As restrictions slowly start getting lifted around the country, a lot of us are getting the itch to go explore the outdoors. Whether you have a professional camera or a phone in your hand, here are my five tips for improving your photography skills this summer.
1. Shoot Things You Normally Wouldn’t Shoot
What kind of photos do you like to take? Do you enjoy snapping pics of sunrises at the beach? You might enjoy taking photos of seagulls flying by. Or maybe pictures of your friends at the beach. But have you ever tried laying down in the sand and taking of photos of shells really close? What about houses and buildings along the boardwalk? Whether you’re at the beach or not, the next time you’re out, try taking a moment to soak in your surroundings. Some of my favorite photos were from times when I tried taking pictures of something totally new.
I do this frequently during restaurant shoots. I typically get paid to take photos of the food. When a client reaches out to me, they usually say they’re revamping their menu and they need some new pictures of their dishes. When I arrive, I take pictures of their dishes like they asked. But I also look around the restaurant. What makes this restaurant unique? Does it have dark wood decor and limited windows? Are there a lot of windows and bright furniture? Looking at my surroundings not only helps me decide how I’m going to shoot photos of the food, but also gives me a chance to snap a couple unique photos of the establishment that I can include with the food photos. A lot of customers go to a restaurant or bar for the atmosphere, so including some photos of that atmosphere helps them promote on social media.
The same can apply for when you’re out exploring this summer. When you visit a place you love, try capturing the atmosphere of what makes this place unique. Take pictures of everything. Don’t just stick with what you’re used to shooting (but also shoot those things too).
2. Find a New Perspective
This adds on to my last point. I mentioned going to the beach and laying down on the sand to take pictures of sea shells. This is perspective. Lay down and try taking a photo from a different angle. If there is a seashell on the beach, try getting as close as you can to take the photo. Try and look for all that detail. Focus on what makes the shell unique. Is it texture? Maybe a spiral in the shell? Also focus on what’s behind the seashell. Is there a giant wave about to crash? This could help add some atmosphere to the picture.
If you’re in a forest, how many times do you look up? Sometimes the contrast between tree branches and the sky can look really cool.
Depending on the angle at which you hold your camera, you can also achieve different perspectives. If you get close and low to a subject, while pointing the camera upwards, it can make an object appear larger than it really is. This works really well for waterfalls and other subjects where they look larger in really life than they do in pictures.
The opposite can go into effect as well. If you want something to look smaller in a picture, trying holding your camera high up in the air and pointing down at the subject. This can bring a person’s headline closer to the ground. Photographers and cinematographers use this technique all the time. It’s a way of forcing perspective.
3. Think About Framing
Framing a photo can completely change the way a picture is perceived. I actually wrote an entire article on this subject called Cropping - The Most Underrated Tool. But framing is a really important part of photography. What do you want the audience to see in the shot, and how do you want them to see it?
This works for all types of photography. Below I have two different photos of the same waterfall. Which one looks bigger?
By zooming into the shot and chopping off the top of the waterfall, it appears larger. Because the audience doesn’t see when the waterfall starts, it needs to be left up to the imagination of the viewer. It could go on for another two feet or a hundred feet. By limiting what the viewer is seeing, this could add a sense of mystery. Horror movies play on this framing all the time. By restricting what can be seen, you create a sense of mystery and/or tension. You don’t know what lies around the corner because you haven’t seen it yet.
A lot of photographers talk about the rule of thirds. This is where you divide the photo into nine equal boxes and place the subject at the intersection points of these boxes.
This technique is a way of making the photo look more unpredictable to the human eye and gives it a heightened sense of interest. Some photographers rely on this rule, while some prefer to avoid it. If you haven’t tried this rule yet, give it a shot. It’s especially useful in photos where they may be something interesting happening in the background, or if the subject in the foreground is interacting with the background in some way.
4. Add a New Dimension with Editing
Editing is an opportunity to stretch beyond your original vision for a photo and take it a step further. Editing is one of those middle grounds where I don’t always think it helps, but there are cases where it can add new life to a picture.
The tricky part about editing is how far to go with it. There is no meter on an editing program that says you’ve gone too far playing with the adjustments. Some editing programs have an “automatic” button, but they usually only change brightness and a little bit of color. Below, I have a before and after of one of my pictures.
This is one of my pictures where I go back and forth with myself on if I needed to go as far as I did with editing. I can’t say the edited photo looks totally realistic, but it does add a unique sense of wonder. For this specific photo, I really only changed the lighting. The colors weren’t changed, but lighting does play a big role in how colors are affected (I will write a blog article about editing soon, so stay tuned for that).
But you can see how a couple sliders can totally change the appearance of a photo. I challenge you to play around with an editing program. This could be using an editing program on your phone like the Photos app on an iPhone or using a more robust program on a computer like Lightroom. Most of these editing programs have the same core adjustments like:
Exposure: changing brightness
Temperature: adding more blue or orange
Highlights: changing only the bright areas
Shadows: changing only the dark areas
Definition: adding a little more clarity
Contrast: making the bright areas brighter and the dark areas darker
Saturation: how much color is added or taken away
Playing with these sliders could help you see a unique perspective on a new photo or rediscover potential with an older picture that you didn’t originally see.
5. Do it Everyday
None of this will be helpful unless you stay persistent. The same goes for basically anything in life. The old saying goes, practice makes perfect; keep at it. Reading this list won’t make you an expert on photography. Picking up your camera every day and trying something new will give you the experience. You can only learn so much from reading a blog article on a website. The more you do these steps, the more comfortable you will feel picking up your camera and trying something new. Somebody once told me, the only way to grow is to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. I try to live my life by that, but especially my photography.
I hope some of these steps helped lend some new perspective on photography. If you have any questions or think there could be some steps added to this list, feel free to drop a comment below!