Monday, 17 June 2013

4 Simple Steps Toward Becoming a "Real" Photographer

I can’t say that I’ve always loved photography because that’s definitely not the case. I’ve grown up with cameras my entire life, but it was barely four years ago that I actually got serious about learning how to take photographs and not just point my camera and press buttons. I bought my first DSLR, read books, browsed forums, took classes, and learned from anyone who was willing to teach. The transition proved to be a difficult one as it was very much a situation in which I discovered I didn’t really know anything about photography. For at least eight years now I’ve called myself a ‘photographer’ but only more recently than you might imagine did I begin to really wonder what made a photographer different from someone who takes snapshots at birthdays and on holidays. Is there a difference?

I really believe that everyone can be a good photographer, regardless of experience, training, or even equipment. I’ve seen awful photos taken with $6000 cameras and absolutely phenomenal photos taken with an iPhone. What it all comes down to is how well you understand the art of taking a photo, and as it turns out there really are only a few things that are absolutely essential. I’m not saying reading this post is going to launch your National Geographic career or anything, but it certainly could make your photos stand out amongst a sea of drab images that flood Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

1. Don’t Center Your Subjects: Our eyes don’t naturally go to the center of a picture when we first look at it, they scan the thirds of the images. Let’s look at two different pictures:


Did you find one picture more interesting that the other? You may or may not have noticed that in the first picture the only real content is the couple at the bottom, which is nice, but over half of the picture is a blurry background. The photographer could have used a smaller aperture to bring the background into focus (we’ll have to save that lesson for another time) or he simply could have recomposed his shot to include more of the couple. In the second photo we can see that each different element falls nicely into a third of the composition. The clothesline literally forms a dissecting line in the upper third.

Simply by placing the main focus of your picture in one of these areas you can drastically improve the quality of your photograph. It’s really that simple. It’s not magic or trickery or anything fancy like that, just put someone’s eyes in the upper third of a photo the next time you take their picture. You’re welcome, I’ll bill you later.

2. Stop Using Unnecessary Flash: We’ve all seen footage of large stadium events (concerts, sports, etc.) in which the seating looks like thousands of blinking stars. We’ve also all probably been guilty once or twice of being one of those blinking stars. Now just think with me here for a moment: if you had a flashlight and pointed it at a truck that was driving away from you, how far do you think the truck would drive before the flashlight no longer illuminated the back of the truck? 10ft? 100ft? Either way, we can all acknowledge that eventually the truck would be too far away for the flashlight to illuminate it properly. The flash on your camera is actually really similar, except that unlike a flashlight it’s meant to flood a relatively small area with a lot of light, whereas a flashlight usually covers a much greater distance with a narrow beam of light. So next time you’re more than 20ft away from whatever you’re taking a picture of, think for a second about whether or not your flash is actually going to help. This is important because if the camera fires the flash it will assume that whatever you were aiming at was lit by the flash, leaving you with underexposed (dark) photos if your subject was too far away.

3. Read Your Camera’s Manual: It’s amazing how often I buy some sort of new electronic appliance and think to myself “Why would I read the manual for my new blender? I mean, it’s a blender.” Well that’s the short story of how I set off a fire alarm and ended up with milkshake all over my dorm room floor. Now let me tell you, chances are your camera is a whole heck of a lot more complicated than a blender. Well, maybe not that super complicated, possesed blender I bought, but still, I’d bet good money that you might have skimmed the manual before you put it back in the box, or worse, straight into the trash (shame on you)! The point is that as simple as a camera is (light is focused by the lens on a sensor, which records the information) the software that operates the camera usually has dozens of controls and strange names for operations. This is true if you’re using anything better than a cell phone, and even more true if you’re using a DSLR.

If you did throw yours away, or lost it somewhere amongst countless other manuals that you never read, don’t panic; pretty much any manual for anything ever can be found online, usually on the manufacturer’s website. Just go ahead and google the exact name of your camera and you’ll probably find all kinds of interesting information. The task may seem daunting but try to look at it as a learning opportunity. A learning opportunity that will help you take better cat photos than all of your friends.

4. Most Importantly: Don’t ever let other people tell you how to take your pictures! Oh man, don’t you feel like you just wasted five minutes reading this whole thing?! Don’t worry though, what I mean is that taking pictures should be fun above all else. The tips I provided to you above are good tips that were given to me and have helped my photography improve a great deal over the years. That being said, however, I’d never take advice or implement practices that made photography feel less enjoyable. At the end of the day you may have a bunch of photos that no one really likes except for you, and that‘s ok. As long as you have fun doing what you’re doing and are happy with your photos then who really cares what anyone else thinks.

I mean, you know, unless you’re trying to get paid.

So, we're interested- have you read your camera's manual? If so, did you find it useful? If not, why not? What other fundamentals would you suggest to a novice photographer? Leave your comments below or tweet at us @swagger_media!

1 comment:

  1. Very cool article ... yes, I have read my manual and it's highlighted to death with worn corners and is in my camera bag at all times. Thanks for the "refresh" ... Jarred is my friend. : )