As part of running my own business, I have had to learn how to take my own photographs. Sure, I could pay a professional, but as a small business with a small budget, this option just doesn't exist....so here are my top tips for helping you to take better photographs, and some of the stuff I have learnt along the way. There is so much information out there as to how to take great photographs so I have given a quick overview of things I have felt helpful to know.
Equipment. I could absolutely tell you at this point that you should go out and invest in the most expensive equipment you can afford, however there is no point buying a beautiful professional lens, if you can't invest in learning how to take the photograph in the first place. It is more important, that you understand the affect of light, composition and camera settings has on your photography first before you take the next step of spending money. In the end, I did invest in a couple of lovely lenses, but not before I knew it was worth the investment. Plus, you can also use your phone nowadays to take great photographs, yet still learning about light, composition and settings along the way.
FYI, I shoot with Canon and I own a 24-70mm zoom lens and 50 mm, 1.2 fixed lens. I have recently upgraded my phone to a Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which just so happens to have a Leica Lens built in, and with the option of a Standard, wide and telephoto set-up, it's incredible . I also own an Olympus Pen, yet I just haven't really ever taken the time to get to know my way around it. I learnt on a Canon, so anything else just feels a little alien to me.
Join a photography club, attend photography workshops or sign up to a course. Meeting with like-minded individuals who have an interest in photography will help you gain a greater insight, share knowledge and basically practice your skills until you get better. Instagram is a brilliant source of inspiration, it means you can access some of the best photographers and see what they get up to. Personally, I do not take nearly enough photographs, so its certainly advice that I should also listen to.
Camera Settings - I don't know about you, but I am not one for reading instruction manuals. Unfortunately, in order to take great images, there is a whole heap of technical stuff that you need to try and get your head around. If you own or are thinking of owning a DSLR, then there will always be an auto mode, which will allow you to simply point and shoot. However, you are letting the camera make the decisions and quite frankly that is a tad boring. Sometimes it can be helpful to place the camera onto auto mode just to see the settings that the camera has chosen, however always remember the camera doesn't know anything about your subject i.e. a group of moving toddlers or a very still whippet. Do you want some of your background to appear blurry or do you need all of your background to be in focus. So, my advice is to switch to manual as quickly as you can.
The exposure triangle is something you may have heard about. It is basically how the camera determines the exposure, using the variables of aperture, ISO and shutter speed.
- Aperture is the term used to describe the opening through the lens to which the light travels. I still struggle to say this out-loud, as it's all a bit topsy turvy. However, the wider the opening of the aperture, obviously more light is let in. The more closed the aperture, the less light is let in. If you set your camera at a high f-stop, the opening will be small and therefore let less light in. If you set the f-stop low, the opening will be wide and let more light in. See what I mean. The aperture also determines the focus of the image. If I am doing product photography, I like to have a really sharp focus on the product I am shooting, with some blurred background, so I often shoot at F1.2-2.4, but if I am shooting a picture of the whole shop, then I may shoot at F13-16.
- Shutter Speed: Shutter speed refers to how long your camera’s shutter is left open, basically how long the camera spends taking a photograph. The shutter acts as a curtain of sorts, and opens and closes, letting in light. The slower the shutter speed, the longer the “curtain” is left open and the more light that is allowed in. However, as well as determining how sharp the image is, the shutter speed also affects your camera sensor’s ability around motion. If I am in the shop trying to take a photograph where there is very limited light, I have to have a set a high f-stop, which lets less light in, meaning that to balance it out, I have to get a low shutter speed, so this is where a tripod comes in handy, as you get camera shake anything above 1/60, 1/70 (for me anyway)
Shutter speeds are measured in seconds, or fractions of a second. For example, a shutter speed of 1/100 means 1/100th of a second, or 0.01 seconds. This is also known as the "exposure time", because it's the amount of time the sensor is exposed to light.
- ISO - The camera is a very clever thing, in that it can add more pixels into a photograph and make it look lighter than it is. When you do start investing in more expensive equipment, you will start to see that the better the camera the more options you have. The optimum ISO is 100, however often when you are in low light conditions, the ISO has to be bumped up, however this will affect how 'noisy' or 'grainy' the image may appear in post production.
- White Balance - White balance. all forms of light, such as natural, artificial, low light, flash light, lamp light can all affect the colour of your photographs, here you can change the white balance, depending on the light. I actually always set my white balanace to auto AWB, as whenever I change it up, I don't seem to get the affect I want. A question for a professional, when I next see one....
Composition is such an important element to making sure your photograph is a successful one. Composition can be applied to art, music, writing and photography. There are of course things that can be taught, however it will require you to really look at an image and think about why it looks better one way vs. another. Thinking about what you want in an image, and how you want it framed are all things to be considered when it comes to composition. Proportion, Focus, Balance, Rules of Third, Leading Lines, Frames, Negative Space, Perspective, I could go on, as you know I like to...
There is so much info out there, however I have included my take on a few of the key ones.
Rules of Thirds - You may think placing the subject in the centre will get you the best image, however by moving your subject to one side of the photo, you begin to create interest. The rule of thirds simply divides an image into a 3×3 grid, and by placing the subject on one of the intersections, it creates more interest.
Negative Space - Basically, less is more. There is something powerful about a large blank space, where the eye can be drawn to the one thing you want to draw it to. There is something powerful about leaving a large, blank space in an image.
Perspective - It's easy to take one perspective of a subject, but what happens if you kneel down and take the photograph from a different perspective. Think about different view points that you can take the photograph from. Play around the subject, then you will see what really works. Try not to think you have the right image after a couple of go's, carry experimenting with different view points.
Now, if you thought the information I have already shared is complicated, the affects of light on your image takes it to another level. It affects the mood, tone and atmosphere of your photograph. I will also say, that having had the opportunity to attend a photography workshop last year with 'real' photographers, it's how they deal with the different aspects of light that sets them apart. They have often started their careers as Assistant to a Photographer so they have learnt all there is know about lighting and the options that exist within an artificial environment. Other than a reflector and a diffuser, I work entirely with natural light, as the technical know-how of lighting requires an extensive amount of knowledge, and experience, something I don't have at this stage. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a youtube video to show how you might go about it.
I have a set-up which allows me to create photographs with a purely white background, but when it comes to technical equipment, that is the extent of it. I had a photographer take some pics of the shop a couple of years ago (for Getty Images), and the lighting they brought on to the shoot was quite something else.
It may be that you want your photograph to be lighter, (over exposed), or darker (under exposed). You can set your light meter to help you create the exposure that you are aiming for. You can also edit this in post production. That's why it is important to become more aware of light during the day. I tend to avoid taking any shots when the light is at its' harshest. I prefer to take in the morning or mid-afternoon. Shadows can also be used to great affect to create a more three-dimensional look. The shop is mostly plunged in darkness, so that has been a bit of a challenge to take consistently good product images. This area is so new to me, and I am continually learning.
There are different ways of lighting the subject you are photographing. It can be Back-lit, Front-Lit or Side-Lit. My preferred light source for product photography is to use a light source from the side. I love the look it creates. Side lighting allows the light to fall at an angle, which helps give a dimension to the subject. Front lighting is lovely for portraiture. I find back-lighting the most difficult to manage, but it can create beautiful silhouettes.
You really can take quite an average photograph and turn it in to something quite special using editing programmes. I use Adobe Lightroom, which I have on my pc and as an app on my phone, which allows you to edit pics directly on your phone before you post or upload. In the early days I noticed that a number of people via Instagram offer presets to download. I have never really understand this concept, as its best if you can create your own style, but by using a preset (either somebody else's or your own) that you have created does give your photographs a consistent look and feel. I have never managed to get around to this, so I edit each photo manually as I go along. You can obviously edit pics via a number of different apps prior to posting on Instagram, but again you need to be mindful of the filters provided, as not every image should just have the same filter provided.