Probably one thing we all have in common regardless of how long we have been taken photos is our desire to improve. The Photo Profile series has been a great way to gain an insight to the work of other photographers around the world and over the next few months we are going to look at different photography projects styles and post production exercises.
To kick things off Stephen Van Tuyl has produced a ten tip guide to improving your photography. If you have anything to then please post a message in the comments.
1. Know your camera
This easily the most important tip of the ten. Whether you have a point and shoot or a more advanced DSLR, understanding your cameras’ various settings and modes is crucial to being able to take photos which are more than just snap shots. Study your manual! (assuming you can find the part that’s printed in english.)
Learn about histograms, ISO speeds, f stops and white balance settings. Experiment with these settings and see what kind of results you come up with. For example set your white balance to “cloudy” on a bright, sunny day. You’ll be surprised to see how much warmer the colors are. Taking the time to “play around” like this can pay big dividends in the long run. Tell your girlfriend that’s not what I meant by “playing around.” Besides, you’re studying right now. focus my friend. focus.
I carry three filters in my camera bag. A standard UV filter. It helps protect expensive lenses from dust and scratches. Cuts down on lens glare and reduces the haziness and “blue cast” sometimes caused by ultraviolet light. Especially at higher elevations. Polarizer. Reduces unwanted reflections and gives warmer tones. Neutral Density Filter. Reduces the available light to the lens in order to allow for longer exposure times. Sunglasses. Not so great for taking pictures but they do a good job of hiding bloodshot,
morning after eyes.
4. Use a Tripod
A good tripod is an essential tool in every photographers “kit,” When light conditions areless than ideal, it is physically impossible to hold a camera still enough to get the “pin sharp” focus you need. This is also where the auto timer comes in handy, By setting the timer for a two second delay your hands are not in contact with the camera when the shutter releases, further reducing the chances of any inadvertant movement. The ten second timer works great if you want to get into the shot with your girlfriend but that puts us in a whole different rating slot.
5. Get Closer
As my long time friend and mentor, Harry Snowden is so fond of saying. “Before you click that shutter ask yourself one final question. Can I get closer?” Unless you are using background, free space, or distance as “photo elements” they can actually detract from the overall impact of your shot. Generally speaking, you want your subject to pretty much fill the frame.
There are of course, notable exceptions. Panos, wide angle landscapes, perspective shots, etc. This is where a good eye for composition comes in very handy. The point is, you want your subject to be clearly obvious to your viewers. The great Ansel Adams once said “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” Trust me, it doesn’t take long for an “ambiguous” photo to find its way to the infamous “box”. You know, the one everybody has that’s full of vacation and family snapshots you never look at but can’t quite bring yourself to throw out? Yeah, that’s the one.
6. Take your Time
Unless you see a shot that needs to be taken quickly. A grab shot, as it’s known in the trade, (a childs’ candid facial expression, the gracefully arcing trajectory of the deer your wife just hit as it flies across the hood of your car) don’t just point and shoot. Take some time to set it up. Move around. Shoot from several different angles. Pay attention to light position and shadows. If your subject is a person, move around and take note of the highlights on their skin and hair. Quite often you will end up with several excellent shots of the same subject from different perspectives.
7. Take Lots of Photos
There’s an old adage in photography. ” Take a thousand shots to get one good one.” There is truth in that saying! I once filled an entire 2gig card and didn’t end up with a single usable image. Poor light conditions, camera shake. Any number of things can go wrong with any shot so take a lot of them! Some of my favorite shots have been completely “accidental”.
I’ll be searching through a group of photos and find one that I took in passing, just to get another angle or light condition and it will turn out to be the “shot of the day”. Also, don’t delete the ones you’re not quite sure about right away. Wait a week or so and go back and look at them again. Often times you’ll find something you like on second look. Just think what would have happened if your wife had acted on her first impression of you.
8. Look at other photographer’s work
In tip #5 I mentioned having a good eye for composition. While some people come by this naturally, it is possible to improve your “eye” by viewing the work of other good artists and photographers.
You begin to get a feel for things like camera positioning and angle. Lighting and exposure. Other elements in the shot and how they interact with the main subject, etc. The work of other artists can also be an excellent source of inspiration. You’ll find yourself attempting to recreate certain effects and set ups and you learn a lot about your own developing style in the process.
9. Ask Questions!
Don’t be afraid to contact photographers you admire and ask their advise. You will find that most of them are down to earth, nice people who are more than willing to share their experience with someone who is genuinely interested in learning. You might even develop some lasting friendships. So what if they call it stalking. Who are they to judge you anyway, right?
10. To HDR or Not HDR ?
The answer is “mostly not.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of high dynamic range photography when used properly and in moderation. Unfortunately it is rapidly becoming one of the most over used effects out there. The fact is, HDR does not work for all subjects. Just because you know how to do it, doesn’t mean you should.
About the Author
Stephen Van Tuyl is A photographer, web designer and owner of Dawg Digital Design Studio in Cave Junction, Oregon.
His work has appeared in the Bend Bulletin, the New York Times and National Geographic.