What’s the contrast between an awesome photograph and an extraordinary picture taker? Other than “grapher”, you brazen monkey.
It’s consistency. We’ve all fluked an extraordinary shot. You’re not absolutely beyond any doubt how you oversaw it, but rather everything just mysteriously became alright and you caught a picture that influences you to feel like you’re an aggregate elite player.
Yet, the trap is having the capacity to rehash that wonder, over and over. That is the thing that extraordinary picture takers can do. So what’s the mystery sauce? Pails of luckiness? Shooting a bazillion shots so they can get enough of those flukes?
Not a chance. Everything comes down to a short rundown of basics. These are the things that extraordinary picture takers know all around, so when the time comes, they can call this data energetically to enable them to deliver those triumphant pictures.
So you need to take awesome photographs? You need to up your amusement as a picture taker? This is the place to begin.
1. Know Your Camera
Would you believe there are professional photographers out there that don’t fully know how to control their camera? It’s true. How do I know?
I used to be one of them.
Yep, it’s a big ugly confession, but it’s true. We started off shooting in Aperture Priority mode, and let the camera do the thinking for us. We thought it was faster and easier than learning all that scary technical stuff. And you can fake it here for a while. Cameras are smarter than ever, and they can get pretty close for you. But not knowing this stuff will truly hold you back, and keep you firmly in the “fluking it” category.
What I’m talking about here is needing to understand the essential features of your camera and your lens, and knowing how that affects the look of your images.
You need to know how changing your aperture changes the look of your photo. You need to understand how to set your shutter speed to get the results you want. You need to be able to make decisions with your ISO that fit your situation. And then, based on what features your camera has, you’ll need to know about drive modes, white balance, focusing, stabilization modes and so on.
Luckily this stuff isn’t as hard as it sounds. In fact you can learn it all in just a few hours. Once you do, you’ll be ready to move on to the next level.
2. Understand Exposure
Once you have a solid grasp on aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and how they affect the look of your photos, you need to put them all together and learn how they balance to create a good exposure.
One of the trickiest things is first figuring out just what people mean by a “good exposure”. Some folks make it seem like there’s a right exposure and a wrong exposure and if you get it wrong you’re pretty much a doofus.
And if you go online and try to get a clear definition? Ha, good luck! They are all super confusing, and don’t really get to the heart of how to actually create a good exposure. (My personal favourite is “The intensity of light falling on a photographic film multiplied by the time for which it is exposed”….Uh…so do I need a calculator for this?)
So we made up our own definition of exposure:
A good exposure is how bright you want the image to be.
If it’s brighter than you want, it’s overexposed. If it’s darker than you want, it’s underexposed.
In the end it’s your own creative decision. You’re the photographer after all. But you need to know how to adjust all your settings to get that exposure you’re looking for, and how to use your camera to help you figure it out.
3. Master Light
Let me start off by saying that I don’t think anyone can truly be the master of light (except maybe the Greek God Apollo). We photographers are the glad and willing slaves to light. Without it we can’t do our work. And it can be a fickle master (especially if you use natural light).
But to learn about light. To understand it’s many facets and subtleties. To know how to work with it in any circumstance. To create it. To seek it. Well, this is really the photographer’s lifelong pursuit. We won’t ever really be the master, but we may come close, with a lot of respect and decades of practice.
Where to begin? Simple. Outside. The are endless lighting opportunities waiting for you when you step outdoors. Can you shoot in harsh midday sun? Golden hour light? After the sun goes down? When the stars come out?
Then hop back inside. Use the light of windows. There is unlimited variety there, and you can really start to get the finer points down in such a simple (but complex) scenario.
Ready to keep learning? Try your hand at creating your own light (like a wizard!). Learn how to use an external flash. Rent, borrow or buy a few studio lights, and start to create your own lighting setups.
Keep seeking light, keep learning about it, and keep pushing yourself into new lighting situations. It will bring you a lifetime of photographic adventures, and more than a few great images.
4. Explore Depth of Field
Now enough romance about light. Let’s get practical.
Depth of field is a huge part of your photography that you probably greatly underestimate.
I know, because I underestimate it. And I know that I do, and I still do. You know?
Depth of field is one of those things that seems simple at the outset, and gets progressively more complex the more you learn. But learning about it, even at the basic level, will make a huge transformation in your work.
For instance, without first learning about depth of field, you might think that to get some background blur in your image, you just need to decrease your aperture value.
But you didn’t take the focal length, subject to background distance, and camera to subject distance into account. And with a certain combination of factors. your aperture might actually have very little to no affect on your depth of field. It’s true. Sometimes there’s no discernible depth of field difference between f/1.4 and f/11.
Once you start to understand how all of these interact, you can start to get impressive background blur, even with a point and shoot camera at a high aperture, just by knowing exactly how to control all the variables.
Another misconception about depth of field is the idea that “shallow is always better”. When you’re just getting started, shallow depth of field is a new and exciting technique. But it can be overused. Ever seen what a headshot taken at 85mm f/1.2 looks like? It’s easy to get distracted by the beautiful bokeh, and forget to notice that not even an entire eyeball is in focus. Um, not quite right.
Don’t be afraid of high apertures. Or low apertures. In fact, don’t be afraid of your aperture at all. Learn how depth of field works, and then use it as a creative decision to make each and every image just right. That’s what a great photographer does. They know their options, and use them all.
5. Get to Know Perspective
This is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated topics in photography. Put very simply, perspective has to do with the spatial relationships between objects in your frame – their sizes, their placements, and the space between them. All of this positioning works to change the way your viewer interprets the scene. It might make things look more 3D, giving the photo a sense of depth, or it might flatten everything out.
So why is this obviously important topic not widely discussed? Because it’s complicated! Or at least it can be at first glance.
Let’s start simply. Where you position yourself when you take a photo is a hugely important decision. It is what determines your perspective. And changing your perspective can take your photo from bland to totally engaging.
Getting to know perspective requires a lot of practice and experimentation. And moving those little feet of yours! Crouch, lie down, stand on a ladder, stand on a building, take a step forward, take a step to the left. These things change your perspective and make major impacts on the look and feel of your photos. Experiment. Take shots each time you change your perspective, and then compare them afterward. How does it change the image?
Now what about focal length? Does that change perspective? Technically no. That’s changing the angle of view (that is, the angle of the scene that your camera captures). Wide angle lenses capture a wider amount of the scene. Telephoto lenses capture a narrower amount of scene. Alone changing your lens doesn’t change perspective (though it may appear to). It’s when you combine a lens change with a position change that your perspective changes.
Perspective gets a lot more complex, and there are different ways to use it to achieve your goals with your shot. We’ll be writing more on this topic in the future, but if you want to dig into it right now, this article about perspective, from (believe it or not) a NAVY training course, is helpful!