Monday, 27 January 2014

The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 7

This past Christmas, I posting 12 tips to improve your photography on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/garyslens). As Facebook has limited room to post, I'm expanding those tips in this blog. Stay tuned for all twelve tips (some by themselves and some combined), and if you want even more, join me for one of my photo courses!


The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Tip # 3 - Get the shot quick


"Sometimes the shot is just - there - and you have to capture it quickly. Don't hesitate! Take that photo! Even if the settings aren't perfect, you might still have the perfect image. Once you have that perfect shot in the camera, don't be afraid to do it again. Now you can take the time to change your settings to adjust for light, or your angle. Then you can take lots of shots to play with how you think the shot would be best taken, knowing you captured that moment at the very beginning. Often that will be the shot you keep."


One of the biggest things you learn to do in photography is take your time, be patient and think through the shot. Look at the lighting and the composition carefully and "create" the image. 

When a tourist takes a picture, we call it a "snapshot". The key being "snap" - because it is taken quickly and without a lot of thought to what makes it a good "photograph". They are snap decisions taken hastily to capture a memory that is otherwise fleeting. Not bad in itself, but not very artful either.

If you know you will be shooting in a particular place, with a particular kind of lighting, you can prepare your equipment ahead of time; pick a shutter speed and aperture that are appropriate for what might happen. That way, when the moment comes, you are already prepared, click and the image is perfect.

However, if you don't react quickly, the moment can be past and you may miss an opportunity to capture a once in a lifetime image. So the dilemma is, do you snap quickly, or do you think about it and maybe miss the shot. The answer of course is: do both!


In the end, you will probably regret more if you didn't grab those first couple of images and miss the image entirely than if you have bad lighting or bad composition.

The good news is, it is an instant, digital age! So, even if you are not prepared, snap that first image quickly. Then use it to help improve the next one. Once the image is "in the can" you can take a moment to consider how you should  have shot it, make adjustments and fire again.

Think about some of the best photographs in history. Many of them happened when a photographer was prepared, with their camera ready. When the moment happened, they simply pressed the shutter. But even if you aren't that good, or that prepared, then at least get that first shot. You might find that first shot is your best, even if it has a little blur, or the lighting could have been improved. The expression, or the action might speak louder and tell the story better than the imperfections.


Tip # 2 - Be brutal


"When you take a series of shots, you know that there will be just one in that series that will really be great. Why keep all the rest? Be brutal - even while the photos are still in the camera! Deleting those awful photos and keep only the ones you really like - or at least the best one out of your series. Be critical of yourself and be sure to think through the reasons why the image you are deleting is bad. This will help you to take better photos in the future. Post your work online and have others critique it. Don't be afraid to fail because in failing, you photography improves."

So, you've fired off that first shot quickly, you've thought about it, taken another, adjusted things somewhat and taken a few more, then took a few as safeties, rethought the lighting and took several more. When you get back home, you upload them all to your computer and discover that, lo and behold, you have 300 photos of the sunset behind the tall grass!

You certainly don't need 300 photos of almost the same thing, so it's time to put on your editors hat and get brutal with those photos.

Even before you empty your camera, you might want to quickly go through your images and eliminate those that you definitely don't want to keep - blurry, or bad lighting ones, screwed up faces or awkward poses, or just plane non-sense. Save yourself time and effort later by removing them now.

I have to admit I'm a pack rat when it comes to photos - I personally don't want to just delete them and then realize later that I might have wanted to keep one I threw away because it was actually better, so here's what I do in my workflow:

- Copy all the images to a folder
- In that folder, create another folder called "Like"
- Create a third folder called "Trash"
- Begin going through the files in the folder:
    - Any that strike me as exceptional go in the "Like" folder
    - Any that strike me as horrible, go in the "Trash" folder
    - Any I'm unsure about, are simply passed over.
- When I've gone through all the images in the folder, I quickly review the trash folder to ensure I haven't accidentally put a gem in there, and then simply delete it.
- Next I review the "Like" folder.
    - If there are still too many in the like folder, I work the process in reverse by moving images that aren't quite as good as you thought back into the original folder. 

When I'm done, I usually have all the really good images in the "Like" folder and the rest in the original. I can then delete the original files, or store them, depending on how important they are.

The next step is to ask someone to help you - someone you trust. Have them look at your "Like" folder and tell you which ones they also like. Don't just accept these as the best ones, but ask why they chose those images. It will help you the next time you are choosing.

So in the end, how many is a good number to keep? The best number of images to keep is definitely one. Of course most of us will keep a few more, but your goal should be to be as brutal as you can and that means getting it down to just one image.


Tip # 1 - Show only your best work


"Are the great photographers known by their thousands upon thousands of failed attempts? No, they are known for their best work. Each of them has had some major failures in their time, but they continued to work at their craft and perfect it. Don't be afraid to pitch your bad images (or keep them if they inspire you to do better), but don't expect every photo to be a gem! And be sure to only put on display those you think are your best images!"

If you have been truly brutal in gleaning out the good images from the not-so-good ones, you will start to find that you are actually a pretty good photographer! Now, show those to the world!

Don't show every image you take. Not even the "good" ones... show only your exceptional work. The world should not have to editorialize your work, and your work will look all the better for having been curated by yourself first. And remember, your best images aren't necessarily the ones your mother loves, or (dare I say it), your wife. Look for really good photos that have photographic value (See all the rest of the tips!)

Ansel Adams, a famous photographer from the American West, once said "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." You can bet that he took many hundreds of photographs in any given year - and that was well before the advent of digital photography - yet he felt that only a few were truly significant. Try creating a calendar each year with just your best images. Can you glean them down to just 12?

And when you have a really good photo, why not get it printed - nice and large. Frame it and put it in your home. Enjoy the image and share it with those who visit.



Why is this the #1 Tip? Because this will make you a better photographer more than anything else. It will force you to study your own photography, along with everyone elses. It will let you see that you really can take an awesome image, and hopefully it will bring some accolades from those around you who also see the images.

So get out your camera. Get out there and shoot! And share those amazing images you took - only the best ones of course!

Read more on any of the other Tips:

Part 1 - Get to know your gear
Part 2 - Use your camera tools
Part 3 - Use Composition Rules
Part 4 - Tell a Story, and Keep it Simple
Part 5 - Put yourself in a good spot, Be creative
Part 6 - Change it up, Make it Unique
Part 7 - Get the shot quick, be brutal and show your best work




(c) 2014 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography

Monday, 20 January 2014

The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 6

This past Christmas, I posting 12 tips to improve your photography on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/garyslens). As Facebook has limited room to post, I'm expanding those tips in this blog. Stay tuned for all twelve tips (some by themselves and some combined), and if you want even more, join me for one of my photo courses!


The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Tip # 5 - Change it up


"Every once in a while, change up what you are shooting and how you are shooting it. It will keep your photos fresh and it will keep you creativity fresh. Try a different lens, or different zoom. Try a different angle. Take your camera somewhere you wouldn't normally think of taking it (within reason of course)."

After the excitement begins to wear off, and it does to some extent, you might find yourself falling into a photographic "slump". You've learned a lot along the way about how your camera operates and how to take great pictures. Your hard drive is filling up with thousands of images you don't know what to do with and you begin to think you've taken a photo of almost everything there is to take a photo of. 

From a compositional view, nothing looks quite "right" - the placement of things isn't worth taking out your camera, or the light isn't quite right.

In those times, you need to change things up and make them fresh again. 

In a sense, this is just a broader version of the last two tips - putting yourself in a good spot and being creative - but with a wholly different purpose. In this case, it's about getting a fresh perspective on photography in general.

Start a project

One way to jump start your photography again is to work on a project.


If your days are varied, you could try a 365 project where you select one photograph from each day. Post the best image you take each day for others to see. At the end of the year (or even along the way), look back on your images to see how you have improved, or how you could improve, or just do it for the fun of looking at the images.

Are you outgoing? Or perhaps not so outgoing but want to learn to be? Maybe you could try a "100 portraits of strangers" project. You guessed it, randomly ask people if you can take their portraits. Try to be as unique in creating your images as the people you are photographing. Do the best job you can, and share the photos with them on-line.

Not looking for something that takes so long? Why not offer your services to someone who can't afford great photography and have some fun with them. They get some great photos and you are allowed to be more creative with them.

You might also join a photography group to share your images with them. Have them critique your photos and you do the same for theirs. This can be challenging but very productive and will definitely improve your photography.

Limit yourself for a time

Another way to get things moving again is to limit yourself to a certain type of photography, or certain equipment. Choose a fixed focal length lens (or just keep your zoom at one length) and work at trying to get the best image at that focal length, or with that lens.

Getting out of the slump is usually just about pushing through. In challenging yourself, you will find new things that interest you, and along the way, you will find new ways to photograph. Above all, keep shooting. If you stop entirely, you may find it harder to pick up that camera again!



Tip # 4 - Make it Unique


"Putting special effects (aka instagram) doesn't make a bad photo better. Don't take a photo just because you can. Think about it. What makes your photo different from every other one you have seen. Avoid the cliche's - if it's a photo that's been done a thousand times, will anyone really care about it? What makes your image unique? What would make people pause and stare at it? When you think you have it, then push the shutter button."

I have a lot of friends with iPhone or Android cameras who use instagram. Yeah, it's cool, and the fact you can grab shots and instantly share them is even cooler, but what's with those effects?

It's not that effects in and of themselves are inherently "bad", but I think people believe, if they put an effect their photo, it will instantly be better. Overuse of effects, however, can ruin an otherwise perfectly beautiful photo. 

Most of the effects in instagram have been used in professional photography to enhance the mood of the photos and help to tell the story. The problem is, people are using them thinking it will simply make their photos better.

So what are the effects in instagram for anyway? They are there to make the photos more unique - something different and therefore more interesting. And that is the key.

What you are really looking for is the photo that is unique - something no-one has done before, or no-one has done in that way before. The methods of making your photo unique are as varied as the cameras and lenses - and effects - that are used to create those photos. 

All of the previous tips come into play here, from the technical setup of your photo and the proper use of your camera, to the creativity behind it. Use everything you have put together to create an image that others don't typically see. Shooting a portrait? Shoot it from your unique perspective. What do you see in the person in your portrait that others don't? What way do you want others to see your subject that you don't think they do?

If you were looking at a photo of your subject, what would make you stop and stare at the photo?

After the photo is taken, there are plenty of tools to create special effects on the image, but be careful here. If you are going to use an effect, pick one that enhances the photo, not just that looks cool. Choose one that is going to complete or enhance the story you are trying to tell - sometimes even by simplifying it or limiting the viewer's view.

Pausing and thinking about how to make your photo unique will help you to stop taking all those photos that just take up space on your hard drive, and will start giving you more that you will want to keep - and share.

It's not easy to be unique - as a wise man once said, "there is nothing new under the sun". but changing your perspective can give you a unique view of it even when it seems old and stale.

Read more on any of the other Tips:

Part 1 - Get to know your gear
Part 2 - Use your camera tools
Part 3 - Use Composition Rules
Part 4 - Tell a Story, and Keep it Simple
Part 5 - Put yourself in a good spot, Be creative
Part 6 - Change it up, Make it Unique
Part 7 - Get the shot quick, be brutal and show your best work




(c) 2014 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 5

This past Christmas, I posting 12 tips to improve your photography on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/garyslens). As Facebook has limited room to post, I'm expanding those tips in this blog. Stay tuned for all twelve tips (some by themselves and some combined), and if you want even more, join me for one of my photo courses!


The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Tip # 7 - Put your self in a good spot


"The angle of a photograph can change a photograph entirely. Consider the background in your photos, how much your subject fills the frame (Robert Capa once said "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough"), how simple your subject's surroundings are, how the other objects in the frame enhance the story you are trying to tell. Perhaps try a different orientation - portrait or landscape - which better suits the subject of your photo."

Sometimes, when you're down and out, getting a new perspective on life can help to lift your spirits and bring the joy back into life. "Count your blessings" my Mom used to always tell me. And getting a new perspective on your photography can add new interest to your photos as well.


When you approach a subject, first take the picture the way you would normally - straight on, standing up, with your camera pointed at the subject. Plain and simple, right? And a little boring usually. 

Now, consider what you are trying to say in your photo, how can you change the perspective to better tell that story? How can you give it a different viewpoint by looking at it from a different angle? Instead of jumping from photo to photo, stay in one spot for a while and consider the different ways you might approach the subject of your images.

Consider what your viewer is looking at when they look at the image. Are they catching the detail you did when you were taking the photo? Does your photo bring their focus to that subject? How can you better attract their eye to that detail?

Not only will you give a different perspective, but you will help your photos to stand out in the crowd. Remember that first photo? That's probably the photo hundreds of people have taken before. How might you change your perspective to make that photo different? 

Finally, don't be afraid of what people might think about you as you're taking those photos. Lying prone on the tracks as you take a photo might seem weird, but the image might look fantastic - but be sure you're safe in doing so! Make sure there are no trains coming along that track, or that you're not going to fall as you lean way out off of that building!

If your pictures are easy to take, someone probably already has it, so be original!


Tip # 6 - Be Creative


"There are lots of ways to keep your photos creative. Just look around you. Try using reflections of your subject in other objects, like your kids opening their presents in the reflection of the glass ball on the tree. Try tilts of your camera, try zooming as you take the shot, try making the image darker, or lighter. Try black & white. Whatever you do though, remember that it is about the subject, not about the effect - after that, experiment!"


"Be Creative" sounds simple enough, right? It's one of those phrases though, that when you say it, it's hard to do! When it comes time to actually get creative, the juices don't always flow the way you want them to. You know that you're going to make better photos when you are more creative, but how do you do that?

One way to get creative is simply to get out there and take more photos. Taking more gives you a chance to try different things and see how they turn out. Experiment. Try different things that work (see tip # 7). 

Try using different lens lengths, apertures, shutter speeds. Try different perspectives. Try standing in a different place. Put your camera somewhere unusual, or difficult to get to. Think about how the image should look, not just how it looks to you as you stand looking at the subject. 

Once you've taken the photo, consider other ways to be creative. Try Black & White, or Sepia, or other effects like posterization. But remember that the effect is not the main thing - the image is the main thing and the effect is meant to enhance the image, not detract from it.

Still not feeling it? Then find other photographers to hang out with, who can critique your photos and help you try new things. Don't have a group of people to meet with, then try posting your photos on a sharing site like Flickr and encourage feedback from friends and relatives.

In the end, your photos will be better - and more creative.

Read more on any of the other Tips:

Part 1 - Get to know your gear
Part 2 - Use your camera tools
Part 3 - Use Composition Rules
Part 4 - Tell a Story, and Keep it Simple
Part 5 - Put yourself in a good spot, Be creative
Part 6 - Change it up, Make it Unique
Part 7 - Get the shot quick, be brutal and show your best work



(c) 2014 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 4

This past Christmas, I posting 12 tips to improve your photography on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/garyslens). As Facebook has limited room to post, I'm expanding those tips in this blog. Stay tuned for all twelve tips (some by themselves and some combined), and if you want even more, join me for one of my photo courses!


The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Tip # 9 - Tell a Story


"Photography is not about operating a camera. It is about capturing your subject. Andre Kertesz said "Seeing is not enough, you have to feel what you photograph". Photography is as much about how you see your subject as it is about the subject in your photo. All of this is to say your photo tells a story. Consider what that story is before you click the shutter. The world is not just filled with smiling faces, and neither should your photos be. Capture your subjects in a way that tells their story - as you see it."

Now that you have the basics of operating your camera down, I get to tell you that Photography is not really about operating the camera. 

Let me use the piano analogy again... playing the piano is not about hitting the keys in the right order and at the right time, although that's important to it's operation. Playing the piano is about creating great music that inspires and moves people. 


In the same way, photography is about creating great images that inspire and move people. And whether that be music, drama, art, or photography, we do that by telling a story.

Before you click the shutter (with the right aperture, shutter speed and ISO), consider what you are looking at? Does it inspire you? Does it tell you something about the human condition? Is it something that you are going to look at and be uplifted, challenged, or inspired?

So often, we use our camera to take snapshots of people - say "cheese" and click. But the world is filled with all kinds of emotions, not just smiles. Sometimes the tears can be more inspirational than the smiles. Think of the photos you remember most. A little girl running away from the horror of a nuclear explosion in Japan perhaps. Perhaps a remote location in the mountains with a beautiful lake in the foreground and a majestic peak behind.

Ask yourself: what is the story you are trying to tell in the image you are capturing, and how can the image you are capturing tell that story best?


The simplicity of this image, it's rendering in black and white, the use of the rule of thirds and
the subject itself all come together to tell a story of this lonely abandoned diesel pump.
When you look at the image, what is the story it tells you?


Tip # 8 - Keep it Simple


"If your image is telling a story, you don't want it to be telling too many stories at the same time. Keep it simple - just one subject, just one story. Use techniques to keep your background simple, or blurred (adjust aperture)."

One of the things writers learn to do is to cut out all the pieces of the story that don't really tell the story. Anything that is just "extra" and is unnecessary is removed to leave only what is important. Sculptors have been quoted as saying that the sculpture is inside the marble, all they have to do is chip away the parts that shouldn't be there.

In photography, it is important to remove the parts of the image that can be distracting to the story.

Some of the ways you can do this are by:

- Using Bokah to blur the background of an image so that does not draw attention from the subject.
- Cropping the image closer to the subject to remove any "other" stories that are creaping in.
- Using contrast or colour to draw more attention to your story.

Using the rules of composition, the tools of your camera, and your imagination, you can simplify your image so that it tells your story more clearly and effectively, without competition from the little side stories that happen everywhere.

Of course, this is another rule that is made to be broken, and although keeping your image simple is true most of the time, there are occasions where the complexity of an image can be a large part of the story itself - like a "where's Waldo" image, the myriad parts become the story rather than the individual subject.

Look at some of the images you have created. Pick the ones you like the best and ask yourself what is the story this image is telling me? What story was I trying to tell?

Read more on any of the other Tips:

Part 1 - Get to know your gear
Part 2 - Use your camera tools
Part 3 - Use Composition Rules
Part 4 - Tell a Story, and Keep it Simple
Part 5 - Put yourself in a good spot, Be creative
Part 6 - Change it up, Make it Unique
Part 7 - Get the shot quick, be brutal and show your best work



(c) 2014 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 3

This past Christmas, I posting 12 tips to improve your photography on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/garyslens). As Facebook has limited room to post, I'm expanding those tips in this blog. Stay tuned for all twelve tips (some by themselves and some combined), and if you want even more, join me for one of my photo courses!


The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Tip # 10 - Use composition rules

"There are many, many useful rules for helping you compose an image. The easiest of them is the Rule of Thirds. Imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe board on your image and place horizons and subjects at the intersections of, or on those lines. It will make your images more interesting. Have your subject face towards the larger space in the image so they are looking into it instead of out of it (which is just confusing for the viewer)."

It is said that "rules are made to be broken", and these rules are just these kind of rules. In fact, breaking them can sometimes be fun and make for some very creative photographs. But like any discipline, you need to get the basics down before you can move on, and learning some basic rules of composition can make a big difference to your photos.

Like the virtuoso piano player, who can improvise a masterpiece, but had to start by learning scales and where to properly place their fingers, great photography comes from learning a few simple rules and practicing them over and over again.

While there are many rules for composition, I am going to touch on a couple of the more popular ones. Once you have mastered these, be sure to continue looking into more and more rules.


The Rule of Thirds



The girl in this image seems in the middle,
but her eyes are actually on the upper left
intersection point and she is looking
into the image.
Probably the best known and most widely used composition rule is the "rule of thirds". It has been around since the 1700's and is simple to use. You simply imagine a tic-tac-toe board on your image - some cameras even let you place this grid on the screen so that you don't even have to use your imagination.

To make your photos better, when you look at your subject, place them at one of the intersections, or along one of the lines. If you are taking a portrait of a person, place their eyes on the upper line at one of the intersections and have them face into the center of the image.

The concept being, your eyes tend to naturally go to these intersection points rather than the center of an image, and an image composed in this way appears to be more balanced to your viewer.

Let's say you see a nice lamp you want to take an image of. You aim your camera,focus and click the shutter - nice image, right?


The lamp is nice, but it doesn't seem very interesting. 

Now, apply the rule of thirds to the image and place the lamp on the lower left intersection.

You can also place the post along one of the third lines (see the image with the grid), using it also in the composition.

The image of the lamp becomes more interesting (well somewhat more interesting, it's a lamp after all).


The Golden Mean


There is another rule that is very similar - the Golden Mean.

The Golden Mean, or Fibonacci curve, occurs naturally in so many places. Probably the most recognizable is the nautilus shell when cut in half, but there are lots of other examples around us.

Because it occurs in so many places, it is a very recognizable pattern that naturally draws our attention. If the lines in your image follow the same pattern, it will feel more familiar to you, even if you have never seen it before.

You may have noticed that the beginning of the spiral approximately lies at the top left intersection of the rule of thirds. The difference here is that the beginning of the spiral is the main subject or point where you want the viewers eyes to be drawn. Placing parts of the image along the curve will draw the viewers eyes along those lines and to that point. It also creates a pleasing, balanced and attractive image.


Leading Lines


Another common composition rule is "leading lines". In this case, you use lines in your image to lead your viewers' eye to the main subject of your photo. While the lines themselves can become part of the overall composition, they serve the purpose of moving your eyes to the real subject.

This can be tricky as these lines are often objects which can dominate the photo and take away from the overall picture - roads, fences, etc - so be careful they do not attract too much attention on their own (unless that is your intention - after all the rules are made to be broken, right).


Other Rules


There plenty of other rules of composition and when you have mastered these three, I would encourage you to look them up - the internet is full of material on each of them:

- Balancing Elements and Depth
- Visual Weight, Symmetry, Patterns and Texture
- Viewpoint
- Cropping and Framing
- Contrast and Colour

Each rule can be used to enhance your image in its own way. All or most of them can be used in combination with others; for example, the rule of thirds can be used in the same image as colour and symmetry.

The rules themselves do not make your images better, but using them correctly will improve how subjects in your image appear, making your pictures much better in the process.

Remember, keeping the rules improves your photography, but breaking them can sometimes make your image more interesting, so have fun and experiment.

Read more on any of the other Tips:

Part 1 - Get to know your gear
Part 2 - Use your camera tools
Part 3 - Use Composition Rules
Part 4 - Tell a Story, and Keep it Simple
Part 5 - Put yourself in a good spot, Be creative
Part 6 - Change it up, Make it Unique
Part 7 - Get the shot quick, be brutal and show your best work



(c) 2013 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography