Tutorial Tuesday: How do I get photos like that?March 3rd, 2009 | Posted by in Tutorials
(Rusty Truck - photo by Becky Thompson)
One of the questions I get asked most often by people wanting to learn and improve their photography skills is, “How do I get photos like that?”
People often assume that you need something special to take great pictures, or that there must be some secret tip that a photographer can share that will make the difference. The truth is, there really isn’t. Yes, there are things you can do to improve your skills, but there is no magic pill, nor does it take pricey photography equipment to get snapshots you will be happy with.
(Samantha – photo by Becky Thompson)
Today I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned that hopefully will help you, too, get images you love.
- Study other people’s pictures. There are amazingly talented photographers out there. Find images you like and study them. Make notes about the details and the composition of pictures that especially speak to you. You can learn a great deal from studying the work of others. Conversely, find images you’re not-so-crazy about, too. Why don’t you like them? Is the lighting poor? Is the subject not framed in a pleasing way? What is it that you don’t like? Learning to identify what makes a photo that you like is a key.
- Learn the basics about your camera. Most cameras come with a user’s manual. Read it. I know, it’s boring and technical…but you WILL learn a lot about your camera’s functions and capability from it. If you’re having a hard time getting much out of your manual there are others out there that will be helpful. I personally love the Magic Lantern series of manuals. Easy to understand with LOTS of great info, and you can find them for almost any camera. Still confused by all the knobs and buttons? Consider taking a beginner’s course at your local camera shop. Most offer them and they’re a great way to learn the very basics if you’re unfamiliar, or if you need a refresher course.
- Give up the notion that because you don’t own a “fancy camera” that you can’t take great pictures. Yes, there are things that you can do with a high-end camera that you can’t do with your typical point and shoot. That said, don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking you can’t take great pictures with what you own. I had a friend give me great advice once, and I’ve held true to it since: Great pictures are NOT as much about the camera equipment as the eye of the person using it. It’s true. I used to shoot with a little point and shoot Nikon camera with a very small zoom lens. I’ve since upgraded to a higher end DSLR Nikon. Funny thing? I have pictures from my little cheap camera that I love equally as well if not more than some of those I’ve taken with the bigger camera. It’s really NOT about the camera. It’s about learning to use what you have to it’s best. You can do that with WHATEVER you have.
- Take lots of pictures. This is one of the true joys of the digital era. I remember learning to shoot with film years ago. It was expensive. You never knew if what you got was going to work until you got the developed photos back from the lab. Sometimes you could shoot an entire roll and only get one or two images that worked for you. That’s not the case anymore. A digital camera makes it possible to take literally hundreds, if not thousands, of images in a very short time, and see the results instantly. You don’t have to keep them if you don’t like them, nor are you spending time waiting for a lab to develop your shots – you know immediately if you “got what you were after.” So….go play! Play with the settings of your camera. Change lenses if you can. Use the flash, and then take the same image and don’t use the flash. Note the differences. You can read all the books you want, and take all the classes you want….but I can tell you that none of those things will do you any good if you don’t just get out there and play!
- Learn your digital darkroom equipment. Once you have your photographs, most people need some sort of program to work with them. Film photographers had a darkroom, digital photographers do as well – they just happen to have theirs on a computer. There is NOTHING wrong with enhancing your images using a photo editing program. Careful use of photo editing programs can take a good image even further – to a great one. There are all kinds of programs out there, including the very basic ones that come with the camera itself. I use Photoshop CS2 for my digital editing, but you can use any program that you’re comfortable with. If you use a version of Photoshop, I’d definitely recommend the Scott Kelby series of books for the different versions. He gives great, step-by-step instructions for the basics in digital darkroom work-flow.
- Learn to compose before you press the shutter button. What do I mean by this? It’s about noticing things in the viewfinder before you take the picture. When I’m composing a shot, I usually make mental notes of certain things. Shadows (are they covering part of the subject – are they enhancing the image the way I’d like them to?) Background (are there things growing out of my subject’s head? Would moving to a different location give a more pleasing result? Is the background distracting or complimentary?) Body parts (am I cutting people off at the knees? are my subjects arms and legs posed in a comfortable, natural fashion? Are my subjects, if there are more than one, interacting in some way in the photo? A group shot where all the participants are somehow connected is far more pleasing than a traditional “posed” shot, in most cases) I think about these types of things before I press that button and adjust accordingly.
…and my final tip?
- Don’t listen to me, or anybody else. When it comes to photography, there are a million different people out there who will give you advice on how to take better pictures, what you should and shouldn’t do, what’s right and wrong. Everyone’s got advice to give. Sure, there are things we can all do to improve our skills. But the truth is, the best way to improve your photos is to just PLAY. I can tell you things that I look for in a great picture, but that doesn’t mean that it will make a great picture for you. Just like pieces in an art gallery, some will speak to me, and some will speak to you – and they may not even be the same pieces!
So, aside from learning the basic “how-to” of your camera operation, the very best thing you can do to consistently get photos you love is to just GO FOR IT!
I try to set aside some time once in a while to go on what I call “camera play days” – it’s just me, my camera, and the world around me. I take sometimes hundreds of images of anything and everything. I play with light and composition and depth of field. I change lenses, I experiment with flash and manual settings….I just have fun with it. When I get home, I download the images off my camera and start looking at them. Sometimes, I get nothing. Other times, I’ll end up with something I love.
(St. John’s Cathedral – photo by Becky Thompson)
In the end, that’s what matters.
Not what anyone else tells you a great image ought to be.
It’s what YOU love.
So go for it!
You can get photos like that!