So you received a fancy new DSLR or mirrorless camera for Christmas, or immediately went to the local electronics store with your wallet resembling George Costanzas’ from “Seinfeld,” filled to the brim with holiday gift cards, and picked yourself a kit that has everything you need to conqueror the photography trenches, including not one but two lenses. You may be asking yourself, why would people not buy this? Buying just a camera body when this is such a good deal, makes little sense when you're first starting out. If this is sounding anything remotely close to recent thoughts you’ve had, stick around. In all honesty, I wish I would have had a few of these pointers when I got started in photography.
Ah G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome), so many photographers are plagued with this medical mystery, but the moment you decide you're a photographer your money will vanish before your very eyes and undoubtedly fisheye lenses will appear. In 2017, you’d be hard-pressed to find a camera body that isn’t capable of capturing great images. If you want to invest your money in your craft, start with quality glass. It amazes me when new photographers lust over the latest camera bodies, but wonder why images they take are soft, or “their camera doesn't work when its dark.” Learn the capabilities of what you have, and work towards what you can best utilize. When I purchased my fisheye lens, it was a must have, nothing else mattered at that moment for me. Once I got it home, took a handful of horrible images, it sat for months before I finally realized G.A.S. had won. Don’t get me started on camera bags either. Better yet, watch this.
Work on composition above all else. Whether you are casually taking pictures with your iPhone or working with a $30,000 Hasselblad, how you compose your image will make or break your photo. A poorly composed image captured with even the best equipment at the end of the day will still look like nothing more than a snapshot. There are numerous different compositional rules you can follow. One of the most common is the rule of thirds. Imagine your image is divided into nine equal blocks, which would mean you have two vertical and two horizontal lines. Photographers who utilize the rule of thirds will typically put the most important elements of their scene where the points intersect.
Another compositional ratio many use is the Golden Spiral or Fibonacci Spiral, which is the result of lots of math. For those math nerds among us it's a/b=(a+b)/a=1.61803398875. Seriously, don’t write that down, most photo editors have this added as a crop overlay. You put your main subject along the tight coil, while the rest of the spiral leads your viewers through the image. Take your time, learn to see the spiral in your images.
Leading lines is another classic compositional element that can help lead your viewers through a scene. The Internet is littered with images of people being posed on or around railroad tracks, but have you ever thought why? Leading lines. That being said, it's dangerous, illegal, and has been overdone, so be original. In the image below, I utilized the low clouds moving through the valley as a leading line into the center of the image.
One last note when it comes to composing your image: think about what your photographing. For instance, I’m a 6’7” Jolly Green Giant. If I’m photographing a model who's 5’3” I should be on their level. Same goes for pet or child photography. Shooting from your POV may not be the most flattering look, so change it up.
Raw Versus JPEG
Oh, the debates that have raged since the beginning of the digital age on this very topic. Everyone has their opinion, there are pros and cons to each, but let's not hop on forums posting why one is better than another. This drives people crazy. Let’s treat this topic like religion or politics, kept to oneself unless in the company with friends or family. Do your own research, decide what you like, and go for it. Jared Polin has quite a few videos on this topic, so make sure to check out his website. For the record though, if you only shoot JPEG you're wrong.
Many photographers, if not most, have experimented with HDR (high dynamic range) photography at one point or another in their photography career. Can it look awesome? Absolutely. Trey Ratcliff over at Stuck In Customs proves time and time again the cool things you can do utilizing an HDR approach. However, it’s basically a given new photographers will absolutely over-bake their HDR images into the most unrealistic, oversaturated, noisy images and think they look awesome. I get it, I did it too. I’ve attempted to eradicate the majority of the images I posted in my HDR era from the inter-webs, but for example, I've provided one of my HDR “gems” below. See what I mean? Overdone, haloing around everything, and just overall bad. If you use HDR, think “light touch.”
Just because you own a camera does not mean you have to be in business. It’s a fact that some people who own cameras actually photograph for merely the enjoyment of it. I admit I got into this crazy business as a way to get my mind off work, and after several years realized this is ultimately what I wanted to do. That being said, give yourself time to learn different aspects of photography. Jumping in head first to photograph events and weddings the first two months after getting your camera is setting yourself up for failure, in my opinion. When you accept money from customers, there are expectations, and if you're not ready to meet those you’ll fail before you even start. While I’m on expectations, do yourself a favor when you're officially ready to accept customers: make a contract. Protecting yourself and your customers is a must in today's world. New photographers get drawn into the fun of the business, like making watermarks to "protect" their images, but when it comes to spending any money on the boring stuff, like contracts, they skirt the issue. Nothing good can come from you not having a contract.
While these topics are merely touching on points that books are dedicated to, remember above all else, enjoy your new camera, learn the craft, and make beautiful images. Mastering light is a journey, don't try to learn it all in one day. Fstoppers community, what other words of wisdom would you offer to new photographers?