When it comes to photography, I’m ashamed to say it…I’m a very slow learner. My first experience with digital photography came at the end of 1999 when I decided to sell some of my clothes on eBay. With my film camera, I took a picture of each item and headed off to the store to get the pictures put on CD. Turns out, you can’t get the CD without buying prints too. In the midst of this, the eBay bug hit me. Putting 2 and 2 together, it became clear that I needed to get one of those new-fangled digital cameras.
Even back then, I was big into researching cameras so I bought a low-budget, best-in-its-class Polaroid brand digital camera that produced pictures a whopping 640×480! I remember taking pictures of things like jeans, and it produced lovely rainbow colors in the denim pattern. When I wasn’t taking pictures of eBay items, though, I soon discovered the addiction that is digital photography. After all, you can take a gazillion pictures until you find one you love.
Eventually, I tried to print some pictures taken with that camera. If I cropped the photo at all, the pictures were too small to print properly even on a 4×6. Off I went to buy an Epson camera, and the Polaroid was sold on eBay.
I was an addicted photographer. (Absolutely clueless, but passionate nonetheless.) Soon I was dubbed the “family photographer”. Nieces and nephews ran away upon my arrival.
I really thought I was good. With my interest in photography still growing, I moved on to the Canon G1. (Cutting edge stuff, folks!) I researched extensively trying to get the best camera out there. I paid a whopping $800+ for that thing. I knew it had manual controls, but had no clue what that meant. I just wanted the best. Auto with flash was my most common setting, never anything on the manual side of the dial.
And this is where I stayed, taking mediocre pictures….one after the other. I committed every photography sin there was.
Sin #1 – Center every single shot shot. That’s what composure is all about, baby!
Sin #2 – Make sure that your subject always faces you head on. (like a dear in a headlight)
Sin #3 – Flash, always flash. Natural light? Never heard of it! Shadow monsters are da bomb!
Sin #7 - Backlighting. Huh? What’s that?
Sin #8 – Kill the picture in your photo editing program. Vignettes are groovy in any color. Must.have.one.for.every.picture!
Eventually (I’ll get to this in a bit), my skills started to improve, but that led to sin #9.
Sin #9 – If you have a lens with a wide aperture, you must always, always have that aperture wide open. (Never mind that one eye is always fuzzy.)
Sin #11 - Clutter and pop cans in the background are great. It just makes things more “real”.
Sin #13 – Automatic is the best choice. It will figure everything out for me. If someone has a cool picture, well, they must have doctored it in Photoshop.
(Little history…Allison, a friend of my sister and I, got into photography well before we did. I started to notice the beautiful bokeh in her photos. It was killing me to know how she did it. Since I never had achieved that look with my camera, I assumed she doctored it. I actually tried to “doctor” a photo of mine and the result is pretty hilarious, even though I thought it was right-on at the time! Allison later shared a bit about aperture with us, but it sounded like rocket science to me.)
Sin #14 - Create amputees everywhere you go. (And, while you’re at it, totally be oblivious to red slides and the horrendous pink tone they reflect on a face.)
Oh my goodness! If I kept thinking about it, I’m sure I could think of a hundred sins. Luckily, I am no longer stagnant in my photography. What roused me out of my stupor?
Who else? My sister, Angie.
It all started when she began taking better pictures than me! Ya, that’s right. Angie started outdoing the family photographer. In fact, my family started referring to her as the “family photographer”. (Oh, the injustice!) Luckily, family rivalry can be a good thing.
In the midst of this, my sister, who never does anything small, dreamed up I ♥ Faces. Not only are we sisters but also best friends, so any project of hers becomes my passion too. By the time I ♥ Faces became a reality, my photography was improving on a much quicker pace.
Here’s some advice based on what I have learned in the past year:
1. If your blogging template isn’t showcasing your photos, change it. (I have a tutorial at the top of the page that can help out with that. It’s also on I ♥ Faces.) And I’ll also mention for the umpteenth time, the free software LiveWriter is awesome!
2. Use the Rule of Thirds (and once you learn it, it’s okay to break it sometimes)
3. Try different viewpoints. Head on is okay, but sometimes a different angle will be even better!
4. Learn about metering. It can save an unavoidable backlighting situation.
5. Not all B&W conversions are created equal.
(The first is Element’s default B&W. The second uses a gradient map layer with a slight amount of chocolate tint.)
6. Move! Try different angles. Get on the ground and look up. Get up above and look down. Circle your victim like he’s your prey. :)
7. If at all possible, use natural light. If the lighting stinks and can’t be changed…if your aperture is wide open, your ISO is way up and the photos still won’t work out, then use flash. When I’m talking flash, I mean a diffused external flash. Honestly, the one on the camera is close to worthless. But, if it’s all you have, use it. (Better some pictures, than no pictures.)
In the meantime, stash that spare change away and buy a flash. One thing I have found out since buying my external flash is that it gives you instant credibility. I’ve had several people come up to me and mention what a nice camera I have and that I must be REALLY good. I had the same camera up until I got the flash, and no one ever said that to me. Something about that flash sends the coolness factor sky rocketing!
BTW, fill flash can work great outside for getting rid of harsh shadows when the harsh lighting can’t be avoided.
8. When you think you’re too close, get even closer!
9. If you haven’t taken the leap yet, do it! Buy a digital SLR and get yourself a great prime lens like the 50mm 1.4. (A cheaper and really good alternative is the 50mm 1.8.) You just can’t beat the beautiful bokeh it achieves!
10. If you have a friend who is good at photography, pick his/her brain. They can lead you right to what you’re looking for. (As Allison did when I couldn’t figure out the fuzzy background dilemma.)
11. Pay attention to focus. Someone once gave me the hint to focus on the eyes. I can change focus points now in my sleep. It really makes a difference.
12. Open shade is your friend. Get your subject into a shaded area that is not blotchy. Those eyes will pop! What a difference location can make in a picture. Harsh sun or blotchy shade ruin too many potentially good pictures.
13. Better to use Photoshop with a light hand rather than a heavy hand. I’m still guilty of forgetting this rule, but it is a great rule to keep in mind.
14. Until you’re comfortable with the settings of your camera, take your photos in RAW as well as jpeg. The RAW editor covers a multitude of “sins”.
15. Clear the clutter! I was at a birthday party the other day and there was a pop can right next to the boy’s cake. Bossy me went up and moved the pop can. When it’s that easy to clear the clutter, it’s a crime not to.
16. Don’t forget that your telephoto lens can take some awesome close-ups. If you don’t have a macro lens, a telephoto is the next best thing to choose for close ups.
17. Devour any information you can get on photography. I ♥ Faces is a great resource. Google is awesome for locating information. YouTube has tons of tutorial videos. The library has photography books. There are amazing photographers that show their work online. Take it all in! Instead of blaming your camera or lens, learn how to use it to its maximum capacity. Even point and shoots can produce bokeh if manipulated correctly. I’ve noticed a few complaints on I ♥ Faces that the playing field isn’t “level”. I’m glad it isn’t. With such phenomenal photographers contributing, the inspiration you can gain from the site (and thus improvement of your skills) is astounding.
18. Edit and save your photos in sRGB mode. (sRGB works for printing too!) If you find that your photos don’t look as vibrant as they did when you edited them, you are probably working in RGB mode. There’s a tutorial on I ♥ Faces about this.
(The first is in RGB; the second is in sRGB.)
19. Buy Photoshop and learn it. Okay, I’m a bit biased there. I own Elements, and it was the best $100 I’ve spent. Yes, there are great free programs out there, but most of them come with a cost whether it be extra time getting to the things you want, lack of functions, having to upload pictures to an online site, etc. To me, it’s worth it to invest a little in a photo program. (Save money and buy an older version on eBay!) Did you know college students can buy one full version of Photoshop for around $200? Know a college student? Did you know that most could care less about owning their own copy and would be more than willing to pick one up for you? I know, probably not “legal” but…
Before ever using actions, get to know the program. I think it’s important to discover what the program can do before you start relying on actions. I have some basic actions I use here and there, but mainly I use a levels adjustment, unsharp mask and very rarely brightness and contrast. I’m working on learning color curves better.
Once you start using actions, it’s important to know that most of the time, the opacity needs to be adjusted on each layer.
20. Say goodbye to “cheese” forever! Seriously. I kind of get disappointed when I’m trying to photograph a child who has been “trained” to give an instant cheesy smile. I’d much rather have a grouchy true expression than a forced smile any day! I’m a candid kind of gal. It brings me great joy to capture life as it happens.
21. Calibrate your monitor. Okay, I know nothing about this except that I know my monitor needs calibrated. This is clearly evident to me because my prints do not always turn out like what I see on the screen. If you’re going pro, I think this is a good investment to make. If you don’t have a monitor calibrator and you are selling prints, pay a little extra to have a photo company color correct. Also, calibrate as best as you can using free online tools.
22. Practice any chance you get. Go out on photography trips with your friends. Do compare your photos with theirs with an attitude to learn from each other.
23. Finally, don’t jump the gun. Online, I’ve seen so many people go “pro” after just buying their first SLR camera. A camera does not make a person a pro. (Even though a pro does need a good camera.) Experience, a critical eye and practice is what it takes. Those things take time.
With all the advice I gave, do I think I’m a pro? NO WAY!
I have so far to go before I’d ever even venture into photography as a business. I still make some of the same old mistakes. My artistic eye for photography is nowhere near adequately developed. There is so much to learn.
If you decide to go pro, make sure the photos you are taking now will be ones you will still be proud of ten years down the road. If you still have doubts or haven’t developed your knowledge of your camera, keep learning and save the business for later.