As I was looking at some old portfolios this week, I realized that back in the day – I kind of sucked. Don’t get me wrong, I made some good shots *including the one above* and sold lots of images. But I am shocked at how bad some of that early work was. I didn’t have a clue back then. If I’d only have known just a few of the tricks I know now, I could have been so much better. So with that in mind, I’m sharing some ideas now that I wish someone had shared with me back then.

1. Pay attention to the background. A good background can make an average picture great.

2. Know your gear backwards and forwards. The minute you finally truly understand how to use your gear, you’re freed up to start paying attention to seeing. And seeing is everything in photography.

3. Wait on the light. Really. If you think it looks good at 4PM, wait until you see it at 7PM. Waiting on the best light takes patience and provides great rewards.

4. Slow down. unless you’re a sports/wildlife photographer, chances are you can take one breath before pushing the shutter button. Take that breath and see what a difference it can make in your images.

5. Get to know your subject REALLY well. Regardless of what (or who) you are photographing, take time to learn all you can before getting the camera set up. It will pay off later.

6. Pre-visualize. Try to imagine what the final print will look like before you snap the shutter. This is a technique pioneered by folks like Ansel Adams. It works.

7. Know WHY you’re about to trip the shutter button before you do it. If you can’t answer the WHY question, don’t make the photo.

8. Pictures with pop get noticed. Typically, a good picture that doesn’t pop – doesn’t get sold.

9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I took so many boring pictures back when I was getting started because they were safe. The results were competent but unremarkable. To compete in today’s world, where people think they are a gifted photographer just because they have a nice camera, you have to stand out. And you stand out by taking chances.

10. Enjoy your time spent behind the camera. Photography is supposed to be fun. When I first started out, I rushed and worried and stressed myself out thinking about having to MAKE THAT SHOT. Don’t be like me. Relax. Enjoy the moment. All too soon it will be gone. Your career will be behind you, and you’ll realize it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. I’m still working on this one every day.