A few months ago I was able to speak to a young girl who was just getting into photography. She is a daughter of a family friend and her parents had asked me to give her some guidance. After sitting with her to tell her some of the things that I have learned I was surprised to see how quickly she incorporated them into her new hobby allowing her to move on to other things.
That got me thinking of all the things that took me far too long to learn. Sometimes I wish I had a mentor to walk me through the labyrinth of photography talk so I could settle on a method of shooting that would work for me. It is easy to look for things on line about how to solve different problems but it is more difficult to understand what should take priority.
After applying the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle here is my quick list for anyone picking up a camera for the first time.
1. Set up a photo filing system. No matter how good you get if you do not have a good filing system you will NEVER be able to find your best pictures. I keep all my pictures in a single file called….wait for it…..it is a great name….”Pictures”. I then have a different folder for each camera trip that is named in the following manner….YEAR CAMERA EVENT. For example “2013 D800 Italy Vacation”. If the trip covered several days then each day will have a sub folder.
I have been doing this for years and now that I have 1Tb of pictures I am thrilled that I have. Finding a pictures takes a few minutes and back ups are easy!
2. Back up, back up, BACK UP! Get into the habit early and do it religiously. The way I do it is that I have three hard drives. Two are kept at home and one in my office. Having the back ups in two different places avoids the risk of losing everything in a fire or home burglary. What I do is back up the pictures on my two home drives and then swap one with the drive I have in the office. Trust me….a little precaution will go a long way.
3. Shoot in RAW. Hey I know that there is a long discussion about JPEG and RAW files but when you are just starting out getting it perfect in camera is difficult and a RAW file will allow you to rescue more shots that would otherwise be tossed. Once you are proficient feel free to change…but I bet you wont.
4. Understand inspiration and the impact it can have on your work. I know this sounds rather esoteric but it is number 4 on my list because it is something that took me a long while to learn. Photography is an art form and art requires some imagination and that is feed by inspiration. The easiest way to get inspired….go to an art museum. It does not matter what kind of art…it does not need to be a photography exposition or even paintings. Even modern art (which I do not understand for the life of me) is inspiring. Try this…go to a museum and stand in front of a piece of art. Note the colors, light and materials used. Ask yourself what you feel when you look at it. Now find ONE word that describes it. Now do the same with your pictures BEFORE you take the shot.
5. Slow down. Digital pictures are free so we tend to take too many shots. Everyone will tell you to take more shots just in case you miss something. The problem is if you start clicking without thinking. Remember art requires imagination which requires inspiration + thought. If you take too many pictures you do not have time to think. Then you are capturing moments but not making art.
6. Stand in front of interesting things. Photography requires subject matter and rarely is this found on a sofa. Take your gear and start walking. Look for shapes, textures and things that define the neighborhood you are in. If you do not see anything interesting look for details. Details tell a wonderful story if you give them a chance.
7. Learn about light. Get up early and notice how the light changes. Make shadows a subject as it is the fastest way to learn about light.
8. Get a tripod and use it. It does not have to be a very expensive one but a tripod slows you down, makes you think and helps ensure you have a tack sharp image.
9. Get off auto and give manual a try. Play with your camera. I find that when it is raining outside it is a great time to pull out the camera and sitting on the sofa play with the settings. Practice manual focus and setting shutter speed & aperture manually. You will learn allot about what your camera is doing and that will help you get the images you want.
10. Your photography is about two things, you and your subject. It does not matter if no one else understands or likes your image. You are going through a journey of learning and you need to make it your own. Some of my least appreciated pictures taught me the most about photography. Sometimes it pays to STOP sharing and start thinking about your own image. If you please the whole world but let yourself down you have failed.