Photography secrets. It's as if there was some kind of secret cult of photographers who only share secrets after you've obtained the next level of mastery. I made a list of 101 simple photography secrets that I wish I knew when I first started. I hope it saves you some time or gets you thinking about your next step.
Getting started with photography is an exciting time. You're about to plunk down a lot of money for a camera, perhaps hoping that will be the key to taking better photos. Let's start here with a few photography secrets that you may not have considered.
1: You Can Still Take Bad Photos with a Nice Camera
Just because you have a shiny new DSLR or Mirrorless camera doesn't mean that it's going to spit out golden images every time you click the shutter. A camera can only do so much.
Remember, you're the one who makes the photo, not the camera. You have to know where to aim it. You have to know how to control it. Without you, the camera is just a collection of metal, glass and plastic.
If you don't compose your photo well or adjust the exposure properly, that nice new camera can take photos that are worse than anything you ever imagined. The responsibility for the images, good or bad, is all yours.
2: Everyone Takes Bad Photos
Don't get discouraged if you take a bad photo. Everyone does it. If you ever spend time watching a professional photographer, you'll notice they take a ton of photos. They only show the good ones.
As you gain more experience, your ratio of bad:good photos will improve. However, you'll never stop taking bad photos. It's just part of the photography experience.
3: Patience is the Companion of Wisdom
Good photographers know the value of patience. Sometimes that means finding a nice scene and waiting for something or someone interesting to appear. Sometimes it means waiting for the right time of year to get the best landscape shot.
For example, think of Thor's Well on the Oregon coastline. It's part of a rocky shore with a big hole in it. When the tide rises, water ruses inside and explodes out of it, only to recede and repeat the process.
However, those tides don't always align with a nice sunset over the Pacific ocean. To get the best photo, you need to wait until the tides, the sunset and the weather cooperate to create a beautiful combination of light, sky and water.
4: Visualize the Final Image Before You Shoot It
If you know how your final photography should appear, you can prepare for it instead of reacting to it. Even if you're photographing a live event, you can learn to anticipate the action to come. Some things are repetitive, so you may have more than one chance to capture the action.
Capturing a spontaneous image can seem satisfying, but I think it's more like a fluke. You like the sensation of luck.
On the other hand, I like the experience of knowing what I want and trying to craft everything into the final result. Some elements may be out of your control, particularly at an event like a sporting event or a concert, but you can anticipate and prepare if you know the event or the performers. They're going to do things that work for them, and you can capture that moment when it happens if you visualize the final image before it happens.
5: The Type of Photos That Drew You Into Photography May Not Be the Kind of Photos You Enjoy the Most
We all have our reasons for getting into photography. Sometimes we discover other genres of photography that are more entertaining or engaging to shoot. There's no rule that says you only have to shoot one genre of photography. Experiment and you may find that you love something else more than the genre that got you started.
6: Photos Tell Stories
Rod Stewart was right. Every picture tells a story. Whether you're just documenting something or trying to create a work of art, there's a story behind the photo.
You'll make better photos if you understand the story behind it before you click the shutter.
7: If You Want to Create a Work of Art, You Have to Dig Deeper Into Your Soul
Artistic people are just crazy. Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Ernest Hemingway. They all seem a little unhinged, but they could reach into something inside and let it out for the world to see.
In return, people saw their art instead of their crazy disposition. If you can reach inside yourself and share something that most people are too inhibited to expose, you may end up becoming a crazy artist, too.
8: No Matter What You Do, Some People Just Won't Like It
If you're the kind of person that wants everyone to like you, then photography may not be for you. I've been harassed and insulted just for taking photos, and that's before anyone even saw what I created.
The real insults may come later when people feel the need to offer their own criticism, even though you never asked for their opinion.
You just have to accept the fact that there are bitter people in the world who have nothing better to do with their day than complain about the world around them, and sometimes that means picking on you or your photos.
These are usually people who can't create anything of interest, so it's easy to ignore them.
9: You Don't Have to be One of Those People Who Tells Others That You Don't Like What They've Done
There are some photographers who think it's their responsibility to change the world through their criticism. You don't have to be one of them.
We all have opinions. Voicing those opinions in public impacts your reputation, for better or worse. That doesn't mean you have to say “Nice photo” if you don't think much of the image, but there is no value in telling off someone for anything you perceive was a mistake.
An unsolicited critique is just the unwelcome mark of a person with insecurities.
10: It Isn't the Camera That Takes a Nice Photo. It's You. Maybe
As you already know by now, the camera is just a tool. Without you, it has absolutely no ability to wander around and take great photos. You have to pick it up, carry it to a subject. You have to decide how to frame the shot and when to click the shutter.
When you get a great image, it's because of you. Maybe.
I say “maybe” because some cameras can do things that others can't. Part of taking a nice photo means knowing the features and capabilities of your gear. If you take a camera with a small sensor into a dark environment, don't be surprised if your photos are full of grain or perhaps blurry because the camera is physically incapable of doing the things that you need it to do.
If all cameras were equal, there wouldn't be so many models on the market. Choose wisely.
11: A Camera is Just a Tool
There's a common acronym for people who like to collect a lot of photography equipment – G.A.S. or Gear Acquisition Syndrome
Do you need to buy a lot of gear to be a better photographer? I hate to say it, but it depends.
Even if you're a hobbyist, think of your photography as a job. You're creating something. You need the right tools to do the best job creating your photo. The same thing is true whether you like cooking or woodworking. It's fun to have all the neat little tools at your disposal.
If those tools are within your budget and you want them, or more importantly, you need them to do the job, then go get the gear and don't worry what anyone else thinks.
If you don't have the budget for a lot of gear, don't worry. You can do a lot of photography using the same basic tools. Maybe you have to choose a different route to create the same photo, but there's more than one right way to make a photo.
The camera is a tool. If you can't afford something with a big sensor, learn to compensate with better lighting.
You either get the tools you need or learn how to make the most of the tools you have. Your best friends are your imagination and creativity to overcome problems. No matter what tools you have, there will always be issues to overcome.
12: The Type of Photography You Do Most Decides Which Camera is Best for You
Sometimes gear matters. If you want to be a football photographer, you need a camera with a fast burst rate, a large buffer, a fast write speed to the memory card and a really long lens. That's pretty expensive photography.
If you do most of your work in the studio, you're likely to have plenty of light under your control. You don't need to have such a fast frame rate or write speed to the card. You can take your time with each shot and get some great results with much less expensive gear.
Maybe you're better off spending more money on a solid tripod than more money on a new camera body. Don't make the mistake of thinking the camera is the most important weapon in your arsenal.
13: The System is More Important Than the Brand
A few years ago, the Internet started getting littered with blog posts about switching cameras. Goodbye Nikon, I'm switching to Sony. Goodbye Canon, I'm switching to Fuji.
A few weeks ago, I watched a video of an Australian photography who is switching back from Sony to Nikon. His reasons had nothing to do with the Sony camera itself. He said it was wonderful. The problem was that he couldn't get support from Sony, but Nikon Professional Services was great.
Here's a guy who makes his living traveling the world and shooing in unforgiving climates and locations. When his camera needs service, he needs to deal with a support agency that understand and works with him. Apparently, Sony doesn't have that kind of support and Nikon does.
When you buy a camera, there is usually a system of supporting accessories and services built up around it. Some of the older makes, like Canon and Nikon, have built up a large and comprehensive system to support their products.
You have to decide if this matters to you. What happens when something goes wrong? Can you get accessories for your camera? How many options do you have from the manufacturer and third party vendors? Does your software recognize the RAW files you create from your camera?
You're buying more than just a camera. You're investing your photography in the support system for the camera you buy.
14: Not All Memory Cards Are Created Equally
Some memory cards are cheaper than others. That's because they come with limitations to allow for cheaper construction. You need to think about the amount of data it can hold. Also, consider the speed at which the card can write data. If you have a slow card, that means your photos are stored in a memory buffer on your camera. When that buffer is full, you can't take another photo until you make room by writing the photos to the memory card.
Fast cards can be the difference between getting or missing a shot.
Finally, think about the quality of the card. Some vendors have a reputation for corruption and losing photos. Others can be much more reliable.
Buying the cheapest card you can find may be more expensive down the road.
15: Every Camera has Features and Limitations. Choose the Camera With the Right Benefits.
Photography is a compromise. I've yet to see a tiny, lightweight camera with every feature I ever needed at an affordable price. Since that camera doesn't exist, you have to strike a balance.
The more features you want, the larger budget you need. Do you need a large sensor with great low-light capabilities? Is bracketing important to you? Do you need to shoot video?
The basics you need from a camera are interchangeable lenses, a way to trigger external lights and the ability to manually control aperture, ISO and shutter speed. You can get that without spending a lot of money.
Beyond those necessities, you're spending money for features that you may or may not need. Don't decide based upon features. Make your decision based upon the benefits for the kind of photography that you want to do.
Here's an example. Let's say that you want to do HDR photography. Great. Bracketing is a feature that takes different exposures per frame. The benefit is that it makes it easy for you to shoot for HDR. Now if you need those brackets to be two stops apart instead of one, then a camera with that capability has a benefit that other cameras with bracketing lack. Something that simple may cause you to go with a completely different brand because of a benefit that makes your photography easier.
16: Great Cameras are Heavy
My iPhone is convenient and it can take some great photos. However, I can't control the exposure or aperture. I get to capture what I compose, but my ability ends there.
On the other hand, I have a Nikon D800 with a plethora of lenses. I can change the focal length, aperture, ISO, shutter speed and trigger external lighting. It's also a pretty heavy load to carry around.
If the camera is too heavy to carry around when you need it, maybe your great camera is something smaller and more manageable. Don't worry what expensive camera the other guy uses. Pick the one you will actually use.
17: When You Don't Have a Working Camera, You Are No Longer a Photographer
This may seem rather obvious, but it's also true. When your camera breaks, you cease to be a photographer until it's fixed or you pick up another camera. Can you do without a camera for a while, or do you need to have a backup camera so you can keep shooting?
18: You Can Take Astonishing Photos with an iPhone
If you want a great tool for exercising your composition skills, pull out your iPhone or whatever smartphone you have at your disposal. Now go make something beautiful.
If you want to see some examples, check out Shot With My Trusty iPhone by Kalebra Kelby.
19: Photography is a Series of Compromises That Starts with Your Camera
If you want to learn how to compromise, take up photography. There is never a time when everything works perfectly without some kind of compromise.
Just making an exposure is a compromise between the light you have and your shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Think of an exposure as a system of cantilevers. You can get a “correct” exposure by moving the levers in different positions, but each one relates to the other. You have to strike a balance to get the thing you want the most.
As you grow with your photography, you'll find the compromises continue with lenses, lighting systems and more.
Your camera may have great features and benefits, but it is large and bulky, or it sucks up your battery quickly. Maybe you need something light an convenient, so you sacrifice a few features.
Get used to compromise.
20: Using Manual Exposure isn’t as Scary as You Think
Most pocket-sized cameras do all the exposure work for you, so why do you need to understand how to shoot in Manual Mode with your expensive camera?
Well, you don't. Most cameras will have various modes. P for Professional. A for Amateur. (I kid).
Shooting in manual exposure mode does a few things for you. First, it gives you complete creative control over you exposure. That means you can change the depth of field with your aperture. You can go for a long exposure with your shutter speed or crank up the ISO to get a faster speed to freeze the action. Manual exposure mode gives you creative control because you make all the decisions.
The other thing it does is teach you what the camera does in the automatic modes, which allows you to compensate for it if you want to adjust the results.
Let's say that you're shooting in Aperture Priority mode because you know that you want to keep a consistent aperture with every shot. Your camera meter evaluates the scene for every shot and adjusts the shutter speed to give you what it thinks is a correct exposure.
However, you may be using a different spot for your camera's light meter with each shot. For example, let's say you're photographing a portrait of a while male wearing a black shirt. The meter reading for his face and his shirt will give you a different exposure value. The camera will change your exposure without telling you about it.
In manual mode, your exposure doesn't change unless you tell it to change.
If you ask me, those other modes are scarier than manual mode because your results may vary from shot to shot.
21: Lenses Will Last Longer Than Your Camera Body
My primary camera body right now is a Nikon D800. It's a few years old and it's already been replaced with the D810 model. However, my main lenses are at least twice as old as my Nikon D800 and will likely last well into my next camera body purchase.
This is the real joy of an interchangeable system. Some pieces will last and perform well for many years. Other pieces can get upgraded as the technology advances. My Nikon D800 is far superior to my previous body, the Nikon D700. I loved that old camera. It's still great as a backup and I'd much rather use it for action shots than the Nikon D810. However, it's time has come and gone.
Sensors are constantly advancing in image resolution, image detail and ISO sensitivity. Great lenses tend to have a much longer development cycle and they last longer. If I had to choose, I would rather cut costs on my camera body than on my lenses because those lenses will still be great when I can afford to buy a better body. If I have cheap lenses and get a great body, then I'm not getting the full capacity of the new camera.2
22: The Only Reason to Buy Prime Lenses These Days is for a Wider Aperture
Long ago, prime lenses were sharper than zoom lenses. These days, your quality zoom lenses can do more than give prime lenses a run for their money in sharpness. It's basically a null issue these days.
The advantage that a prime lens has over a zoom lens these days is because of the aperture. The best zoom lenses often shoot at f/2.8 as their widest aperture. Good primes can shoot at f/1.4 or f/1.2. The result is an extra two stops of light and possibly some outstanding bokeh.
Some people love the bokeh on the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 prime lens, and for good reason.
Just keep in mind that you can get good bokeh with a zoom lens, too.
The difference is the depth of field on the 85mm shot is much thinner. Had my model's face been at an angle, one of her eyes could have been out of focus. That didn't happen with the Nikon 70-200mm lens because it has a wider depth of field.
Another difference is that I had more license to gather light with the prime lens than with the zoom The shot on top is in a reasonable dark room using available light. I didn't have to compensate with a higher ISO to get a clean shot. The 70-200mm lens wouldn't have worked as well in the same conditions.
Since the zoom lens covers the same focal range as the prime, and more, the only reason I have to bust out the prime is for the wide-open shot. It helps both artistically and with its ability to gather light. Otherwise, it doesn't offer anything I can't already do with the zoom lens.
23: Your Position and Distance from Subject Matters More Than Your Lens Choice
We've been taught for a long time that longer focal lengths compress the subject and background. Hey, I used to believe that, too, and shared the same message. However, that lesson fails to show how that it isn't really your focal length that matters as much as your distance from the subject.
Take a look at this video for a good illustration of position over perspective.
24: You Can Save Money On Your Lenses If You Buy Slow Glass
We're often told that we need lenses with large apertures to get that creamy bokeh look that we like so much. Well, what if your photography doesn't really require a shallow depth of field? Why would you spend a lot of money on a wider aperture to collect more light or get a shallow depth of field?
You shouldn't, so don't do it.
If you primarily shoot portraits with flash or studio lights, you're very likely going to be stopping down to tighter apertures. There's no need to spend big bucks on lenses with faster glass. You can get great quality with a lens that works at f/4 or f/5.6.
Don't pay for something if you don't need it.
25: Convenience, Quality or Price: Pick Any Two
You can't have it all. Photography is a compromise. Blame the laws of physics. That's why your iPhone doesn't have an 18-600mm zoom lens built inside it's thin little frame.
Decide which matters most to you and be comfortable with your compromise. You'll have many more to make as you get deeper into photography.
26: All Lenses Have a Sweet Spot
Every lens has an aperture where it performs best. You can find the aperture that gives you the best sharpness. Pick a subject and shoot it at every aperture on your camera. Make sure you adjust your shutter speed to compensate for the exposure value change.
When you load the photos into Lightroom CC, zoom into a detail spot at 100%. Now cycle through the images.
Some may look a bit blurry while others seem sharper. One of them will be the sharpest of all.
Now look at your EXIF info to find the aperture used for your photo. That's the sweet spot for the lens.
27: Aperture Blades Matter
Not all apertures are the same, and the differences affect the quality of your photos.
Have you ever looked at the bokeh on some photos and notices that the highlights have noticeable edges while other shots have very round edges? The difference is due to the aperture of the lens.
Those blocky highlights come from apertures with blunt ends and likely fewer blades. If your lens has six blades with blunt ends, you're going to get blocky highlights in your bokeh. On the other hand, more expensive lenses tend to have nine blades with rounded edges to provide those perfect circle highlights in bokeh.
28: A Fisheye is Fun!
Taking shots with an ultra-wide angle lens, like a fisheye lens, is fun. It lets you turn off your typical approach to photography because you know that you're going to have distortion. Since it's an ultra-wide angle, you can get much closer to your subject and change the way you interact.
You don't have to be right next to your subject to have fun with a fisheye. Sometimes it's nice to get above it all and shoot down with a fisheye.
29: Lens Distortion Can Work For You Or Against You
All lenses have some form of distortion. Who is to say what is normal? The world looks different to a fish than to a human, but its all real. Both of the examples below were taken in the U.S. Capitol building with the same lens, my Nikon 14-24mm ultra-wide angle lens.
We have the same lens in two different rooms featuring very similar architecture, a domed ceiling.
In the photo above, the angle works with the architecture while the second photo struggles. You still see signs of the slanted lines in each photo, but our brain doesn't deal with them quite the same way.
In the bottom photo, we just don't expect to see supporting columns at such extreme angles. Those same lines are present in the arches on the top photo, but it works with the domed ceiling.
The difference is slight, but important. The top photo gives you a center around which the ceiling can revolve. The bottom photo just has awkward lines. If you're going to use distortion in a photo, it needs to emanate from a source. Without that source, it's just bad distortion from your lens.
30: Some 3rd Party Lenses Are Just As Good As Your Camera Brand, And Much Less Expensive
For the most part, I recommend buying lenses from the same brand as your camera. That's because they're designed to work together, usually to pass data. Nikon and Canon both make some excellent lenses. They come at a price, and that may be due to features you don't need.
I've had a mix of luck with 3rd party lenses. An old Sigma 24-70 lens I used was horrible. The auto-focus was slow and noisy, sounding like a can-opener. Compared to the quick and silent Nikon 24-70mm lens, it was no contest.
On the other hand, I had a great Tokina 12-24mm lens for my old crop-sensor Nikon cameras and it was a wonderful purchase. In every respect, it seemed as good as the Nikon model and cost roughly half the price.
Going with the brand name is a safe choice, but it may not always be the best. Sigma is developing a good reputation with its Art series of lenses, often rated as good or better than a comparable Nikon lens and still at a lower price.
A lot of people get bent out of shape by lighting. I had my moments where it seemed intimidating and complicated. After you spend some time practicing, you learn that there's no reason to be afraid or reverent of light. It's just another tool you can use.
31: Light is Light
I cringe when I hear someone talk about Natural Light or Artificial Light. It's as if there was something different, special or magical about different types of light. Let me lay it out for you.
There is only one type of light.
Seriously, all light is natural. There is no such thing as artificial light, just as there is no such thing as artificial blood. You have to use the real thing and it comes from a natural process. It doesn't matter if man created something to stimulate or activate that process, light is light.
That means there is nothing magical about Natural Light. When you here someone say they are a Natural Light shooter, it just means they haven't bought a flash. Maybe they don't know how to use one. Maybe they don't need one. All it means is that they have less control over the light that helps create their images.
32: Light Has Qualities That You Can (And Should) Manipulate
You can control those photons raining upon your subject. Light has characteristics and qualities that you can manipulate.
I know how to make soft light out of hard light, but I don't know how to do the opposite. I know how to add color to light. It's harder eliminate a color cast in your light source.
This is Jesus, a Cuban farmer. I took this shot during midday sun, but it looks like soft light. This photo was a setup by Joe McNally and an assistant to show how you can tame the light to get a decent photo, even under undesirable conditions.
Now take a look behind the scenes.
You can see some very harsh shadows from the sunlight. It's high noon and full of hard light. Yet all it took was a girl's bed sheet to diffuse the light to make a nice portrait. The reason goes back to a simple rule.
The larger the apparent source of light is to the subject, the quality of light becomes softer.
The sun is the true source of light. However, the bed sheet diffused the sunlight and became the apparent source of light. It's right up next to the farmer's face and it softens the light falling on him because it spreads the source of the light and it changes the direction of the light.
When the sunlight hits that bed sheet, the photons coming out of the other side are going in multiple directions, rather than falling harshly on his face in a straight line. That's all diffusion does. It changes the path of some of the rays of light, and that's what we call soft light.
Had we used a bed sheet with a different color, that would have changed the color of light on Jesus. Light picks up the color of objects when it reflects. If we had a yellow sheet, the light would appear warmer than it was.
33: If You Want to Make Something Appear Interesting, Don't Light All of It
Since I mentioned joe McNally, I wanted to pass on something he learned from his mentors. You don't have to over-light your subjects. Shadows are your friend. They introduce depth and mystery.
I took the shot above at a lighting workshop taught by Scott Kelby. It's a cross-lit setup to illuminate her face and provide backlight on her hair. Yet the part that makes the photo interesting, at least for me, would be the shadows in between those lights.
Those shadows define her face. They add depth and dimension along her cheek and jawline. Had we just blasted light at her from the camera position, it would have been an awful document rather than a creative or dramatic portrait.
34: All Flashes Give a Burst of White Light
Now that I've mentioned Scott Kelby in the previous tip, I want to give him credit for this tip he shared in the workshop. Think about it. A flash here does the same job as a flash there. It's a burst of white light.
Some may be brighter than others. Some may have shorter flash duration than others. Some have faster recycle time than others. Yet they all give a burst of white light. You don't need to spend a great deal of money to get a burst of light.
When you choose a flash, make your decision based upon other factors.
- How do you trigger the flash?
- Can you put the flash off-camera?
- How bright is the flash?
- How fast does the flash recycle so you can take another flash photo?
- How short is the flash duration (important for stopping motion)
You soon find out that the cost of a flash actually has little to do with the flash of light. It's the other stuff that makes things expensive.
35: If You Want Better Light, You Need Better Light Modifiers
Since the flashes and studio lights are pretty much the same burst of white light, you learn that the most important thing is what you put in front of your flash.
Light modifiers change the quality and character of your light. You can move beyond a bed sheet and use a variety of soft boxes, umbrellas, gels, barn doors, flags, grids and other tools designed to shape and modify the flash of white light.
36: Get Your Flash Off Your Camera
Your camera may have a built-in flash. The purpose of that flash is quite simple. It's there to punish you by making your photos look awful.
One of the most important things you can learn is how to use the direction of light to make your photos more interesting. Just as quality and color of light have a bearing on how your photo gets perceived, so does the direction of light.
Nothing fancy here. The light source is an open window to the right. By using side lighting, there's a nice fall off of light from right to left. It helps the portrait in a few ways.
First, there's Rule #33 above. Since the light naturally falls off as it travels, we aren't lighting the entire subject. It adds dimension to the portrait. Second, this is how we see things in life. We don't walk around with flashlights on our head so we have a perfectly illuminated view of everything we see.
Light comes from above, from the side and also from behind the things we see. You should do the same with your light sources and get your flash off the camera to create some interesting angles.
37: Don't Light The Way Something Looks. Light It The Way It Feels.
I have to give Tim Wallace credit for this notion. He routinely cranks out amazing photos of cars, parts and related scenes for his commercial auto clients. I recently saw one of his social media posts with the phrase “Don't light the way something looks. Light it the way it makes you feel”.
Perhaps this is the secret of his success as a photographer. He isn't documenting cars, motorcycles and parts. Instead, he's using light to tap into the emotions of enthusiasts. His photos just make you want to dive into them and take control of the car.
The lighting he uses isn't about showing the subject. It's about making the viewer feel the subject.
38: You Don't Have To Shoot From The Same Direction As It's Lit
This is an add-on to tip #36. The first step is to get your flash off-camera, and that's good.
Now take the next step – literally. Walk around your subject. Look for different angles using the same source of light. You may end up incorporating the light into your photo. There are no rules. Give yourself permission to explore all the angles of your subject.
39: Flash Duration is Shorter Than Shutter Speed
When using flash, you likely need to keep your shutter speed below 1/250th of a second to prevent banding on your images. Sure, there are work-arounds like hypersync flash to let you get a faster shutter speed.
If your object is to stop motion, you can count on your short flash duration to do the job. While the flash is bright, it's only illuminating the subject for a very brief period of time. Unlike continuous light, you don't risk motion blur because of that duration. How are can someone go in 1/1500th of a second?
That short duration also gives you an opportunity. You can mix motion blur using a slow shutter speed while freezing part of your subject with flash.
40: For Better Recycle Time, Buy Better Batteries
Alkaline batteries are common, but they aren't the best for your flash. Instead, you need to get Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries. Not only do they work out to be cheaper in the long run because you can recharge them, but they also recycle faster than alkaline batteries. That means you don't have to wait as long between flashes to take another shot.
Check out this article on Ni-MH batteries on Strobist for more info.
Creativity is the intersection of your technical experience and your imagination. You need to understand the technical skills to master your craft, but your imagination is what develops your art. Imagination without the skill to make it happen is just wishful thinking. Technical skill without imagination is just boring.
41: The Mind Goes To The Brightest Spot In An Image
Ever take a look at a photo and it just didn't grab you? Maybe the subject didn't stand out, or perhaps you didn't even know what was supposed to be the subject of the photo.
You can use light to direct the viewer's eye. We're genetically programmed to go to the light. So put the light where you want people to look. That's why stages have spotlights.
42: After Brightness The Mind Goes To The Sharpest Spot In An Image
Think about what happens when you wake up. One of the most peaceful ways to wake up is with the rising sunlight. It gradually lifts you out of slumber and starts your day. Of course, things could be a little blurry.
Your eyes are aware of the light, but they want to focus on something. That's sharpness. It's engrained in our minds. We don't just want to perceive the light. That's the most basic and fundamental aspect of vision. Now we want to know details.
We recognize details when they're in focus and sharp. You can use that knowledge to lead your viewer's eye with depth of field.
43: Opposites Attract. Use Contrast.
Contrast isn't just a matter of pushing your image to have more Blacks and Whites. You can use color contrast to your benefit, too. Once of the most common examples is in the photo above.
You may not think about it, but a lot of movies use this same type of color contrast – Orange and Teal. Movie critics hate this trend, but there's a reason for it. Most movies have actors and actors have skin. Most skin types fall toward the Orange side of the color wheel. Blue & Teal is on the opposite side. Hence, instant color contrast.
Quite simply, it works.
That doesn't mean you can't use other color contrasts in your photos. Toss in some Purple & Green and see how it goes.
44: Trying and Failing is Better Than Never Trying at All
I've learned more from my failures than any of my successes. That's because failure makes me think. Once you're successful, how often do you think of ways to achieve the same result? Not many people do.
There are folks who succeed and then try to find greater success. That's called progress.
If you don't make an attempt, you're guaranteed to fail. So don't let anything intimidate you about photography. Countless people have tried and succeeded. A lot of those people are morons, too.
If some idiot can succeed with photography, you can certainly make something happen. Always try.
45: Develop Your Sense of Timing
The world is always in motion. Everything is moving. A photograph is just a slice of time to capture a moment.
Let's be honest. Some of those moments are more interesting than others. If you want to capture the interesting moments, you need a sense of timing. You need to anticipate the peak of action to capture it.
Most humans have about a reaction time of about a second. If you wait until the action happens, you've missed it. Shutter speeds to capture action are small fractions of a second. So anticipation of action is what we call a sense of timing. It takes practice.
Yet when the moment comes and you capture the right moment, it's extremely satisfying. You can tell he's excited.
46: Kill Your Darlings
That may sound revolting, but it's good advice. It's a reminder to not let yourself get stuck and fail to make progress.
At some point or another, you're going to be quite pleased with your photography. It takes some time, patience and a bit of emotional pain to get to that place. Don't get stuck there.
People who are satisfied with their photography aren't looking for reasons to improve. Trust me, you need to improve. There are better photographs and greater satisfactions in your future. Getting there occasionally means letting go of your past successes.
You may be great at photographing blankets. Nobody else even thinks about it, but you've perfected the art of photographing blankets. Congratulations! You're a big deal in a small pond. For some that's enough.
If you want to grow, you need to mix it up. I don't mean moving from blankets to quilts or afghans. You need to abandon the entire practice of photographing bed linens and move on to another type of photography. Another genre.
Because challenge is how you grow. Anything worth having took effort to get it done. Don't coast. Don't settle. Once you've mastered something, it's time to move on to a new challenge.
You may come back to your blanket photography with a new vision using techniques you developed from another type of photography. You may decide that you like photographing Highland Sporting Events more than taking pictures of blankets.
You'll also be a better photographer if you don't remain stagnant.
47: You're Not Stealing Ideas. You're Being Influenced By Them.
Everyone who holds a camera to their eye sees something different, even if they're all looking at the same subject. That's because we all have different influences, tastes and desires.
So don't be afraid to look at photos from other photographers you admire and use elements in your own photo. That's influence. That's inspiration.
Stealing is when you take someone else's photo and display it as your own. Nice people don't do that.
There's nothing unkind about taking ideas and using them to create your own work, though. It happens all the time in every area of art. Give yourself permission to accept the influence of others and use it as you please.
48: To Get Better, Hang Out With People Who Are Better Than You
I know I'm not the greatest photographer in the world. I've met people who thought they were the greatest photographer in the world, but only their ego was grand.
My goal isn't to be the greatest photographer in the world. Instead, I want to be the best photographer that I can be. It isn't a race with others, but rather a desire to continuously improve myself.
Look at the work of people you admire. Get to know those people. You can find them at your local camera club, a discussion board or social media. It's OK to be the slow person in the group because you'll work harder to keep up.
That's a great way to improve.
49: Move Your Ass
That's a line I heard from Jay Maisel at Photoshop World. He was reviewing someone's work at a public critique where people submitted their photos to get advice from some of the instructors.
Jay zeroed in on the person's problem. All the photos were taken from the same spot. He zoomed in and out with his lens, but he never moved.
You gotta move. Change your position. Change your perspective. Crouch down. Get above it all. Go to the other side of the street. Get behind the scene. Move your ass and cover the subject from different angles.
50: You Can Reinvent Yourself At Any Time
There is no law that says you can never change your style or genre of photography. You can change at any time you want. In fact, I encourage you to try something else.
If you shoot sports, try shooting portraits. Some of the athletes would probably love it. If you shoot wildlife, try shooting motorcycles. We all have more than one interest in life. Shake things up. Try something new. If you don't like the way you reinvented yourself, you can do it again.
Anytime you want.
51: You Don't Need a Photography Degree. You Can Learn In Multiple Ways
I thought I would go to photography school right after high school. Instead, I got sidetracked into an IT career that's been very rewarding.
Back then in the early 1980's, a photography degree made a lot of sense. We didn't have the Internet to provide useful education for photography. You needed to develop film and most of us just didn't have the equipment or supplies. In short, all the resources you needed to learn photography where in a school.
Things have changed. You can choose your instructors and bring them right into your home using YouTube or other online learning at a time that's most convenient for you. Instead of a darkroom, you need a computer with some readily available software. It's all less expensive than tuition and you can learn at your own pace.
That doesn't mean I'm against a formal education. Far from it, as I've spent a good chunk of my career working for colleges. That path is still available, but now you have plenty of other options to learn.
52: Not Everyone Who Hosts a Workshop is a Good Teacher
I typically enjoy workshops. It's a good place to go learn something new. You may be in a new location or have access to resources that typically aren't available in your normal photography process. Combine that with a good instructor and you have a wonderful experience.
Unfortunately, some photographers look upon workshops as a way to make some money. They may be good people who take good photos, but that doesn't make them a good teacher. Make sure you understand what you expect to learn and how the instructor plans on making sure you get value for your money.
Some events titled as workshops may be little more than an opportunity to shoot with models that you couldn't afford to book on your own. That's not a bad thing in itself if you find value in the experience, but it's not the same as learning something new. Know in advance what you plan to get out of the experience.
53: There Is Usually More Than One Right Way To Get The Result You Want
I routinely state that photography is an exercise in compromise. That also means that you can get what you want from different paths.
Let's say that you need a new shot for your portfolio. You have options.
- You can hire a model and pay him/her
- You can trade with the model using “Time For Print (TFP)” where each of you cooperate without payment so you both get something of value
- You may be hired by a model for his/her portfolio and get a shot that's good for your portfolio, too
The same concept works with your technical skills. Let's say you need to photograph a model with a large light source to get a soft light appearance.
- You can use light from a large window
- You can bring in studio lights with an enormous soft box
- You can use on-camera flash pointed behind you at a white wall or roll of white seamless paper and have it bounce onto the model
Any of those approaches will work and they're all valid. How you get what you want is your business.
54: Photography Isn't About Formulas And Recipes
There are a lot of standard lighting setups in portrait or commercial photography. There are some useful rules to follow when shooting landscapes. Basically, these formulas and recipes to get a shot exist for good reason. They work.
My point isn't that you shouldn't use a formula or recipe to get a shot, but rather that those standard setups are just the start of your work. You can setup a beauty dish or clamshell lighting in exactly the right way, but it's not much good if your model doesn't know how to give you a good expression or if the wardrobe is gone.
Being a photography means you're essentially a producer. You need to coordinate everything that goes into the shot and provide direction to make it work. Models bring their talent to the party, as do hair and makeup artists. However, they're all looking to you to tell them what you want for the photo.
A recipe is a place to start, but you still need to have a vision for the final result.
55: A Workshop Is A Safe Place To Experiment And Fail
I'm going to show you an awful portrait that I took at a workshop.
I took this shot with a 35mm prime lens. Definitely not the focal length you really want for a portrait, but I decided to try it. That's because I had time and access to a subject to experiment. These shots were for me to learn, not to deliver to a client or publish for another source.
Quite simply, I learn more from my failures than my successes, so sometimes I deliberately do the wrong thing at a workshop. The purpose is to see why it doesn't work for myself, or perhaps find out that maybe the advice I've received in the past wasn't quite as useful as intended.
Of course, I still want a useful shot, so the next one I took with my 85mm prime.
Don't be afraid to experiment at a workshop. You may fail, but that's OK. Try something odd, and then back it up with something traditional.
56: YouTube Is Great For Quick Lessons
Need a quick lesson about something specific? YouTube is the second largest search engine on the Internet and you get video results that show you how to solve your problem. It's great for a quick lesson that solves a problem.
57: Sometimes It's Easier To Learn When You've Traveled Just To Learn
You can probably find every lesson you need to know near your home. However, there's a good benefit to traveling for the sake of learning.
Not only do you get to see another part of the world or train with someone who doesn't visit your area, but you get to concentrate on learning. There are plenty of distractions at home. Family issues, regular routine, work, school. When you're trying to learn at home, it's often as if you're trying to fit your photography education into your schedule.
When you travel, your regular schedule goes out the window. A good week of a photography workshop is worth nearly a year of trying to cram in lessons at home. You immerse yourself in photography. The people with you are doing the same thing. You can learn more in a shorter period of time on a traveling workshop.
58: Try Different Genres Of Photography And Learn Something From Each Of Them
Neal Peart from Rush is one of my favorite drummers. I'd rank him as one of the best drummers in the world. Yet he knew he could be better. In 1994, he took a workshop with Jazz drummer Freddie Gruber.
“I met Freddie around that same time of the recording of the Buddy Rich tribute. We became lifelong friends and started working together to loosen up my playing. That's what his coaching was all about – it was all physical, not musical. He's not the kind of teacher who teaches you how to play the drums, he teaches you how to dance on the drums.
“At that time, around '95 or so, I'd been playing for 30 years. ‘Am I really going to stop now, practise everyday with these exercises he's giving me, go back to traditional grip, the right end of the sticks?' because I'd been playing butt-end with matched grip for a long time by then. He had me moving the snare drum up, the bass drum farther away – so counter-intuitive. I always thought, ‘Get everything as close as you can and then you have the best reach on it'. But in fact, no, it's your area of motion. It's better to have your bass drum, toms, ride cymbal a little farther away, so it was re-inventing the way I play the instrument.
By taking a workshop in a completely different genre of music, Neal essentially found reason to reinvent his drumming to improve. Sometimes you need to step away from your routine and try something else. It helps you re-evaluate where you are and how you're getting the job done.
59: Learn Your Skills. Develop Your Art
It's worth saying again. Creativity happens at the intersection of technical skill and imagination. You need to know your skills and improve them as you grow. However, you also need to think about the results you're achieving.
Are you making progress with your artistic vision as your skills improve? Make sure you push yourself artistically as well as technically. Take chances. You may screw up, but so has every artist before you.
There's nothing wrong with screwing up, even in public. People talk about those who take chances. They don't say a word about the guy sitting on the sidelines watching the world go by.
60: Share What You've Learned. We All Train Each Other
You don't have to be a teacher or educator in order to share what you know. There's never been a time when I gathered with other photographers and didn't learn something from at least one of them.
Maybe you know the best place to buy your gear, or you have experience with something that we've never tried. It could be that you just traveled to an interesting place and can tell others what worked for you and what they could avoid.
We all have something to share, so help others where you can. You'll get your payback along the way when you need some help, too.
Every stage of photography as room for engagement with others. It could start when getting information about the camera you want to buy. You may need to arrange a location with someone or hire a model. When you're done, you may want to share your photos with others or offer them for sale.
The odd photography secret is that engagement skills are essential to growing your craft.
61: Photography Can Be Social
I tend to enjoy photography more in a group setting than working on my own. Maybe it seems like less pressure because we can help each other out by acting as an assistant or making suggestions.
Even just walking around an area taking photos can be a great social experience. You can have someone to talk to during those boring parts where you can't find something to shoot, at least until your friend points it out.
62: Photography Can Be Very Antisocial
On the flip side, some photographers just seem to lack any sense of social skills. If you're going to venture out into a public place, try to realize that other members of the public have a right to be there, too.
They don't seem to care about you as they walk right in front of your camera just as you want to click the shutter.
Well, of course they don't care. They probably didn't even notice you. People have their own thoughts, conversations and attend to their own business. Nobody else gets mad at them for walking, so why should you? Having a camera doesn't grant you special rights. Try to remember that before you complain too much about all the tourists or other people in your shot.
63: Not Everyone Will Be Interested In Your Lovely Images
When you take a nice photo, most of your family and friends will fawn over it accordingly. They love you and they love a good photo, so it's only natural.
As you keep taking more lovely images, they seem to lose interest. That's because it's no longer a rare or unexpected occurrence. It's also because they have their own lives to lead.
People won't stop in their tracks every time you share a photo.
64: A Great Deal About Photography Is About Relationships
Do you know why there is a stereotype about grumpy photographers who go off into the woods and come back with beautiful photos? It's because those photographers can't work well with others, so they have to go fight bears and alligators in order to get a shot in the forrest.
Making relationships will take you a long way in your photography. Those relationships will open doors, save you money or allow you to work with people who seem out of reach. People help those that they know and like.
Even if you're a grumpy landscape or wildlife photographer, you may need to develop a relationship with someone who has a boat, helicopter or plane to take you off into the wilderness to get your next great shot. Either that, or they could just ignore you because nobody wants to ride along with a grumpy person.
65: Nobody Wants To Hire A Bitter Photographer
Another piece of the relationship tip is to think how it impacts your customers. Even if you smile graciously to every potential customer who comes your way, a poor reputation could prevent others from wanting to hire you or work with you.
There are photographers who complain incessantly online. People notice that sort of thing. You develop a reputation, even if your complaints don't have anything to do with your work. You're being judged based upon the person you are as much, if not more, than the work you do.
66: If You Want more People To Enjoy Your Work, Connect With The Few Who Start Enjoying It
Building a good relationship with the early adopters of your work is a great way to grow your network. You know that feeling when it's nice to be appreciated? Well, it's also nice for those who show appreciation for your work to receive appreciation in return.
That kind of relationship building effort is more than good manners. It's also good marketing. Your network can grow when others share your work with the people they know. It can lead to exponential growth of your network.
67: Be Careful That The Photos You Share Don't Embarrass Someone Else
Do you remember that feeling you get when you see an unflattering photo of yourself? Everyone else gets that feeling, too.
Showing an unflattering photo of someone can really damage your relationship with them, but it may also damage your reputation. If people see that you'll show a bad photo of someone else, they won't want you to take a photo of them for fear they could be the next object of ridicule.
68: Everything You Say Or Do In Public Is Part Of Your Reputation
This works for you and against you. Do respectable things and you'll gain the respect of others. Do despicable things and you'l lose the respect of others.
I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't be authentic. You just need to be aware that choices have consequences.
If someone is blatantly ignorant and bumps into you at a photography conference, everyone is going to know if you lose your temper. If you handle the situation with decency, word may not spread. However, someone else may bring it up later as an anecdote by saying “Yeah, that's a cool person. I saw him get blindsided at the conference, but he handled it well. He's cool.”
If something upsets you, then you can react to it or have an online rant if you like. We understand that people get upset. What we don't want to see is someone being disrespectful. There's a difference, and you get judged for the way you handle things.
69: Be Comfortable With Who You are And Accept The Consequences
You can't please everyone and it isn't good business to try. Some people will like you and some won't. You probably can't win over the people who don't like you and you don't want to try.
That's because you are better off delivering great results to the people who like you. I'd rather have a thousand raving fans than a million followers with passive interest. Guess who's going to be there when you need them?
70: You Don't Have To Share Everything
If you want people to think that you're a great photographer, only share your great photos. Nobody needs to see the hundred other photos from that session that didn't make the grade.
My wife discovered this recently when she complimented our daughter for taking really great selfies (I truly detest that word). Our daughter's reply was, “That's because you didn't see the 50 shots I had to throw away before I got the one I posted.”
There are other things you can keep to yourself. It's OK if you want to be known for your photography, but don't share too much information that could have a damaging impact on your privacy.
When you send out that live Tweet or Instagram about how much you love being on a location, you may also be telling someone that your house is empty and unprotected.
Sometimes photographers get stalkers. I know, because mine married me.
Most photographers that I've met are really nice people. Even so, there are times when you get into a new situation and frustrations arise. Here are some examples of photo etiquette I'd recommend to new photographers to avoid any awkward situations in the future.
71: You'll Try The Patience Of Others
I'm astonished at the number of people who think that they stand in front of a camera, you click the shutter, and then you're done. Maybe that's how it works with a disposable camera taking a snapshot, but you can spend a bit more time when working out a shot to get everything right.
Most people can't relate to that concept. They don't understand why you've moving them around, telling them to raise or lower their chin, or even why you need a tripod to take some photos. They just whip out a smart phone, hit the button and walk along without much more thought.
Your pursuit of perfection is admirable, up to a point. That point happens when other people get tired of waiting on you. It isn't too much of a problem in a studio where people understand that taking a photo is a craft. Sunsets don't get mad at landscape photographers.
If you're out in public or even trying to photograph your family, they have different perceptions of taking a photo. Try to remember that taking too much of their time will try their patience and may lead to a bad experience for everyone.
72: Others Will Try Your Patience
This is the flip-side of #71. You're trying to craft a nice photo and that takes time. Meanwhile, other people are moving about. Your family and friends just want to get on with their day. Security guards will think you're suspicious for spending too much time in one area with a “professional camera.”
Why don't they get it?
Doesn't matter. These folks aren't interested in your photography. They're interested in their own agenda. If you're obstructing their agenda, they will make it known and interrupt your careful composition. It's just going to happen sooner or later.
73: If You don't Register Your Photos With The U.S. Copyright Office, Don't Complain When Your Photos Are Taken
I know that not everyone who reads this will be an American, but bear in mind that any work that can be protected by U.S. Copyright law is eligible for registration with the U.S. Copyright office.
That said, most people won't steal your photo for use in a commercial endeavor. When they do, whining won't help you at all. Your best recourse is to have a valid registration on record with the U.S. Copyright office. That's required to file a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court.
If you have that registration and the infringer operates within the USA, you have leverage. Without it, you really don't have any legitimate options.
Yes, there are those who will tell you that your work is copyrighted the moment you create it. That's nice. Now try to prove it without a valid registration. The court won't take time to hear you and the infringer won't have the force of law to pay up. At best, you may get them to take it down if the usage is online.
Personally, I'd rather get paid several thousands of dollars. It only costs $35/$45 to register (depending upon when you read this article) as many photos as you like at a time. Think of it as theft insurance.
74: Praise Publicly. Criticize Privately, Unless Asked
I bring this up frequently because it's important. There are too many people in the world who think that a photo shared online is a request for their opinion and critique.
That simply isn't true. People share photo for a variety of reasons. If you like it and want to praise the photo, I'm sure the photographer will appreciate a compliment. Likewise, it's good for your reputation to show that you can be nice and supportive.
What do you gain by offering an unsolicited critique? You come out of it looking like a bitter jerk. It damages your reputation and annoys the person who posted the photo. Other people who see your comments will wonder who peed in your Cheerios. There just isn't any upside to offering an unsolicited critique. Even if you're trying to be supportive, remember that your opinion wasn't solicited.
If someone posts a photo and asks for your opinion, then it's fine to share a respectful critique.
75: Consider The People Around You
This is as much about safety as it is about manners. I've watched a guy with a 70-200mm lens get so excited that he swung around to take a photo and clocked the skull of someone standing closely behind him.
Please be aware of your surroundings. When you're peering through a viewfinder, you can lose yourself in the composition. Make sure you know if someone else is nearby so you don't step on their foot, hit them upside the head or just bump into each other.
As discussed earlier, people have their own agendas. If you're out in public, people have a right to move about. You don't want them tripping over your gear, but you also don't want to disrupt the flow of public movement. That will definitely get the attention of a police officer or security guard. You'll be the one asked to leave for causing a disturbance.
If you're ever involved in a group photo shoot with plenty of photographers, it can be difficult sometimes to arrange a composition without another photographer in the background. Please be considerate of the other photographers so you don't ruin their experience, as I'm sure you would appreciate they give you the same courtesy.
76: Your Photo Is Not More Important Than The Rules Of Your Environment
You know the photographer everyone agrees to hate? It's the person who uses flash at a concert or on a dark ride at a theme park. If the rule is that you can't use flash, abide by it. If your camera isn't good enough to take a low light photo, put it away. There is no excuse for ruining an experience for others just because you want to get your shot.
U.S. National Parks have a ban in place on drones. I can appreciate the beauty of an aerial photograph, but I don't want to hear the whining noise of a drone when I'm out in the forrest. Neither do the animals.
Don't try to sneak your camera into places where they aren't permitted. If you truly want a photo at a location that has limitations on photography, you may be able to arrange some kind of access or permit if you ask. Sometimes the answer is “No”, but I've received a “Yes” plenty of times.
77: Don't Crush Others To Elevate Yourself
The egotist with a camera is a blight on the entire photography industry. This is a person who uses brash and bluster to get whatever he wants, assuming that most people won't stand up to someone who acts with “authority.”
The Latin name for this person is “asshole photographer.”
As with so many areas in life, you get more by offering courtesy and respect.
78: Help A Brother Out
Or a sister. One of the most common requests I get when I'm on a shoot in public is to take a smartphone photo of another group. They figure you have a big camera, so you must know how to take nice photos. Well, why not help? Sometimes your knowledge of composition and lighting can really make for a much nicer snapshot than they expect.
Of course, this tip is mostly about helping other photographers on a shoot. Don't be afraid to put your camera down and assist. It could be as simple as holding a reflector or moving distractions from the background.
Lend a hand.
79: Understand The Word “No”
If you ask someone a photography question and the answer is “no”, then abide by their decision. Don't ask to take someone's photo and do it anyway if they said “no.” If you ask about getting to a spot to take a photo and the answer is “no”, don't concoct an elaborate scheme to get there, anyway.
Sometimes the answer is “no.” Respect the answer and move on to something else.
80: Don't Be A Creep With A Camera
Trying to surreptitiously take a photo of someone or something is just creepy. In some circumstances, it's illegal to photograph a person with an expectation of privacy.
Even if the person is out in public, trying to photograph someone who clearly doesn't want to be photographed is downright unfriendly. These are the kind of photographers who give all of us a bad name. Don't be a creep.
Creating a good composition is more important than the type of gear you use. Nobody wants a technically perfect photo with a bad composition. Give some thought to what you want to communicate and how you will use your photo before you create your composition.
81: You Can Do Better Than The Rule Of Thirds
The first creative advice you get about photography is to use the Rule of Thirds. Most cameras even have a grid inside to help you follow the rule.
Think of it as more of a guideline than a rule. With everyone using the Rule of Thirds, too many photos look alike. You can do better by studying other types of composition.
To get started, check out this article on composition from PetaPixel.
82: Who Says You Can't Center Your Subject?
There is power in the center. Use it when appropriate.
83: Balance And Symmetry Are Your Friends
The Rule of Thirds forces you to put your subject on a line or a corner. What happens with the rest of the photo? Sometimes the Rule of Thirds can leave you without a sense of balance. That leaves your viewer with an awkward sensation that they don't understand.
Symmetry is beautiful. We prefer people with symmetrical faces as our standard of beauty. That alignment and correspondence on opposite sides just works for us. Combine it with some leading lines running into a dead center composition and you can break all of the Rule of Thirds.
Sometimes it's nice to thumb the photography snobs who preach the same advice over and over.
84: A Pattern Interrupted Catches The Eye
We get drawn into repetition. It's soothing. It leads our eye. So what better way to catch the viewer's attention than to interrupt the pattern of repetition? Find something repetitive and add some form of interruption.
It could be a different color than the other objects. It could be a different model of vehicle in a line of taxis. One of these things doesn't belong with the other. That's a subject to shoot.
85: Give Your Subjects Breathing Room
Here's an example I shot with the Rule of Thirds. Why? Because the negative space on the left gives her room.
She's looking to the left of the photo while smiling. There's room for a friend to come and join here, and that's part of the story.
I used the same principle with the photo of the bicyclist above while discussing flash. He's racing through a jungle. I left some breathing room in front of him so he has space to continue in that direction. The photos feel a bit claustrophobic without that space.
86: Too Much Negative Space Takes Away From Your Subject
You can use negative space, but don't overuse it. If your subject is a tiny dot in the photograph, then that dot is no longer your subject. Instead, the photo becomes about the space around the dot.
87: Leave Room To Crop If Your Final Output Is A Different Shape Than Your Camera's Image
One of the things that should be on your mind when you compose a photograph is how you're going to use it. Will you need the 3:2 format that most camera provide, or do you have different output requirements?
For most of my web posts, I prefer a 16:9 crop. That means I have to consider that space when I'm creating my composition. So much for those Rule of Thirds gridlines in my camera viewfinder.
If I'm shooting for something to go on Pinterest, I need a vertical photo. Instagram works best with a square crop. Those final dimensions affect how you should compose your photo so you have room to crop later.
88: Eliminate Distractions
Distractions in a photo compete for your viewer's attention. Eliminate everything that isn't part of your message. Sometimes you can move objects. Other times you need to change your composition. Here's an example.
Now take a look at the “behind the scenes” shot for this portrait.
Look at that electrical outlet and wire on the wall. I didn't want that in my photo and I can't move it. The best option was to compose my photo so his head blocked the offending background object. Otherwise, it just annoys the view and draws you right out of the portrait.
90. Sometimes The Right Angle Is A Diagonal
There are plenty of ways to use a diagonal angle in photography, but why bother?
You can use a diagonal angle to draw interest. It's different than the typical photograph where everything is perfectly horizontal or vertical. It's hard to ignore a diagonal line in a photograph.
They can also act as leading lines, drawing your eye along from one corner to another. Sometimes a diagonal line can imply a sense of action or energy to a photo. Give it a try.
Post processing is the act of finishing your photo. Some refer to it as the digital darkroom, implying that a bit of manipulation is expected and necessary. It also gives you a chance to add more of your personal style to the final image.
91: You Need Photoshop And Lightroom
Just get it. These are the industry standard tools for digital photographers. There are loads of accessories, add-ons, tutorials and books on how to use both programs. It's also quite inexpensive. You can get the Adobe Photography Plan for Creative Cloud for just $9.99/month.
Yes, that's an affiliate link. It costs you nothing extra and it helps support the blog to provide content like this and more.
92: Plugins Can Save You Time
You can do some really wonderful things in Photoshop, but advanced methods take time to learn and more time to go through all the steps. Save yourself a lot of time and use great plugins. Here are the brands that I recommend and support.
Yes, those are also affiliate links. These are products that I use and recommend. If you have any problems with them, let me know and I'll support you. There is no extra cost to you for using these links.
In fact, you could actually save money buying software from these affiliates using my links. Just visit my Discount page to find my coupon codes to save 10-15% off your purchase price.
93: When You Think You've Processed Your Image Enough, You've Over Processed It
This is an important lesson to learn, and one that I learned the hard way. I've created some garish images in post processing. It's easy to do while you're exploring the tools you use in post processing.
Take this lesson to heart. Less is more. Dial it back a notch.
94: Everybody Should Have A Grey Card
These are easy to find at a photography store. They aren't expensive. In fact, sometimes you can get them in a photography book.
The grey card gives you a known target value to use in post processing. You can use it to adjust your White Balance with the Eyedropper tool in Lightroom or Photoshop. That helps the software adjust other colors and make things look a bit more natural.
95: If You Think You Can Save A Photo In Post, Delete It
Everyone takes a shot that just misses the mark, but we want to save it. Maybe it's a moment captured, but a little blurry.
Save yourself some time and delete it. The only things you can possibly save in post processing are White Balance adjustments or perhaps a crop. However, you cannot add detail that wasn't captured on the file. Sometimes you can use a Healing or Clone tool to eliminate an object you don't want.
If the photo is blurry, no amount of sharpening is going to make it look right. Trust me, I've tried.
The problem with trying to save a bad image is that it usually takes a lot of time and the final result looks processed. Just cut your losses an concentrate on the shots you nailed.
96: Keywords Are Better Than Collections To Organize Your Photos
Almost everyone who teaches you how to use Lightroom will train you to use Collections. I think Collections are an outmoded system and have very little real benefit. They create chaos and clutter.
97: Watermarking Is For The Criminally Insecure
If you think adding a watermark to your photo is going to protect it from abuse or theft, think again. You need to stop worrying about people stealing your photos.
Anyone proficient with Photoshop can remove your watermark. It isn't that hard to crop it or clone it out of an image.
Instead of worrying about theft, remember what I said in tip #73. Register your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office. If someone steals your photo, you have legal recourse to collect damages up to $150,000.
Besides, watermarks just make the Internet look ugly.
98: There Is No “One Size Fits All” Final Export For Your Photos
Many people like to process their photos, crop them, and export in that size as if it were the last judgment.
That's nonsense. You may need to use the same photo in multiple destinations. There are different print requirements for canvas or paper. Social media platforms work best when you crop for the service that you're using.
It isn't uncommon to create 4-5 exports of the same photo in different sizes and dimensions just to share on various social media platforms.
My advice is to build Export Presets in Lightroom so you can quickly export your photos in the proper dimension for the service you're using.
99: You Will Eventually Develop Your Own Style Of Post Processing
When I started processing my images, I tried very hard to emulate the style of photographers that I respected. Sometimes I came close. Other times I failed miserably.
I eventually learned that there is no benefit to having my work be mistaken for someone else's work. Also, I discovered different techniques and combinations that I liked better. That's when you start to develop your own style.
I think emulation is an interesting place to start. You can compare your results to something else and find out what works. Eventually, you'll create your own techniques and develop a personal style of post processing.
100: Save Time Post Processing By Getting The Shot Right In Camera
For many people, post processing is a pleasure. It's even an art unto itself. I'm very impressed by people who are skilled compositors, able to build something out of their imagination using bits and pieces of separate images. That takes skill.
It's not for everyone, though.
For the rest of us who want to make our photos look the best, start by increasing your photography skills. Get your exposure right. Clean your sensor so you don't have to eliminate spots in post processing. Move objects or recompose so you don't need to clone them out of the image later.
It takes far less time to get it right in camera than to correct a photo later in post.
ONE MORE THING
101: Photography Should Be Satisfying
I can't promise you that photography is always fun. That's because I've gone through some pain to get a few shots. Waiting hours under scorching heat or pelting rain. I've hiked for more hours to get a shot off the beaten path.
Then there were times I got up at an unfriendly hour to be in the right place before the sun rises, only to find the weather didn't cooperate that day. None of that was fun.
Yet, it's extremely satisfying when I get a shot that makes me proud. That's what drives me to do all the stupid things I've done and may yet do. I find photography rewarding and satisfying.
I hope you do, too.
If you aren't getting a sense of satisfaction, ask yourself what would do it for you. Do you need more training? Would it help to have more social interaction with other photographers?
Whatever it is, do a little soul searching. Photography is a wonderful activity for many people, but it has to satisfy something in your soul. Otherwise, you'll lose the drive to continue.
Maybe that's OK if photography isn't your thing. It's expensive and time consuming. If your time is better spent elsewhere, don't hang on to photography out of a sense of obligation.
Do it for the satisfaction of that finished photo.
Photography Secrets I Wish I'd Known When I Started
This is a rather long post, but it's one I felt compelled to write. In some ways, it's a letter to my younger self. I made plenty of mistakes along the way. Some of these tips were based upon watching others behave in a way that I thought could stand a little scrutiny.
After a while, these subjects are no longer photography secrets. We all learn them through experience and advice from those who came before us.
My hope is that this list spurs something in a few folks to help them out. Maybe miss a few of the pitfalls that tripped me up for a while.
If you have any of your own photography secrets, please share them in the comments. We can all help each other learn and grow.
Likewise, please share this post with a friend if you think it will help them out.