Hello dear readers. I have decided to revive my blog after a long absence – don’t ask – and I have decided to create here a small series on the most common mistakes photographers make, and how to correct them.
The standard disclaimer applies here: I am assuming you want to improve your photography, be better. Not look for likes or pats on the back. So, without further ado, the first thing you can do to improve your photography, ask yourself a question.
Could my 9-year old niece taking a random snapshot on an iPhone produce the same photo?
If the answer is “yes”, then you do not have a photograph, you have a mere snapshot. Thanks to incredible technological advances, Cameras from cheap cellphones to the most expensive DSLRs, now have the capacity to shoot good photos at the push of a button. The attribute given to the human “photographer” has now been taken over by the actual device. In the old days, what you looked for in any photo upon delivery was “is it in focus?” and “is it correctly exposed?” This was because the job of focusing and exposing a frame was actually the job of the person behind the camera, not the camera itself. Now, it takes an awful lot of dedication to take a wrongly exposed out of focus picture... so those two variables are now taken for granted. You will have a properly exposed, in focus photo simply because you pressed a button.
You now need to have a lot MORE than just the right exposure settings. If your photos look like it could have been taken by a 9-year old with an iPhone, the only solution I can give you is the hardest crit I can deliver, one no one likes to hear: put down the camera and pick up a book. When I studied photography in the early ’90s, we went through 6 months of theory before we were even allowed to pick up a camera. Now, that was back in the days of film, and a good chunk of that time was spent on the theory of the darkroom, so in today’s technological society where knowledge is at your fingertips, I’d say give it two months. For two months, read every book you can find. Go to every YouTube channel that speaks to you. This will do two things.
- It will show just how deep your passion for photography really is. If this sounds like “nah, too much work”, then maybe photography is not the hobby for you.
- It will give you a good solid base to start from the next time you pick up your camera. You will overcome your deep hole of not knowing what you do not know, and you will be able to advance in leaps and bounds.
I have a motto that I use to apply to newbies and pros alike, and I apply it to myself every day of my working career: study the masters. Now, who the masters are, are utterly subjective. Some people think Brandon Woelfel is brilliant, while I ‘just don't get it’. Some people find Helmut Newton too explicit, while I find him a genius and credit him for my entire career. It does not matter who your masters are, but you need to have masters. You cannot become good, if you do not know what good actually looks like.
And lastly, do not fall into the false notion of “shoot until you figure it out” – you can shoot for years and still not figure it out, while an hour on YouTube could unlock many doors for you.
So, books. Of course, I would recommend my own, but that would be very self-indulgent, so in addition to From Snapshot to Hotshot, I will recommend books by Joe McNally ("The Moment it Clicks” is worth its weight in gold, and I re-read it every 3 years or so just to keep me grounded. Getting my copy signed by Joe was the closest I've ever come to being star-struck!). Scott Kelby’s series “The Digital Photography Book” is a must-read for any novice. There is a diamond mine of information in that series. And if you really want to get to the bottom of how this photography thing works, anything by the late John Hedgecoe will be valuable.
Youtube: Phlearn is a great channel, but you may need to go back on their timeline to find the basics, and Peter McKinnon’s vids are great! (there are also a few to avoid, but to avoid lawyers letters landing on my desk, I shall not name them.) And then, gust, you know... search. Google is your friend!
Finding masters. If you do not know who your masters should be, and the thought of diving into the internet is too intimidating, well, here is a list of people I define as masters. Some may nod their heads in agreement, some will laugh at my choices, but, its a start. Remember, you do not have to agree with me, I’m not prescribing here, I’m merely giving you a place to start.
FASHION & GLAMOUR
- Irving Penn (My fave photographer of all time)
- Patrick Demarchelier
- Mario Testino
- Lara Jade
- Rankin (Prepare to get your mind blown)
- Steven Meisel
FETISH, EROTIC & NUDES (NSFW links, duh)
AUTOMOTIVE & COMMERCIAL
- Seagram Pearce (I assisted Seagram once. I learned more in spending one day with Seagram than I did in 18 months of college)
- Photigy (Maybe a bit more advanced)
FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
- Christo Muller (Morgaenart - might not be for sensitive viewers))
- Robert Mapplethorpe
- Jan Saudek (Again, not for the feint-hearted)
STREET / DOCUMENTARY
- Alfred Eisenstaedt (I wanted to follow in his footsteps until I discovered Newton)
- Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist street fashion is just to die for!)
- Vivian Maier
PEOPLE & PORTRAITURE
- Annie Leibovitz
- Bert Stern
- Lillith Leda (I love this woman! Had a beer with her once, I did not hear a word she said.)
FOOD & PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY
LANDSCAPES, SEASCAPES, CITYSCAPES
- Joe McNally
- Scott Kelby
- David Hobby (Strobist)
- Gry Garness (RIP - She succumbed to lung cancer, despite being a non-smoker. Life sucks sometimes)
- Joey L
- Calvin Hollywood
- Jill Greenberg
Have you noticed what is missing? I haven't got weddings, wildlife or pregnancy & child photogrpahy on my list. These are genres I'm just not interested in, and have no idea where to start looking, but Nick Brandt is one guy I know who does awesome wildlife!
Full disclosure: I am not in any way, shape or form affiliated to anyone I link to or mention. They do not know me from a bar of soap. I am not a shill for anyone. (If I was, I’d be able to afford a tank of fuel!)
I’m open to questions, find me on FB, comment here, or email me. I’m always happy to help.
The cover image? One of mine. I wasn’t very good until I started learning. More on that in edition #2.