I hate the word “tips.” It implies something you can apply lickety-split and pain-free. But “9 Ideas to Mull Over for New Photographers” just isn’t as snappy. So some of these tips are actually tips–things you can do TODAY to improve your photography. And a lot of them–well, let the mulling begin.
Of course, all of this is born of my personal experience and opinion, so if you’re not feelin’ it no worries. You can write your own. Also, there’s no way I can cover everything I wish I’d known in 9 tips–we’re just getting our feet wet here.
1. Format your memory cards. This was a huge ‘duh’ moment for me, but I didn’t have anyone to tell me to do this for the longest time! Formatting cards ensures that the card you’re using becomes compatible with the current camera, as well as deleting all current photos in one fell swoop so you don’t have to manually do it. Format at least 3 times, just to be safe.
2. Shoot in all kinds of light. People tend to tell new photographers to find ‘good’ light–window light, backlight, shade, etc. But if you’re going to find your own shooting style, you need to experiment. A lot. When you can make beauty in all kinds of light, that’s when you are an artist. Look at (and fall in love with) Fer Juarasti–he shoots in some of the most traditionally horrible light: full sun, uneven light–and he makes magic. Don’t be exclusive and uppity about your lighting preferences yet. Open yourself to a crazy world full of possibility, and you’ll naturally gravitate toward what you love over time.
3. Pick one setup and stick with it for a while. Learning your gear should be the first and fastest thing you do in photography. There’s so much to worry about, and so much more fun to be had–so start with one setup and go with it until you know what to do in any and every situation, no questions asked. I always recommend any DSLR with a 50mm lens. You can pick them up for around $100, and it will amaze you. If you’re serious about photography, nix the kit lens. It’s a pseudo jack of all trades, and it’s definitely the master of none. You can create beauty on any equipment, to be sure–but give yourself a leg up and go with the 50mm.
4. Don’t look at other photographers’ work. Your photography needs to come from you. I started out with literally hundreds of photographers in my feeds–basically whoever was featured on Style Me Pretty that day. Oh my gosh, please, please don’t do this. Be very selective with the photographers you follow in your area–by all means, follow photographers in other specialties and draw inspiration from them until you’re blue in the face. But save the peeps you follow in your own arena for people whose work you think is crazy beautiful and a little outside your comfort zone. Your work will be most ‘you’ when you allow yourself to work through things organically, instead of trying (consciously or not) to imitate someone else’s style.
5. Shoot (and edit) in RAW. Just do it. RAW gives you the most leeway in editing your photos, and especially when you’re working with a camera body that’s not top-of-the-line, shooting in RAW ensures you get the best photos possible. Make sure to convert RAW files to sRGB when you’re done editing, though–otherwise your photos will be gray and all-around nast online. (In Photoshop: Edit–>Convert to Profile–>sRGB is in a dropdown menu.) BUT there’s an even faster way to work with RAW files! Which brings me to….(don’t you love when people do this in list-y posts? It’s so infomercial-esque. I can’t get enough.)
6. Figure out a workflow that works–fast. Old habits reign supreme, so get this right from the beginning. When you’re not shooting very often, it’s easy to get sucked into the Photoshop vortex and spend hours on each photo. Shooting in RAW really helps this time go down if you’re editing with ACR (Camera Raw within Photoshop). This is the window that automatically pops up when you open RAW files in Photoshop. Play around with it, watch tutorials, and find what works for you, but here’s a basic rundown of what I do in ACR (PS 6):
1. Open about 100 RAW files at a time in ACR. I edit while I cull.
2. Adjust white balance and exposure.
3. Apply VSCO presets.
4. Select all the keepers and click “save images” on the left side. I save level 10-12 jpgs in the folder I want and SHABAM I’m done.
If you don’t have/use/like VSCO, step 3 would look something like this: adjust highlights (I usually bring them all the way down) and contrast.
7. Don’t start a business until you’re ready. Give yourself room to grow and explore. Once you are receiving money for your services, you’re in business. Whether it’s $25 or $2500. There’s a whole lot of ish that goes into being in business–you’ve got to have your craft down by the time you get there. Or else what? You’re glowering at your computer. I know. You’re crazy for photography, you know it’s the perfect fit and you just wanna get this thing going! I’m just going to be so bold to say: you haven’t practiced enough. Give yourself time and room to explore: technical things, business things, philosophy things, subject matter things. If you were opening a cafe you wouldn’t start with the two menu items you knew you could make and your garage; you’d plan and study and try a million recipes, because you’d know this was going to be a big investment, of time and money and energy and all your creative juices for the rest of ever. We should encourage those entering the photography industry to do the same amount of back end work before we jump in and just hope we learn how to swim.
8. Don’t worry too much about your ‘style.’ You’ll find it with practice, and only ridiculous amounts of it. 10,000 hours, actually, if you want to be an expert. Another reason to let yourself gel stylistically before you jump into big bad official BIDNISS.
9. Don’t give away the farm. Yes, you need as many portfolio building opportunities as you can get your pretty little hands on, but get clear about what you want out of each opportunity when you’re not getting paid. You call the shots, and find models who can help you realize your vision. Make each session a slice of personal work instead of an open invitation for free photos for everyone and their dog. Nothing will burn you out faster. Plus, when clients know you have a specific vision for a particular shoot, you’re less likely to get droves of people asking you for free sessions because you did it for so-and-so.
I hope these help–I’d love to hear your thoughts/experiences/success stories with these in the comments!
P.S. Diggin’ this post? There’s truckloads more juicy stuff for photographers and creatives on the Soul Train. Jump on it with that cute little tab on the left!