4 Quick Steps to Improve your Photography Game
“Every expert was once a beginner.”
Rutherford B. Hayes
So you bought your first DSLR/mirror-less camera and you want to take amazing photos like you see on Instagram, but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry we are here to help! Here are some starter camera kit items that every photographer should have. We know owning a camera was already a huge investment, but the items on this list are either a fraction of the cost or free but will help tremendously.
This first thing to remember is no one starts of good at anything. You make mistakes and then improve. That goes with anything, especially photography. Photography is such a hands on concept, that you must fail to really learn what you are doing. Its a good thing now that we have digital SLR’s and mirror-less cameras that can make the expensive days of film cameras obsolete. You really have no excuse not to fail!
The second thing to remember is that the best equipment is the equipment you have. Yes, there are amazing lenses that cost thousands of dollars and advanced cameras packed loaded with features- but that isn’t what makes a photographer. These are just tools. A photographer isn’t defined by the tools used, but by how he or she uses his tools.
Without further ado, here is out top tips for improving as a photographer. Who knows you might be good enough to be a professional!
Education is the most undervalued asset I have seen in my whole life. Knowing what photography is and how it works is essential to being a photographer. As redundant as this sounds, so many people pick up a camera, play around with it, but never go online and look for teaching materials.
It took about 4 years of photography to understand that I was doing it wrong. I thought it was all about gear and getting great lenses to get really good bokeh and background blur. I never really understood, or should I say bothered to learn, that background blur isn’t what makes a photo. There a huge amounts of thought that goes through in making a good photo, such as composition, lighting, mood, color tones and timing that should go through a photographers mind before taking a shot.
Learning what makes another photographer’s photo stand out is THE EASIEST way to make your own photos stand out. Looking at photographer’s works that you vibe with, and then breaking down what makes the photo appealing is a very quick way to start getting quick results.
YouTube has an amazing list of photographer that have an immense library of videos that will answer the most obscure questions. Best of all is that it is free!
Here are a few amazing YouTubers who have helped me learn so much about photography. Before I start this list, I must place emphasis on the first starter kit item, education. It is a continual item you will need and will help the most to improve as a photographer!
You-tubers to learn from (Free):
Tony and Chelsea (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDkJEEIifDzR_2K2p9tnwYQ)
Mango street (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5bp5_6h-ZxkBz6S_33ZUVg)
Sean Tucker (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_43mQmHwHPTBBqImFrWU3Q)
Manny Ortiz (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3R5ehQRUHvhJ7rL1eu0AeQ)
The Slanted Lens (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUbAIlQq6qdOCW7nURh9Qog)
Irene Rudnyk (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkuqaHz3WWM2oUgFh3H9q9w)
We Eat Together (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyH2M7TuqITWduFN2t7RVXQ)
Other more photography education in Adelaide can be found at:
Photography Courses - Centre for Creative Photography (https://www.ccp.sa.edu.au/)
Open Colleges - Certificate IV in Photography and Photo Imaging (https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/courses/design/photography)
RMIT university - Bachelor of Arts (Photography) (https://www.rmit.edu.au/study-with-us/design/photography)
Photography studies college - (https://www.psc.edu.au/)
Here is the website that helped me learn the basic camera settings!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj1FK8n7WgY (color theory)
Lightroom and Photoshop
Great! Now that you have taken a well composed photograph, its time to edit the photo! An unedited photograph is just art that has been limited in every way possible. Getting a good grasp of how powerful Lightroom and Photoshop can be is crucial to become a master of your art. Lightroom has the ability to change everything that basic programs can do, but so much more. Lightroom can edit hues, tones and saturation of images to give completely different vibes. Here is a Before and after shot showing the power of lightroom! Have you ever taken a photo and the sky is blown out (completely white) or a persons face is masked in shadows (completely dark)? Well Lightroom can bring those details back, depending on how good you camera sensor is!
Again with anything in this list, if you don’t know how to use equipment or software, it is paramount that you go and learn how to master the knowledge.
Adobe has an amazing offer for students that give their photography CC package (includes photoshop and lightroom) for under $15 a month, and their creative cloud suite for $30 a month. (https://www.adobe.com/au/creativecloud/buy/students.html)
Flash & CONTINUOUS LED
As most photographers progress through their careers, they try to become more safe, boring and uninterested in trying new techniques. They stick to “natural light photography”. Flash photography is just another tool, but it is an important tool. The ability to add light to a scene to emphasize a person, object or emotion is so important- however very few photographers experiment with this unless they have to. Flash units can be expensive from native camera brand companies, but there are amazing 3rd party flash units that in my opinion are better, cheaper and just make way more sense to buy.
Flash can help in night time photography, for example inside a dark venue or club. Even though their are bright, intermittent lights that usually cause subjects to be backlit, the flash overcomes this lack of light. More over the flash eliminates, to a certain degree depending on power output, any color casts from the venue lighting, strobes or laser lights that could cause unsightly images. You have to ask yourself, how is a camera supposed to meter the light in the room and give an accurate readout, when the lights are continuously changing! Worse yet, if you shoot on manual- its going to be way harder to change your settings faster than the lights are changing. So make your life easier and just over power those distant but interfering lights. You can get amazing results when your subject is well exposed and the background lights remain as background lights!
Flash isn’t just used during the night. I use flash almost all the time now, because it means I get to choose how the light looks on my subjects. It allows for complete control of the scene. Flashes today can over power the sun (need particular flashes), which means an entire scene can be completely changed with flash units.
Now you maybe asking, why is there so much emphasis being placed on light. “Photo” “graphy” is the Science of light. The ability to read light, how it bounces, how the camera interprets the data and how to manipulate the light is what makes a good photographer. Learning how to light subjects and position them in the light to make a flattering image is what any expert photographer should be aiming for with each image.
The flashes I use are from the Godox brand because they are cheap, durable and they have an excellent system that allows all the flashes to communicate with your camera. The flashes don’t require remote triggers or anything complicated like that to be bought after the flash as each flash has a built-in radio trigger (best way of triggering flashes). Older flashes used to require a trigger mechanism and then this would have compatibility issues and so forth, but technology has come a long way and this is no longer required in the newer flashes.
I use the Godox AD200 (https://www.kayellaustralia.com.au/godox-witstro-ad200-portable-flash-p-6504.htmland) the Godox AD600 (https://www.kayellaustralia.com.au/godox-ad600b-manual-flash-batt-p-7034.html) for lighting, whereby these flashes are well overpowered for most situations. Good thing with flashes is you can always turn down the power!
Now we have all seen badly done flash photography, which is why I believe many people stray away from this idea, but if done well can look amazing. The ability to choose where shadows begin and well lit areas end, allows to create a transition that makes images look very 3D like and less flat like natural photography does. With Flash, the light is of extremely high power, which when used without a modifier can lead to harsh light (harsh light just means the light transitions from shadow to light very quickly and is unflattering on female subjects). For the example below, it was just one flash with a translucent white umbrella to shoot through. The resulting image looks much better, due to light being diffused (spread out over the umbrella, to appear as if the light is coming from a large source) to produce images that look stunning, thanks to soft light (opposite of harsh light).
A comparison of Natural light vs Flash photography, which changed my mind on which to use was this video between Manny Ortiz in a photo shoot with Jessica Kobeissi. They present the straight out of camera of each shot. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHRIfwZuuvo)
Now this topic can be huge! One could write a book and still not get close to detailing which lens to buy for different occasions. Here is the bottom line: any lens will work, if you know how to use it. That is not to say all the lenses are the same- no they are different, but the results can be quite good regardless, if you know how to use the lens. This also applies to the kit lens! I know when I started, I thought I needed a fancier lens to produce fancier results. However, it was due to not really knowing the full depth of what a kit lens can do, and not knowing the principles governing a good image, that resulted in poor images. However that being said, there are some lenses from each company that are a large step up in optical quality and usage that are relatively cheap and affordable that can produce amazing results. I will stress that you do not need a Red ring lens from Canon or GMaster lens from Sony to get great results.
Nikon 50mm f1.8 (https://www.teds.com.au/nikon-af-50mm-f1-8-d)
This lens is $150 but allows you to go from a kit lens with f-stop at 3.5 down to 1.8 which is quite much. The lens is tact sharp and produces hexagonal bokeh which is quite nice. It has very fast auto focus, however can seem a bit noisy (but who really cares about this). As per price point it is made out of plastic and not metal, however the plastic is high quality and served me well under heavy usage.
Canon 50mm f1.8 (https://www.canon.com.au/camera-lenses/ef-50mm-f-1-8-stm)
Another amazing lense from Canon at $160. This lens is very similar to the Nikon counterpart, and is also called the Nifty 50. Known for being cheap, durable but performing with excellent results its a definite upgrade from a standard kit lens. You may be wondering why the 50mm dominate the first lens buy guide? 50mm is a focal length that is native to what your eyes see, which means its the easiest to compose on as you almost see your results before taking the image. On crop sensors (most beginner cameras) the focal length gets increased due to the crop on the sensor and becomes closer to the 85mm mark, which is great for portraits!
Sony is a special case, where most of their lenses are not beginner friendly. Although I have switched to Sony- their lenses are not cheap. However for that price you get amazing quality of lenses with quality materials. These lenses might cost quite a bit, however when you compare them to the professional grade Nikon and Canon, its about the same price. The reason to compare to the Professional grade Canon and Nikon is that the results of Sony are tailored to professional hobbits instead of new shooters.
Thanks for reading guys! If you have any questions or want another topic, just leave a comment below :)