For this New Year I’ve put together 10 resolutions to help me become a better photographer. They might help you, too.

1. I will Use my Camera Everyday

You can easily miss the shot if you are too busy fussing with settings. Use your camera every day. Practice makes improvement.

Allow 5 or 10 minutes everyday to pick up your camera, change lenses, make setting adjustments, remove and replace battery and memory cards. You can even do this while watching TV. If you do this everyday you will be so familiar with your equipment that when you are in the field you will be able to concentrate on your subject without thinking about camera operation. I can change lenses, adjust aperture, and set ISO blindfolded, with practice you can too.

2. I will only shoot RAW

Take advantage of all the dynamic range your camera has, shoot RAW!

If you are not shooting RAW, why? You spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the best camera you can afford. Shooting Jpeg is like buying an Audi with a Bose Stereo and listening to AM radio. Jpeg has 256 levels of brightness per channel, 12 bit RAW has 4096 levels of brightness per channel. The new sensors have incredible dynamic range, why not use it.

3. I will use the Ron Popiel method of photography; Set It And Forget It
There are too many buttons, dials, and menu options on today’s digital cameras that we don’t really need to make great images. Turn off most settings and just worry about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and focus. 
Image Preview OFF – It distracts you from your intent. Only use to check your histogram. 
Beeping sound OFF – Your beep distracts me.
Auto ISO OFF – Set your ISO to 1 stop increments. 
Noise Reduction OFF – Your camera is not your lab. Use software in post to make adjustments. 
Turn OFF anything else that can be adjusted in post.

4. I will Always Use A Tripod

Naturally, tripods should be planted firmly on the ground for best results.

Tripods were mainly used to keep the camera steady. In film days we were limited to ISOs of 50, 64, 100, and sometimes 200. Very hard to capture sharp images handheld. We spent thousands to get the fastest lenses like the 300mm f2.8 for wildlife.  Now we can use an f4 or f5.6 lens and just increase our ISO with the spin of a dial. We can get better resolution at ISO 1600 than we could with 200 speed film, too. We also have VR (vibration reduction or IS (image stabilization) that allows us to shoot handheld at even slower shutter speeds and still get acceptable results. 

However, tripods are still a very important tool for making great images. Why? Because it slows us down. We can analyze our composition before we click the shutter. We can look for intruding objects, we can check our histogram, fine tune our exposure and use a lower ISO for getting maximum dynamic range. We can study our composition and improve it in camera instead of using the crop tool later. Hey, we spent a lot of money for the high megapixel camera, why not use all the megapixels we paid for.

The key here is to learn how to use a tripod. Practice everyday setting up your tripod and putting it away. Use the same process every time until it becomes natural. Your tripod is your best friend. Be sure to have a quick release. I suggest arca swiss type release and plates.

5. I will use one focal length and one ISO for a month5-focal-length Most of us shoot with zoom lenses. I bet if you look at your metadata most of your images are either at the longest focal length or the shortest. A small percentage will be in the middle. Kinda makes you wonder why we use zooms. Want to improve you creativity? Pick a focal length, if using a zoom take a piece of gaffers tape and tape the zoom ring so you don’t accidentally change focal length in the field. Now go out and shoot for at least 1 month at that focal length. It will force you to learn that focal length and find compelling images with what you have. Then after you feel comfortable knowing what that focal length can do, pick another and repeat the exercise. Do the same with ISO. Use only 1 ISO for a month. It’s like shooting film. Less choices will force you to be more creative with what you have.

6. I will Pretend I am shooting film and it cost $1 per shot
This is  a great exercise. Because we are not buying film anymore we have gotten in the habit of pushing the shutter way too often. All that does is increase our editing. I bet some of you haven’t fully edited all your shoots from last year. Me too. What if it cost a dollar every time you clicked the shutter? I wouldn’t have all the junk images to delete, I guarantee you that. Make it count. Each image should be a winner. Think about the image you are about to make, is it different? Is it better? Will it be a keeper, end up in the trash or just take up space on your hard drive? At a dollar a shot, how much money did you throw in the trash last year?

7. I will Use ‘back button’ focusing

By using back button focus I was able to focus on the rock move my camera for best composition and click the shutter to get this shot. If the camera tried to focus when I clicked the shutter the focus would have searched and the whole image would have been out of focus.

Most of you probably all ready are. But just in case some of you haven’t experienced ‘back button focusing, now’s the year to switch. Look in your manual and set your camera to only focus when you use the back button, if your camera has that feature. WARNING: Do not use back button focusing on a major shoot unless you are very comfortable with it. Practice for a least a month of shooting first. Once you learn it, you will never go back.

8. I will See the Obvious and Seek the Unique

Heracleum maximum, Sierra Nevada Mtns. CA, USA, the only member of hogweed native to North America.
Obviously a cow parsnip but from a different perspective it becomes a unique work of art. Next time you photograph plants pretend you’re a bug flying toward it, what do you see?

You’ve been there, same old obvious iconic scene shot by thousand before us. We want it, too. Okay, take the same old shot everyone else has. Now Seek the Unique. Step back, look around, ask yourself, how can I interpret this obvious scene differently? Should I lay prone with a super wide lens? How about zooming in and just make a small vignette of a unique feature? Forget the box, just get outside.

9. Once a week I will make a unique photo of my house

One of several houses on my lot.

Along the lines of using your camera everyday except this exercise is not about use of gear but about being creative. Your home is the most familiar place you know. When we get very comfortable seeing the obvious it becomes very difficult to seek the unique. Go outside, walk around your house, find a composition that is unique. It could be the whole house or just a detail. Do it every week. Use your tripod. Force yourself to click the shutter only once. At the end of the year you will have 52 unique images of where you live. You may even want to make a book.

10. I will only post images that are exceptional.

1766P Ghost Riders
All images do not have to be tack sharp. Break the rules with intent.

I see dozens of photos on the internet everyday and only a few grab my attention. Google ‘slot canyon’ and click on images. Pretty boring. They all look alike except one may be exceptional. Be the exception.

That’s it, 10 New Year’s resolutions that will help you become a better photographer. Like all New Year’s resolutions they only work if you are committed, persistent, and enthused. 

Wishing you enthusiasm all year long.