15 Simple Ways to Become a Better Photographer this Week
One of the great things about being a photographer is that we always can find something new to learn. Sometimes, reviewing what we already may know may be that something new, especially if we find a new idea, thought, or method.
You are already a photographer. Are you a beginner? An advanced hobbyist? Are you able to sell your art or time to people as a professional (sure, even every now and then counts)? Then, listen up! We are going to discuss 15 ridiculously simple ways to improve your craft. You can start doing these today.
One: Read your instruction manual. Seems like a no brainer. But, you would be surprised how much we could miss out on if we don’t thoroughly familiarize ourselves with our tools. In the days of all mechanical bodies and celluloid film, we could get by with the “Sunny 16 Rule” and knowing where the shutter speed dial and aperture ring is. Today’s DSLRs and ILCs have a lot packed in them. They are more like an imaging computer. Does your camera have a setting for bracketing? How about white balance adjustments? Does it do video? Sit down for an hour or two and go through your instruction manual with the camera in your hand. Another great resource is the internet. A site like dpreview.com might have in depth reviews of your equipment, including many of the features.
Two: Now that you really know all of your camera’s features, let’s use one. White Balance. Auto tends to work fairly well in many situations. Adjusting the white balance in camera will result in a truer color in special conditions. Underneath fluorescent lights, for example, or in mixed lighting. Some cameras (see Point One) even allow for a custom setting. Carry an 18% grey card with you. The other side is usually 90% white. Use either side (depending on your camera) to set a custom white balance
Three: Get close. It’s so easy to sit back and zoom in, isn’t it? And with our high MP sensors, we can use our imaging software to zoom in even more. Getting physically up close, or at least closer, to our subject often gives a new perspective that we can get creative with. Use this idea with your wide angle lenses too.
Four: Use flash. Not the tiny built in flash. A larger, shoe mounted flash can open up possibilities for a better photo. An outside portrait can be improved by turning the subject away from the Sun and adding fill light via the flash. Many cameras have semi automatic settings for this, or you can go manual. Be sure to know how to set fractional power on your strobe.
Five: Avoid flash. Yeah, yeah, see Point Four. But flash won’t always improve a shot. Look at the photography of some of the old time masters and see how they used existing light (and shadows) to create works of art. The work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams are easy to find online and in print. Wikipedia.com and Amazon.com are good sources. While you’re learning from the masters, take a moment to simply enjoy the beauty of the art they created.
Six: Become your own tripod. How still can we stand? Keeping your arms close in to your body helps stabilize your camera. Plant your feet about shoulder width apart. Standing with one foot slightly in front or behind helps, too. Any wall, tree, fence, rock to lean on? Use that as well.
Seven: Carry your tripod or monopod with you. Seems like a bother sometimes, but when it’s needed, it will make the difference between getting the shot or not. Any HDR photography will benefit from a tripod. Even with the programs that say you can hand hold it, using a tripod will make the end result easier to perfect. Same with any bracketing. Panoramas, too. Also beneficial for close up and macro, long lenses, low light, etc...
Eight: Play! We sometimes get so involved in the art and craft of photography that we forget to have fun with this wonderful process we enjoy. Go out to the lake, the park, your yard, and just take pictures. Point up, point down, use full manual and then switch to completely automatic. Post to Facebook, Flickr, MySpace and invite your friends to look and comment.
Nine: Listen to those comments. If a certain something we do gets lots of likes and positive comments, look at what it is they are noticing. Adjust and experiment from there. A negative comment might show us areas we need to improve. So, that becomes a positive also.
Ten: Smile and talk to people. At times, we need to become one with our craft, especially when we are involved in a special project, paid or not. Other times, we can relax and engage people in conversation. Relaxed subjects often lead to very natural poses.
Eleven: Grab your smart phone or P&S. Take photographs while working with the built in limitations of those devices. It might teach a person to really see the subject instead of concentrating so much on a technique or process.
Twelve: Watch the weather. An evening thunderstorm might give us a great sunset shot. Wild flowers after a gentle rain look so soft and peaceful. Protect that camera gear, though.
Thirteen: Read a book. A favorite of mine (currently out of print) is Understanding Photography by Carl Shipman. It’s very old school, written during the height of popular SLRs for film such as the Canon A-1/AE-1, Olympus OM-1/OM-2, and Nikon FM/FE. It has in depth discussions of concepts such as gamma and color temps that we can adapt to our digital world. Again, Amazon.com is a great source for photo books, as is a local library.
Fourteen: Get out that film camera and shoot a roll or two. Think of how what you’re doing can cross over into the digital world, either in camera or with our imaging programs. Certain techniques force us to consider what is actually happening with our sensors (film), optics, and controls. Look in those old books from Point Thirteen for project ideas.
Fifteen: Teach a basic photographic idea to a beginner. It’s enjoyable. Make it fun!
Hopefully, some of these ideas will inspire you try them out. Use the equipment you have and give two or three of these ideas a try.