Category: Tutorial

Becoming a better photographer – step 1

Becoming a better photographer – step 1

Introduction

The topics in this article have been covered in previous articles to some degree, however, before we can progress we must cover the first step.  As with any journey, we must take the first step, but like a journey where we must walk, we first must learn to walk.  I will cover the learning to walk in photographic terms in the next section, but first, let me give you a brief introduction.

I got started in photography in about 1982.  I don’t clearly remember the date but the oldest dated photographs I have are slides from 1982.

Seaworld 1982 – Kodak Kodachrome Slide film

As with most of us, I started with photographs like that one above.  From what I can remember, the photograph above was shot using a Canon AE-1 with a telephoto lens (I don’t even remember what lens except I believe it was something like an 80-200).  At this point, I had not had any real training and was learning by the seat of my pants.  There was no internet, as we know it today, there was no YouTube.  It was all classes, books, and magazines.  Clearly, I had some things to learn.

I stumbled along for the next few years.  In fact, for many years.

The Plaza, Kansas City, MO 1983, Kodak Kodachrome slide film

While my photography did improve later, the above is not an example of better, I did not truly improve until I decided to get some real training, in 2011.

In 2011 I signed up for an online correspondence course from a fairly well known long established photography school.  The education was not cheap but was less expensive than going back to college.  It was and still is a self-paced program.  It is one of those you get out of it what you put into it.  I read and studied every lesson, in detail.  I completed each and every assignment.  I completed the optional courses.  I passed each written test and submitted my photographs for my final.

Before you could advance to the next block of instruction you had to pass a written exam, taken online and submit photographs for review by an instructor.  You could not advance until the instructor sent your critiques and reviews from you photographic project, this was to ensure you understood and could implement the material from that block of instruction.  The first critique I got was harsh, almost brutal.  I listened to the audio recording of the instructor ripping my work several times, carefully reviewing the images I submitted.

This was one of the first photographs I submitted that got ripped to shreds, as it should have been.  I have kept it as a reminder.

By the end of the course, I was doing much better.

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I have reached a point where a session like the one above doesn’t intimidate me.  I knew it was going to be a large group, with dim lighting.  I was prepared to handle all of that.  I didn’t have to ask for advice on what lens to use, how to set up the lighting, how to work with the large group, what my “settings should be to get everyone in focus”.

Am I where I want to be?  No.  I want the photographs I take today to be better than yesterday and the photographs tomorrow to be better than today.  I constantly practice the basics.

Learning to walk

As I mentioned in the introduction, the first step in our journey is learning to walk.  Applying this to photography, I work with getting new photographers, and many more experienced ones, understanding the basics of exposure, focus, and depth of field.  Once we have those basics down where they are second nature we work towards more complex concepts such as lighting and composition.  One of the very last things we discuss and work on is editing and post processing.  Why?  As the old saying goes; “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.”

In a previous article, Exposure and Light meters, I wrote about learning to read and use your camera’s built-in light meter to achieve a balanced exposure (one that the camera believes is neither over or under exposed).  Once you understand that concept you can now begin to work towards defining a “proper exposure” (one that is exposed as you, the photographer intended it to be exposed).

While learning to walk we also need to obtain a basic understanding of the exposure triangle, focus, and depth of field.

In subsequent articles, I will cover each of these topics more thoroughly, as each is worthy of a full article in their own rights.  The “Reader’s Digest” version often only serves to confuse new people more than they are already.

To read more about photographic exposure, I often recommend reading Cambridge in Colour’s Camera Exposure .  This article will give you some insight in what goes into exposure and the exposure triangle.

As part of the “Learning to Walk” I would also highly recommend taking a class.  A real class where you have personal interaction with an instructor.  I can be online as long as you have a way to contact and speak with an instructor, gain personal feedback from an instructor.  Photographers, especially new photographers, are almost always willing to invest in new lenses, camera bodies, or other fancy new gadgets believing those will improve their photography when, in fact, they take with them the same skillset.  Often, it makes matters worse rather than improve them because the new camera body or lens may actually require better technique.

Assignment for the next article.

Your assignment is to research controlling the exposure of your camera, refer to your camera’s operating manual and read the article at Cambridge in Colour on Camera Exposure.

 

Exposure and Light meters

Exposure and Light meters

DeJur Dual Pro circa 1952

Recently I posed a question on social media.  I must admit I intentionally attempted to mislead people.  My question was, “Do you use a light meter when you take photographs?”  Most of those that replied answered no.  The fact is, virtually every one of them uses a light meter, they just didn’t realize it.  Why most are shooting in some sort of “auto” mode.  I will even count Program (P), Shutter priority  (S or Tv), and Aperture priority (A or Av) as quasi-auto modes.  In using those modes you set (or can adjust) a value and the camera determines a corresponding value (i.e. I set the shutter speed the camera will set the aperture).

This automation has allowed us to get somewhat lazy and we forget or never knew our camera was using its built-in light meter to make a portion of the settings to achieve a balanced exposure.

Let me digress for a moment and let us first discuss the components of photographic exposure.  We will start with the exposure triangle.

Three settings control exposure.  ISO (film speed or sensor sensitivity), shutter speed, and aperture.  If you change one setting you will have to adjust another to maintain a balanced exposure.  Think of a balance scale, we want both sides of the scale to be equal and the indicator to be on the zero mark.

For the sake of this discussion, we will leave are ISO constant and will only discuss changing shutter speed and/or aperture.

In shutter priority mode, the photographer sets the shutter speed.  When we press the shutter release button the camera will do many things which will include, activate the built-in light meter and take a reading.  Based on that reading the camera will determine how to set the aperture and then select that aperture for the photographer.  In aperture priority, it is just the opposite, with the camera selecting the shutter speed based on the aperture set by the photographer.

While this is a great system it also has some drawbacks which can lead to blurry or under/over exposed photographs if the camera can’t make enough of an adjustment based on its or the lens’ limitations.  If the photographer doesn’t know how to read the built-in meter display.

So what does this meter display look like?

As seen looking through the viewfinder

In fact, when we look through the viewfinder your camera will display a lot of information, but for this article, we will discuss the meter reading which is the scale between the 2.0 and ISO 100.  Below is a more isolated view.

When we have a balanced exposure the indicator will be in the center which can be a zero (0) or an arrow.  Over/Under exposure is indicated when the highlighted bar moves towards the plus sign (+) for overexposure or the minus (-) for underexposure.

Back in the days of old, when I started in photography we had to learn to read the meter because our cameras of the time were manual, not “auto” or scene modes.  We set everything, including focus.  The photo below is what the meter in my first camera looks like, yes I still have it and it still works.

Let us examine the meter above.  We set the ISO (often referred to as ASA at the time) based on what film we loaded.  We then set the lens to the aperture we wanted to use and the meter gave us the shutter speed.  Some meters were merely an indicator with a “zero” line and the goal was to get the camera set to nearly zero (unless you were wanting to specifically over or under expose.

Learn to read the meter and you will learn to see light and have much more creative control over your exposures.

Next time I will talk about metering modes.

 

 

Learning to see light

Learning to see light

 

Photography is all about light.  I have often talked about learning to see light.  Seeing light is not the same as noticing whether or not it is dark or the lamp is one, or the sun is out.  Learning to see the light is more about seeing the direction of light, the shadows, how the light enhanced form, shape, and texture.  I have often said, there is no such thing as BAD light that I hear so many photographers talk about, the conversation goes something like this; “I can’t go out and take photographs right now, the light is bad”.  To me, this is the same as saying, “I can’t go out and take photographs right now because I don’t have a clue how to work with this light”.  In my mind, there are just different qualities of light.

A few years ago, I wrote about a challenge in a Facebook group and linked to an exercise to help new photographers learn to see light.  Only a couple of people really tried the exercise.  I am sure they thought it to be stupid and pointless.  The exercise was to take five (5) photographs of an egg, yes an egg.  The rule is once you place the egg you cannot move it.  You can only move the light.

Here is an excellent video that talks about this exercise.  Please watch the video.

Once you have finished this video I challenge you to do this exercise yourself.  It will help you understand how to see the light.  Try different light sources and modifiers.

I often practice this exercise and use a variety of objects as the subject, including real people.  I also have a styrofoam head when I cannot get a real person.  I move the lights, use reflectors, light modifiers, etc. to practice the new concepts and to keep my skill sharp on light positioning, power, etc.

 

Learn to Critique your own work

Learn to Critique your own work

As a photographer, it is important to learn to critique your own work.  It is also important to know your audience when sharing your work, especially as a good example.  I saw this happen recently in a comment from a professional photography organizations recent post on social media.  The post was the image the image below that the organization shared on a social media site.

One of the comments to the photograph above talked about the disappointment in brides with their cheap photographers after the wedding.  A reply to that comment was, “Did a wedding free didn’t do a perfect job, it was family (and portfolio work) I’m still a student. Not claiming to be great but, not everyone cheap screws it completely up. LOL Below… Proof”

Here is the “proof”

The photographer is correct when they said, “it isn’t great”.   It isn’t even good.  This photograph, to me, looks like something I could do with my cellphone and an Instagram filter.  To me, and I’m certain others who are members of this professional organization feel the same.  This is an example of “you get what you pay for.”

If you are not sure what I am talking about let us analyze this image.

The both the bride and groom appear to be wearing white, which has a very distinct color cast.  (Note: I looked through other photographs this photographer took of this same couple and the color cast varies throughout the images.  In some cases, it is very blue and in others, it is almost green.)  The vignette, oh the vignette.  It is way too dark.  I know, it is artistic and to that I say bullshit!  (Sorry for the language but at the moment I cannot think of any better term to use).  All the objects on the table serve as a distraction to the subject, which is clearly intended to be the happy couple kissing.  The skin tones appear to be way off unless they are orange, and I am still trying to figure out if the guy behind the couple is embarrassed or what since he is looking down and apparently laughing.

I believe I need to be clear here.  I am not a wedding photographer.  I have photographed some weddings and what I have learned is they are a very specialized type of photojournalistic portrait event photography.  I also would like to say I feel for the photographer, especially after reviewing other examples of their work.  This photographer, in my opinion, has no business taking on such an important task, for free or not.  I know that sounds harsh but I cannot silently sugarcoat my thoughts.  I know some of you will take great offense to these comments and try to defend this photograph.  I also know some of you will look at some of my photographs and pick them apart in an attempt to show I have no business giving my opinion.  The reason I feel bad for this photographer is this, they don’t realize how to critique their own work and compare it to the work done by professional wedding photographers, I don’t mean the weekend warrior types I mean the people who truly are experienced, well trained, highly skilled wedding pros which I am sure you can find and know who I mean.  This photographer has put this piece of work “out there” as an example of “good” in a forum of these professionals.  Is it any wonder why some of these highly trained and skilled professionals get all worked up about some “newbies”?

The lesson I would like to give us here is this, know your limitations.  Know your skill level.  Compare your work to those who are highly skilled and welled trained because that is the level you are attempting to measure yourself by ESPECIALLY when you are attempting to do the work of a highly skilled well trained professional.  By the way, I know my limitations and thus I don’t do weddings.  The weddings I have done I discouraged the bride and groom from using me.

So, how do you learn how to really analyze your own work?  Take a class from a real person where that person can and does critique your work.  Listen to others who actually know what they are doing and don’t become offended.  Also, realize that your work will be critiqued whether or not you want it to be done.

Step 2 to becoming a photographer – Stop buying gear

Step 2 to becoming a photographer – Stop buying gear

I know this one sounds odd because photography requires gear.  Here is the list of gear you need.

  1. Camera with a lens.
  2. Film or memory card for digital photography.
  3. Yourself.

Learn to use the equipment you have and start with these three basic things.  Why, because you don’t know what you need to invest in until you have an idea of what you need and what your current equipment cannot provide for you.

My advice is to ask yourself what a new piece of equipment will provide you that your current equipment cannot provide.  If your answer is something like, “sharper images because my photos look out of focus” there is probably another cause to the blurry or out of focus images that a new piece of equipment is not going to solve.

Far too often I have seen new photographers buy gear without knowing what they needed and ended up replacing previously purchased gear or having gear sit on a shelf never getting used.  To me, this is a waste of money that could be better spent on needed training or saved to buy what the photographer really needs.  Trust me on this one, I have done it myself.

 

 

Step 1 to becoming a photographer

Step 1 to becoming a photographer

In this article, I will discuss in detail how and why to shoot in manual mode.  Some of this may seem harsh and blunt but bear with me.

I mentioned in So you want to be a photographer, the first step I recommend is getting out of auto exposure mode and I mean total manual as in the “M”.

“Why do you say that?  I’ve read others say to learn in auto or start in program or aperture mode.” Some may even say, “You’ll miss shots”.  First of all, you should not repeat should not be shooting for clients paying or not until you understand what you are doing and why.  I know that sounds harsh and like I am attempting to discourage others from working towards their goals and dreams.  I am not wanting to discourage anyone.  I want to help others from failures and undo pressure to offer professional quality photographs until they are ready.

We could commonly refer to manual exposure mode as the “creative” mode.  This mode will allow us, the photographer, to decide how we want our exposure to look and not the camera attempting to guess based upon its program.

Let’s take a look at two examples to see the difference between manual mode and auto mode.

This was shot in manual mode.  I metered, using the camera’s built-in reflected light meter on the brightest part of the lamp shade using the spot metering mode which we will discuss in another article.  To obtain a good or balanced exposure the settings were adjusted to 1/60th a second shutter speed (since I was using a 50mm lens I did not want to go below that speed.  We will talk more about that later in this article), the aperture was set to f/2.5 at ISO 400.

As you can see we get light from the window on the right to light our subject giving it shape and dimensions.

 

Manual Mode

The image below was shot on auto mode.  While we have a good exposure this image is much less dramatic, at least in my opinion.  It looks flat due to the built-in flash firing.  The camera decided the settings, 1/60th of a second, aperture at f/4, and ISO 400.

You can also see we have a hard shadow caused by the flash firing.

The camera decided it needed to use flash.

In using manual I was able to decide how the image looked.  In this image, I wanted to use the light coming in from the window to light the subject (the lamp shade).  While emphasizing the shadows from the light fall-off and a shallow depth of field (how much of the scene is in focus) to give less emphasis to the wall behind the lamp.  Much of this creative thought the camera could not know.

You may be asking yourself, how do you know and learn all that?  It is learned by shooting in manual mode.  Practice, review, adjust, practice more.

Learn how to adjust exposure in manual mode.

I mentioned in the section above that I used the camera’s built-in meter to measure the light to adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  Most modern cameras that allow you the option to shoot in manual mode have a built-in light meter that measures reflected light (how much light a subject or scene reflects back to the camera).

The meter reading is displayed as a bar graph similar to the image below.

If you look through the viewfinder you will see a series of numbers at the bottom.  When you are not in an auto mode, A or Av, S or Tv, P, or M (manual) you will see the meter bar graph.  You will also notice a larger hash in the center (often marked with a zero) with  + or – signs (some models will also have numbers).  As the graph moves towards the plus (+) sign the image is overexposed or as it moves towards the minus ( – ) sign underexposed.  When centered, it is said to be a balanced exposure, neither under or overexposed.

There are three settings to adjust the exposure in manual.

  • You can change the shutter speed.  A faster shutter speed opens and closes the shutter faster allowing less light to strike the sensor while a slower shutter speed will allow the shutter to stay open longer allowing more light to fall on the sensor.
  • You can also adjust the aperture, the opening in the lens allowing light into the camera.  A larger number aperture is a smaller opening and a smaller number is a larger opening (Think fractions, 1/4 is larger than 1/16).
  • You can adjust ISO (film speed) to make the sensor (film) more sensitive to light.  A higher ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to light.

These three settings are often referred to as the exposure triangle.  We can adjust exposure by using changing one or more of the three settings.

Shutter speed.

The inside of our camera is light proof.  The mechanism controlling this is the shutter, think of it as a door or light proof curtain on a window.  The shutter can be opened for a fraction of a second to seconds (or longer in a special setting called “bulb”).  We are most commonly operating in fractions of seconds, as with the photographs above of the lamp shade where the shutter was open 1/60th of a second.

As a word of caution your shutter speed should be, at least, equal to the focal length of the lens you are using, or the current zoom setting.  For example, in the photographs above of the lamp I used a 50mm lens so I needed a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second or faster to hand hold the camera to prevent what is referred to as camera shake.  Camera shake will make an image blurry looking.

To see the shutter in action watch the video below.

 

Amazing isn’t it?

The shutter can also be used creatively to freeze motion or to blur motion (we will discuss this in more detail in another article).

Aperture.

Aperture is the opening of a lens (not the same as the front element).  

As you can see in the photograph above, the front of the lens is larger than the aperture setting, in this case, this is a 50mm Nikon f/1.8 lens set to f/5 (the aperture setting is written as f/ followed by a number.  I will not go into the why it is written like this for this article).  Aperture will also control the depth of field, how much of a subject or scene is in sharp focus.  The smaller the opening (larger number) the greater the depth of field.  For example, f/11 will have more depth of field than f/4.

Think fractions.  For example 1/4th is larger than 1/11th.

While the shutter controls how long the “window” is open allowing light into the sensor, the aperture determines how large of a window we are using.

ISO or film speed.

ISO is a designation on how sensitive the film or digital sensor is to the light.  The higher the ISO number the more sensitive the film or digital sensor (Unlike film the digital sensor isn’t really “more” sensitive to the light but rather amplifies the signal created by the light much like an amplifier makes a sound louder).

Putting these settings to use.

As you can see, each of the three components can be used singularly or in conjunction with each other to control the exposure of a scene.

Here are the steps to use:

  1. Set your camera to M(anual)
  2. Look through the viewfinder while pointing your camera at the scene you want to photograph
  3. Adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get the graph where there are few or no visible hashes on either side of zero (check your camera’s specific manual on how to make these adjustments).
  4. Focus
  5. Press the shutter to take a photograph.

Here is where you may need to practice.  Once you become accustomed to making these adjustments you will become faster and more proficent.  Also, once you are proficient at obtaining a “balanced” exposure you can use the skills you learned to become more creative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So you want to be a photographer

So you want to be a photographer

So you want to become a photographer.  First, let’s narrow down what we are talking about.  Webster’s dictionary defines photographer as; one who takes photographs, especially as a job.  This is the type of photographer we will talk about here even though you may only want to be a hobbyist photographer.  The reason why I will focus on a professional photographer is this will give you, most times, the skills you need to know.

Get out of auto mode

I know many people will argue this point saying it isn’t necessary to shoot in manual mode.  The reason I say to get out of auto mode is because this will force you to learn how to achieve the exposure, focus, depth of field (how much of a scene is in focus), freeze or blur action, and much more.

Note:  In this article I won’t go into great detail on aperture, shutter speed, or ISO (film/sensor sensitivity to light).  I will cover these topics in subsequent articles.

Modern digital cameras contain power programs that will help determine good exposure, shutter speed when to use flash, focus and many other things.  That sounds great, right?  Sometimes it is great other times not so great.  The camera doesn’t know what is important to us in a scene.  It may choose a point of focus on an object other than our intended subject.  It may choose a shutter speed too slow or too fast. It may choose an aperture creating more depth of field than we want or not enough.  As the photographer, we know what is important in the scene or how we want our final image to appear, or at least we should know this if we are to become a photographer.

Stop buying gear until you know about your current gear

We all love new stuff.  We see a new lens, or a new camera and decide we want it because it is the latest greatest thing ever.  Until you know the in’s and out’s of your current gear, its limitations and capabilities you may just be wasting money and at the same time making your learning more complex.

Gear envy will eventually fade.  You will get to a point where you know what you need.

At the same time, cheap isn’t always the route to go.  I have owned a number of “cheap” pieces of gear to only need to replace it with more expensive gear.  This has increased my cost.  Once you understand exposure, focus, depth of field, ISO, how to use them to achieve your vision you will be in a position to make better-informed choices and decisions.

That cheap tripod may end up costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars because it failed.  The cheap flash may not have the power of functions you will need to achieve your vision.

I still use a flash that was introduced in 2003.  It still works and fits the need.

Don’t rely on social media for learning

Social media is fun.  It is entertaining.  It isn’t an educational resource that can be depended upon and I will explain why.

Unless you have met, in person, you never know who is on the other side of the keyboard giving you advice.  I don’t mean to imply that all advice you get from someone on social media is bad advice but that you should verify that information.  Does the other person just know how to do a good internet search or do they really know the information?  If it is the former, you can “Google it” yourself.  Do your own research.  Why, because it may also help you to understand the why behind the information.  Understanding the why will give you insight that you can use in the future to decide if it is appropriate to use or not use in the current situation.

The internet can be a wonderous place to gather information.  It can also be a disastrous place for information.  Check your source, verify the information.  Just because it is on the internet doesn’t make it true or false.

Find a school or mentor

This may often be a challenge, especially if you are in a small town or rural area.  There are a number of online schools or established photographers who will mentor you.  This may not be free but as the old adage says, “You get what you pay for”.  Before anyone asks, yes I did both.  I did an online school and had local mentors who helped me learn.

This is another area where some will disagree arguing that “you can learn everything from the internet”.  While this is often true it is also unlikely that you will push yourself to explore areas where you may not feel confident or genres of photography other than your current interest.  This may limit your growth.  Finding the school or mentor who pushes you to explore those areas may also expose you to a genre or style of photography you will enjoy.

Some issues to be aware of when finding a school or mentor.  Be wary of either that believe there is only one way to do something or attempt to make you a copy of themselves.

Stop worrying about editing

I will start by saying, I am NOT anti-processing.  In fact, I am all for it and encourage you as well as my students to learn editing and post-processing; in due time.  While we can “fix” some issues with a photograph in post-production the real goal, to me, of post-processing is enhancing a work rather than fixing it.  This is why learning about exposure, depth of field and composition is important.

Along with stop worrying about editing, don’t worry about logos and watermarks.  Again, this is something that should come later in your learning process.

Summarizing

Get out of auto, learn how to operate your camera.  Stop buying until you know what you need and why.  Don’t rely on social media as the sole source of knowledge.  Find a school or teacher to help guide you along the way and push you in your interest.  Stop worrying about editing.

This isn’t meant to be a complete list of areas to work on or a how to do it (I’ll cover some of the how to do it in subsequent articles).  This is meant to be a guide to help you get started on your quest.

 

 

Steps to learning how to become a photographer

Steps to learning how to become a photographer

In this article, I will talk about the steps to becoming a photographer.  The first thing we should do is to define the term photographer.  Merriam-Webster defines a photographer as; one who practices photography; especially:  one who makes a business of taking photographs.  From this, we can see that no matter your skill level if you take photographs you could be called a photographer.  Many people go with the second part; especially: one who makes a business of taking photographs.  This is a common myth that a person who makes a business of taking photographs is better than those who do not make it a business.  There are many great photographers who practice photography as a hobby.  Many of these amateur photographers are, in fact, better than many professional photographers.

 

Step #1

Don’t let others define you.

Once you begin to let others define you, you are at their mercy.  What they say becomes too important which can begin to limit your growth.  You don’t have to follow the path of others because they have been involved in photographer longer, call themselves a professional, are a professional, or any other so-called qualification.

Step #2

Don’t get offended by what others say.

I see this on a daily basis, many days I see it multiple times.  A photographer posts an image on social media or online where others can see it.  People begin to offer their perspective or critique.  If the comments are critical, less than glowing words such as, “this is awesome”, many claim the others are rude and insulting.  This may be so if the person is making personal insults such as, sell your gear you will never make it or wow, this is really horrible.

Read or listen to what they say, then go look up their work.  If their work reflects the suggests they give and is better there may be some tips to help you for next time.  Make notes.  Ask questions, especially if you don’t understand something or want more information on what they say.  Ask for examples of their work that reflects their comments and statements such as, “can you show me how you do this sort of work?”.

Step #3

Learn about proper technique such as; exposure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, depth of field.

These concepts are the basics of photography.  You don’t have to become a master right away.  This will come with time.  What you do need to achieve is an understanding of the concepts.  Once you have this understanding of these basic concepts they will serve as building blocks to success.

Step #4

Check multiple sources of information.

As the old adage tells us, There is more than one way to skin a cat.  (Note: I have nothing against cats nor do I support abuse to animals).

I see many profess to learn from Youtube or other social media sites.  There is nothing wrong with Youtube, however, just because there is a Youtube video doesn’t mean it is good information.  Find other sources of information, check and double check.  Try other methods, you may find something that works better for you.

Be cautious of people who profess there is only one right way!  

Step #5

Find a mentor, teacher, or attend a class

While it isn’t always the case but remember you often get what you pay for.  You may find many places and people who offer “free” training.  Some of this may be good but is also a good chance that it isn’t worth the money you paid for it.

I don’t say this because I teach and mentor, but I have also taken many “free” courses to see what they offer.  Many of them are outdated, provide inaccurate information, are a hook to get you to buy more content or pay for the certificate.

One of the best investments I made in my photography was a paid photography course.  It wasn’t cheap.  I paid just over $1,000 USD for my training.  Do research on the class, compare.  This isn’t the only way to grow as a photographer.  Much depends on how you learn.  The best benefits I got from this formal course was the connection with a quality instructor who provided valuable feedback and the course required me to complete a wide variety of genres of photography.  Many I would not have sought to try on my own.  What I found was that I became more interested in some of those genres, such as fashion and commercial product photography.

Step #6

Practice, evaluate, and practice more.

I will use an analogy here.  Professional sports players don’t raise to that level by only practicing a bit.  They practice a lot.  They learn to evaluate their own performance and have a coach evaluate them.  Learn to become your own critic.  Evaluate your own work.  Become your harshest critic.

 

Conclusion

This isn’t an all-inclusive list.  I could add several more steps.  These six will get you started and provide a good foundation on your road to becoming a better photographer.

Please, provide you comments and add what you believe are other valuable steps.

 

 

Starting a photography business

Starting a photography business

 


This post is my opinion.  Some will agree with me others will want to argue about it, but it is my opinion.  It is one of the few opinions that I am currently not open minded about to change.

Introduction to the problem

When are you a “business”?  My opinion is when you want to become a business.  Agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, your state, county, and city all have various regulations when you are considered a “business”.  Does your “business” have to be a full-time job that pays you a living wage?  No.  The IRS may consider your “endeavor” a hobby but your state, county, or city may require you to register as a business.  I’m not here to advise you on when, how, or if you should “register” as a business.  That is a job for lawyers and accountants.  If you are required to register as a business and fail to do so there may be some legal repercussions as a result of this failure.  Again, I am not going to advise you on when, how, or if you should register, check your local and federal regulations, consult an attorney and your accountant.

So, what is this post about?  I’m glad you asked.  I see posts frequently on Facebook and other social media sites talking about “you’re not a business”, “you’re a momtog/dadtog/mwac/gwac”.  (Definitions if you are not familiar with the acronyms;  Momtog, usually a stay at home mom who has a camera.  Dadtog, a dad with a camera.  MWAC/GWAC; Mom/Guy with a camera).  When I see these it is generally my belief that it is an attempt to glorify or make the author feel superior to others.  In my experience, most of the time I have seen these posts they are not in response to a question about starting a business but rather as a rant.  It is often followed by a series of supportive comments and those who offer a different opinion are quickly assailed.  Often the arguments are, “they won’t be in business in 3 years”.  According to the SBA (Small Business Administration), 52% of small businesses are home-based and only 1/2 remain in business for 5 years and only 1/3 remain in business 10 years. (Source: SBA Frequently Asked Questions ).   So here is my response, “Who cares, how does this hurt you?”   If you bother to ask “how does this hurt you” you quickly get “they are KILLING the industry!”

I will also add that I have been guilty of these comments in the past.  I have reflected on my stance and determined it doesn’t make a difference to me.

They are killing the industry

I just love this argument because those that say it just have to blame someone for the problem.  “They” are not killing the industry of photography.  It isn’t that simple.  There are a number of factors that have created an environment of a more competitive photography industry.  To name just a few; inexpensive cameras (starting with the Kodak Brownie which was introduced in 1900), digital photography,  the internet, cost reduction strategies.  The marketplace has changed.  In 1982 the Commodore 64 personal computer was introduced at the price of $595 ($1,461 in today’s money).  The Commodore 64 had impressive specs:

MOS Technology 6510/8500
@ 1.023 MHz (NTSC version)
@ 0.985 MHz (PAL version)
Memory 64 KB RAM + 20 KB ROM
Graphics VIC-II (320 × 200, 16 colors, spritesraster interrupt)

source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_64

Today, you can get a computer for less than $200 you can get a computer with 32,000 times the memory not counting the advances in graphics, computing power, etc. The computer market has changed.

There are a lot of things that are “killing” the industry, or more correctly changing the industry.

You have to cover your costs and make a profit

Not to get political but our President claimed a loss of nearly $1,000,000,000 in 1995 (today it is 2016) and continues to use that loss to cut his tax obligations.  Does this mean he hasn’t made a profit?  What if I only want to recoup part of my costs?  The IRS considers me a hobby but I permits are required, tax obligations locally, be required to have “business” insurance.  So am I a business?   Again, my response is what difference does it make to me if you call yourself a business.  What if you don’t pay any of those things?  Once more,  what difference does it make to me?  I would suggest getting those things because it may cost you.

There are many people like me.  I have another source of income that pays my bills.  I can live on that source of income.  I run my photography as a supplement to that income.  So if I only make $7 an hour that is $7 an hour I didn’t have before and I like photography more than “flipping burgers”.  (Note: I do make more than $7 an hour doing my photography.  I chose that number because that is near or below the mandated U.S. minimum wage).

You can do crap and still be a profitable business

I have seen this said more than once.  While it is, in fact, true the thought of it bothers me more than the person who runs their business and is not profitable but provides quality.  I am more concerned about the quality than I am about profit.  Don’t take this wrong, I love money and getting paid a decent amount but I offer the same quality when I do the trade for time shoots with models as I do when I get paid.  To me, it is all about reputation.  I would rather be known as a good photographer than a great business person.  This may result in me never truly becoming rich or well-paid but that is my choice so don’t try to bully me, make me feel like I am less than you, etc.  You run your business, I will run mine.   If I get asked a question about business, I don’t mind sharing my thoughts or insights but ultimately it is a decision you have to make for yourself.

Final thoughts

  1. There are different business models.  Choose what works for you.
  2. There are certain regulations, many based on local requirements.  Ignoring them may cause you problems.  Many on the internet may offer sound advice, however, consult experts in your area for the real facts.
  3. According to the Small Business Administration home-based businesses account for 52% of all small businesses.  73% are sole proprietor style businesses and 78% are non-employer businesses.  Only 1/2 of the new small businesses last 5 years, so even if you do things “right” there is no guarantee.
  4. I don’t care if you call yourself a business or not.  This doesn’t mean I don’t care.  I do.  I love momtogs, dadtogs, mwac, gwac, weekend warriors whatever you want to call them.  I like to teach photography and they are often the people who seek me out as an instructor.  You may think I do a disservice because of my opinion voiced in this article but I will tell you that we do talk about business. I am not a business coach, lawyer, or accountant.  I am a photographer who runs a small part-time home based photography business to supplement my income.  This is what many part-time photographers do.  They aren’t looking to quit their “day job”.
  5. If these part-time photographers are threatening to you I don’t know what to tell you except don’t be a bully, braggart, condescending, or otherwise an ass-hat.  These people are not going away.  The industry has changed.  Get over it.
  6. I do care about the feelings of others.  I try very hard to not say things in a condescending manner, to be egotistical, to make myself better than anyone else because I’m not.  It has nothing to do with being “politically correct” or “everyone gets an award”.  I call it being polite.  I may give my honest thoughts and opinions on photography, art, and other things but I really try to not be insulting, rude or condescending.
  7. Let the hate mail begin.  I know I’ll get some.  That is fine.  I’m here for all the momtogs, dadtogs, mwac, gwac, weekend warrior, beginner photographers, or whatever else you want to call them.

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Photography basics – Exposure

Photography basics – Exposure

 

In this lesson, I’ll talk about getting a “balanced” exposure.  Not underexposed or overexposed. We will start with talking about some specific functions of our cameras, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  These three functions directly related to getting “proper” exposures.  They also have specifics that allow us to be more creative, such as freezing or blurring motion, allowing for more elements to appear to be in focus or to isolate a subject by blurring out backgrounds.  

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is just what it says, how long the shutter is open.  What is the shutter?  Think of the shutter as a curtain that opens to expose the film or digital sensor to light allowing use to record our scene.

For most photography, we are dealing in fractions of seconds.  The range of shutter speeds varies by camera make and model.  On my old Canon 35mm film camera, the range was from 1/1000th of a second to 2 seconds and then a setting called “B” for bulb (we will talk more about this setting at a different time).  On my current Nikon, a D750, the range is from 1/4000th of a second to 30 seconds and then bulb (again we will discuss the bulb setting at a different time).

As you can see by the chart above shutter speed can stop or blur motion. This also pertains to camera movement.  Ever try holding your camera steady at 1/2 second?  You probably got a blurry photograph, didn’t you?  The faster something moves the faster our shutter needs to be to freeze the motion.  We can also slow the shutter speed to create a sense of movement and speed.

There is also a rule of thumb pertaining to the slowest shutter speed that we can use the camera handheld, that is without the support of something like a tripod.  This rule of thumb goes like this; use the inverse to the focal length of the lens.  For example, if I am using a 50mm lens, I typically need a shutter speed of, at least, 1/50th of a second.  If the focal length of your lens is 200mm you need a focal length of, at least, 1/200th of a second. If you look at the shutter speeds above you will see there is no 1/50th or 1/200th.  This is because the examples above are using whole shutter speeds, commonly referred to as stops.

Below is a list of shutter speed typically found on our cameras.

 

Aperture

Aperture often referred to as an f-stop, is essentially the internal opening in the lens to allow light to exposure the film or sensor.  For simplicity sake, we will just use somewhat of an analogy with aperture.  Think of the aperture (f-stop) as a fraction.  The reason we will use this analogy is because the smaller the aperture number the bigger the opening.  For example, f/4 is a bigger opening than f/11, because 1/4th is bigger than 1/11th.

As the aperture is opened up, moving to a smaller number, the less of a scene or subject is in focus, often referred to as the depth of field.  Opening up the aperture (moving to a smaller number) also allows more light to enter the lens and ultimately the camera body. Stopping our lens down, moving to a larger number, closes the size of the opening, allowing less light into the lens and gives us a greater depth of field (more of a scene or subject in focus).

In another lesson, we will discuss aperture in more detail.

ISO – “Film Speed”

ISO is essentially how sensitive our sensor or film is to light.  The higher the number the more sensitive to light.

Exposure

One of the first topics I teach my students is exposure.  Getting proper exposures are the foundation of learning photography.  We need to learn to get the best exposure we can before we think about editing programs.

There are three factors to exposure.  Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (film speed).  This is often referred to as the exposure triangle.  Today’s cameras have a built-in meter to help us achieve a proper exposure.  If we put our camera in auto mode, the program built-in will read the light coming into the camera through the lens using a light meter.  The camera will adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to achieve an exposure that is “zeroed”. In other words, the meter is in the middle.  

While many people don’t mind letting the camera decide it doesn’t always give us the results we want.  By adjusting our cameras ourselves we gain a greater level of creative control.  We may want to freeze or blur the action.  We may want more control over how much of the scene is in sharp focus, depth of field.

If we don’t understand exposure and how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO work together, often called the exposure triangle, we will often get underexposed or overexposed images.

First, and introduction on metering.  Cameras have had built-in light meters for several years.  Back when I started in the early 1980’s Light meters in the camera were similar to this one.

 

This is as seen through the viewfinder.

Today, light meter in our digital cameras look more like this:

 

As seen through the viewfinder.

Both of these meters measure reflected light i.e. the amount of light being reflected off a subject back to our camera’s meter. NOTE: For the purpose of this lesson we will discuss assume the use of the camera’s built-in meter and measuring reflected light.

 

Above is a more detailed view of the light meter built into our cameras.  As you can see, there is a neutral point (zero) and a + and -.  As you move towards the minus the image will become underexposed.  As you move towards the plus image will be overexposed.

As I mentioned earlier, three settings control exposure.  Those three settings are the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (film speed or in our case now the relative sensitivity of the camera’s sensor).

If a balanced exposure (meter is centered not indicating over or under exposure) is achieved by setting the camera to 1/250th of a second shutter speed at an aperture setting of f/8 with an ISO, film speed, of 200 it would commonly be written as 1/250th f/8 ISO 200.  The same balanced exposure could be achieved with the following settings.

Example 1.  1/500th f/4 ISO 200

Example 2.  1/500th f/8 ISO 400

Example 3.  1/125th f/11 ISO 200

In Example 1 when we adjust the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second, we made the aperture larger (smaller number) which allowed more light to strike the film (sensor) with the same light sensitivity.

Example 2 we increased the shutter speed and left our aperture set to the original f/8 but we made our film (sensor more sensitive to light.

Example 3 we slowed the shutter speed to allow for a longer exposure of the film (sensor to light) but we decreased the size (larger number) of the aperture with the film/sensor at the original sensitivity to light.

This all may sound confusing but it isn’t as confusing as it sounds.  Think of the light being water.  The diameter of the hose is the aperture, the time to fill the bucket is shutter speed and the pressure of the water is ISO.  We have a bucket we want to be full of water (a full bucket is a balanced exposure).

If I use a small diameter hose with normal pressure water it will take more time to fill the bucket (example 3).  If I increase the diameter of the hose with the same normal pressure water it will take less time (example 1).  If I decrease the diameter of the hose (f/11) it will take more time to fill the bucket (example 2).

In future lessons, I will dive deeper into exposure and discuss more advanced topics.