Friday, April 27, 2012

5 tips for better photos


Ask any successful photographer and they'll tell you that great photographs are not taken, they are made.

I would go further and add that great moments happen that gives the photographer the opportunity to make great photos. We see examples of this every time we say, "Wow" to a print that takes our breath away with its beauty, power, essence; call it what you will. Yet these great opportunities would be nothing more than decent images without the technical skill, knowledge and discipline needed to take that opportunity and make it into something powerful.

This is what many beginners struggle with, myself included. We rely too much on the camera or react too quickly to our situation that we simply click the shutter and move on to something else. The results end up being nothing more than a snapshot. Not that snapshots don't have a place in our lives considering they document our daily lives. But a snapshot will seldom get someone to say, "Wow".

As I have gained experience I find myself looking back at some of my  earlier attempts and find the faults in them. Yet this is part of the whole pyramid of learning. By being able to identify the faults now we are able to anticipate the problems later and apply solutions in order to create better images. Like a pyramid, you cannot attain the next level without having a solid foundation to build on. Here are five tips to help you climb that pyramid.

  1. Learn  Your Equipment: It is hard to concentrate on what is happening in front of the camera if you don't know how to use the camera. If you've never heard me say this before, here it is again; "Read your manual!" That is the best starting point to learn the functions and settings. Then spend the time practicing with the equipment so it becomes second nature.
  2. Take Lots of Pictures: Don't be afraid of the camera or about making mistakes. It is through these mistakes that we learn how to correct them. Look at the process as a series of problem solving events. Too dark? Let's lighten it. Crooked background? Level the camera, etc. Social clubs, amateur groups and your local camera club all hold events to help you become a better photographer.
  3. Learn Editing Software: Unlike the film days when we sent our film out to be developed, with digital photography we have to do the developing ourselves. There are decent freeware and open source programs available to start with. As you gain experience you can then purchase more professional software.
  4. Take Classes: Lots and lots of classes. There is so much to learn that you can't absorb it all in just a few workshops. Each time you take a class you learn something new that builds on material you previously learned. Learn from a lot of teachers. One instructor may explain a technique better than another or you simply 'click' with one over another. The internet is also a great source for free training.
  5. Learn How To Critique: Flickr.com has hundreds of 'critique' groups*. Members can submit photos for other to take apart and explain what works and doesn't work with their photo. Begin by trolling through past posts and see what people say about the posted photo. Do you agree or disagree with the comments? When you can see the techniques used by others you will begin to develop your own techniques. Similarly, when you see the bad habits in others you learn to avoid those habits in your own work.

* NOTE: A side note about critique groups; you need to have a tough skin before you submit your own work. Photography is a personal art and negative feedback can be difficult to accept. Keep in mind that these are impartial viewers giving their opinion about what they see. Each viewer is going to interpret a photograph based on their emotions and experiences, not yours. Learn to step back and try to see what they see then make a conscious decision if their comments are credible.

1 comment:

  1. Exceptionally well written, Duck. If there is a sixth tip that I follow that is to slow down. I have learned that to shoot quickly is to spend more time processing to get something good. If I take the time to observe, from outside (think: wide-angle) in (think: zoomed in or macro) I see things differently in the same subject and I shoot more artistically from the start. Same can be said of fast moving events like sports - observe where the vantage points are that will be the most successful. It may not be the direction you are looking in!

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