Being so obsessed with photography, friends and family tend to think of me as an expert in the field. I’ve got the gear, they love the pictures and I live and breath the medium, so the credentials as far as they know add up. With this perceived status comes the occasional question regarding the craft from folks who are just getting into it and being that I love to geek out talking about photography, the question will be fielded with the utmost respect and interest. Let the perception become reality, even for just a moment!
Last week a friend at church asked a good one; one that tied him up with me for a good 10-20 minutes that he’ll never get back for sure. He had some experience with film in the past but had been away from photography for a while. Earlier this year he purchased his first DSLR (a Canon Rebel I believe) and along with it bought a book on composition. He liked landscapes, portraits and macro. His question: “How do I get started?”
That was a first for me. Some folks say they want to learn more about their camera or ask how to take great pictures, but this question was totally different. How do you start? Where to begin? I don’t think he expected me to ramble on like I did after asking the question, but I was really sort of feeling for the answer – it was not something you chalk up in the front brain shelves like, “get down low” or “add a strong foreground element.” It required me going back to the beginning, filtering things forward and seeing what was left. After thinking about it a few days, I thought it would make for a great topic here at Current Photographer, so here goes.
- Read Your Camera’s Manual. Everybody says this, but it is so important. Understand how to operate your camera and learn what each of the buttons and controls do so that you’re not spending time searching for functions instead of getting great pictures. Will this keep you from making mistakes? Nope. You’ll forget to change the ISO setting back to 100 after shooting indoors at 1600. You’ll forget to change the white balance to daylight after shooting in fluorescent – those things will happen. When they do, however, you’ll know exactly how to change them quickly without wasting too much time and missing more shots.
- Learn about exposure, in particularly the triangle of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Cameras these days are pretty amazing at metering scenes and selecting settings to obtain a decent exposure, but they have no idea what your vision is for the picture you’re taking. They can’t read your mind. Understanding depth of field or how to freeze or highlight movement are creative decisions that only you can make and you can’t make them if you don’t know how these controls work together to produce the results.
- Shoot in RAW. We’re not perfect, well, I’m not anyways, so when I load a pic up on the computer, I want the most data possible that helps me get the finished product I want. Shooting in jpeg will limit that capability.
- Look at other people’s work. Don’t just look at it to see if you like it or not, look at it to understand why you like it. Is there something about the style or the composition that you like, for instance, do you like the use of a strong foreground element or leading lines? What are the focal points and where are they placed in the photo? Color or black and white? Contrast, saturation? Once you start identifying these things, try applying them to your photos. Compare and experiment.
- Take pictures. Lots of pictures. Take pictures of the same subjects at different times of day, month, year. Experiment with the settings on your camera and how they effect the same image. Change your angle by getting down on the ground or standing up on something to look down at the subject. Move your feet. Keep moving your feet. Change lenses and see the differences in the focal length and angle.
- Get connected to other photographers in the social networks. Interact. Ask questions. The photography community is one of the most open ones I have ever experienced and most togs will share whatever they know to help someone else – take advantage of it!
- Experiment with all types of photography; landscapes, portraits, macro, etc. Learn which ones you like and which ones you don’t. Learn what settings work for each type.
- Share your work and ask for real critiques. Don’t take the award comments in Flickr seriously – find photographers you respect and ask them to look at your work and give honest critiques. Use the comments objectively – don’t assume they’re right just because they tell you their opinion, but consider it as a possible improvement and try it out in future shoots.
More important than any of the other tips, at least in my opinion, is to shoot what you love and shoot to please you. Most all of us who have blogs or share work online get caught up in the quantity and quality of comments we get on our images. This can move us toward taking pictures to get a response rather than taking pictures that move us individually. If you love taking pictures of your kids and taking them at high noon, take them and perfect them. If you like taking pictures of flowers, take them and perfect the craft. If your passion and love for the subject type is true, it will come out in the image and people will see it.
We can’t please everybody. Trust me, we can’t. So please yourself when it comes to photography. Keep it fun and keep learning about it. When we look at a great picture, we won’t be able to tell what camera it was taken with or if it was in auto or manual mode. What we will be able to tell is the passion that went into it and the emotion it triggers within us.
That’s where I would start if I had to do it again. These tips will go a long ways for you to produce the images that sit behind your eyes.