Introduction – How to Become a Better Photographer
If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably, at one point or another, asked yourself, “how can I become a better photographer?” There are many ways in which to make this a reality, and you’re more than likely to hear the same rehashed answer again and again… you know… “practice makes perfect”. Though, I prefer to reference the more accurate quote from Vince Lombardi – best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 60s; he said simply, “practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” I tend to agree, because, from personal experience, you may practice day and night, but if you’re practicing the wrong thing, or even the right thing in the wrong way, your craft is sure to become somewhat stagnant after some time.
So, with this in mind, where do you begin? Well, you can study graphs & charts, videos, books, etc… but, until you have hands-on experience, it’s hard to head towards mastering your craft, or photography in this instance. After reviewing my work, clients often ask me, “wow, so where did you go to school?” It’s rarely ever, “did you go to school?” There’s usually an automatic assumption that I most certainly must have had some sort of formal training to be where I am today. However, that isn’t the case; I did, indeed, teach myself photography, and it wasn’t easy. I sought out every resource that I could, I learned my niche, and where my strengths and weakness lie. In this article, I will at least better point you in a proper direction to get you started. =)
So, what camera should you get? All too often, there are those that suggest that “the best camera is the one you have with you.” This is true, and relevant to an extent, however there are many, many things that your iPhone simply can’t teach you. Sure, you can practice your composition, but you don’t have much manual control over anything, so it’s hard to learn the things that you need to become a better photographer. Granted, I did recently hear of an iOS app (Manual?) that will allow you more control, for what it’s worth.
My first legitimate and substantial digital camera was an entry-level Canon DSLR. I think, at the time, I bought it used from eBay with an 18-55 kit lens for about $600. I worked a part-time job (though, full-time hours, due to the lack of employees), and saved up for a month in order to purchase this. It was a big deal for me at the time, and I can safely say that it was one of the better purchases I’ve ever made in my life. It wasn’t anything special, but it was an interchangeable lens camera with both auto & manual controls. That summer, I learned everything that I could about that camera. I read the manual inside and out, watched every YouTube review / instructional video that was available, and I practiced by way of street photography every free day that I could muster. I loved that APS-C sensor camera like a mother loves her child.
Eventually, during my days of non-stop street photography, and thousands and thousands of shots later, I realized quickly that my true passion was photographing people. I had tried landscapes, night photography, animals… you name it… but my very favorite images were always of fascinating characters and interesting people – both the beautiful and the bizarre.
My first real lens that I bought, outside of the kit lens, was Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.8 II prime lens. I got this one for $100 new! People… this lens is one of the best deals in all of photography, in my honest opinion. If you’re just starting out, and you want quality images for a super price, then look no further than this lens that is known in the photo world as the Nifty Fifty and Plastic Fantastic. It’s a light, plastic-y, cheap lens that delivers incredible performance. I still own this lens, and it holds a deep place in my heart. And, at f/1.8, it’s great for lower-light photography. On my APS-C Canon camera, it was equivalent to about 80mm on a 35mm Full Frame camera. So, I shot headshots and portraits for about a year using this wonderful lens.
I had a lot of fun photographing these people on the street, but something deep down inside of me wanted to shoot people in a controlled environment; I had to try my hand at lighting. The very next thing that I saved up for was a flash (Canon 430EX II speedlite), and a super-cheap shoot-through/bounce umbrella from Amazon. I figured that, if I couldn’t get something interesting with this minimal lighting setup, then there was absolutely no need to move forward. I wanted to master everything about this one-light umbrella setup. After some time, I got some great stuff. I soon had a desire to get some fill light on the opposite side of the subjects’ face, but I wasn’t about to spend even more hard-earned money on another light, so I went down to the local dollar store and picked up a white piece of reflective cardboard from the school supplies section. I think I paid something like $2 USD. But let me tell you… this was an invaluable asset to my photography kit. I learned various lighting techniques and positions just by bouncing my one speedlite from the umbrella to the white cardboard. I started by shooting a bunch of headshots and portraits against solid-colored walls (white, if I could help it). And, you know what? I got some fantastic shots… some of which are still considered by many to be my best shots, to this day.
Let me stress something: You don’t need to spend a fortune in order to capture beautiful images! Don’t listen to anyone. Many people also eventually catch G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). And, believe me, I’ve been guilty of it myself. But try to be nice to your bank account, and acquire only those things that you absolutely need. When you’re ready to advance your photography to the next level, then you will know when the time comes. All told, after purchasing my DSLR, my speedlite, my umbrella, and my 50mm lens, I spent just north of $1,000 USD, but I pieced together my kit one by one, over a period of time, until I had something I could work with. I don’t regret a single thing.
I will delve further into the exposure triangle in a future article, but I will outline it here. What is the exposure triangle, you may be wondering? Well, it’s one of the most important parts of photography. The triangle encompasses aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. There are plenty of mathematics that go into obtaining the perfect exposure of an image, but understanding the basics of this triangle will put you ahead of the rest. There are many photographers who simply shoot and never learn the mechanics of their camera. Learning the exposure triangle will, indeed, make you a much better photography in every regard. There are many resources that I will get into in the next section that will help you conquer this mountain, but I will briefly define each one:
• Aperture: relates to the amount of light that is allowed to pass through the lens (aperture blades) to the sensor. The aperture also controls the depth of field.
• Shutter Speed: controls the amount of time (exposure time) in which the sensor is exposed to the light.
• ISO: controls the sensitivity of the sensor to the light
Please note that each one of these affects the next in terms of the overall exposed image. For instance, one may obtain the same exposure by gaining a stop of light by opening up the aperture, while, at the same time, lowering the ISO a stop to reduce the light. There’s a certain balance that must be achieved once the correct exposure is identified. Again, there is so much to learn about the exposure triangle that I will not get into in this particular article, but I wanted to point you in a good direction. =)
There are sooooo many free resources for you to choose from to learn photography. There really is no excuse not to learn everything that you are able to. In order to learn the photography basics, however, you must first learn the basics of your particular model of camera. The best bet is your Owner’s Manual that should have come with your camera. If not, then your camera provider of choice more than likely will have a downloadable PDF from their official website.
When I first started, I grabbed every magazine and book that I could get my hands on. Books can be expensive, so I would just head into my local Barnes & Noble and read them there if I had to. I did whatever it took to accumulate the necessary knowledge, and then I was able to expand my horizons from there. One of my most-recommended resources would be YouTube. If you have internet access and are allowed/capable of streaming lots of videos, then definitely don’t miss that opportunity! There are tons of passionate photographers, both informative and entertaining, that will more than set you on the right path.
If you can, seek out local clubs/groups, photography expos, workshops, etc. It’s great to network and meet other like-minded photographers, as well. Once you have an idea of what it is that you both want… and need to do, then there’s nothing left to stop you. Remember: perfect practice makes perfect. And also know that, as a photographer, you will never stop learning, and that’s the magic of this art! Now, get out there and shoot! =)
Introduction – How to Become a Better Photographer