Everyone is a professional photographer these days right?
Well, if you want to add some legitimacy to that claim, there are a handful of specific photo styles that are really the foundation of a professional photographer’s tool kit.
These may not all fit your personal style, but the technical proficiency needed to capture these photos are relevant to all photographers.
So if this is the year that you want to make the jump to pro photographer, here are 8 photos to learn this year.
1. Outdoor Fill Flash
Most photographers start as “natural light” shooters, and then stay there for a long time. There is nothing wrong with natural light, when the natural light available is good quality and in the right direction.
The next progression is to learn to effectively use fill flash.
As you can see in these photos – even on an overcast day with ideal soft and even natural light, there are circumstances when fill flash is still necessary – such as if your subject is not facing the right direction (light is still directional, even on overcast days), they are in deeper shade than the rest of the scene, or maybe they are wearing a hat.
Without a little kiss of fill flash in these circumstances, your subject’s face will be underexposed – dull and dark.
Fortunately, fill flash is really easy to use.
Angle your flash head up on a 45 or straight up, pull out the little white bounce card, then TTL with a flash exposure compensation of -1 or -2 usually does the trick.
2. Sun Flare
A good sun flare photo is really easy to do, once you figure it out. But if you are relying on program auto, chances are you are just getting a pile of silhouettes and the occasional keeper.
To consistently capture good sun flare photos you have to pay close attention to the light, use manual camera settings and learn how to properly process sun flare images.
3. Directional Indoor Window Light
Photographing with window light indoors is all about learning to see light and use it to your advantage.
But the thing is, to do it well you’re going to have to use manual again. I know, manual mode is scary at first – but with a little practice you will wonder why you ever used anything else.
This article: How to Transform A Space With Lighting: Quality of Light Vs. Quantity of Light and this article: Natural Light Photography – Not Just for Uncle Bob and Moms on Maternity Leave Any More are great places to start learning to create photos with directional indoor window light.
4. Golden Hour Ambient With Strobes
Now that you have extended your use of available light, its time to pull out the strobes. All professional photographers know how to light with strobes, but not every photo calls for strobes.
Strobes might not even fit into your personal style of photography at all – but that is not an excuse to never learn how to light with artificial light sources – because what applies to strobes applies to all lighting. Think of it like Picasso learning formal artistic technique in figure drawing and oil painting, even though that’s pretty much the exact opposite of what his work became known for.
I think the thing that scares most people away from learning to use strobes properly is the first few times you try to use them – your photos are going to look awful. This is normal and part of the learning process.
If you’re interested, here is the story behind this photo along with a few tips on how it was taken: Livestrong Triathlon Portrait – Life After Cancer
5. Seamless White In Studio
Its time to move into the studio.
I know seamless white portraits are like so 2008, but learning to capture a properly exposed subject on a seamless white back drop is actually much more difficult than it looks.
You man never take another seamless white photograph again (in fact, I had to search my portfolio and this is the only image I could find – and its just a test photo for a light modifier), but the careful use of exposure and light metering necessary for a good seamless white image are critical to a deeper understanding of photography in general.
6. Reflective Surface Product Photography
This one is straight out of photography school.
While we are in studio, go photograph something with a reflective surface on a reflective surface. Its even better if your object is transparent.
The reason that this is a photography school staple is because of what you learn about subtle changes to your lighting and light modifiers.
In the example below, creating that perfect highlight on the left and reflected highlight on the right takes a lot of attention to detail. I pity the photography students that had to pull this shot off with a film camera! Try it yourself and see what I mean.
Our own Laya Gerlock is a genius at this kind of thing and I have personally learned a ton from his articles. Here is a review of twenty studio product photos that you can learn: 20 Kick Ass Projects From Last Year.
7. Three Light Studio Head Shot
While we are playing around in the studio, you might as well learn to master the quintessential three light studio portrait.
Key light, fill light and hair light. Once you master this, you can apply these techniques to every other photo you will ever take because the principals of key light, fill light and hair light (or back light) always apply.
Here is the behind the scenes tutorial that goes with this head shot: How To Take Beautiful Portraits of Women With or Without Photoshop.
8. Long Exposure With Strobe
Finally, the last essential photo to learn before you can really say that you are a professional photographer is a long exposure with a strobe – also known as “drag the shutter”.
The long exposure is used to accentuate motion and movement, while the strobe is used to freeze the action.
There are two aspects of this type of photo that make it difficult.
First, you have to properly expose the scene using a long enough shutter speed to capture a reasonable amount of motion. Too short and it just looks blurry. Too long and things tend to blend together into an unintelligible mess.
Second, you have to balance your ambient exposure with a properly lit and modified strobe exposure.
It takes practice to figure out how to blend the two.
Here is a great tutorial on the subject: Shutter Dragging Explained. And another on: How To Capture Motion Trails While Freezing Subjects Using Shutter Drag.
Now Learn To Bill Like A Pro Too!
Learning the technical stills needed to call yourself a professional photographer are only a small part of what it really takes to be a successful working professional photographer.
If you’ve got these eight shots down pat – please do yourself and the entire photography community a favor and make sure that you are charging a professional rate.
What Did I Miss?
Are there any essential photos that you would add to the list?
Can you really call yourself a professional photographer if you can’t do any one of these photos?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!