May 4, 2015

5 Ways to Get Better as a New Photographer

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Last week we got an email from a new photographer, that basically asked if we had any tips on getting better in your work when you’re just starting out. That can be such a tough question to answer, because the truth is that like so many of the best things in life…getting better at photography as a craft takes two things that don’t come that easy: practice (i.e hard work) and time.

But at the same time, that just didn’t really feel like a satisfying answer to give. In our business, we always want to be givers and if we can give more and pour into people more and give answers with more “meat” to them, then we always will. Because we believe in building up the next generation of photographers to be the best storytellers they can be, and to leave legacies that matter. We’re all better when that happens because it elevates this thing we do, and makes “photographer” a title to be proud of. So that got us thinking…what are the things that would make the biggest improvements in someone’s work in the fastest amount of time when they’re first starting out?  Because as much as I believe that what I said above is true, I do also think that there are things you can do to speed that process up a little. And a big part of that comes down to practicing the right sorts of things right from the beginning, so you don’t have to un-learn bad habits later on.

So we decided to come up with a kind of a homework assignment of sorts. The new photographer’s field guide into getting better at their craft! We put together 5 assignments for you to work on over the coming week, and you can report in here & let us know how it’s going! And then in a week or two, we’ll have 5 more for you! Here are the first five:

1. Practice shooting your lenses as wide open as they will go. Grab an inanimate subject (they don’t move or talk back!) and shoot them over and over again at 1.4 or 1.2 until you can nail your focus every time.

2. Experiment with the exposure triangle. Aperture, shutter speed & ISO all work together to determine your exposure. Play around with changing up these settings to see that in action. Start by keeping your aperture and shutter speed fixed at f 1.4 and 1/1000….now change the ISO until you nail your exposure. Now do the same thing where the aperture and ISO are fixed at f 1.4 and ISO 800….now change your shutter speed until you nail exposure.

3. Learn your stops. Now get familiar with what the full stops of light are on your camera. For example, stopping down from f 1.4 to f 2 on your aperture to gain more depth of field means that you just lost a full stop of light. To keep the same exposure, you will need to gain a stop of light from either ISO or shutter speed. So you could go from ISO 400 to ISO 800, or from 1/1000 to 1/500 and still maintain the exact same exposure now with more depth of field.

4. Switch to spot metering. Your camera has a few different ways that it can meter, but the two most common are evaluative/matrix which looks at the whole scene and makes an educated approximation on the proper exposure, and spot metering which says “this part of the image is what I really care about…tell me the proper exposure for that.” We really prefer to shoot with spot metering pretty much all day because it allows us to meter for the skin and not worry as much about the whole scene. We get a lot of emails asking us about our skin tones, and a lot of it comes down to spot metering! So your assignment is to put someone right in front of a big, bright window and see the different results you get in evaluative/matrix (when it’s looking at the whole scene…and is going to think it needs to underexpose that super bright window) and spot metering (when it’s metering right where you put your focus on someone’s face and metering for skin tone alone). (You can change this right in your camera. Check your camera’s manual if you don’t know how).

5. Experiment with composition. Go out and shoot, and don’t come back until you have a shot with each of these compositions: 1) Getting high & shooting down, 2) Getting low & shooting up, 3) Horizontal with a right justified subject (i.e. put your subject in the right third of the frame), 4) an image with leading lines that bring your eye into the subject, 5) an image where the subject is layered in the middle with foreground & background (i.e. placing a branch of cherry blossoms out of focus in the foreground of the image with the subject further in to the frame).

Ok that’s it for now!

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  1. Tatyana

    Love all of these!

  2. katelyn james


  3. irena Mandel

    thus is great advice for anyone to just stay sharp. Once a week, shoot for yourself and use this as a guideline. It’s like basketball practice. :)

  4. Nicole Salter

    Super great read. Thanks!! I’m going to share this with my 2nd as well!

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