Whether you shoot with your phone or a high-end mirrorless camera, being familiar with your gear is key to taking quality photographs. This is especially true when shooting candid shots of friends and family on those special occasions when you only have one chance to capture the moment. With advice on everything from choosing the best lenses for your camera to understanding your smartphone’s camera menus and settings, these tips will help you get more out of your camera gear and make sure you capture more of those special moments in your life.

Match Your Camera Gear to Your Preferred Style of Photography

What type of photography do you love to shoot? Whether you prefer shooting portraits of friends and family or landscapes during your family holidays, you should allow your personal style to influence your gear. For example, if you’re passionate about photographing your family while travelling, then a lightweight and versatile zoom lens might be more practical than carrying a selection of heavy prime lenses. Love shooting landscapes? If so, you’ll want a wide-angle lens so you can capture all of the scenes before you, as well as a lightweight tripod that won’t slow you down as you seek out new vistas. Or maybe your passion is family portraiture, in which case you’ll want a fast prime lens with a wide aperture, such as f/2.8 or even f/1.8, so that you can blur out the background and emphasise your subject. The same can be said for smartphone camera shooters too. Would a wide angle lens adaptor make your phone camera more suited to shooting landscapes? Or maybe a waterproof phone case would enable you to create dynamic photos for your partner and children as they splash about in the hotel pool or at the beach. Love shooting family portraits with your phone? If so, maybe a photography app that allows you to control your aperture will help you blur out the background and get more professional looking images.

Match Your Camera Settings to Your Preferred Style of Photography

As with the tip above, your camera settings should be guided by your style of photography. For example, if you’re shooting fast-moving pets or children, you may be better off using shutter speed priority (sometimes displayed as TV “Time Value”) rather than Manual mode. Shooting in shutter speed priority will allow you to maintain a fast shutter speed to freeze your subject’s motion, or maintain a slower shutter speed if you’d like to achieve motion blur and add a sense of movement to your images. If you’re shooting portraits, you may find aperture priority useful (sometimes displayed as AV “Aperture Value”) to fix your aperture wide open for a nice blurry background. Some photography apps allow you to shoot in these modes on your smartphone too. But, of course, if you’re shooting in lighting conditions that are quickly changing, perhaps while travelling with your partner or photographing a family gathering that’s both indoors and outdoors, Auto mode may be the easiest and most versatile option. Ultimately the goal is to use camera settings that help you create.

Only Buy and Pack the Gear You Really Need

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking more gear equals better photos, but sometimes less really is more. The key is to streamline your photography setup to make your shooting experience lighter, simpler and quicker. Just because you have five camera lenses doesn’t mean you should take them all with you on your next family vacation. Instead, choose the most versatile lens – perhaps a zoom lens or a 35mm prime lens – and stick with that. By having just one or two lenses you can avoid having to carry a heavy camera bag and having to waste time deciding which lens to use when you should be focussed on enjoying the experience. Do you really need to take your tripod? Will you really use a flash? The same can be said for smartphone photographers; simplify your shooting experience by using just one or two photography apps and leaving any unnecessary equipment at home. The less gear you have to carry, the quicker you can move around and focus on what matters most – searching for scenes and subjects to photography!

Challenge Yourself to Try New Things

The key to photography is continual practice and experimentation – there’s always something new to learn and discover! Do you always shoot in Auto mode? Why not challenge yourself to shoot for a whole day in Manual mode. Love shooting your kids in shutter speed priority? Why not switch to aperture priority instead and try using different apertures to play around with depth of field. Do you love a specific filter or preset? Try something completely different. Or maybe you never use filters on your camera photos and would discover something new and exciting by playing around with different apps. Shoot in both colour and black and white, or use a fixed wide angle lense instead of a zoom. Shoot portraits with your phone instead of your camera, or head to the local park to shoot family portraits instead of your garden. The goal is to try new things and discover new creative ways to express yourself through your photography.

Speed Up Your Shooting with Saved Presets

Whether you photograph with your camera or your phone, make the most of presets to quickly access the best settings. A landscape preset, for example, will boost the contrast and saturation so you can capture colourful landscapes in all their glory. Portraiture presets will automatically open up the aperture of your lens to blur out the background. A sports preset will use a fast shutter speed to help you capture sharp images of your child or dog while they’re running around. You may also find presets to help you shoot at night, or even underwater (but don’t forget your waterproof case!). Finally, you can also create and save your own presets, allowing you to fully customise your camera or phone to your personal shooting needs.

You’ll be amazed by how much more you can photograph once you’re familiar with your camera’s settings.