The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 7

This past Christmas, I posting 12 tips to improve your photography on my Facebook page ( 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


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