Getting started as a photographer

Okay, so you’re a beginning, aspiring, or new photographer. What can a professional of 44 years (that’s me) offer as inspiration and guidance, or a “magic elixir” to make sense of this art?

This craft of photography is magical, and it’s extremely important to us,  as we are visual creatures. A photograph speaks to a wide audience, on many levels.  It has the visual power to stop you in your tracks, pulling you into the world of the photographer. 

So, what are some suggestions to improve the image-making process?  Here’s my take on this:

1. Capture moments. Realize the power of the still camera vs. the cell phone. I feel that there is a degree of “non-involvement” with the vast majority of phone photos. Why?  I think it’s pretty easy to explain—when shooting a photo with a phone, the image-maker is holding that device at arms-length, looking at a postage stamp-sized screen 2 ½ feet from the eye.  Trying to see the detail of composition or the moment is pretty difficult. With a camera, you make that viewfinder your entire “world.”  You can see edge-to-edge, and top to bottom of the viewfinder, and there are no distractions around the edges. 

Keep in mind that the moment is the power you bring into a photo. Perhaps it’s as simple as two people talking on the street, and a gesture is made by one of the two, or a hand tossed in the air to emphasize a point. That’s a quiet moment. Or it’s the wide-receiver going up for the game-winning catch, which is a good example of a loud moment.  And those moments are powerful tools to engage your viewer.


2. Rely on your camera. Trust the automatic exposure capability of your camera. The menu does offer the ability to control every function of the camera, but how many of those are really important? Not that many. Put the camera on P for Program mode and just shoot.  Cameras today are extremely accurate, so you really can let it handle the “heavy-lifting” of exposure and autofocus for you. This will allow you to better focus on enjoying your photography.


3. Fall out of love with your photos. Really work on getting the best moment from each photo opportunity. Be realistic when deciding which images to keep and which to discard.  When editing, it’s really easy to remember all the sensory info that was going on when you shot the photo. This personal information that we hold on to when choosing photos is not important in this process. It really comes down to whether the image works or it doesn’t. Fall out of love with your photos, and the editing becomes more efficient.


4. Get in the mode. In the early stages of learning the craft, try those “scene modes.”  If you are shooting sports, try out “sports mode” (usually an icon of a running figure), which will set a higher shutter speed, thereby more effectively “freezing” the action. Or if shooting in snow or on a sandy beach, try the “snow icon” mode. Again, the designers have created these settings that will deal with the exposure issues often found in these situations. 


5. Invest in quality memory. Don’t decide to save a few dollars by buying cheap or unknown-manufacturer memory. You just spent a fair bit of change on that nice camera, you bought a great lens or two, or three…along with that cool designer camera bag, so don’t decide to scrimp on memory, one of the most important components in this chain. I’ve been using Lexar cards for many years and I’ve never had a failure.


6. Avoid distractions. The essence of photography is to combine “moment” with light and composition, creating a powerful and engaging photo. Your viewfinder is your world, and you are responsible for every square inch of that real estate. When something really great is going on, be sure to scan the edges of the frame to make sure you don’t have something distracting sticking into or out of the frame. Moving slightly to the left or right, or up or down can really impact the content of your picture. 


7. See what develops. Give the process of photography time to see what develops. A mistake many aspiring photographers make is to rush a photo. When you find a situation that demands to be photographed, shoot what immediately drew you to that scene, but then think how you can work the scene to improve the photo as you continue shooting.


8. Ask for feedback. Find someone whose work you respect, and ask for an honest appraisal of your photography. Those seasoned vets can provide a lot of valuable information on how to improve your photos.


9. Get organized. One of the great things about digital photography (as well as one of the problems) is that you can shoot as much as you want. But you still have to go through all those photos, remember? Buy and learn a software program to catalog your photos, which will go a long way in making it simple to find your specific photos when you want to print or revisit them. I use Adobe Lightroom, in which you can build a library, work on the photos, create books and websites, and even map your travel adventures.


10. Just go shoot. It all comes back to this. The more you shoot, the more comfortable you’ll become with your camera, and the camera will then start to “get out of the way,” which will allow your creativity to grow.  Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the process!