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5 Key Skills for the Modern Photographer

A Guest post by Saul Molloy from Shotslot.

Image by Romain Ballez

All the whistles and bells of the modern camera should, at least in theory, make crafting great images an easier and more straightforward process than it used to be – with all these exposure modes, focussing tools, picture styles and the like, camera manufacturers would like you to believe that it’s just a matter of squeezing the shutter and hey presto you’re Bailey. Certainly getting the tricky business of exposure right has become more straightforward for the technologically challenged – you really don’t need to know much to get some passable snapshots but what about if you want to take your photography further?

Photography is so very different an activity from that of even ten years ago. Good modern photographers need to be able to do so much more than compose and frame a shot, and whilst the traditional skills required for messing around with chemicals in a darkroom are waning, a whole set of new techniques are needed if you want to develop your photography to a really high standard. Here’s what I think are five key ways to make your photography shine:

1. Know Your Software

Hone your ‘developing’ skills to where you can take an image and get the very best out of it in your digital darkroom. This is a vital capability whether you want to be primarily a ‘photographer’ or an ‘image-maker’ and allows you to take greater control over your work so it’s the very best that it can be. This means choosing a solid piece of editing software and learning how to use it to its full potential. It doesn’t mean buy the most expensive thing and learn that – you have to choose something that best suits your interests and needs. Be prepared to change your mind.

2. Get the Basics Right

You need to know composition, exposure and how to utilise your camera to get the most out of it. It doesn’t matter much what camera you’re using, if you don’t really know how to point it then you’re going to struggle to get anything good out of it. Know your manual and what your camera can (and can’t) do. Study and understand phenomena like depth of field, focal planes and shutter speeds. This stuff can get geeky and bit dull at times but it will help you to understand how to produce a particular effect or look when you start to frame in your mind what you want an image to look like in its final form.

3. Be Flexible

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut taking the same kind of shots and processing them in the same way over and over again. Or just adopting one set of tools and failing to implement new ones as and when they become available. Developing your work means that you do need to develop the way you work. This means being conscious of issues such as workflow and how they impact on your ability to produce good images. Just like the dodo, if you fail to evolve you fail to survive in that will you fail to keep your interest in photography in general but you also need to be able to innovate and change if you’re really going to produce some impressive images.

4. Study Others’ Work

Art rarely develops in isolation, the work of other people can be key in helping you to develop your style, hone your skills and increase your knowledge. Spend time every day looking at the work of others, thinking about how they created a specific look or effect and work out how you could replicate it. An important tool for the modern photographer is networking with other photographers on-line or in real life. On-line communities such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are a great way to get your work ‘out there’ but are an even better resource for inspiration and discussion. They even allow you to engage in collaborative projects which will boost your skills and experience substantially. In real life, you should check out your local camera club or photo-walk group. Interacting with other photographers in the flesh is a great way to learn new things and increase your engagement with photography overall, it might give you access to new shooting opportunities and equipment and will certainly challenge the way you see your own photography.

5. Practice

You can read all the books, internet sites or magazine articles you like but there’s no substitute for actually picking up your camera and using it. Passion for photography comes from the feeling of having created something unique and interesting with your camera – be that a single image, a small portfolio or an entire body of work. There is just no substitute for picking your camera up and pointing it at things in earnest and ideally, you should be using your camera as a portal to show others something you yourself passionate about. Having the ability to show something you love in a new and visually exciting way onlycomes with practice and thus practice is the thing that more that anything else will make your photographs stand out from the crowd.  Go do that now!

See more of Saul Molloy’s work at Shotslot.

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  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com ErikKerstenbeck

    Hi

    I like this article – I fell into a rut processing everything the same way until I stopped and actually looked at what I was trying to achieve. Now I start with the end in mind right from the start. For example this shot of the Grand Central Station. I wanted to capture the hustle and bustle, so I used a skow shutter and then later in post gave it a vintage look. Now I always treat everything differently – depending on the original vision.

    Gateway to Millions: http://t.co/cxyVfru

    Regards, Erik

  • http://www.carolynCphotography.com Carolyn Chentnik

    Some great tips. I’m trying to use my Project 365 to help.

    My Project

  • http://photos.rickscheibner.net Rick

    I especially agree with #4. Flickr is one good place to collaborate and bounce ideas off others in order to improve your skills.

  • http://www.gregwilliamsphoto.com Greg Williams

    An excellent article Saul. This article should be shared everywhere. Good one for new as well as seasoned photographers everywhere.

  • Debbie

    Great tips, I have been using Flickr very helpful. Thanks

  • http://midnightrook.blogspot.com Jean-Pierre

    Except for #1, you could apply these rules to more than just photography. I would say to study older art and photography for #4 as well. Flickr photogs are new, the master photographers have lasting influence and that’s what I aim for: more than just a nice photo what’s popular.

    Thanks for the article!

  • http://midnightrook.blogspot.com Jean-Pierre

    *photo OF what’s

  • @mpersand

    Good points, Well taken.

    I especially need to work on #2 & 4.

    I would also add a 6th point though, spell check your work before posting online.

  • ScottC

    All great basic points to remember. Trying different subjects could be included in #3, I shoot mostly when we travel and have learned a lot from the mistakes made on subjects that were new to me.

    Went to car show some time ago, didn’t like the photos so I decided to make a “project” out of photographing my own:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5585335098/

  • http://www.shotslot.net Shotslot

    Thanks for the nice comments folks, I’m glad you liked the article!

  • http://www.pixilstudio.com/info.html bryan

    Good tips – Carolyn be careful of 365 project sometimes they can produce a bunch of uninspired work. try shooting an idea and developing it over time

  • http://thymindseye.com/ chew

    Love this post. At first, I didn’t really realize the importance of a good editing software. But now, I think it’s as hell as important as understanding what exposure is.
    Thanks.

  • http://thymindseye.com/ chew

    Love the picture too. It’s kind of doing the Joe McNally grip using a Canon. =)

  • http://aisjournal.com Sajib

    The last one is very important and we should really take our camera and get out of our home to photograph anything.

    Thanks for the tips.

  • http://www.shotslot.net shotslot

    Hey Carolyn

    At the risk of upsetting people by double-linking my blog, check out this post regarding 365s:

    http://www.shotslot.net/2010/12/how-to-survive-365.html

  • http://www.garvinworks.com George Garvin Photography

    Excellent article. No matter what your skill level, it’s always good to re-learn and practice the basics of good photography. One thing I use to boost my creativity is to look at things from different angles and perspectives. Instead of just posing your subject, also try positioning yourself for greater impact. I crawl around on the ground, look at my subject through things, climb on anything that will support my stout frame, run around my subject to find the best light and backdrop, and see my subject in a way you cannot from eye-level. Doing so not only builds your creative eye, but also bolsters your confidence, daring, and willingness to humiliate yourself in front of people, which are all great character traits for a photographer.

  • anonymous

    cool looking lens in the pic. haha can you tell me which lens is it?

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    To add to this good content, take shots of ordinary objects and experiment with Depth of Field…like this shot of padlocks on Brooklyn Bridge.

    That’s Amore!: http://t.co/JkAxezU

    Regards, Erik

  • http://www.malindajulien.com Malinda Julien

    Thank you Shotslot for the article. I know I get in a rut and do all the same things over and over again. While they are “valid” then I get bored and find my work less exciting.

    Know your software and look at NEW software coming out all the time!

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and inspire us all to be better.

  • http://zielinskiphotography.com Jim Z

    These are great tips and I especially like #4 and #5. There is such a wealth of info out there to study and nothing beats regular practice. A project 365 is an excellent way to dedicate yourself to daily practice and experimentation. I’m on my second now and it has been an incredible help with learning and trying new things.

  • Stephen

    Bad ‘dodo’ analogy: this species was exterminated by humans, not because of some innate failure to evolve.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/RMC-Photography/153148104733399?v=app_4949752878 Rhett McCarthy

    Excellent article! Most importantly, tip #5.. Practice practice practice!!!
    No matter what equipment you known, whether it be ‘point & shoot’ or ‘dslr’ ..always remember
    practice makes perfect! I’m a self-taught photographer and without practicing over and over,
    starting with a small point & shoot I would’ve never reached the point where I’m at now.
    So continue shooting & one day it’ll be all second nature.
    Good Shooting to All!
    Rhett.

  • http://www.cravemyphotoraphy.com/blog/ CRAVE Photography

    I NEVER take the time to comment on articles. But this was PERFECT! I couldn’t agree more with every point made. Also, I really appreciated the section about studying others work. That is single handedly the reason why I am even where I am at today is because of my passion and appreciation for others work. The masters studied the masters…and as photographers, we should be doing some of that too! Well written article!!!

  • Vivek Jung basnet

    I think it is important to know how to calibrate your screen properly before we even start to edit a photo.
    I use Adobe Gamma to calibrate my screen and I calibrate every couple of months. There are other tools and softwares out there that are more expensive but make calibrating much easier process.
    No matter what software you use to edit, if your screen is not calibrated then the print will not come out the way you intended to.

  • http://www.digitalstudio.in Pashminu Mansukhani

    Yes, all the points mentioned are valid, but I think they apply more to professional photographers than average or an enthusiast who loves photography as fun and getting better results is not the aim. I strongly believe that putting a person in too many restrictions, can sometimes make a hobby “boring” after some time.

  • Linus

    very correct . I recognized this point ( taking shots from unusual angle) and I am happy with the outcome.
    A recently clicked shot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/linusmvs2/5579513284/

  • http://www.pivotal.zenfolio.com Ely Dennis

    The entire article was very well done. It is what we, as photographers, should continually think about and strive for. I especially agree with what Jean-Pierre said. Looking at the work of the classic photographers from the early 20th century to the present. The work done in the early 20th century, for example the work of Atget, and Man Ray, constantly give me inspiration to take meaninful photographs.

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    How about Get Candid. This was after a Tandem Drop at an airport in Lodi California!

    I dont know about you, but dropping out of the sky might NOT feel like another day at the office….this is what was captured here.

    Another Day at the Office: http://t.co/47Adxrw

    Cheers, Erik

  • http://almenianaal@yahoo.com jacque bundac almeniana

    love taking pictures too….

  • http://minimalistphotography101.com Steve

    I like this list a lot because it is different from the standard by the best equipment that you can afford type list.

    Emphasis 100% on the photographer is exactly the right approach. Gear comes and goes but we are stuck with our brain and eyes for life.

  • http://www.fuzzypig.com Fuzzypiggy

    Pretty sound stuff there, though it would have been good expand on those points. My picture taking and enthusiasm for photography really took off when I joined DeviantArt, you get exposed to image based art of all types and varieties. Check it out!

    The more enthusiastic I got the more I got out and about taking pictures. The Saturday/Sunday just gone I got up at 3am both days, just to make it to the places I wanted to be to take shots in the golden hours. Back home by lunchtime to help the family withe chores, then back out again the evening! When I was on holiday last year with the family, I got up at 1:30am one day and drove 70 miles, slept in the car for an hour just to make it to a spot to catch a sunrise. Completely screwed up the shots, LOL! However the most important thing was that I learned what went wrong and how to cope with it next time. I quite often cover 250-300 miles in a weekend just driving to places to shoot, sometimes the family come sometimes they leave me to it.

    I often pop along to galleries, living close to London, for photos and paintings just to try to learn from the masters about composition and colour. I walk through the city on my way to work just looking for situations that might make good pictures, most often with no camera but just looking and trying to picture what would work.

    I am not claiming to be any good but creativity doesn’t just happen you have to keep working at it, the old saying that “Practice makes perfect.” is never more true that in the art world!

  • Glenn

    Words of wisdom Saul. Thanks.

  • Ceci

    Excellent commentary. We all need to be constantly evolving!

  • Bradley

    Good advice. Thanks!

  • moses odanga

    I am kenyan based photographer and i must commend for this insightful tips on photography

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    what are the basics?

  • Trevor Barre

    Great article, I will be sure to retweet it, thanks
    Trevor Barre
    trevchris.aussieblogs.com.au

  • Brett Ossman

    These are great and fit right into my own Facebook and Google Plus photography tips pages (AverageJoePhotography). Going to link this on those. :-)

  • Bonnie Rannald

    Understanding composition is one of the biggest problems I notice with Modern Photographers and thanks for the gentle reminder.

Some older comments

  • Glenn

    January 3, 2012 06:01 am

    Words of wisdom Saul. Thanks.

  • Fuzzypiggy

    July 11, 2011 10:15 pm

    Pretty sound stuff there, though it would have been good expand on those points. My picture taking and enthusiasm for photography really took off when I joined DeviantArt, you get exposed to image based art of all types and varieties. Check it out!

    The more enthusiastic I got the more I got out and about taking pictures. The Saturday/Sunday just gone I got up at 3am both days, just to make it to the places I wanted to be to take shots in the golden hours. Back home by lunchtime to help the family withe chores, then back out again the evening! When I was on holiday last year with the family, I got up at 1:30am one day and drove 70 miles, slept in the car for an hour just to make it to a spot to catch a sunrise. Completely screwed up the shots, LOL! However the most important thing was that I learned what went wrong and how to cope with it next time. I quite often cover 250-300 miles in a weekend just driving to places to shoot, sometimes the family come sometimes they leave me to it.

    I often pop along to galleries, living close to London, for photos and paintings just to try to learn from the masters about composition and colour. I walk through the city on my way to work just looking for situations that might make good pictures, most often with no camera but just looking and trying to picture what would work.

    I am not claiming to be any good but creativity doesn't just happen you have to keep working at it, the old saying that "Practice makes perfect." is never more true that in the art world!

  • Steve

    April 25, 2011 06:56 am

    I like this list a lot because it is different from the standard by the best equipment that you can afford type list.

    Emphasis 100% on the photographer is exactly the right approach. Gear comes and goes but we are stuck with our brain and eyes for life.

  • jacque bundac almeniana

    April 21, 2011 07:24 pm

    love taking pictures too....

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    April 14, 2011 03:54 pm

    Hi

    How about Get Candid. This was after a Tandem Drop at an airport in Lodi California!

    I dont know about you, but dropping out of the sky might NOT feel like another day at the office....this is what was captured here.

    Another Day at the Office: http://t.co/47Adxrw

    Cheers, Erik

  • Ely Dennis

    April 8, 2011 09:44 pm

    The entire article was very well done. It is what we, as photographers, should continually think about and strive for. I especially agree with what Jean-Pierre said. Looking at the work of the classic photographers from the early 20th century to the present. The work done in the early 20th century, for example the work of Atget, and Man Ray, constantly give me inspiration to take meaninful photographs.

  • Linus

    April 8, 2011 07:55 pm

    very correct . I recognized this point ( taking shots from unusual angle) and I am happy with the outcome.
    A recently clicked shot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/linusmvs2/5579513284/

  • Pashminu Mansukhani

    April 8, 2011 01:41 pm

    Yes, all the points mentioned are valid, but I think they apply more to professional photographers than average or an enthusiast who loves photography as fun and getting better results is not the aim. I strongly believe that putting a person in too many restrictions, can sometimes make a hobby "boring" after some time.

  • Vivek Jung basnet

    April 8, 2011 08:29 am

    I think it is important to know how to calibrate your screen properly before we even start to edit a photo.
    I use Adobe Gamma to calibrate my screen and I calibrate every couple of months. There are other tools and softwares out there that are more expensive but make calibrating much easier process.
    No matter what software you use to edit, if your screen is not calibrated then the print will not come out the way you intended to.

  • CRAVE Photography

    April 8, 2011 06:38 am

    I NEVER take the time to comment on articles. But this was PERFECT! I couldn't agree more with every point made. Also, I really appreciated the section about studying others work. That is single handedly the reason why I am even where I am at today is because of my passion and appreciation for others work. The masters studied the masters...and as photographers, we should be doing some of that too! Well written article!!!

  • Rhett McCarthy

    April 8, 2011 04:51 am

    Excellent article! Most importantly, tip #5.. Practice practice practice!!!
    No matter what equipment you known, whether it be 'point & shoot' or 'dslr' ..always remember
    practice makes perfect! I'm a self-taught photographer and without practicing over and over,
    starting with a small point & shoot I would've never reached the point where I'm at now.
    So continue shooting & one day it'll be all second nature.
    Good Shooting to All!
    Rhett.

  • Stephen

    April 8, 2011 03:37 am

    Bad 'dodo' analogy: this species was exterminated by humans, not because of some innate failure to evolve.

  • Jim Z

    April 8, 2011 02:16 am

    These are great tips and I especially like #4 and #5. There is such a wealth of info out there to study and nothing beats regular practice. A project 365 is an excellent way to dedicate yourself to daily practice and experimentation. I'm on my second now and it has been an incredible help with learning and trying new things.

  • Malinda Julien

    April 8, 2011 01:12 am

    Thank you Shotslot for the article. I know I get in a rut and do all the same things over and over again. While they are "valid" then I get bored and find my work less exciting.

    Know your software and look at NEW software coming out all the time!

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and inspire us all to be better.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    April 7, 2011 04:33 pm

    Hi

    To add to this good content, take shots of ordinary objects and experiment with Depth of Field...like this shot of padlocks on Brooklyn Bridge.

    That's Amore!: http://t.co/JkAxezU

    Regards, Erik

  • anonymous

    April 7, 2011 02:34 am

    cool looking lens in the pic. haha can you tell me which lens is it?

  • George Garvin Photography

    April 6, 2011 10:38 pm

    Excellent article. No matter what your skill level, it's always good to re-learn and practice the basics of good photography. One thing I use to boost my creativity is to look at things from different angles and perspectives. Instead of just posing your subject, also try positioning yourself for greater impact. I crawl around on the ground, look at my subject through things, climb on anything that will support my stout frame, run around my subject to find the best light and backdrop, and see my subject in a way you cannot from eye-level. Doing so not only builds your creative eye, but also bolsters your confidence, daring, and willingness to humiliate yourself in front of people, which are all great character traits for a photographer.

  • shotslot

    April 6, 2011 07:00 pm

    Hey Carolyn

    At the risk of upsetting people by double-linking my blog, check out this post regarding 365s:

    http://www.shotslot.net/2010/12/how-to-survive-365.html

  • Sajib

    April 6, 2011 01:18 pm

    The last one is very important and we should really take our camera and get out of our home to photograph anything.

    Thanks for the tips.

  • chew

    April 6, 2011 11:39 am

    Love the picture too. It's kind of doing the Joe McNally grip using a Canon. =)

  • chew

    April 6, 2011 11:38 am

    Love this post. At first, I didn't really realize the importance of a good editing software. But now, I think it's as hell as important as understanding what exposure is.
    Thanks.

  • bryan

    April 6, 2011 09:30 am

    Good tips - Carolyn be careful of 365 project sometimes they can produce a bunch of uninspired work. try shooting an idea and developing it over time

  • Shotslot

    April 6, 2011 04:40 am

    Thanks for the nice comments folks, I'm glad you liked the article!

  • ScottC

    April 6, 2011 02:18 am

    All great basic points to remember. Trying different subjects could be included in #3, I shoot mostly when we travel and have learned a lot from the mistakes made on subjects that were new to me.

    Went to car show some time ago, didn't like the photos so I decided to make a "project" out of photographing my own:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5585335098/

  • @mpersand

    April 6, 2011 02:05 am

    Good points, Well taken.

    I especially need to work on #2 & 4.

    I would also add a 6th point though, spell check your work before posting online.

  • Jean-Pierre

    April 6, 2011 01:46 am

    *photo OF what's

  • Jean-Pierre

    April 6, 2011 01:45 am

    Except for #1, you could apply these rules to more than just photography. I would say to study older art and photography for #4 as well. Flickr photogs are new, the master photographers have lasting influence and that's what I aim for: more than just a nice photo what's popular.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Debbie

    April 6, 2011 01:24 am

    Great tips, I have been using Flickr very helpful. Thanks

  • Greg Williams

    April 6, 2011 12:48 am

    An excellent article Saul. This article should be shared everywhere. Good one for new as well as seasoned photographers everywhere.

  • Rick

    April 6, 2011 12:48 am

    I especially agree with #4. Flickr is one good place to collaborate and bounce ideas off others in order to improve your skills.

  • Carolyn Chentnik

    April 6, 2011 12:40 am

    Some great tips. I'm trying to use my Project 365 to help.

    My Project

  • ErikKerstenbeck

    April 6, 2011 12:24 am

    Hi

    I like this article - I fell into a rut processing everything the same way until I stopped and actually looked at what I was trying to achieve. Now I start with the end in mind right from the start. For example this shot of the Grand Central Station. I wanted to capture the hustle and bustle, so I used a skow shutter and then later in post gave it a vintage look. Now I always treat everything differently - depending on the original vision.

    Gateway to Millions: http://t.co/cxyVfru

    Regards, Erik

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