Jul 25, 2011

Ten tips for better photos.

(for beginners)

I get asked once in a while for beginner tips, so here's my advice...
  1. 90% of the reason to trade up to an SLR (that you can afford) is eliminating shutter lag. If you have kids, it will save you from an aneurysm.
  2. A kit lens is all you need, but consider buying a prime lens like the 50mm f/1.8. It's cheap and great for low-light and nice bokeh.
  3. Feel free to go auto-everything for a little while, the embrace Aperture Priority (with +/- compensation).
  4. Fill the frame with your main subject, but don't "bullseye" a person's face. 
  5. When in doubt... use the rule of thirds for composition. 
  6. If you can afford it, get Lightroom. It fixes lots of photos fast and is great for archiving.
  7. You can find some great shooting and editing tips on YouTube. There's tons of idiots out there, so find someone who isn't a knob and stick with them.
  8. Look at lots of photos for inspiration—especially bad ones.
  9. The more often you shoot, the more mistakes you will make. That's a good thing.
  10. Ask for help and constructive criticism from people who's opinion you care about. Ignore everybody else.

P.S. You want to take photos of your cat? Take photos of your cat!

    Jul 18, 2011

    Priceless things I learned from a Groupon photographer...

    There are no bad photos. Only funny stories.
    Update (Feb 13, 2012): I thought long and hard about including the photos, and originally thought it would be a bad idea, but... what the hell. They're at the bottom...You be the judge.

    On a whim As a carefully thought-out experiment, I decided to hire a family photographer through one of those coupon sites. I had received an email from TeamBuy for the day's bargain—a cheap portrait session. And it just so happened that my wife had been bugging me for a new family pic, so I decided to check it out.

    (The truth is, I wanted just one batch of family photos that didn't involve me running back and forth to my tripod like an NFL linesman. Also, I generally prefer shallow focus, and have had less than stellar luck with remotes and timers at f/2.)

    His portfolio looked good, so I called him. Nice guy. Sounded professional, too.

    So I pulled the trigger and booked a date and a location in Etobicoke.

    With two months to wait, I started looking forward to seeing things from the other side of the lens... walking in a client's shoes, so that I might improve my own practices. Hell, if it worked out, I might just work on my own Groupon!

    And if the photos sucked? No harm done. I often find bad photography more instructional than good photography (in the same way that crappy TIFF films used to inspire me when I was in film school.)

    [Spoiler alert: anyone who discounts a portrait session from $800 to $79 is doing so for a good reason.]

    To make a long story short, the photos were—I'm going to be charitable here—usable. The lessons I learned, however, were pure gold.

    Ten-point memo to all photogs, from the perspective of a client:
    1. Communicate. I don't care how busy you are, get back to me within a day when I call or email you.
    2. Bring all the gear you'll need. (Note: I did not say, "Bring all your gear".) If you have to run back to the car for fifteen minutes, to retrieve yet another trunk of shit, you've given me solid reason to hate you.
    3. Don't go all Strobist for the sake of going Strobist. If you have good available light on a casual shoot, run with it.
    4. Don't make me wait twenty minutes between setups while you mess with your kit. Most families have a short posing window.
    5. For the love of Pete, do not make me squint into the sun.
    6. Direct the shoot. Don't count on me having a shot list or a bunch of posing ideas. The ball's in your court, McEnroe.
    7. When the shoot's over, a quick email thanking me for my business is probably a good idea. It takes 20 seconds.
    8. Do not make me chase you for my proofs.
    9. If your massive discount does not entitle me to a beautified image, that's totally cool; just keep in mind that this muddy, unprocessed snapshot now represents your best work.
    10. Word of mouth works two ways.
    So, there you go. 

    You get what you pay for? Yep. Will I be doing a Groupon in the future? Not a chance. Will that shoot be at the very front of my mind every time I pick up a camera in front of a paying client? 

    You bet your butt. 

    P.S. Here they are...