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A Guest post by Jim Harmer of ImprovePhotography.com
Athletes would never consider showing up to a game without having practiced, so why is it that most photographers shoot for the “wall-hanger” photo every time they go out without ever practicing new techniques? Consider applying these new workouts in your photography routine and you will improve your skills and creativity.
In my photography workshops, I often show my portfolio to introduce myself before the class begins. After showing a few pictures, someone will inevitably raise their hand and ask, “How did you shoot that one?” I tell them the answer, but then I show them how to practice guessing camera settings so they will know what to use in any situation.
The very best way to shoot like a pro is to analyse the work of the pros, and Flickr is just the place to look. Most photographers probably know that cameras save information about what camera settings were used to take a photo, and the information is saved in the jpeg image file. Some websites, such as Flickr, make this information easily viewable so photographers can see how other photographers created a photo.
To view this information on Flickr, find a photo and click the small text link on the top right of the screen that reads the name of the camera that shot the picture. Clicking this link will bring up a new page showing all of the camera settings the photographer used.
This photography workout simply requires going to Flickr or any other photo sharing website, finding good photos, and then carefully reviewing the EXIF data from the pictures. Ask intrinsically why the photographer chose those settings and what camera settings could change in order to improve the photograph.
When this photography exercise is implemented, the question, “How did he take that picture?” is asked much less often. With practice, knowing the correct camera settings is easy.
Most photographers take tens of thousands of pictures over the course of a year, but only a handful of those photos really stand out enough to make their way to your portfolio of best images. Many good images may be captured during each time shooting, but rarely is an image captured that is truly stunning.
While all photographers understand this fact, their photography techniques rarely reflect it. Most photographers shoot hundreds of images and hope that some of them reach the level of quality necessary to make it into the portfolio.
Though this method of never missing the moment has some merit, it also teaches photographers that if the first or second photo of a scene does not turn out, it is acceptable to simply forgive and forget the mistakes and move on to something else. Therefore, this straight-forward exercise is designed to work that bad habit out of photographers: Go out and shoot, but do not return home with more than one photo. Click the shutter more times, yes, but delete each photo if it is not perfect.
Implementing this photography workout will teach photographers not to give up on a shot until it is perfect.
This workout works almost the opposite of the second exercise, but it has a similar purpose—keep shooting to capture the perfect shot.
To practice this technique, find one subject and work to capture ten photos of that same subject before leaving. I recognized the need for this exercise while teaching my photography students landscape photography in Naples, Florida. We went to shoot the famous Naples Fishing Pier, but, not to my surprise, all of the students set up their tripods at the exact same spot immediately upon arriving at the beach. Their photo included all of the pier and the sunset behind it. This was a perfectly reasonable composition, but the students had a difficult time thinking of new ways to photograph the pier in an interesting way.
I asked the students to all take 10 different shots of the pier. They struggled at first, but eventually ended up with beautiful photos. They photographed tiny details on the pier, captured photos of the water splashing up against the pier pilings, and shot the pier as a silhouette against the sunset. Soon the students discovered their initial photo of the subject was not quite as strong as the photos they took as they forced themselves to try new things.
When something captures your eye, don’t leave until you have shot that same subject in ten different ways.
As you practice your photography skills rather than simply shooting and hoping to improve, you will feel more confident in your ability to come out of any shoot with creative and technically-correct photos.
Jim Harmer is the author of five photography instructional books and writes the ImprovePhotography.com photography blog.