Here are some suggestions that apply to everybody, regardless of what or how you shoot.
Disclaimer: As with every other article in this series, I’m assuming you know the basics already.
10: Shoot raw and expose a little bit hot. There’s always a bit of potential to recover highlights in your raw files; some cameras more than others. Know how much yours can tolerate before blowing highlights completely. It’s not just a way to expand dynamic range; exposing hot and bringing down the exposure later actually reduces shadow noise, too. For those of you using a third party RAW converter that doesn’t read proprietary image settings, crank your sharpening in camera up to maximum – it won’t affect the raw file (only the jpeg preview), but you will be able to more easily see if things are in focus or not when using the image review screen.
9: There is no perfect bag. Just accept it, and move on. Buy a new one if it takes your fancy but don’t expect it to solve all of your problems. Most of the time I only use a bag if I have other non-photographic items to transport. If it’s camera-only then it just goes over my shoulder.
8: Watch the edges of your frame. Your subject is identified by a) light; b) position in the composition; c) context. The edges add or remove context – and with it, distractions. Use them carefully.
7: Learn your equipment. You should be able to operate your cameras like it’s second nature. Muscle memory is your friend, and can make the difference between responding instinctively and getting the shot, or missing it altogether. Practice is the only way to do this.
6: Look at lots of images. Famous works. Not so famous works. Flickr. It’s a good source of both inspiration and way of helping you to hone your sense of composition.
5: Don’t buy new gear unless you’re sure you’re not the limitation. Make sure you know exactly what it is that your current gear isn’t doing for you and how the new gear will solve it.
4: Look at other mediums of art for inspiration. It could be painting, design, architecture; for instance I love the way Magritte renders clouds, and I look for that kind of light when shooting skies.
3: Look for interesting light, not just interesting subjects. But of course it’s best to have both. The best photos present an unusual subject in an extraordinary way.
2: Be very, very selective with your keepers. Keep only the best. I throw away 99% of what I shoot. Not because it’s bad, but because if you shoot good pictures, then keeping only excellent will make you excellent after a while; if you shoot excellent on average and keep only outstanding, then you’ll be outstanding. And so on. Continually push and challenge yourself – set assignments, practice, tasks. Go outside of your comfort zone, and the persistence will yield results.
1: Shoot lots. Practice, practice, practice. Experiment. If it doesn’t work, at least you’ve learned not to do it. If it does, great – another technique to add to the arsenal. I always get asked ‘how do I pick it up? How did you pick it up?’ and my answer is the same: I experimented and shot a lot. But I also made sure I made a note of what I did, so I learned something from the experience. When I started, I was probably doing a thousand frames a day – 99.9% were crap, of course – but slowly that ratio swung. Always carry a camera – even if it’s just your phone – and don’t be afraid to use it. MT