When asked by my students what I would rate as my top ten tips for someone starting out in photography, I didn't have to think. These are my all time top ten for anyone who is beginning their photography journey. Follow these simple steps and you won't look back.
For someone who has just got their first digital camera it can be daunting to think where does one start. What is the first step in going past just taking snapshots. I always ask the question, "What do you want to achieve with your photography?" Unless you have an idea where you are going you'll never reach your destination. So this leads on to my first tip.
1. Begin with the end in mind.
So many amateur photographers never consider the possibility that they can take photos like the ones they see in magazines. A good photo is taken by a good photographer and not a good camera. If you want to shoot those beautiful landscapes or stunning portraits then you will be able to if you set yourself simple goals to get there. Know what you want and it's only a matter of a few simple goals and you'll be there in no time. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
2. Take your time
Rome wasn't built in a day. Yes, you can take those great magazine shots but you won't be doing it today. Time together with effort are the vehicles to stunning photographs. Take time to learn your art and time to practise what you learn. So often, when getting a new toy, we want to master it in the same afternoon. Because digital is cheap and instant assume that becoming a good photographer is just as simple. On the other hand don't procrastinate and dream too much. You have to get out and create images no matter how good or bad they are.
3. Think before you shoot
Coupled with taking your time this tip is a vital foundational principle to photography. One of the biggest advantages film photography had over digital was the careful thought process. Why? Because film, developing and printing was expensive by today's standards. In a matter of minutes we can take a few hundred shots with digital. Back then, you had only thirty six shots and needed to think before shooting the image. Even if you are just a beginner and don't know how to compose a great shot, think about what you are going to include or exclude when taking the shot.
4. The subject is most important
This should be logical and straight forward, but, we are all guilty of neglecting the importance of the subject in a photo. The subject is your lead actor, the star attraction. When someone looks at an image of yours the subject should shout out, "I am the subject". It should not compete with any other element in the image. Give it the importance it deserves and you will have a great photo.
5. Use your feet
A zoom lens should always be your last resort. If you can't walk in closer to your subject, only then should you use your zoom. Use your feet to walk around and find a better viewpoint. Some photographers act as if their shoes were lined with lead and they remain static and shoot from one position, right in front of the scene or subject. Photography is a dynamic art. Move around and find the best and most creative shot.
6. Get in closer
This tip is tied in with the previous point. Use your feet and not your zoom but also get in really close. Fill the frame with your subject. Don't include elements that you don't want to remember in twenty years time. If your subject is a loved one and one day when they are gone, do you want to see more of them in the photo? Be proactive and create your memories now.
7. Exclude clutter
That image of a loved one who has passed on often shows the garbage can or the microwave, the neighbours dog or part of a car and the loved one is relegated to a small percentage of the image. Too much unnecessary clutter that has no need to be remembered. If it's not important cut it out! If it doesn't add to the image then subtract it. When looking through your viewfinder watch the edges and make sure there is nothing there that shouldn't be in the image.
8. Change your angles
As I have said, photography is dynamic so move around and look for new angles. Don't stand right in front of your subject. Get down lower, climb up higher and move to the left and right of the subject. Find a viewpoint that is not common. How many people do you see lying down in public and shooting from low down. Try it and you'll get a shot that is unique.
9. Practise and shoot often
Practise makes perfect, so the old adage goes. Gary Player, the master golfer and winner of many international titles, says that the harder he practises the luckier he gets. You create your own luck. The more you shoot the more likely you are to get that great shot because as you practise you become more familiar with your camera and techniques are learned.
10. Start a structured learning process
Buy a basic photography book and learn the fundamentals of photography. Enrol in a photography course or join a local photography club. Look for courses and books on the internet and focus on learning techniques and skills that you can apply to your photography journey. If you don't get the basic building blocks in place you won't be able to build on your knowledge.
Treat your photography like any profession or art. Stay focused and allocate the amount of time you need to be successful at it. Experiment and have fun at the same time and make sure that you practise, practise and practise. Happy shooting!