Anyone who follows me on social media knows I love taking pictures. Some good, lots bad. And I’m OK with that. I have loved pretty pictures all my life. I’m still amazed there is a gadget that can capture existence. I mean, if you think about it: the light, the shapes, the textures and the shadows that make up “us” are seized by the snap of a shutter. This tangible world can be saved on a little piece of film (or memory card) and printed on paper for later enjoyment. I can’t wrap my brain around it. It’s amazing to me. I love it.
When I was growing up I tried to capture every moment with my camera. The walls of my bedroom were papered with candids of hang-outs, school events, concerts, and adventures with friends. I didn’t go anywhere without a point-and-shoot in my bag. As an adult I still enjoy taking pictures but find myself more drawn to stills and landscapes. And, differing from my early experiences with photography, I have taken a greater interest in learning to improve my skills.
Photography, for me, is trial and error. I’m not the type of person who can sit down, read through my entire camera manual and go out to apply what I just read. I learn by doing. And in the doing, I have learned some crucial lessons about good picture taking. Here are five of them:
1. Lighting is everything: Seriously. Let me say that again…lighting is everything. A bad shadow across the smiling face of your niece can completely ruin the shot. A dimly lit room cannot be photoshopped away. Bright sunshine will wash out your images every. single. time. Learn how to read the lighting and adjust accordingly. Know how to set the white balance of your camera, learn what the aperture is and how to change its setting and invest in a tripod for poorly lit rooms or evening shoots. However, the best tips come from experience. So go out and shoot things/places/people in bad lighting and play around with your camera settings. See what works.
2. Shoot more than you think you’ll need: each time I feel inspired to go out and take pictures I take hundreds of images. 10 shots of one red leaf on the sidewalk? Yup. Angle, lighting, focus, even the lens you use will make a difference in how your image comes out. I may take 200 photos but only have five that I really like. The way I figure, it is always better to have more images than you will need. There is nothing worse than sitting down to edit only to realize you didn’t capture the best angle. This brings me to my next point…
3. Spend time editing: Wouldn’t it be great if every image you took was perfect? Well, too bad. Even the best photographers edit their images and I suggest you do the same. There are loads of free editing software programs out there, use them. Small tweaks to lighting, sharpness, even cropping can go a long way with your photos. Be warned, even the best editing cannot fix a bad image. Refer to tip #1
4. A good lens will go a long way: I spent a lot of time shooting with the stock lens for my camera and captured some decent images with it. When I received my first 50mm lens as a gift from my husband my picture taking life completely changed. Having access to a lens that can capture a wider angle, a sharper image or offers different features (fisheye, micro, telephoto) can change the way you capture the world. Invest in a variety of lenses and use them. To be honest, I got so comfortable using my stock lens I originally shied away from switching it out. But I eventually gave in and am so glad I did.
5. Improvement will come with time: I like to consider myself a lousy image-capturing hobbyist who gets lucky with a good shot every once in a while. However, when I look back on some of my earlier images I can literally see how I have progressed. Trial and error, practice, new lenses, and a better understanding of my camera has helped me capture better shots more consistently. With practice, you will inevitably get better. So, even if you think you are terrible, get out there and take lots of crappy pictures. If you become a student of your craft you have nowhere to go but up.