takes several pictures in quick succession; a crucial feature for capturing fast movement.


In order to reduce the need for a higher ISO, I recommend using the slowest shutter speed possible for the bird you are capturing. For birds sitting on a branch or slow-flying birds such as birds of prey who soar, you can use the ideal slowest shutter speed for your lens, which is 1/focal length; 1/600 for a 600 mm lens, or 1/300 mm for a 300 mm lens. You will need at least a shutter speed of 1/2000 to capture sharp images of birds in flight, regardless of the focal length.


As the bird moves, the 9 point back button allows you to continuously focus on a small area. Using more focus points increases the risk of the camera focusing on branches or other surrounding areas, using a single point of focus is too small and may cause you to focus on the wrong part of the bird. This brings me to my next point…


The most important element is to ensure the eyes are in focus, which is why the single point autofocus is too small because it is more challenging to focus on a small area with a single point of focus. It is acceptable to have some part of the bird out of focus or have motion blur as long as the eyes are in focus.

Close Up of a Red-tailed Hawk's head
Majestic image of a predatory bird showing the details of their feathers, eyes, and beak.


Less is more in when taking pictures of birds; emphasize the subject by framing the bird where there are minimal distractions in the background. A clean background places more focus on the bird and makes for a more impactful image.

Keep - head of Greater Roadrunner on clean orange background.

Spot Metering

Different metering settings tell the camera where to look to determine how to set the exposure. Other types of metering evaluate more of the scene and can cause shadows on the bird, especially when birds are perched in a tree. Spot metering exposes for a small point in the center of the camera which ensures the subject is always adequately exposed. This may cause an overexposed or underexposed background, but that’s ok because it will help create a cleaner background and enhance the visibility of your subject.

Wide Aperture

wide aperture (lower f-stop number) blurs the background and allows for more light to reach the sensor, so this is another way to minimize the need to increase the ISO.


Birds are quick little creatures and you don’t have time to fuss with manual settings; use auto ISO to compensate for exposure differences when you adjust the shutter speed, which is the only setting you should try to control while taking pictures of birds.


I’ll get into editing techniques later in this post, but don’t worry about trying to frame the perfect shot. Just concentrate on focus and exposure so you can create the perfect composition during post-processing.


  • Birds are most active in the morning and evening
  • Search for birding hotspots in your area; birding hotspots are known locations where birds tend to gather and increase the likelihood of spotting birds.
  • Backyard Birds: Improve your skills by practicing on common birds such as doves, sparrows, and cardinals. Allow yourself to try new settings and learn about common behaviors on birds you’ll see again so you are prepared for less common birds.
  • Approach the birds slowly and quietly; inch your way forward by taking a step and shoot so the bird gets used to you and the sound of the camera.
  • Go on a guided bird walk with the National Audubon Society or other organization in your area
  • Be patient and wait around for a bit if the birds fly off when you first approach, they usually come back if you stand still.
  • Listen for chirping


Birds are fast-moving subjects and you won’t have the time to think about composition when capturing images of birds. Forget about the myth that photographers don’t edit their photos and consider these minor adjustments in Lightroom to enhance the output of your bird pictures.


To sharpen the edges and improve the details of the image, increase contrast and clarity in Lightroom’s Basic panel in the develop module. For more sharpening options scroll down to the detail panel and tweak the sharpening slider; the default in the sharpening tool is to sharpen everything, but you can hit the alt/option key on your keyboard while moving the masking slider to the right to be more selective in the parts that sharpen. The parts of the image in white while using the masking tool are the parts of the images selected for sharpening.

Sharpening in the Basic Panel - Lightroom
Sharpening tools in the Basic Panel
Sharpening in the detail panel - lightroom
Sharpening tools in the Details Panel

Noise Reduction

Increasing the luminance in the noise reduction panel artificially reduces digital noise, but also softens the edges. When you increase the luminance you will also want to increase the detail and contrast sliders to bring back the details reduced by increasing the luminance slider.

Noise Reduction in Detail Panel - Lightroom
Reduce digital noise by increasing luminance and contrast.


Contrary to popular belief, cropping does not remove details or reduce the quality of the photo; cropping only affects the size of prints you can create. For example, I cropped this picture by at least 50% and I can still print a high-quality 24×16 inch print, so don’t be afraid to crop and create the composition you want. If I hadn’t cropped this picture, I could print up to a 48×32 inch, but that size is unnecessary for most uses and the photo composition wouldn’t look as good. If you plan to print small prints for the home or share them on social media, cropping won’t be an issue.

Heron spreads it's wings and dips it's head below water as it catches a fish


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Photography Tips for Beginners

10 Photography Myths to Unlearn

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Table of Contents

Myth 1: You Need An Expensive Camera

A good photo tells a story, has great composition, sharp focus, quality lighting, and tells a story. Even the cheapest cameras can properly expose an image and get the subject in focus; the rest is your responsibility as the photographer.

A good camera can give you more flexibility and control if you know how to use it, but just having an expensive camera will not improve your skills. I recommend mastering the basics on a point and shoot and upgrading when the camera becomes the limiting factor. I didn’t upgrade to a DSLR until I needed more control over where the camera focused. I upgraded again when I became passionate about travel photography and wanted GPS capabilities. Notice how the last upgrade wasn’t even about the quality of my photos?

Can you guess which photos I took with my old Olympus (a point and shoot) and which ones were with my Canon 6D? 

Hover over the image to reveal which camera I used.

Myth 2: Professionals Shoot Better Photos Than Amateurs

A professional once told me that he consistently shoots photos that would score between a B+ to an A- if graded; he may not be the best, but his clients are happy. In photo competitions, it’s the amateurs who win because they have a higher degree of variability between photos; capturing some A++s, but also some D’s.

It’s probably those D-s that are destroying your confidence, but I bet you’ll find a few gems in your collection too. Photographers may excel in their niche, but shooting outside of that niche is challenging. Photographers I admire have told me they can never shoot fantastic landscapes like I do; a compliment like that catches me off guard, but it’s a nice confidence boost and a reminder that even professional photographers have weaknesses.

Myth 3: Professionals Shoot In Full Manual

Photographers understand all of their camera’s controls but may shoot in aperture or shutter priority mode or use a custom setting. A professional photographer allows the camera to do most of the heavy lifting and only makes minor tweaks if needed. Adjusting your manual settings with every shot is a hassle and may lead to some missed shots.

White Sands National Park -  Las Cruces, New Mexico
The light casting shadows on the pure white sands of New Mexico. The midday light created harsh shadows that I think added to the photo rather than taking away.

Myth 4: Avoid Bad Lighting

Many love the golden hour for its soft golden glow and believe the hour before the sun rises or sets is the only time to photograph. New photographers often fall victim to this philosophy and believe there is not enough light at night and midday light is too harsh. Stop limiting yourself to shooting only two hours a day! If you come to terms with the idea that the golden hour is only one type of light and learn to embrace any light, then you’ll find there is no such thing as bad lighting.

Myth 5: Photographers Never Take A Bad Photo

Magic doesn’t just happen the moment a professional photographer presses the shutter button, and they don’t know the exact settings and composition they need just by looking at a scene. Professionals have an idea of where to start but will take test shots, tweak settings, and move around until they get the photo they want. All the photos leading up to the perfect shot are bad photos. The difference is a professional photographer is looking at those photos as a guide on where to go next, not as a testament to their skill. Also, you’ll never see those photos in their portfolio! If you take a bad photo, analyze why the photo is bad, and make the necessary adjustments. Every photo is a learning opportunity!

Example of Bad Photography - photo with good composition, but blurry
I'm putting myself out there to prove to you that I too take bad photos. This photo is blurry and it still breaks my heart.
Before Example of Lightroom editing - shadows, gray sky, lacks detail in sunrise image.
Before editing in lightroom
Sunrise in the Smokies
This photo turned from drab to fab after editing in Lightroom.

Myth 6: Good Photos Shouldn’t Need Editing

Post-processing is when photos come alive and become truly awe-inspiring. Taking the perfect photo in camera is rare, and the truth is, every photo you’ve seen is probably edited. During post-processing, photographers can bring out the colors, enhance the details, and combine multiple images to display the best of every detail in a scene.

Myth 7: Never Look At Photos While Shooting

This is called chimping and is frowned upon in some circles because you should trust your skills and looking at your screen could cause you to miss a shot. It is true that you shouldn’t spend all your time in the field reviewing your photos, but first of all, not all photo opportunities are fleeting, so you have time to review your photos and make sure you have captured the images you want. Second, it’s perfectly acceptable to make sure your settings are correct. It would be worse to assume everything is coming out perfect and lose every shot than to verify your settings and miss a shot or two.

Myth 8: Photography takes away from “living in the moment”

A friend once asked me, “why do you take so many photos? Do you even look at them later”? Yes, yes I do. Setting aside that enjoying the moment looks different for every person, looking for photo opportunities encourages the photographer to admire and evaluate every detail of their environment and spend time capturing the details others may overlook. I look at photos I took a decade ago, sometimes ones I’ve forgotten about, and get to relive that moment. A good photo sparks emotion; not only does a quality photo give me joy in its own right, but I can remember the emotions I felt at the time I took the photo.

I spent a lot of time in Parque Maria Lusia when I studied abroad in Spain; this picture always takes me back to those days
summer weeds swaying in the Sunset
I live in a major city and don't have panoramic views at my disposal, but here are some beautiful weeds from the overgrown school yard next door to me.

Myth 9: Beautiful images can Only Be Taken At Beautiful Locations

This is where photo composition is key; with the right angles, lighting, and depth of field, anything can be beautiful. To create beauty where you believe there is none, position the camera to cut out an unsightly background, use a wide aperture to blur out the background or use lighting to illuminate your subject and underexpose the background so it is not visible.

Myth 10: You need a Tripod

Tripods help stabilize the camera and create sharp photos, but a tripod is not the only way to accomplish either of those things. Personally, I find tripods cumbersome and limiting because they add weight and make adjusting angles more difficult. Prop the camera up on a ledge, or rocks, or a backpack to stabilize the camera or use a faster shutter speed to reduce camera shake. Monopods are also lightweight, versatile, and easy-to-use tools in place of a tripod when rocks just won’t cut it.

Abrams Falls - Townsend Tennessee
Abrams Falls - Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rather than using a tripod, I stabilized they camera by setting it on my backpack; it's one less thing to carry.


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Vintage Camera Equipment and roll of film
Photography Tips for Beginners

5 Questions to Ask Before Buying New Camera Equipment

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

A beautiful picture catches your eye; the image is sharp and the colors are vibrant. The camera envy sets in, and thoughts like “If I had that camera I could take better pictures” are making you think you should buy new camera equipment. The best photography equipment is the stuff you already own, but having the right photography tools and equipment makes a difference.

If you’re looking to upgrade your gear, ask yourself these questions before buying new camera equipment to make sure you purchase the best tool for your needs.

Why Do I need A New Camera?

Like lenses, different cameras excel at specific functions and may fall short in others. Buying expensive new camera equipment won’t magically solve all of your problems. To be certain your new camera equipment enhances your photography, think about the times you felt like your camera was limiting your creativity and research cameras that excel in that style of photography.

Consider these common problems a different camera body can actually solve to help you decide if a new camera body is right for you.



Recommended Product

Missing fast-paced shots in wildlife and sports photography

Camera with a fast burst mode

Image noise in low light settings

Camera that performs well at a high ISO

Camera Shake

Camera with built-in image stabilization

Location tracking for travel photographers

Camera with GPS

Upload photos to your phone

Camera with WiFi

Will I use the new features?

We tend to equate more money with better quality and to some extent that may be true; but in cameras, more money mostly just means more features. Use Digital Photography Review to compare and contrast your current camera with the cameras on your wishlist; look for the differing features to determine if those additional features are worthwhile to you. You may find the cheaper camera has the features you need, for the same quality, and less money.

When looking for a new camera I kept seeing that the Canon 5D Mark IV was the best wildlife camera, and I was ready to dish out a hefty sum of cash for it. But, when comparing the Canon 6D Mark II with the Canon 5D Mark IV I found the only significant differences were in video quality and few extra megapixels. I don’t use video and megapixels are only important when printing massive photos, which I also don’t do. I bought the 6D Mark II with the confidence that it was just as good as the 5D Mark IV for my needs, and I saved over $1,000.

Can my vision be accomplished by other means

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution; you don’t have to buy a new camera to boost the quality of your photography. If you are struggling with the issues on this list, consider purchasing these photography essentials before upgrading your camera body or lenses.



Recommended Product

Camera Shake


Image Noise

Tripod or external lights

Flat and uninteresting photos

Editing tool to enhance the colors and crop

Poor white balance

Grey Card

Slow burst mode

SD Card with a faster read/write speed

Should I buy a New Lens?

More often than not if you are not getting the photos you want, it’s a limitation of the lens, not the camera. Lenses hold their value better and have a bigger impact in terms of artistic style than the camera body. Unless your camera doesn’t turn on, I’m probably going to tell you to get a new lens instead. To help you determine which lens you should buy next, here are a few common complaints from consumers looking to buy new camera equipment.



Recommended Product

Photos are in focus, but aren’t sharp

Higher quality lens

Can’t focus on objects close up

Lens with a smaller focusing distance

Can’t get enough background blur

Lens with a wider aperture (a.k.a smaller f-stop number)

Photos are blurry due to camera shake

You may need a lens with image stabilization, but you could save yourself some money with a faster shutter speed.

Missing shots due to slow or inaccurate focus

Lens with more focus points

Could I benefit more from taking a class instead?

Often we equate professional photography equipment with professional quality photos, but it’s not the camera that makes great photography, it’s the photographer. If you’re feeling frustrated with your photography, try taking a course to learn something new and inspire creativity. If you are new to photography you may benefit from taking courses on photography basics, getting started with your camera, or using editing tools. A new camera won’t magically improve your skills, but a class will and is something you can use with any camera.

Classes I love:

In Person Austin Classes

Precision Camera’s Basic Point and Shoot Photograph

Precision Camera’s Camera Specific Classes

Online Learning

Photography Basics

Bird Photography

Amplifying Your Photographic Voice

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Photography Tips for Beginners

Useful Gifts for Photographers Under $100

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Christmas is around the corner and soon we will all be scouring the internet looking for the perfect present for the important people in our lives. Lenses and cameras are expensive gifts to give a photographer for Christmas, so if you’re looking for affordable photography gift ideas to treat the photography lover in your life, you’ve come to the right place. Forget about photography themed coffee mugs; this photography gift guide consisting of Amazon finds is full of affordable gifts for photographers every shutterbug will love!

Table of Contents


Photo Editing Accessories

Post-production is equally as important as taking photos, and these simple photo editing tools make the process so much easier.

Lightroom or Photoshop Guides

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are the most popular photo editing tools on the market. These robust tools are full of tricks we may not even be aware of, but these inexpensive keyboard covers user manuals will improve workflow and increase skill with tips and tricks literally at your fingertips.


One of the best things about Lightroom is the ability to save presets, which are settings for your favorite aesthetics. Some photographers sell their pre-sets, making it even easier for photographers who don’t know how or don’t want to create their own. For just a few bucks, you can really improve the visual style of every photo in your Lightroom catalog.

External Hard Drive

A large external hard drive is an unusual gift for photographers they didn’t know they needed; deleting photos is an emotional process most of us can’t handle, so we just keep our photos. It won’t be long before even a novice photography enthusiast is using hundreds of gigabytes in hard drive space and will need a place to store photos.

Cool Photography Accessories

These must-have photography trinkets protect our equipment and help us capture images exactly the way we envisioned them.

Rain Cover

Outdoor photographers never shy away from a little bad weather, but we still need to protect our gear from rain, snow, and sand.


Lighting is everything in photography. Whether you are on the go or in a studio, tools to enhance the light or change the shadow intensity can always come in handy.

Photography Backdrops

Backdrops and props are splendid gifts for photographers who want to liven up their food photography, still life photography, or studio portraits.

Camera Bags

Camera bags are a fashionable way to protect your gear and keep it accessible.

Kurved Lens Cap

That cheap little plastic stored at the end of a lens is responsible for protecting a piece of equipment that is far more valuable than the lens cap itself. It’s critical that a lens cap be easy to take off with one hand, but not so easy that it falls off with a light bump. It’s a fine line that Kurved Lens Caps straddles nicely. The best part is they are a one size fits all so you don’t have to sneak around trying to find what size to buy.


This game-changer turns a trekking pole into a multipurpose tool for the hiker and landscape photographer in your life. This part trekking pole, part monopod, makes snapping sharp landscape photos without all the hassle and weight of tripods a cinch I used this monopod in the Great Smoky Mountains to capture long exposure waterfalls and you’d never know I didn’t use a traditional tripod.

Cheap Gifts For Photographers

These gifts for photographers under $25 are practical and perfect for stocking stuffers, Secret Santa, or White Elephants.

Lens Cleaning Kit

Every photography bag needs a lens cleaning kit to keep the lens free of dust that could ruin photos and force a photographer to spend time editing out spots from every photo used with that lens

Remote Shutter Release

Remote shutter releases are the perfect gift for wildlife photographers, bloggers without a photographer behind the camera, and getting everyone in group photos.

Lens Wrap

A lens wrap is a creative gift idea for photographers that protects their lens without the use of bulky camera bags. While a camera backpack is amazing, sometimes I need room for more than just my photography equipment and the lens wrap frees up space in my bag for other things.  I use my lens wraps on 3 day weekends when I am trying to get by with a single backpack for clothes and gear, so this would be a great gift for travel photographers.

Shoulder Strap

A unique camera strap makes for a cute and functional photography accessory.

Gifts For Beginning Photographers

The best gifts for amateur photographers are ones that help build their collection of basic photography essentials. This section lists the gadgets every photographer needs so you can support your loved one in their new passion.

Smartphone Photography Add Ons

If the photographer friend in your life is just getting started and wants to enhance their phone photography before upgrading to a full DSLR or Mirrorless camera, then phone photography attachments are the way to go. The best gifts for phone photographers increase the flexibility for telephoto, macro, or wide-angle photography and give them the opportunity to develop their style before investing in more expensive gear.


With the amount of money I’ve spent on cheap tripods that quickly break, I could have just bought a quality one for more money. Not all tripods are made equal, so I’ve compiled a list of tripods I trust and save yourself or a loved one from a long string of troublesome tripods.

Cheat Sheets

Cheat sheets and quick reference cards make great gifts for budding photographers that make learning critical skills such as exposure, composition, and white balance easier and less stressful.

SD Memory Cards and SD Memory Card Holder

There is nothing more frustrating than running out of space on an SD and missing the shot when the camera reads “Card Full”.  It never comes at a good time so a high storage capacity SD Card and carrying case for backups is an extremely useful gift to any photographer. When choosing an SD card, the more space the better because shooting high-quality photos takes up a lot space.

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