How to Snipe Out Your Best Photographs 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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