Summer is here — the camera is out and ready for all of those memories to be made! Inspiration is flowing; you’ve seen so many awesome images, and you’ve been wanting to unleash your inner photog for awhile now, but where to start? Good question! Whether you are using a P&S (Point & Shoot), a DSLR, or even a smartphone camera, there are a variety of ways to hone your skills and make capturing those moments fun and creative, once you’ve got down some basics.
Get to know your equipment
I know, I know. Many of us already know the basics. But, the better the relationship you have with your camera, the easier it will be to capture your desired image. Don’t be afraid to learn how the settings work and understand what your equipment is capable of. Manuals are a great source for quick reference. There are even online tutorials for a variety of models, and it has become much simpler to find answers to many of your camera questions and needs. You can pick up some really good pointers this way and get yourself headed in the right direction. Smartphone cameras: same deal, get to know what you have to work with … I often use mine as a secondary camera and I love it for shooting on the fly!
A few helpful links:
Adorama has a learning center covering topics from learning how to become a better photographer to buying the right equipment.
BHPhotovideo.com also has a “learn in depth” section with solutions and tips on a variety of photo subjects.
What should be in your bag?
Okay, so you are planning on going out specifically to shoot a whole lot of awesomeness! You might be at your destination for awhile and you just may need to be prepared with some essentials. As you become more seasoned in photography, you will become more in “the know” of what to bring/carry with you. Start with your basics first; you can increase what you keep in “essentials” as your budget allows.
So, what kind of basics? I will focus here on 3 essentials and 1 mid-essential item (these are items that are high on my list to have on hand personally in my camera bag).
1. Don’t forget the batteries! I know this sounds basic, but when you are caught without an extra, panic may ensue! It is good to have at least one extra, fully charged camera battery (sometimes two), an extra set of batteries for flash, and an extra for your remote if you have one. (I use rechargeable ones for most of my items).
2. Memory cards Make sure you have them, depending on the capacity of your cards, you want to have enough memory for those fantastic images you are capturing! Trust me, it’s a real bummer to have your camera beep and flash “FULL” and realize you forgot to bring extra. Depending on the size of image your camera is capable of, the larger the shot, the more memory it takes (I like shooting in the largest size possible).
3. Lens cleaner towelettes I keep these with me all the time, even when all I have is my smart phone with me. They are quick, take little space, and are easy and relatively inexpensive to use when you are in a pinch and need to clean a lens. They also come in handy for cleaning your own eyeglasses (I am constantly smudging mine.) Always use care as lenses can be very costly!
4. A tripod Although this isn’t usually in the camera bag (it won’t fit in mine), and normally it has its own fancy bag, the tripod can be a very useful essential when trying to get that steady shot (especially helpful for those landscape images where you want the horizon to be straight, the self-portrait when using a remote, group/portrait shots, etc.). There are a variety of tripods and accessories out there, and they can range from very inexpensive to WOW! How much? Depending on the size and weight of your camera and lens — it’s worth it to do some research — choose accordingly when and if you decide to invest in a tripod. Be sure to look for sturdiness; cameras are expensive to replace as I will be the first to tell you — a tumbling tripod crashing with your DSLR onto cement, the camera will go boom! You will GASP and a tear … well, many tears (true story an overly excited and curious large puppy may have been involved) … you can imagine the rest. It’s a lesson learned the hard way. Heavy gusts of wind can also wreak havoc on your trusty tripod — having a tripod weight bag or DIY sandbags specifically for your tripod to anchor it can be a lifesaver!
Experience/Finding your style
You gain experience by doing. It’s a learning process; in fact, it’s ongoing. There will be many images, people and styles that will inspire you. As you gain experience in the art of capturing, you will begin to find your own style — the sky is the limit! Find the niche that is uniquely yours. There are those who chase the light in their work, others are fond of certain tones, love nature or sparkly things, some are madly in love with monochrome, etc. Experiment and learn from your experience. Forewarning: IT CAN BE VERY ADDICTING!
A few ways to gain experience, learn methods and find your style are:
Do a 365. Capture something each and every day for a year — you can focus on a particular subject like nature or self-portraiture, still life or vary it completely — the key is to start and finish the project, all the while honing your skills as a photographer.
It is an invigorating feeling to accomplish one of these and a great way to reflect back and see the progress, changes, improvements, etc. You can take a very simple approach or go über creative from the setup of the shot, to the processing of the image. I have been on a 365 journey going on 5 years now …
Do a 52. Capture something once a week for a year. Again, focus on a particular subject or vary it completely.
Do a series. Try focusing on one particular subject. Practice with lighting, focusing techniques, and if you have more than one lens, try a few of them. Photography can be the artistic door you are looking for.
Go old fashioned. Take a course in photography.
Join a photographers group and/or community. It can be a great support/learning system if you can find one just right for you.
That old saying “practice makes perfect” really rings true in learning how to get that awesome capture!
You’ve taken all of these photos, now what? There are a variety of processing programs out there — something to fit all budgets, from free to high end. Some companies even offer trial versions so you can test drive their products. This is a good way to find the right processing program for you. Processing can be very simple to extremely complex depending on what you are going for. This is something that can take some time and patience if you are not familiar with it, but the results can be absolutely amazing, once you gain the skills to process those images! Many of you may already have software for processing your images — super! Just keep practicing and learning! The best way to improve is to do.
If you haven’t made that plunge yet, here are a few links to check out:
Corel (they often have specials and free trials)
Serif (note: I have not tried their products in a long time, but they do offer some free downloads)
There are so many more out there, I just wanted to touch on a few here.
Are you more advanced in your processing skills and love to spark your creativity with textures and layers? Joel Olives has wonderful, fantastic textures at a marvelous value as well as some free downloads too!
Now, I just want to expound a bit on using a smart phone as a camera. Many just use the camera phone as their main image maker. With all of the apps available out there it is so amazing how you can capture, process and share all from within your phone! You can totally be creative with your photos this way. From a variety of optional lenses that actually attach to select devices, you can now get more out of your smart phone photography experience. Many apps are free and some have small fees. I love apps! See what is available for your smart phone, you just might find a new fave. The key is to enjoy and have fun while taking photos, regardless of whether you are just a novice or an expert. Get ready, set, click!!
Sprouted from Fresno, Lisa Argyropoulos is a wife, mom and mother-in-law. She is an artist, photographer and designer. When she is not creating, she sings and enjoys cooking. She is easily distracted by sparkly things. Her work can currently be seen here and here. You can also find her on Twitter @lisaargy and Facebook.