Today's guest blogger is the awesome Tom Baker.
I met Tom on one of my workshops, where some of these pictures were taken. Great job Tom!
Take it away!
First I’d like to say thank you to Rick for giving me this opportunity. It’s really an honor because Rick has been both a friend and mentor to me as I’ve tried to take my photography further.
I’ve been an avid photographer for about five years now. It isn’t my profession, it’s my obsession. I’m known mostly as an HDR photographer, but don’t worry this is not a “How to do HDR post.” Instead I wanted to share my ideas about how to make your photography better. I promise there will be no mention of leading lines or the rule of thirds.
Light is everything: All a camera does is record light. That's it. Light comes in, hits the film or a sensor, and light gets recorded. If you have great light, your pictures have taken a giant step towards being great. If the light is dull, flat, harsh, ugly, etc. ...well then you have your work cut out for you.
Great light can make ordinary scenes magical. Bad light can make the Grand Canyon look like a big hole in the ground. Watch how sunlight changes throughout the day and with the seasons and you’ll start to come up with a million ideas to improve your shots.
OK Light is ALMOST everything: Everything I just said is true, and if we lived in a perfect world, we would only shoot during those "golden hours." Unfortunately, life isn't perfect and sometimes - heck most of the time - I have to shoot when my schedule allows, not when the sun is optimal. You can take great shots at noon under blinding bright light. You can. Time of day is not an excuse to not shoot. Look around for things that look cool with the harsh contrast. Find things in the shade. Learn how the light looks and you can use it to your advantage.
It's not the camera...unless it is: I've never owned a professional level camera. I work for a living and spending several thousand dollars for a camera is way outside of my budget. I started with an entry level digital SLR and have moved up over the years to a new SLR. It's a fantastic camera but it's not a pro-level camera. It does, however, produce pro-level images. How do I know that? I have eyes. I can see that the images I take are fantastic - at least on a technical level. Quit using your camera as an excuse.
That said, sometimes the camera DOES make a difference, but only if you are shooting certain things. If you shoot in real low lighting or if you want to shoot sports and capture super-fast imagery then yes the camera can matter. It may be worth saving up a bit more to get a camera that does what you need. However if you are shooting landscapes, street scenes, portraits, macro etc – then you don't need to spend the money.
Lenses are more important than the camera: A great lens on a good camera is better than a good lens on a great camera. Photography is about light, and lenses are what bring that light to your sensor. If the lens isn't great, you are working at a disadvantage. Does that mean you need to spend $10,000.00 on a lens? No, though you certainly can. I’m saying to buy the best glass you can Afford for what you like to shoot. If you shoot landscape photos on a solid tripod you don’t need an expensive “fast” lens. On the other hand if you need really shallow depth of field, low light performance, or are shooting sports – you’ll need to spend more to get quality results.
There is such a thing as too much glass: I own 5 or 6 lenses. That's not a lot compared to a working pro, but it's still a big investment. Do you know how many I use day in and day out? Two. Are they really expensive lenses? Nope. Why waste money on a lens I don't need.
Great gear is less important that a great subject: I heard Scott Kelby say "if you want a great image you need a great subject" the other day and it struck home. I don't care how talented you are, you can only make boring look so good. If you spend all of your money on gear - what are you going to use it for?
Great pictures don't Just happen: So you have a great spot, you have the right gear, and the light is right. Your shot will be great automatically now right? Well, not quite. Great pictures don't just happen. Think about what you want to show people before you press the button. Look around you. Take note of what’s interesting, and what isn't. If it isn't interesting, DON'T TAKE A PICTURE of it. Leave it out of your frame. Move around to get a better angle. Get lower, climb higher, zoom in.
Pay attention to little "detractors" like branches or signs. Keep them out of the photo (or learn how to clean them up in Photoshop). Spending a few minutes thinking about what you are doing can mean more to creating a beautiful image than all the gear in your bag combined.
Study great images: This is becoming clearer to me the more I shoot. I've read every "how too" book out there. I subscribe to more photo magazines than I can read in a month. All are interesting and help on a technical level but NONE of them help as much as actually LOOKING at photos that make my jaw drop. I challenge you to spend 10 minutes looking at the popular photos on 500px and then 10 minutes looking at your own shots and see if you can't spot the difference. When you can see what made a great photo great, you'll see opportunities in the field to make your own work better.
Take a class of workshop: Taking a class or workshop can be a great way to quickly improve your skill. I learned more in a week seminar with Rick than I dreamed possible. Some of that was Rick of course, but a large part was just spending time talking to the other participants and sharing our work. Throw in that the locations are often excellent and you can see why this is a fast track to getting better.
Take pictures of what you like: If you like landscapes, don't worry about weddings. If you like models, don't worry about birds. If you shoot what you like, you'll like what you shoot (eventually). I like architecture, landscapes, and nature. I don't want to be a wedding photographer. I don't want to shoot models. I enjoy SEEING those shots, but they are not for me. I want to hike out into the wilderness and see the sunrise over a lake. It inspires ME. If I'm enjoying what I do, it will show in my work.
Shoot more: My final bit of advice is simple. Shoot more. If you want to get better, practice. I said in the beginning it wasn't a great secret. I didn't say it was effortless. Shoot every chance you get and you'll start to see the difference in your work. This should have been #1, but hey, I wanted you to keep reading :).