Posted In Education

Three Ways You Can Refine Your
Photography Workflow

Kyle McDougall | June 30, 2016

I’m a big believer that the best way to grow as a photographer is through refinement. Regardless of how strongly you believe that a new camera or plug-in is your ticket to success, the truth, is that creating with direction, focus and a well thought out workflow will have the largest impact on your images.

It’s been said that practice makes perfect. Well, in my opinion, perfect doesn’t exist.  Every time I’m out practicing, I’m refining. I look at refinement as a way of narrowing down the immense amount of options that are available at every location and gaining a better understanding of what really moves me a photographer.

With that being said, there are definitely specific approaches that can be taken while out creating to help ensure maximum growth and understanding with your photography. In this article I’ve listed three ways you can refine your approach to photography.

1. Avoid The Obvious

The obvious is tempting. It’s the subjects and compositions that people have created time and time again at the “famous” locations. The obvious does not influence personal creativity.

Now, I do want to mention that I have nothing wrong with people wanting to visit classic locations and capture famous viewpoints; it’s up to you what you decide to shoot. But I do want to stress the point that simply trying to re-create what has already been made countless times before will not help you develop your creative vision at a high level. It can be a good learning tool when you’re still trying to figure out specific details of your craft – mainly technical – but it doesn’t force you to discover and embrace the endless possibilities that every location provides

If your photography pursuits consist mainly of trying to capture the “classics”, then you’re probably starving your internal creative hunger.

Explore Your Options

Every location starts out as a cluttered mess until you take the time to explore and unearth a subject and accompanying dynamic elements. I believe that people are attracted to the obvious because everything is right there waiting for them. If you don’t take the time to explore the landscape in depth, you’ll never refine your eye and gain a better understanding of the intricacies of light, shadow, texture and composition.

I’ve often heard people say things like “I’m not a creative person”; I don’t buy that. I think that if anyone takes the time to truly explore an area, they’ll be rewarded with the same gifts that others receive.



2. Shoot Less

In my opinion, creating less images at a location will net better results than if you go for the quantity vs quality approach.

We’ve all been there before, mainly in our photography infancies. We visit a location and move from image to image in a matter of seconds while never truly taking the time to explore the possibilities and think about the decisions we’re making. Afterwards, we head home with the daunting task ahead of having to “sort through all of our images to find the good ones”.

You Should Already Know What Worked And What Didn’t

Having to find your “good” images amongst a sea of others on your memory card basically just confirms that you have no idea if any worked, you’re just hoping that there will be a couple in there; which makes sense, if you’re a beginner.

This is something that we all go through and isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it lasts for a short period of time. When you first start out, it’s important to take the time to sift through your images and study them to find out why things did or didn’t work. But at some point in time you need to commit to creating less volume and focus on trusting your instincts and interests.


Study your frame, consider all the options and slowly build your image through a series of well thought out actions.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Creating Just One!

I often tell people to head out with the intention of creating one image. Now, that doesn’t always have to be the case; it’s more of a mindset of having a goal of creating an image that has been well thought out and executed to the highest degree before moving on to the next.

Spending more time on one image will force you to think about all of the decisions you’re going to make, and in return, will help you develop your creative vision. I like to refer to this as “visualization”.

3. Visualization

Visualization is the perfect example of refinement, as it forces you to break down your images to their raw components. Most images that lack impact suffer from an absence of direction. Most of the time, these types of images will feel cluttered, incomplete or lack any sort of subject or dynamic element.

Visualization is the act of taking the time to explore all of the creative options you have with your image. It’s about visualizing elements and their impact before they’ve happened. Some examples include:

  • What will the light look like at its optimal time? What direction will have the most impact?
  • How will movement affect elements in the frame? Water, clouds, trees?
  • What colour cast do I want to include in my final image? How will that help create my intended mood?
  • Are the conditions the best to create this image right now? Would some type of different weather be more suitable for my subject?
  • What creative options do I have to help create the strongest intended mood in my image?

The list is endless.


For this image I visualized the late evening sidelight and colours which allowed me to choose the right angle and focus my attention on capturing the water action at the right moment.

These questions matter because without them you’ll almost certainly end up with an image that’s lacking specific features needed for it to have maximum impact. It helps to be able to visualize these things in your mind, instead of relying on just getting “lucky” when the events unfold.

Take your time, avoid the obvious and dare to experiment.

Throughout your career, it’s important to always be moving forward and trying to implement small changes or new approaches with the goal of growing as an artist.

I’d love to hear if you have any specific techniques or ways of working that you’ve found benefit you in the field.

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