If you’re a long time reader, you’ll remember that early last year I did a series called “Kendra’s Weekly Tips”. I really enjoyed writing them and all of you seemed to enjoy them as well! I thought I would start back up a “tips” series but post monthly this time and a bit more focused on different topics instead of random tips each week like before.
1- Take a step back. Or forward. Or sideways.
When you’re shooting something, say a still life for example, capture the image you had intended and then take a step to the left, or the right or zoom your lens in or out, move the camera up higher, or lower than the object. Get a different angle, try a different position. You never know, it might make an even more powerful image than you had original imagined.
2- Look through your ‘portfolio’.
You might not have an official portfolio yet, but you have flickr or a similar photo site or at least your files, maybe once a year or every 6 months, take some time to peruse through it. First, look for trends, it could be the start of your personal style. You might realize you always take the same kind of image (for example, I’ve noticed that the majority of images I take for my project 366 are close ups) or maybe your content as well as editing style and visuals are different with almost every shoot. Maybe you want to challenge yourself to work in a different way or make a project out of something (I take a lot of images of windows and have been thinking about making a series.)
Next, look at what you think you need improvement on and what you love about your work. You might love your landscapes but think you need to work on getting exposure correct or you think your editing could be more improved. Maybe you really enjoy taking portraits but don’t think your portfolio of them is up to par yet. For whatever you need to improve, give yourself a compliment too and remember, there will always be room for growth, even in 50 years.
3- Know the technical aspects of your art.
You’ll be a better photographer and more confident in your work when you know the technical aspects. Photography is not just pointing and shooting. Do you know what f-stop, ISO or shutter speed mean? Do you know how they affect your image? Well you should. A quick overview: ISO – the measure of a digital camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Aperture (f-stop)– the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken. Shutter Speed – the amount of time that the shutter is open. These can be a bit confusing at first, but once you learn it, you’ll love knowing why your image isn’t coming out the way you intend it and how to fix it. Check out some more information here .
4- Composition and Rule of Thirds.
In addition to knowing how to get a good exposure and why, it’s important to know composition for your image. Composition can make or break your photograph, sometimes. It’s all about where our eyes settle and how they get there, placing your subject in the proper location for viewers to see it, will improve the photograph immensely. The most common composition is the Rule of Thirds, which is a great way to start learning composition. There are lots of other types of composition as well so be sure to pay attention to lines, symmetry, balance, and odd numbers among other things. Check out more tips here and here.
Rule of Thirds Example. Photograph by me.
5- Get to know your camera.
The top two tips can become pointless if you don’t know the way around your own camera. Read through the manual while fiddling with settings on your camera and see what each setting accomplishes. Set up a still life and play around with ISO, f-stop and shutter speed as well as white balance and different modes (manual, shutter priority or aperture priority only). You can also invest in a book specific to your camera (I have one by David Busch), it will probably have similar information as your manual but much more expanded as well as full color images and examples. I know a lot of people who also do a 365 project whenever they get a new camera. After using it every day for a whole year, I guarantee you will know everything about it.
6- Use Photoshop to your advantage, not to your disadvantage.
When working with digital photography, it’s okay to use Photoshop but limit the use. Altering your image in Photoshop in the correct ways can be just as pure, un-manipulated photography as if you were working in a darkroom. By nature, ALL digital images need to be sharpened…even if you have a fantastic lens and great camera, it will still need sharpened. Be careful of over sharpening, however. I use the smart sharpen tool (settings (dependent on the image and must be checked/changed each time)- amount: between 50-100 image radius: 1.2-2.4 remove: motion blur). You can also use levels or curves, in moderation to improve your image (you would do the same in the darkroom with contrast filters and exposure settings). If you want a specific look to your image, don’t be afraid to try actions but tailor them to your image and make them your own. Perhaps I’ll make a post just for editing. Let me know if any of you have more questions about how to edit/what to edit.
7- Shoot RAW.
A lot of the tips above are pretty useless if you don’t shoot in RAW. Do yourself a favor and start.
8- Shoot constantly.
Honestly, the easiest way to get better…to know your camera well and to understand what all the different functions/settings do is to photograph. And photograph often. This year I’m doing a project 366 and it’s been great to get back into taking photos. It’s my first time trying the project but when I first starting taking photos (back in 2005 or so), I photographed often and experimented in as many ways as I could think of.
9- Use film.
An even better way to learn about the technical side of photography as well as the art is to use film. Film is often such a different beast than digital ever is and ever could be. If you have access to a darkroom (try looking for a photography class at a local college!), that’s even better. With a SLR camera, you need to use the settings, but are blind in a sense. With digital you can see your pictures instantly on the LCD screen or upload them right after taking them, with film you don’t have that luxury and it forces you to learn what the settings actually do so you don’t waste your film. Use 35mm. A toy camera(that takes 120mm film). Even try out a Polaroid or other instant camera.
2 images taken by me using 120 film and a Hasselblad.
10- Pay attention to your light.
I think I keep saying this, but light can make or break an image. So pay attention. Use it. Love it. Your light doesn’t always have to be straight on and bright, use darkness as well as shadows to your advantage.
11- Golden hour.
Go out to shoot 1 hour before sunrise (and stay for 1 hour after) and 1 hour before sunset (and stay for 1 hour after) and use the light to your advantage.
12- Take more than one picture.
I always click, click, click at the same angle but different settings. Overexpose by 1, underexpose by 1 and ‘perfect’ expose. Sometimes the meaning and mood of your image looks better underexposed and other times it doesn’t, but it’s good to see the difference. I even take the same picture, same settings several times. Sometimes we move, or breath wrong or if you’re outside there might be wind. It’s good to have an extra or two in case one of them is too blurry. After you do that, move angles and repeat.
13- Critique and be critiqued.
You will learn so much about your own images and style as well as composition techniques by critiquing others and being critiqued. If you can find a photography class at a local college, do it. Otherwise, join some communities online, seek out a photo mentor and get critiquing.
14- Don’t be afraid to try new things.
Rent a flash. Try portraits if you always take landscapes, try landscapes if you always do portraits. Practice your close ups/macros if you are wont to photograph wide angle and vice versa. Test out a new camera, new subject, new lighting situation, new angle. Anything and everything. Don’t knock it until you try it, you might fall in love.
I did a project of trying a style similar to Uta Barth.
15- Enjoy it.
in 2010, I left art school after attending for only 1 year, there were many reasons for this but one of the biggest was because I loathed even looking at my camera let alone touching it anymore. It became something I didn’t enjoy, I didn’t want to do it. And that hurt the work I did produce, it left my ideas and visuals lacking. I wasn’t interested in trying new things, challenging myself or getting better as a creative person. I wanted to get it done and not think about it. Especially if you are a student or have a career as a photographer, don’t let it become work to the point you don’t enjoy it anymore. The biggest plus of being a photographer as a living is that you get to do something you love. So keep loving it.
BONUS! 16- Ask questions and talk to others.
Immerse yourself in the world you love and don’t ever be afraid to email a photographer and ask a question. Most of us are pretty friendly. I know I’m always available with questions about a technique, a setting on a camera, or what I think of an image so please don’t hesitate to email me at any time.
I hope you enjoyed my tips and will utilize them in the future. There are so many more things I can tell you and so many resources out there to find. It can be overwhelming but don’t let that frighten you away either.
Last year, I had a week that I wrote photography tips and I tried to come up with new tips this week but a few are repeats. Check out last years shorter list of photography tips for additional ideas.