Happy 2024!

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I’m constantly learning.  But I love building on my skills and improving.  How boring would this world be if there was nothing new left to learn?  There aren’t as many items as last year, but while I’m finding fewer things that really improve my art each year, I hope to never stop growing.

Here are a few things that drastically improved my photography in 2017:

I learned lenses have a sweet spot

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Shooting landscape, and want to have everything in focus?  Max out that f-stop at 22, and I’ll have a perfectly sharp image!


This was a hard lesson to learn, as I shot most of Yosemite like this.  When I got back to my computer at home, I was dismayed to find my images were oddly soft – despite using a tripod and manual focus.

It wasn’t until afterwards that I learned lenses don’t perform well at the extremes; they have sweet spots.  I would have had sharper pictures if I had shot at f/8 or f/11.

This also applies to the low end (f/1.4), as well as zoom distance (if not a prime lens), and high ISO (which should be obvious).

I bought an ND filter

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I never thought I needed one.  Shooting in the Pacific Northwest, I deal with a lot of cloudy days or very well-sheltered waterfalls.  My problem was in not getting enough light; why would I want to diminish it more?

But in an effort to play more with long-exposure photography in my landscapes – and after a few instances where my 1-stop polarizer wasn’t enough – I bought one.. and I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, even in bright light, I can blur clouds and water alike, and it really adds some punch to my photos.  It’s one more tool in my arsenal, and I’m having fun with incorporating it into shoots.

I bought a bazooka

This is a photography blog, folks.  My only firearms are camera equipment. 🙂

The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II is now one of my favorite lenses.  It sure cost a pretty penny, but it was worth every cent.  It’s beautifully sharp, it focuses lightning-fast, and that f/2.8 is a godsend in the abysmal lighting of conspace.

It’s barely long enough to serve as a wildlife lens (and it still performs well on top of an extender), but it was the perfect replacement to my cheap (and literally falling-apart) 75-300mm.  This lens weighs a ton, but I’m hard-pressed to not want to cart it around with me everywhere.

I started to really market my images

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

For the longest time, I was afraid to sell my photography.  If someone actually placed an order, I’d need to make sure those photos were the absolute best I could provide.  Can I trust the print shop?  Do my images have any flaws?

While I still have a few reservations, I’m thinking about this from the start.  Therefore, before I even mark a photo for sale, I make sure it’s wall-worthy.  This might mean editing takes a little longer, but it’s worth it for the higher quality.

Additionally, I have signed up on a few stock photography websites.  These have quality regulations as well, and I want to increase my chances for sales, so I’m being more meticulous with each photo.

I put myself in inspiring places

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I obviously love to travel.  One can grow tired of shooting the same places, so a change in scenery simply makes me want to shoot everything around me; it’s all new.  In 2017, I went to Yosemite – which is a photographer’s paradise.  I also went to Washington’s Palouse.  And Costa Rica.  And Alaska.

All are incredibly photogenic.  And being truly inspired to shoot more means more practice and a stronger drive to do these magnificent locations justice.  A photo will never truly replace an experience, but I keep working on narrowing that gap, and these beautiful places ignite the fire within me to do so.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I keep learning, year after year.  But art isn’t something you ever completely master.  I’ll look back in a year from now, surprised at the additional skills I’ve acquired since – at the growth I’ve achieved… yet knowing even then I’ll still have so much more to learn.

Do you have more tips to add?

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  1. Thanks for the wonderful and useful tips. I have been following your blog for awhile now, and one thing I really enjoy (besides your amazing photos) are your openness and frankness about your business, techniques and blog site. Thank you as I am learning from you.

    1. Thank you, Tim! I strive to be as honest as possible, as we’re all human 🙂 If others can learn from my mistakes, then I’d consider that a success.

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