How to Snipe Out Your Best Shots Ever

You load ammo into your camera, aim at your subject, and fire. You are a shooter. Strangely, the way most photographers shoot is vastly different than the way a marksman – specifically, US Marine Corp Snipers – use their rifles. Is there a thing or two we can learn from these expert shooters? Can stealing a few tricks from the best snipers in the world improve your photo ‘shot’? Find out now.

bas wallet

Photo by Bas Wallet; ISO 100, f/9, 1/160-second exposure.

A common piece of photo advice is that the more shots you take, the more likely you’ll stumble upon that one amazing shot. Even if it means 4/5th of your photos end up getting deleted.

I say this piece of advice is flawed. Here’s why.

Taking twenty tries to get one shot right is, quite simply, sloppy shooting. And, while it’s acceptable if you’re just starting out in photography, it’ should not be something any photographer is happy with.

A Marine Corp Scout Sniper, in contrast, is trained to load his rifle, aim, and get the shot right the first time – or die.

From day one of Marine Corps Sniper training, shooters are taught that there are no second chances. There is no delete button on their rifle. There is no ‘Photoshop’ to correct their mistakes. They must step up to the plate and become the best shooters in the world – or find another career.

Unlike photographers, every shot a sniper takes puts them at risk of being exposed to their enemy. As a result, snipers are forced to train their eyes to see anything and everything around them. They are forced to shoot with exacting precision. And they are forced to shoot with perfection– every time.

thailand beach

Photo by Roberto Saltori; ISO 320, f/11, 1/250-second exposure.

We photographers can learn a lot from Marine Corp Snipers. Follow along as I share with you three essential skills snipers must develop and how you too can harness these skills for your photography success (and, as a result, use the delete button a little less).

Essential Sniper Skill #1: Be James Bond Cool

A hot-head, unable to keep their nerves straight under pressure, will fail miserably during the 9-week military sniper training course. A great sniper is drafted first for his temperament.

One way military folk are trained to shoot under pressure is through a target practicing drill – without bullets.

Soldiers must go through the motion of loading and aiming their gun at the target just as if it they were using real bullets. Upon firing, however, they must use their mind to imagine their shot hits the bull’s-eye mark. Most soldiers, you see, shake from the pressure of pulling the trigger. This type of ‘mind training’ helps soldiers visualize success and reduce trigger shake.

Applying This to Your Camera:

Bring your camera to a shoot and don’t put a memory card in it (or film). Just point and imagine pressing the shutter every time you see the perfect shot. Since there’s no way you can take the shot, you’ll be forced to really look at what you’re shooting and imagine getting the best shots possible. That way, when you do finally load your camera, you will be ready.

Essential Sniper Skill #2: Do Whatever It Takes to Get the Shot

Snipers are trained to do whatever it takes to get the perfect shot. They’ll crawl over mine-infested roads. They’ll sludge through three foot deep cesspools in the Jungles of Vietnam. They’ll sleep in snow covered mountain terrain for weeks. Whatever is necessary to get the shot they’ve been ordered to get, they will do. Sniper training is specifically designed to weed out the solder that won’t go this extra mile.

Applying This to Your Camera:

Be ready and willing to go above and beyond for that perfect shot. Just take a look at some of the National Geographic’s photographers and you’ll get the idea. These photographers make expeditions to the most remote parts of the world. They dive into arctic ice caves with uncertainty that they’ll ever make it out. They step into deep, unexplored jungles with no idea what they’ll encounter.

gorilla safari

Photo by Valerie.

If you’re willing to get dirty and take risks, you’ll find shots 99% of other photographers will never get.

Essential Sniper Skill #3: See Everything, Everywhere

Snipers are trained to see everything around them. In one specific training drill, soldiers are shown a scene with several objects and then asked to repeat, with exact detail, what they saw.

At the start of their training, only a few objects are given to them to find. As their training intensifies, several more objects are added for them to locate. By the end of their training, snipers develop the ability to find and locate over 25 objects and describe these objects several hours later.

Applying This to Your Camera:

Try seeing the details everywhere around you, without your camera. Develop your skills of observation. Notice the objects around you while you drive  to work.

One exercise I did a couple years back was to set an alarm every four hours on my phone for a few weeks. When it went off, I would immediately close my eyes and name ten objects around me with detail. At first, I struggled as I was rarely ever paying attention to details around me. With this alarm going off every four hours, every day – for weeks, that changed.

landscape tips

Photo by Jeff Wallace; ISO 125, f/10, 1/20-second exposure.

Try this same exercise out for a month and your observation skills will improve drastically!  This will help you better notice details within the camera frame most other photographers without this ‘sniper’ training will miss.

Use These Sniper Skills to Strengthen Common Photographer Weaknesses

While using your cameras delete button is not a bad thing, relying on it is a clear sign of weakness. It is better, instead, for you to spend a bit of time working at developing your photo skills so you can get the perfect shot in fewer tries.

You’ll find that you put much more care into each and every shot when you follow the philosophy of a sniper: you have one chance to get the perfect shot – or you’re dead.

About the Author:
Simon Takk, creator of, shows others how to open their eyes to the breathtaking photo opportunities all around them.

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  1. Worst post ever – comparing photography to how to kill people- really? A photographer to a sniper? There is already too much comparison to a camera being a weapon. As a photojournalist and formerly in the Coast Guard – I believe this is poor advice.

  2. Don B says:

    I am whole-heartily in agreement with this article. May-be that the sniper analogy is a little much for most of today’s bubble wrapped population, however in today’s danger filled world, those who are trained to be aware of all going on around them are the ones who are most likely to survive! These are the people who will be around to pick up the pieces and be part of the solution, not part of the problem! If you are using these skills everyday to make better photographs, not pictures, then you are preparing yourself all the time. Any skill, not used, gets rusty. As a 40+ year emergency worker I think this is a great article!

  3. Milosh Kosanovich says:

    Some of the worst photography advice I’ve ever read here, and that’s saying a lot. Not because of any analogy to killing, but because it is just plain bad advice. Unless I’m guessing wrong, the moon in my landscape is not going to shoot back at me, nor is a model, a politician, or a football player. However, the one shot approach might miss the reflection of the moon on a wave, the slight draping of fabric, the famous glance, or the ball passing just over the fingers of the receiver.

    There is no “sloppy” in photography, there is only the photo. Nobody cares if I shot 1,000 frames or 1 frame to get the shot, all that matters is the shot. I won’t care either 5 years from now, the 999 that just missed will be distant memories, but the “one” will remain with me forever. Nobody will remember you for taking only one shot, they will only (hopefully) remember the photo, you get no extra points for putting in the caption “I’m great, it took me only one shot to get this photo”.

  4. Davidicus says:

    The analogy of the author is quite good. The digital age has allowed photographers to use quantity as a means for attaining quality. Without question, if we were shooting film again, we would be using the advice of the author to get the best quality shots possible. 1000 shots in the good old days represents 28 rolls of 36 exposure film. A good photographer is 1) cool and deliberate, 2) vigilant of the surroundings and potential subject matter, and 3) willing to work to get the “shot”.

  5. GreenTea says:

    I would rate this article really high for a middle school paper. But sadly, it’s not by a middle school pupil. This piece is desperately trying to elevate the process involved in taking a shot, art of photography to the science of Sniping, taking a real SHOT. I find it ridiculous for the author to compare the two. The skills, and mental readiness involved are completely and utterly different in class. Let’s keep the profession in their right places : Handling a Gun is guys who chew on tobacco, spit over their shoulders, and drink black coffee. On the other hand, a 6 year-old who’s got a sponge young mind to see everything, everywhere can handle a camera quite easily or for the subtle tea-drinking gentle folks.

  6. Mark says:

    I think it was a good article. Could of used failed in place of killed, but got to the point for start up photographers. Squeeze the shutter button, observe everything around you so that you don’t get something in the photo that don’t belong there and make the first shot the right one instead of taking multiple shots and hoping you get THE shot.
    I always work this way and it sure beats going to light room or photo shop every time you take a bunch of pictures.

  7. FCJr says:

    All of you who oppose this article have missed the point(s). You cannot, in this politically correct world, allow your brains to get past the fact that snipers kill people. So, try this….go back over the article and read only the “Applying this to your camera” paragraphs…forget the sniper analogy.
    After you’ve done that, read this outloud….”Gee, I really feel stupid.”

  8. Tony says:

    Great advice. Don’t understand the negative comments.
    Guess some people can’t or won’t learn from other disciplines — it’s their loss

  9. Greg says:

    I don’t particularly like the analogy, not because of the violence but because it is just not accurate. Why does the armed forces have machine guns. Because a lot of bullets will likely get that one important shot.

    Now back to photography. There is merit to being well prepared before you take that one shot to get that one perfect image. In landscape photography where the mountain is not likely to move on you, you have the time to do all of the preparations before pushing the button. In sports, most wildlife, street photography and any other genre where the scene, expression, or perfect moment changes instantly, rapid fire increases the likelihood of getting a great shot, which really in the scheme of things is all that is important. How many shots are taken to get the perfect image for a magazine cover? Usually it is hundreds.

    I have never seen a published photograph mention how many tries it took the photographer to get that one great image because really, who cares. Anyone can be lucky once but it takes some level of skill to be lucky on a regular basis.

    That’s just my two cents worth.

  10. Samuel says:

    I use to with film 30 years ago (wow did I say that).when I was shooting events the most important thing to remember was fresh battery’s in camera.bring new batteries for the camera make same for flash.plug in my battery pack in wall socket. Hmm lots lots of film .for weddings having a lust of in order the oldest person there first is being taking grand parents. Parents. The party . guess and shoot shoot shoot the same people. Now what dose this mean about shooting like sniper well now it’s the singer is digital it’s shooting an spraying hundreds of shots in seconds not just one and get out.ok sniper has a bmg.50 cal that can shoot mile away with no high end cameras also are very quiet and you shoot 100 shots in seconds no reload go home down load them or better yet shoot you just took three shoots maybe four.over expose under.just me as a photographer I have train my self to shoot lots of photos and here is the SECRET they are not shoot get out there and have fun.

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