Three truths that will improve your photography

August 1, 2019

During our lives and pursuits of being better photographers, moments of great consequence unveil themselves, induce goosebumps, and change the course of the direction we follow.

If we’re paying attention.

Like a lot of you, I began with a simple DSLR in my hands, and when I chose to improve my photography, I insatiably consumed every YouTube video, every how-to book, every resource I could find.

I wanted the secret; the one that would unlock the potential I knew existed inside of me, the one that would elevate my work from amateur hour toward something better.

When I photograph my children and the little moments of our lives that when put together tell our story, I wanted to be something more than ordinary.

And in those efforts of self-education came three unexpected moments when a trio of influential photographers delivered an atomic bomb of advice that largely made into the photographer I am today.

My hope is by sharing these insights you too will find the inspiration and the confidence to improve your photography, even if you’re a hobbyist or a parent with a camera on the sideline of a youth soccer game.


Cliff Mautner, a South Jersey-based wedding photographer, has built quite a following with his online teaching materials.

He’s gritty like a August night in the South Philly bars, an image maker with a seemingly caustic style of confidence; but if he’s your wedding photographer, you have no doubt he cares about you and the service he’s providing you.

During one of his online training programs, Cliff hit on an important piece of advice. To paraphrase, your first job as the user of a camera is to get the picture first. Then, get a better one.

So many of us are driven by perfection. So many of us feel insecure about the work we do because we compare ourselves to more accomplished photographers. So many of us put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves as photographers.

Here’s the lesson – the first job you have is to get the picture. Moments with our children happen so fast, we may miss the shot. Same thing happens during weddings.

If you spend all your energy worrying about getting the perfect shot, you’ll get no photo at all. Then your vacation, the child’s recital, or when they just do something adorable you want to capture, will pass you by.

Focus first on getting a picture. Then, problem solve, push your creativity, and get a better picture.


Scott, founder of the excellent online training platform KelbyOne, hosts a weekly show that gets posted on YouTube.

Often he interviews famous photographers about their craft, but from time-to-time, he hosts a series of blind critiques. He asks his audience to send in samples of their photography so he and an invited guest can give feedback, the vast majority of it constructive.

I gotta tell yah, those episodes are every bit as good — if not better — as a learning tool than anything else out there.

During one of this episodes, he paused and delivered the sermon I and so many of us need to hear.

When you photograph something, like, let’s say, your child’s birthday party or a T-ball game, and you feel the urge to post a photo on a social media platform, ask yourself an important question — why would anyone care?

No, seriously. Why would someone care about this photograph?

We live in an era of oversaturated image making. Forbes reported last year that 46,000 images are posted to Instagram … every … single … freakin’ … minute.

We’re all fighting for attention, and with that much content getting produced, it’s hard to get people to notice our images.

Scott’s question gets to a problem with all those images — most of them are just meh. Most people don’t know how to make a great image, but they do know how to post 50 images of people playing backyard cornhole during that last neighborhood party. Seriously. That’s a lot of blurry bean bag pics.

So before posting 100 photos of your kid’s birthday party, find the one or two or five that creatively tell the story and stand out among the rest of the crowd.

Getting into this habit will push you toward a more creative image making process.

Not every photo needs to be shared. Share the ones that mean something.


I met Ken when I was a student of his wedding class as the Mid-Atlantic Regional School of Photography in Cape May, N.J.

At the end of an intense week of learning, Ken led the class and a bride to a church for a photo shoot. That’s when he turned and said the words you see in the above section headline.

Control what you see.

In other words, you are in control more than you realize. The camera is a tool for you to use, and so is your brain and your eyes.

If a bad shot is developing in front of you, change something. Add an off-camera flash if the natural light is bad. Move the subject or yourself if the directional light isn’t where you want it to be. Change a setting on your camera.

Be in control of yourself, your camera, and your creativity.

Take the time necessary to add the elements of great photography — composition, light, background, shadow, depth of field, sharpness.

The power to make great images, even in your living room where your kids play with toys or on vacation with your family at the beach, is in you.

A great image exists in your mind, and with Ken’s advice, you are better able to take what’s in your conscious and transfer it into your camera and onto a photograph.

Dave Pidgeon is a photographer and writer from Lancaster, Pa. You can contact him at

More about Dave Pidgeon

Dave is the author of and lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three sons.

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