Photography 101

It’s Finally Here!

 For weeks now I’ve been promising big things on my facebook page, and the time has come to finally reveal what I’ve been talking about:

 

Photography 101

The ‘Pictures By Jay’ Guide to all things photography

Yes, ladies and jellyspoons, It’s time to blow the dust off those thinking caps as I walk you through some basic photography knowledge that should (hopefully) make you a better photographer, nicer person, and more attractive to the opposite sex (I may be lying about one of those…)
Maybe you’ve had your camera for years, maybe you got one as a gift recently, maybe you stole one from an unsuspecting pro who left it unattended (the fool!)… Whatever the situation, if you have a DSLR camera (Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony… It doesn’t matter; we don’t discriminate here at PBJ…) and have yet to grasp the finer points of this photo-taking stuff, then these posts are for you!
So, as the actress said to the bishop, I’m going to ease you in gently with some basic tips for general photographical improvement and development… Enjoy folks, and welcome…

Top Tips for a Better Photographical Life

 

  • First, be a photographer.
Shamelessly stolen from Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson, this has become a mantra of sorts. His message is simple – Take pictures, Love photography, Don’t Worry. If photography is something you love, then don’t be in a rush to make it your job – that may come with time, but it shouldn’t be your end goal when you’re first starting out. Enjoy photography, and the act of taking pictures, as something simple and straightforward. Take pictures, and the rest will take care of itself.

 

 

  • Shoot first, ask questions later
Not only is this the motto of the NYPD, it is (or should be) the motto of all youngling photographers. The best experiences you can ever have in photography are out in the real world with a camera in your hand. Make mistakes, get it wrong, break every rule in the book – THEN go find out how to fix it. You’ll get a much better understanding of your camera and the act of taking pictures from actually taking pictures than from sitting in the library studying exposure tables and the rule of thirds.
  • Practice
If you decide to put your camera away for a little while, and leave it in the back of your wardrobe for a month… two months… six months… a year… What happens?? It gets dusty. The battery dies. Maybe your lens gets fungus and has to be cleaned before it works again. Your skills are the same: If you’re not shooting on a regular basis, you forget certain things, the slick movement between menu options is forgotten… the ability to gauge ambient light and set appropriate f-stops wanes… It’s like the kurgan says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust: If you don’t take it out and use it, it’s going to rust.”

 

 

  • The best camera is the one you have
Another shameless steal, and another ideal I wholeheartedly agree with. If you’ve yet to experience the camera-phone phenomenon let me be the first to welcome you to the 21st century. As much as certain photographers complain and try to argue that ‘professionals’ only use ‘professional’ equipment, the rest of the world is busy having fun. Don’t stress out over what camera you’re using, or whether the shot would be better if only you’d remembered to pack your tripod, 70-200 lens and ND filters… Use whatever you have to hand, and take the shot. You won’t regret it.

 

  • Shoot more, shoot often, shoot regularly
My journey into photography only really began when I started my 365 project. The simple act of taking (sometimes more than) one picture a day forced me to look at the world as a smorgasbord of photographic opportunities… If you look, there’s ALWAYS something to shoot. So do it: Take the shot. Take another shot. Take ALL the shots. Shoot, and keep shooting. Become THAT person at the party who takes THOSE pictures your friends never want to see on facebook… Just like any other skill, repetition makes it natural, and trust me: you want to feel natural behind that lens…

 

 

  • Learn to accept criticism
The biggest battle I faced when I first started was accepting the criticism people laid at my door. I loved the stuff I was doing. I would spend hours working on a shot, and happily upload it to the interwebs for all to share in the glory of my achievement. Then someone would come along and tell me that the highlights were blown out, the focus was off and I would have got a sharper image at f/7, not f/2.8. BASTARDS! Then I realised something – these guys were trying to help! They were offering free advice, and free lessons in improvement, out of the goodness of their hearts. So I started to listen. Instead of freaking out, I thanked them. Criticism is a great way to improve your skills!

 

 

  • Know your kit and use it. MANUALLY.
Ok, so you got your brand-spanking-new DSLR in your grubby mitts… now what? Well, the first thing I want you to do is to take that little dial on the top of your camera and move it so that the selection is on ANYTHING except ‘AUTO’. If you’re shooting ‘AUTO’ you ‘AUTO’ be shot. I’ve seen, with my own disbelieving eyes, people pull out $500 worth of lens, attach it to their $1,500 body, and settle it all on their $300 manfrotto tripod, then shoot on ‘AUTO’. It makes me weep. It’s like buying an Aston Martin and then sitting in the passenger seat while someone else drives. Stop it. Please. Or I may beat you to death with my (considerably cheaper than a manfrotto) tripod.

 

 

  • Avoid gearheads.
Trust me, you’ll know them when you meet them. Keep an eye out for the guys (and girls) laden down by the twelve lenses and three camera bodies they absolutely MUST have to get the best images … It’s a sad but true statement that almost every time you get a bunch of photographers together you’ll encounter at least one of these. They’ll corner you and spend the rest of the day telling you exactly WHY the Canon 5D MKII is so superior to the Nikon D3… Avoid them at all costs, and never, ever buy into their crap…

 

 

  • Copy, emulate and steal. Don’t compare.
Imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, and in the photography world it is no different. I have often set myself the challenge of ‘re-creating’ a shot that someone else has done, but I never look at my shot and think “Dammit, why isn’t it as good as theirs?” Nine times out of ten my shot looks nothing like theirs, and that’s fine, because I’ve inevitably learnt something in the deconstruction of their image, and I got to play with my camera and scratch that itch. That’s all that matters. The path to the dark side is not fear, but comparison. Comparison leads to depression, depression leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. There will always be someone better, smarter and just downright more beautiful than you – don’t let that stop you trying though.

 

 

  • Read the manual.
I never do this. Ever. I lived for five years with drawers that wouldn’t close all the way because I refused to read the building instructions. I played Monopoly wrong until the age of seventeen because my brother and I refused to read the rules. But you know what manual I have read?? The one that came with my camera. It took me two years to get around to it, but I did; Cover to cover. And you know what?? I now know what all of the little buttons on my camera do, and how to change every setting, and how those changes affect my images. Amazing.

 

 

  • Make photographer friends. 
This is, quite possibly, the single greatest thing you could do to improve your photography. You know how you always go to the gym more often when you have someone else going too… and you always attend the classes that your friends are in too? Well, turns out the same logic applies to almost anything. If you can hang out with like minded people and nerd out over the latest Canon L-series lens, or the drool over the new Nikon Speedlite, or simply fool around and shoot each other in random settings and scenarios, your photography WILL improve… Sharing your passion is awesome. Do it more.
Here Endeth the Lesson.
 
J   :)
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