A friend of mine once quoted,
“The quickest way to make money with photography is to sell your camera”
Food for thought. . .
What I’m about to share with you is most of what I know in my heart about what makes a good photograph. It is something instilled so deep that I cannot simply give it away. It isn’t merely a gift either; it is a privilege, a pleasure, and an everyday pursuit of mastery. Keep in mind that these basic principles I am about to share are applicable in most if not all situations regardless of what type of camera you may have. Though I will say owning a camera with manual settings will reap the most benefits and most of what I will discuss pertains to digital photography while not so much as film.
Composition and Balance is key.
To obtain optimum exposure, the aperture and shutter speed must be balanced.
To tell a story, your composition must have depth.
These are two main goals of a photographer: know them well.
At first these steps may seem slow to follow one after another as you think about what to do next, but after awhile they will start to become second nature as you practice and you will begin to follow them almost subconsciously and in a much more fluid way. Before long you may find your self adjusting settings without even realizing it and had already taken the perfect shot.
There is a religious saying in digital photography of mine that goes,
“Always shoot RAW and always shoot manual”
One reason: Control.
Control: The more control you have over your camera, the light, and your subject, the better your photography will turn out. However, we cannot always be in as much control as we would like so we improvise, adapt, and prepare for what we cannot imagine because anything can happen and anything that can go wrong will.
Confidence: Be confident in taking your photos; make it your passion, and let the resonance of your passion swell and splash amongst everything around you. Let the very nature you capture hear you proclaim its beauty and how much you enjoy taking its picture.
Organization: look for patterns, symmetry, texture, lines, and depth. Photography already being a flat medium requires you to make it deeper than a piece of paper or an image on a screen. Naturally, photography tells a story—realistically, your composition only imitates life but it still can transport your audience only as effectively as your composition will allow. Each of the elements stated above can be used to direct attention and create a field of vision that encompasses the desired subject matter and story you wish to share.
Balance: Your exposure is based on two things: 1. Aperture and 2. Shutter speed. Let the dial in your view finder be your guide and find your balance between your chosen aperture and the shutter speed. Be willing to adapt and be knowledgeable of what works best in varying situations. When in the dark, the iris of our eye increases in size to let in more light and in direct sunlight it decreases in size; so should our camera’s aperture when adjusting to these situations. Timing of an exposure will also be crucial so be prepared to adjust your shutter speed as well and know that the longer the exposure the more motion blur will occur which can be both negative and positive depending on the shot.
White balance is also important. Understand that Sunlight and Artificial Light give off two different colors and we need to adjust our cameras accordingly–although there are automated settings, they don’t always turn out the best. The best way to avoid taking pictures with the wrong white balance is to know the proper settings and to shoot in RAW. Camera RAW samples an image at all temperatures of light (among other variable settings including exposure) and saves them into the memory allowing the user to manipulate the white balance later in post production.
Technology: Digital cameras are rather smart and have very helpful automated settings; however, they still lack the artistic vision of the complex human mind. The better we understand not how the technology works but rather how to use the technology to our advantage is most essential. Understanding ISO ratings for instance may help in low lit situations but also understanding that adjusting these settings can affect the quality of your image is also important. The higher your ISO, the more sensitive your sensor will become; the more sensitive your sensor becomes, the more likely it will make mistakes and create noise in your image degenerating the quality but allowing you to see better in the dark. For bright sunlight, try to use the lowest ISO possible, and for dark situations, use an ISO rating that develops the least amount of noise but still gives a bright and clear enough image. Touching back on automated settings, be able to know how to use both automatic and manual focus, and know that using “aperture priority” or “shutter priority” vs. going completely manual can save a lot of time and guess work–remember, “Balance is key.”
Creativity and Ascetic: Although art may be subjective, know where your inspiration comes from and why. Then let all that influences your life flow through you with ease and allow it to navigate your way into an artistic vision with an intending purpose. Use all that surrounds you, both in the past and present making note and borrowing what you can from others along the way. There is nothing new under the sun, so do not be afraid of originality or taking another’s idea—only be prepared to use your perfectly unique conscience to take your creativity and make it your own.
Make Mistakes: One of the only real ways to learn is to fail and to fail miserably. What’s important though is that you learn from your mistakes and keep on keeping on. It’s truly one of the best ways to learn because you can only get better as long as you elect to. And experimentation is always allowed. Though balance has been described up until this point as a critical aspect of a good photograph, allow your muse to turn the balance upside down every once in a while and reveal the world in a different light and with new perspective.
Collaboration: As much as it is important to have a sense of independence, self-reliance, and self-respect, know who your community is and let them be a part of your artistic family. Although the thought of competition at times may seem brutal, your willingness to collaborate and learn from others will be most beneficial along with a diverse network of talented individuals who will refer your credibility.
Remember to be in control and confident about your work; you must be passionate! Be organized and balanced; you must be ready for anything! Know that technology is every bit a part of our organic body and understand its limit of creativity–being creative is believing you are unique and capable of incredible imaginative vision that only your conscience possesses and be willing to share it with the entire world. Know these things, understand these things, and believe in your abilities.
Finally, wisdom comes from experience so go and do.
Of course, I wish you the best and godspeed.