No matter how experienced we may get as photographers, there are always ways to improve. Sometimes it’s learning something new. At other times it’s simply seeing something in a new way. Occasionally, it’s just getting reminders to help us lose bad habits that might make us screw up.
The folks at Mango Street have been putting out some quite cool videos recently, with some great advice to help with this. In their new video, they offer up 10 tips to take your photos “from BASIC to BOSS”. They pooled some of their professional photographer friends to see what tips they had to offer. I don’t quite agree with all of them, though.
They do preface the video by stating that these are just opinions, and that photography is a very subjective thing. Some of the tips make a lot of sense
- Mind your horizons
- Nail your focus
- Don’t cut off your subjects limbs at the joints
- Good composition
- Don’t under or over edit your photos
- Don’t shoot in tungsten lighting
- Use light correctly & learn artificial light
- Shoot with purpose – What are you trying to communicate?
- Keep your subjects natural
- Don’t try to recreate someone else’s work
For newer photographers, they’re mostly good tips.
Taking care that your horizons are level and aren’t intersecting peoples heads is a good place to start. As with most things in photography, it’s not a hard and fast rule. But, it’s a good guideline when you’re starting out because it’s one less thing to worry about. Wonky horizons while you’re still trying to learn the rest of photography usually don’t work out well.
Nailing your focus is always a good idea. That’s not to say you can’t intentionally put something out of focus. But, like a wonky horizon, it can often just look like an accident instead of having intent.
If you’re consistently missing focus, your camera & lens could be front or back focusing. So, it may be worth investing in something like a SpyderLENSCAL to ensure that your lenses are focusing where you expect them to.
Not cutting off limbs and good composition kind of go hand in hand. Sure, that’s not all there is to composition, but not cutting off limbs is a part of it if you’re photographing people. Cutting people off at knees and elbows often makes your subject appear as though the limb has been amputated.
I did laugh a little at the “don’t under or over edit your photos” bit. Because that’s basically another way of saying “edit your photos just right”. Goldilocks would be proud.
Of course, everybody wants to process their photos “just right”, but that’s a very subjective thing. What’s under or over edited to one person could be perfect to another, or to the creator. Sure, there’s definitely a lot of really bad obviously horrible stuff out there (I’m looking at you selective colour and bad HDR), but it is very much an individual thing.
“Don’t shoot in tungsten lighting” is one I disagree with. Anybody who’s learned #7 will soon be able to figure out if they can shoot in a given situation with no problem. A light source is a light source. Once you understand quality of light, it won’t matter what the light source is. You’ll immediately be able to tell if it’s good or bad for the result you’re trying to achieve.
The whole having purpose and making your subjects look natural is something I definitely agree with. As a location portrait photographer, I try to keep my subjects looking natural. I don’t like the forced fake poses, and I want them to appear comfortable in their surroundings. Otherwise, to me, the purpose of the image can come across as making the subject look as uncomfortable as possible.
Sure, I’ll often suggest a pose, and may even demonstrate it myself from time to time, but I don’t photograph it. I’ll ask them do it once, so they get the general idea. Then tell them to relax and do it again in a way that feels natural and comfortable to them. Then I’ll photograph it.
The last tip I strongly disagree with, especially for photographers that are learning. Well, they did say this was a video of opinions. So, here’s mine.
Absolutely try to recreate somebody else’s work. Don’t plaster it all over social media, do it for yourself, but definitely try to recreate it.
Recreating images you like or the work of photographers you admire is one of the quickest ways to learn. You’re almost never going to get it right on the first go, anyway. And you may never get it perfect. But those screw-ups give you the opportunity to figure out why it doesn’t, experiment, work and learn from it.
Perhaps it’s the lighting, maybe your subject doesn’t look as relaxed and comfortable, the composition’s wrong, the colours clash, or one of a million other reasons. Because you’re trying to recreate something that already exists, rather than a vision in your head, you have something with which you can make a direct comparison. You can see both of them right in front of you and play “spot the difference”.
It’s all very well to say “look at the work of others and just take inspiration”, but if one hasn’t learned how to apply it, then it doesn’t really help. If you learn how and why an image works by trying to replicate it, you’ll have a better understanding of how to take inspiration and apply principles in your own photographs.