We are the instant image generation. With smartphones in our pockets and a mindset to capture every memorable moment, we take photographs at a rate that estimates to 10 trillion worldwide each year.
In these days of social media and digital photography we’re peculiarly astute at taking images. We just snap and post. Photography is no longer an apprenticeship served over the years. Our phone cameras offer instant focus, face-tracking, auto white balance and exposure locking to get the best results. Instagram and other apps give us creative filters that only pro-shooters previously had access to.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the quality of photography has increased. The web is awash with disposable images. So if you plan on shooting for more professional results, perhaps creating shots for your website or business, then first steps advice from experienced photographers is indispensable.
Sites such as Digital Photography School and DIY Photography are packed with helpful tips, but by following a few simple rules, your skills can improve rapidly.
1. Keep your camera ready
Many professionals tell you to keep your camera with you at all times and with a smartphone that is easy to do. Having it handy to shoot in all kinds of situations gives you the opportunity to see how the equipment works in lots of different light conditions, when in motion, and when framing subjects, allowing you to gain experience at your convenience.
2. Photography education in your pocket
Our smartphones are the perfect photography starter for quick snaps or more complex shot set ups. Newer models have excellent photo sensors, optical image stabilisation and quick electronic shutters. Native camera apps and downloadable apps add pro-camera features like exposure control, white balance adjustment, viewing grids and other tools to sharpen up image capture. They’re the perfect tool to learn photography craft, allowing you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
3. Steady wins the race
Buy an inexpensive tripod. If like me you don’t have rock steady hands then a tripod takes shot quality to the next level. Smartphone tripod mounts are cheap and easy to find, while simple point and shoot compact cameras have a tripod screw built in. Use the timer function and step back for an even steadier shot.
4. Shooting is seeing creatively
Bryan Peterson in Learning To See Creatively notes there is still no camera that makes your compositions balanced and harmonious, or that recognises the decisive moment. Only you can do that. So start looking at familiar surroundings with fresh eyes. Catch an unexpected flash of light or contrast in shadow, a family member’s expression or simply flowers in the garden. It can change the way you look at the world.
5. Experiment with the controls
Smartphone settings are there to be played with. By trying out different colour or contrast effects, auto settings or filters you’ll discover styles you like and the subjects that they suit. Pick up the manual and find out just how powerful your simple compact camera really is. Both smartphone and compact cameras record exchangeable image file format (EXIF) data. This includes ISO, focal length, aperture and other technical information, allowing you to replicate any settings you need to achieve great results time after time. Take notes on the photographs you like and the settings each one used.
6. Embrace an online education
Flickr is a longstanding online photographic community that professionals use to share and sell their work. Browse through Flickr or the excellent 500px for tips, or just for inspiration. The online sites I mentioned above – DPS and DIY Photography – are just two of many great photo education sites online. Plus, pick up books on photography tuition at your local library or just flick through volumes of the greats, such as Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White or Bill Brandt, to see how they create iconic images.
“It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country.”
– Bill Brandt
Advice on buying your first piece of professional photography equipment can also be crucial. There are a dizzying array of cameras out there, both new and used. You don’t have to buy brand new if your budget is limited because the second-hand resale market is so strong. But it does help to know a bit more about why you might want to buy a DSLR or mirrorless camera, how many megapixels you need in a digital sensor and whether a fixed lens camera or one with interchangeable lenses is the best for the job. For a comprehensive run-down check out Jen Reviews excellent online guide on choosing the right camera.
7. Take photos daily
Try to take a photograph every day. If that’s too much then just remember to practise regularly. By applying new skills you’ll learn more quickly. Give yourself little assignments and make a list of shots you’d like to get. Watch the video below from pro photographer John Free. He considers practice an absolute essential for anyone getting to grips with photography.
8. Get Connected, Join a Community
Local photography groups, often led by professional or semi-pro photographers, are a fantastic asset. As are photowalks that allow you to get out and shoot urban areas or countryside, while meeting enthusiasts who will share tips or just their thoughts on life and photography. Groups encourage creativity, a little competition and friendship, giving you the motivation to continue to learn and grow.