Monday, May 14, 2012

6 Ways I'm Trying to Improve as a Photograph, and Praise for Scott Kelby

As a rule, I've found that most photography books pretty much follow the same recipe: cover the basics of exposure and some well known tips, and leave it at that. They just don't make for great reading. One exception to this I've found is Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Books series. With a title like that, you'd expect it to fit the mold - yet it doesn't. I don't recall where I first was when I picked up one of his books, but I the tips I read were novel and quite useful. I just made my way through Volume 3 of the series (thanks to our library), and it continues to impress.

Between Kelby's book and other photography blogs I've been following, I've been inspired to try out some fresh ways to improve my photo technique. Here's what I'm focusing on these days:

  1. Slow Down! I grab my camera and I feel like I should instantly be snapping pictures. Often I'll try to shoot in manual mode and find myself getting frustrated that I'm not dialing in the settings fast enough. This causes me to switch over to auto-everything mode so I can quickly snap off pictures. There may be a time and a place for this approach, but this doesn't need to be the norm. My sense from reading Kelby's Book and others is that setting up your gear *should* take time. For example, this means shooting some test shots, and seeing what various mixes of flash and natural light photography come out looking like.
  2. Stop looking for the from now on, this is how I'll shoot photos setting. I've got to get used to experimenting with all sorts of modes, ISOs, and other camera settings, rather than trying to pick just one set and using it always. For example, just bouncing between all manual and all automatic mode is missing out on a whole bunch of features my camera has to offer.
  3. Set the ISO first. This is something I'm trying as a specific way of achieving #1. Rather than leave ISO on automatic, I'm trying to get into the habit of observing the scene in front of my and consciously picking what ISO I'd like to use. Is it bright enough to go with 200? Should I skip the flash altogether and go with 3200? By thinking about ISO first, and not shutter, aperture or flash, I'm hoping to slow myself down and see more creative opportunities.
  4. Learn from the camera. Say I've got a person I want to snap photos of. I switch to manual mode, dial in my settings and shoot a couple shots. Then, switch to portrait mode on the camera, and snap a few that way. By setting the display option to show me the settings used for the shot, I can compare what the camera chose versus what I picked. The handful of times I've tried this, I've found it to be quite educational (and wouldn't you know it, the camera's settings usually make for better shots!).
  5. Instead of full Auto Mode, use Creative Modes. Nearly every digital camera I've owned, my DSLR included, has had what Canon calls "creative modes" - such as portrait mode or landscape mode. This is essentially fully automatic, but you're giving the camera an extra boost of context so it can choose the best settings. I've almost always ignored these, so much so, that I basically forget they exist. No more. Next time I want auto mode, I'm going to resist the full auto settings, and instead, opt for one of the creative modes. This should help slow me down and get me out of my looking for the one size fits all setting that doesn't exist.
  6. Use the Highlight Warning feature of my camera. This is right from Kelby's book (Volume #3, page 177). When reviewing photos in the EOS T3i, you can toggle into a mode that shows you the histogram as well as other photography data. Kelby suggests ignoring the histogram, and focusing on highlight detection. That is, the screen flashes are that are so overexposed they've lost all detail. What a cool feature, and an excellent example of Kelby advice. This is especially handy with the test shots I mention in #1.

What efforts are you consciously making to improve your photography?

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