25 November 2013

Getting Better - Six Photography Things You Can Do Right Now

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
"Day by day in every way I’m getting better and better."
- Emile Coue

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
Lots of people who own cameras bigger than a point 'n shoot, talk about wanting to be better shooters or take better pictures. Many don't know where to start. Or they think they need to enroll in expensive college courses, safari adventures in Africa (where everybody knows the good pictures are), or workshops that you have to take a plane, book a hotel/rental car and then pay for a ticket to get in and sit for 5 hours listening to a speaker tell you about the latest and greatest photographic techniques guaranteed to improve your pictures. Well, I'm here to tell you that you can do those things if you want to, but there are convenient options for you right where you are that cost you nothing. And by no means is this list all comprehensive. There's always more. But to start, 

1. Pull out the manual for your camera. I know. Its dry as hell, but do you wanna get better or not?? The manual is free and it came WITH your camera. If by chance you bought it used, you can still go online and Google the manual for a free download. And if its just too hard to read it, check out Amazon and get a Dummies guide to help. When I teach my two-week one on one lessons, I pick up one for whatever camera system my client is using. Its easier to read than the manual and has added info to help you understand. And the reason is this: You need to know the capabilities of your camera. Its as simple as that. You will be a better shooter if you understand how to utilize the tools that you are trying to use. Automatic mode can do a great job a lot of the time, but you said you wanted to be better. So take the controls and learn how to use them.

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
2. Shoot. Its as simple as that. Get out there and shoot. I don't want to say as often as possible, because your definition of "as possible" is likely different from my definition. So get up now and dedicate some time every day to picking up the camera and experiment with different settings. Try shooting in Aperture or Shutter Priority (which you will understand AFTER you go through the manual). Find out what subject matter interests you, but don't restrict yourself to it. Actually it may also be beneficial to find out what you absolutely DON'T like to shoot as well. As you continue to explore, you may discover that you absolutely hate shooting people. This is different from finding out what you are not good at. If you are not good at shooting people, its far from not LIKING to shoot people. Avoid the things you absolutely dislike, but not necessarily the things you presently suck at. You may get better at those things if you try.

3. Test the limits of your camera. All systems are different as well as people's opinions. Don't just rely on what reviews have said or what you've heard. Try it out for yourself. What is the maximum ISO your camera can reasonably make a presentable shot at? Do you know? Try shooting at max ISO in some low-light situation. Try it at the maximum and then start backing off of that til you're back around ISO 800. Then go get those shot printed! It doesn't even have to be high quality prints...just some reasonable 11x14s to see how things look. Compare your camera's RAW to its JPEG. Test the bracketing features. Set your Auto Focus to the various settings and see how this performs. I did the same thing with my kids when I taught them how to drive. I wanted them to see how a car reacts when you hit the breaks at high speed. (Don't judge me, dammit...)

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
4. Play with flash. How well do you understand your flash's sync speed? Try it out! See why that matters through practical application. Test out the stroboscopic mode (Canon), or the repeating flash (Nikon) and see how to calculate the needed shutter speed given the number of times the flash is to pop vs the frequency. Play with it and see when that might come in handy. Or put to use REAR CURTAIN SYNC! I've seen plenty of photos that could have been improved upon had the user correctly employed this feature. You can also practice lighting techniques using a bare bulb, a flashlight, or your iPhone light to illuminate the face of a model. Many bounce light from above (ceiling), but how many will bounce from below to reduce the shadows under the eyes, nose, and neck...or for perhaps when the subject is wearing a ball cap.

5. Look at a lot of pictures. 500px.com or Flickr.com are ripe for perusing through and getting a feel for what's possible. Find shots you like and try to figure out why you like them or what qualities make them exceptional to you. Break the shots down and look at the way it was composed and lit. Emulate those qualities in your own work. Don't put as much credence in the exposure info. Its good to know if you want to see what settings gave them the shot THEY took, but that does not mean you can set your camera to the same thing and get the same results. Its more important to see what sort of depth of field they got with f/11 or f/1.2 to better understand the mechanics of their shot. But don't expect to now go outside with your camera set the same thinking you'll achieve similar results. They may have taken their shot on a severely overcast day with a wide open aperture and longer exposure to add lots more light. You go out an try it on a sunny day will only result in confusion, frustration, and eventually feeling of self-loathing, inadequacies, and depression. Well, maybe that's a bit far, but the point is don't start thinking like that.

6. Commit. Make up your mind to jump on board and do whatever it takes to be better. Don't worry about gear. Get a basic camera and a cheap 50mm 1.8 lens. Just shoot. That's the main thing. Be serious about the craft and just go shoot. But at the same time don't be too serious that you get frustrated and put down the camera. Be serious enough to study on your own, but if you're not getting it, find a teacher or mentor. Don't get so serious as to take the fun out of it. Learn to love this and do it because you WANT to be better. If you find it isn't for you, no worries. You can back off anytime. But for now. Go For It!

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley

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