When I picked up my first camera in 2010, I wished my future me could go back in time to tell these 10 pieces of advice. Perhaps my 550D and I would have progressed much faster?
Who knows... 7 years later I am happy to share these with you. 1/ Understand Light It took me some time to understand that and I Kind of feel ashamed of not realizing earlier in my journey how important light is for a photographer. Light is the key element for a good photo. If you don't understand light your pictures will look like crap even if you photoshop them. Take your time to understand, even on your own how light behaves. When does it look good, when is it too harsh and creates strong shadows? Theoretically, how do you get good light? There are specific times of the day when the light is just awesome. The first 2 hours after sunrise (you can stretch to 3) are for me the best to take pictures. The light is soft and the direction and angle are the best, especially if you are shooting people.
Lavinia Scott at sunrise (Milano / Italy)
If you are lazy (and that is not a good thing), go for the sunset. By shooting 2 hours before the sun disappears ( "the golden hour" as they call it), you will get awesome colors in the sky, amazing tones, and warmth on your model's skin.
Virginia Danh and Edouard Doye (Strasbourg - France)
If you are like me and wish to have empty scenes for your pictures, you gotta get up early! I often use strobes outdoors and although it can help you shoot at almost any time of the day (depending on the power of your flash), I still advise you to shoot during the golden hour.
2/ Work on your Compositions This is a widely discussed subject, I've said it before I even made a video for beginners about it last week. Don't just go out there and shoot for the sake of shooting. Think before you press that button. Try different angles... Does it look good standing at the model's level, kneeling down, or laying on the ground? Think about how these different perspectives affect your photo.
How does it make you feel? Knowing how each of your decisions can affect your photo will help you make creative decisions instead of just randomly capturing a shot. Giving a dominant role to the viewer, or a powerful position to your subject depends on what you wish to tell. What is the purpose behind the shot, what is the story? So many questions only you can answer. This will come with time. Get out and question yourself every time you decide to capture something.
Photo of Eloize Rignon taken from above (Lyon / France)
Another one with Lavinia Scott taken from below (Milano / Italy)
3/ Locations In some famous cities, you have these locations photographed by millions of people. I am not telling you not to shoot there! Just reminding you that the world has so much to offer. There are amazing places everywhere. Where ever you live, you just have to take that extra time to look for these locations. I made a video for starters on the subject a few weeks back, you should check it out: How to find locations. What sets a lot of the photographers I follow apart is that they are willing to take that extra time to make those research. That's how they end up with fresh locations, places that are rarely used for photoshoots. If you are forced to shoot in front of a tourist attraction then make sure you get that new perspective on it. Find an original angle... Remember tip number 2? Make it a challenge and go find that new perspective that will set you apart.
Early bird shoot in front of the famous Duomo di Milano (Milano / Italy)
4/ Pay attention to the background This for me now sounds obvious, but I use to overlook this advice. When you are concentrated on your model, and all the technical stuff involved in the making of your picture, you tend to forget things... Things that can actually ruin your picture. This is one of them, and it took me a year to think about it before each shot. Avoid at all costs any objects sticking out of your subject's head or from any parts of their body. I see this all over the web on Instagram and Facebook. Having these performers doing killer stuff and "boom" they have that building sticking out of their B... !!! Sometimes I ask myself "Damned, how could they not see that". But I made the same mistakes too. Putting your model in a place where their head is not cut off by the horizon, or not accidentally interacting in a weird way with the background is essential. I advise you also to avoid having a too busy background. The idea is to avoid any elements that can distract from the main subject, keep the horizon leveled unless tilting your photo is intentional. Your model can interact with the environment, but you have to be careful with that, make sure people understand what's going on in your picture. In this picture feat. Elena Francalanci and Axier Iriarte (Torino / Italy), I centered my subjects but used symmetry to make it more interesting. Their pose was influenced by the leading lines forming an "X". This is an example of how the environment and background can merge with your models.
Oh, let me add this real quick, please stop doing that Bokeh thing to look "professional" or to hide a hideous background. Just Change location or find a better angle or composition. Bokeh as to remain a creative tool! 5/ Learn your Camera This one may sound stupid but I am guilty of this! A Lot of you never read the manual, went out with your shiny new camera, and started shooting because you were too excited. 6 months later you discover you are using less than 5 percent of your camera's capabilities... I personally got better when I stopped being lazy about my photography. I got out of the all automatic mode and I began to improve my shots and really use my camera as an artistic tool. I am now reacting faster, and handling my camera is 2nd nature, I no longer have to think of which button to push next. I have customized some of the buttons of my camera to make it my own, and I feel it is now an extension of me. With time you will also know roughly what ISO and shutter speed you will have to use in specific conditions or for specific effects. To summarize this... Work! 6/ Learn your lenses After the camera, the Lenses...Lenses tell stories, yes, they all have different personalities and feel. 85 mm and 135 mm lenses are often used for portraits and there is a reason. "Compression" with these lenses gives a more pleasing look and respects body proportions which is not the case for wider lenses. My head was completely distorted by the 11mm!
Sabrina Alberelli shot at 160mm: