My 5 Quick Tips

June 20, 2009

The following are my five favorite “tips”. They might sound obvious, or trite, and you’ve probably heard them before, but I think it’s ok to hear them again. The great part about these tips is that they apply whether you’re using a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR!

1. Take a lot of pictures – carry your camera everywhere. Well, if you’re about to go on a canoe ride and you don’t have a waterproof case, you might not want to take the camera there, but I think you get the idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone somewhere without a camera and really regretted it. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t bring it when I went on a hayride with a group from work. What I didn’t know was that the ride started at an amazing farm. We got there right during the Golden Hour at night (an hour before sunset when the light is golden and perfect for landscape photography), and gathered inside this amazing old barn. Oh, the photos I could have taken there!

On a more positive note, there was a time I did remember to bring my camera somewhere. I used to work downtown and had to walk from the parking lot to my building – one day, I decided to bring my camera to work and take photos of all the things I passed every day. I’m so glad I did because I was able to capture this photo just weeks before we moved into a different building and I haven’t had a chance to go back since:

Doorknob

When I say “take lots of pictures”. I don’t just mean you should take your camera everywhere. I also mean, when you bring it: use it! A lot! I went on a photowalk earlier this year (when I leave my house and go out walking somewhere with my camera with the sole purpose of taking a lot of pictures) on a trail near my house that goes by a ravine. My eyes were naturally drawn to that ravine and I got a lot of pictures. But then I turned around. Always turn around! If I hadn’t, I never would have seen these leaves that had somehow managed to cling onto the tree all winter long. It turned out to be my favorite picture from the walk – even better than all the ravine shots:

Leaves

2. Join a Community – we live in a digital world with all sorts of digital communities – mommy groups, scrapbooking groups, car-lovers groups. You better believe there are a lot of good communities out there for photographers. My personal favorite is flickr (you can find me here!), which a lot of people think is just a place to store your photos online. And it can be just that if that’s all you want out of it – but they also have ways to connect with other people. Not only does this provide a way for you to get a lot of feedback on your photos, but it also can give you TONS of inspiration! I never would have taken the following photo if it weren’t for inspiration I got from flickr, and it’s one of my favorite photos to date (and also one of my most popular photos on flickr):

No speaking

For those of you that don’t know, flickr has these things called Groups which are places you can submit photos that fit that group description. If you can think of it, there’s probably a group for it, which can provide you with a lot of feedback and inspiration. If I can recommend one group to check out, it would be Flickr Group Roulette, also known as FGR. Every day, FGR picks a different group on flickr to invade. Fuggers (what the participants of FGR call themselves) often take some really creative photos in order to fit the theme for the day. In fact, the above picture was one I took for FGR when they invaded the Four Freedoms group (I was interpreting Freedom of Speech).

If you’re not interested in flickr, I suggest you find a forum to join, like the one at Digital Photography School. They’re a nice group of people, ranging from complete beginners to absolute Pros, and they’ll help you with any question you have (of course, so will I, so ask away!), as well as share a lot of photos!

3. Start a Project – this one was probably the most influential thing for me on this list. The first photography project I did was a 366 Project – where I took a self portrait every day for a year (it happened to be a leap year [2008], thus 366). I can’t tell you how much I grew that year (with my photography, I didn’t actually get any taller or wider). In fact, it was during that year that I purchased my DSLR (a Canon Rebel XTi). This year, I’m doing two major projects – another 365 project (but this one’s open-topic so I don’t have to do a self portrait), and 52 Photowalks, where I go on a photowalk once a week. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this photowalk project. It’s nice to have a goal to accomplish, and it’s also making me think more about what I want to take photos of. Most of my photowalk pictures have been at the local Metro Parks (you can see my favorite Metro Park photos here), but I’ve also been a bit more adventurous and creative, too – once even going to an abandoned Kids-R-Us store near my house:

Old Kids R Us loading dock

Projects don’t have to be year-long things though, nor do they have to be daily or weekly. In fact, they can be whatever you want: Take 20 photos of something green, take 15 photos within one mile of your house, take a photo of 26 things around the house – each thing starting with a different letter of the alphabet, take 50 photos with your 50mm lens (I did this one, actually on the 50th day of the year this year). Just do ANYTHING you can think of that will require you to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to your photography (yes, I just side “outside the box”. I’m sorry.)

4. Read – books, blogs, photostreams, forums – just read. It will probably be overwhelming at first – it certainly was for me – but the more you read and look at, the more you’ll pick up on without even realizing it. I haven’t read a lot of books, but I have read Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson and can tell you it’s a very good book. I’ve also heard wonderful things about Scott Kelby, especially his Digital Photography Book series.

Me, personally, I work in IT, so I’m really more of a computer screen/internet kinda girl than a book reader, so I follow blogs (like the ones in my Favorite Reads section over there on the right) and people’s photostreams. In fact, I was so inspired by a contact of mine on flickr, that I took and edited this picture of myself:

Silly me!

5. Play – If you see someone else do something, try it. Even if you have NO IDEA what you’re doing, at least try it. You might discover something else in the process. I’m going to talk a lot about The Gimp on this site. It’s a very powerful free photo editing software. It’s also a bit confusing and very overwhelming the first time you open it up. I’m going to give you a lot of tutorials and show you how to do things, but why not download it now and try using it? I played around when I first got Gimp and tried a lot of things that looked horrible. But one day, I opened up this picture of Myles:

Myles

It wasn’t a bad picture. But I thought maybe I could make it better. After playing around with Gimp, I came up with this:

Myles

I love this photo now. To be honest, I can’t tell you exactly what I did, which is one downside of playing – you might want to pay closer attention to what you did! Now that I’m more comfortable with Gimp, I can take a few guesses as to what changes I made, but it’s just a bit more fun for me to not even try to duplicate it.

What are your favorite tips? What inspires you? Share in the comments!

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