Teaching our photography workshops over the years, my wife and I have come to recognize there are three things many people do habitually which do not help the advancement of their photography experience. Here are three bad habits for you to break in order to improve your photography.
1. Don’t always stand when you take photos
Most beginner photographers do this. They stand at their full height to take a photo. It’s very natural to stand upright and take photos, but it is incredibly limiting. Sure, you see the world from a standing position most of the time, but it’s not always, (or even often,) the most interesting point of view from which to photograph something.
Climbing up on a chair or lying down on the ground will often give you a far more interesting perspective. Getting low or getting up high will afford you a different view of your subject which may be far more interesting because it is not how your subject is typically seen.
Look around you for opportunities
I am always looking around for opportunities to get above my subject to make photographs. But you don’t have to go to extremes. Just squatting down or even bending your waist slightly and you will see your subject differently than when you’re standing upright – as will the viewers of your images (that is the key to standing out from the pack).
Think about it each time you go to make a new photo. Consider getting lower or higher up than your subject. If you can, make a series of photos at each position and compare them all later on your computer. If you do this, pretty soon it will become a new habit.
2. Research and understand your subject
Starting to photograph something new and not knowing anything much about your subject is limiting. If you don’t have some understanding of what you are creating photos of they will be more likely to look like anyone else’s photos of the same subject. Getting to know and understand your subject, even a little, before you take any photos will help improve your photography.
I am often surprised when we begin a day photography workshop here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, how little our customers know about the location. We don’t spend a lot of time teaching about the history or the economy. But some essentials about culture and way of life are so beneficial to help people have some understanding of what they are photographing.
For example, knowing that it’s okay to politely photograph monks, knowing a few phrases in the local language, knowing which direction the traffic moves on the road, etc. These are all simple things that can help you have a richer photography experience if you know about them in advance.
Connect with people
Getting to know a person before you photograph them will help you relate to one another and certainly alter the type of images you will make compared to having no communication with them beforehand. Photographing someone you already know is often easier, unless they are adverse to having their picture taken. But when you meet a stranger and want to photograph them it’s often best to connect with them first, even on some level (a smile can work too).
A smile and saying “Hello”, (preferably in their language) are the best icebreakers most of the time. Often when I am photographing in the streets or markets I will just smile, say hello, and nod at my camera. If the person smiles back I go ahead and make a few pictures. I will then show them the back of my camera so they can see their photos. If I get a favorable response I will turn the camera around and continue to make some more photos.
When I find a person who enjoys the interaction and the experience I will spend more time. This relationship is valuable. Taking the time to relate to and get to know your subject even a little, will help you to make more creative photographs of them because they will be more relaxed and happy that you are showing an interest in them.
A quick internet search on anything you are want to photograph will provide you with more reading than you’re willing to do in a single sitting. You don’t have to go overboard with it, but do spend some time finding the essential information about your chosen subject so you are more informed and more interested in the location and/or person.
3. Use Manual Mode
Learning to use Manual Mode consistently when you are photographing will help your photography more than anything. Having your camera set to any of the Automatic or semi-automatic modes means your camera is in control of the exposure.
Photography is so much about light. The word “photography” literally means drawing with light. If you have no light you cannot make a photograph. The more you can appreciate and understand light, the better you can learn to control the exposure settings on your camera, and the more you will develop as a photographer.
Learn to master your camera
I know there are a lot of hard-core photographers who prefer using auto modes, but it’s really not that difficult to learn to master your camera in Manual Mode and gain the maximum amount of control and creativity with your exposures.
Your camera is incredibly intelligent and capable of making even exposures in many situations. But your camera is not creative. You are!
Taking the time to study a little about how cameras function to capture an image will help you to control your camera more precisely. It doesn’t matter that much which camera you study as they have not essentially changed how they make an exposure since they were first invented.
Practicing in Manual Mode, (and not cutting corners and slipping back into an auto mode,) will help you build your confidence and speed every time you come to make photographs.
Stepping out of your comfort zones and breaking some (bad) habits will help you to develop your style and you will come to enjoy your photography experience more and more.
Move around, look for alternative locations to make your photos. Learn about your subject. The more interested you are and the more knowledge you have will enhance your experience and you will therefore also produce more interesting photographs. Take the time and practice in Manual Mode. You may be frustrated at first because it is more difficult, but the results you will achieve will be well worth your effort.
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