When first getting into photography, it is sometimes helpful to try all different kinds of photography. As a hobby, and even a profession, it is important to find what you like the best, what interests you the most, what you are the best at, and how you might want to specialize. Finding a type of photography that appeals to you is a good first step to developing your voice as an artist. I’ve been a photographer for years and I’m still in the process of finding my voice and developing a style. That process involves so many variables it helps to start with these generalized types of photography to find what fits you.
Many photographers start shooting landscapes because of the relative ease with which you can find subjects. Also, ascetically speaking, it can be easy to produce a beautiful landscape. Beauty is literally all around you when you are looking to shoot landscapes. Bring your camera, a tripod, and find a beautiful vista or secluded spot in your neighborhood. Every season has its beautiful aspects. Stick to early in the morning or later in the day for more dramatic and pleasing light.
The difficulty with landscape photography is doing it exceptionally well and producing an image that is more than just beautiful. A quick glance through flickr or 500px will show that beautiful landscapes are bountiful, so the challenge becomes standing out. How do you take you landscapes and go from beautiful to exceptional.
Do you have friends or family willing to stand around, poise, and follow your guidance as you take picture after picture of them? Then perhaps you want to work on portraiture. Portraits are photos of people (or sometimes pets). Unless you live in a remote place with no friends or family, there are almost always subjects available. It is a mistake to think that your subjects have to beautiful (traditionally speaking), they don’t. However, your photographs should be interesting. Humans, by their nature are individual and interesting. It is incumbent on you to make the portrait interesting. Lighting is your primary tool here. You will also want to make choices about framing, setting, exposure, and so on. The challenge here is to capture the person (or the character they are playing) in a moment. You are telling a story about a person and you are doing so in one image. Portraits don’t have to include a persons face or can include multiple people.
Portraits can be challenging because they are simple and therefore require attention to detail. They can take a lot time to get right, and unlike landscapes, your subjects will lose patience. My wife, who is often my guinea pig for photography experiments, now dreads when I ask here to model for me to practice. Luckily, there are people out there looking to have their photo taken and will sometime model for you in trade for prints of the photos you take. Be upfront about your experience level and you can find someone who will trade time for prints. However, don’t expect the most experienced models, they are often learning too or they would be expecting to get paid for their time.
Macro photography is like landscape photography but with less travel involved and can usually be done indoors. The tiny world around us is a fascinating place made up of details that are at once beautifully familiar and alien to us. Macro photography can also produce very neat results for relatively little investment. A set of extension tubes or a reversal ring can help you produce amazing magnification for a couple of dollars each. The first set of photos I was really excited to share were macro shots of water droplets.
Two challenges with macro photography are focus and light. The two are actually related. Because you are focusing so close to such small objects and sometimes working inside, the light available is limited. For the water droplet shot I had to use a flash. To compensate for lack of light, you may shoot wide open (low aperture number). If you shoot with a wide open aperture, most of your shot will be out of focus. Sometimes that is pleasing, as in the rose photo above, other times it is frustrating because it becomes very difficult to get that one thing you want in focus, in focus. With macro photography, the slightest movement can completely alter the photo. There can be a lot of trial and error involved and it takes a lot of patience. Also, if you are doing macro photography on the cheap with extension tubes, you made need to focus manually and set the aperture before you attach the extension tubes. If you can use a tripod, it is highly recommend to do so.
Street photography is essential going to a populated location and taking pictures on the street. It usually involves taking pictures with strangers in them. It can often lead to social interactions with people you don’t know. Not everyone is comfortable with having their pictures taken. If you have a large fancy DSLR with a super huge zoom lens, street photography may not be for you. You will attract a lot of attention and are more apt to make people uncomfortable. If, however, you have a little point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera, it can be and exciting and rewarding adventure.
The busier and more public a location, the less people are going to give a second glance. Avoid getting in anyones personal space. If you are approached, be polite, explain what you are doing, and if you feel comfortable, show them the pictures you are taking. When people realize the photos aren’t of them, but just happen to include them, they will be less interested. If they really object, it is often just easier to offer to delete the photo than fight about it. It is also always wise to be aware of local laws, though it probably won’t come to that.
Remember, as always, it is most important, no matter what type of photography you choose, to keep shooting.
So you just got a new camera. Maybe you got a point-and-shoot or maybe you spent a lot of money on a fancy new DSLR with lots of different lenses, either way, you are asking yourself, “now what?”
Step one: Take Pictures
Don’t let anything supersede step one . . . ever. Other people may encourage you to buy more stuff (almost never the right thing to do) or sit right done and read the manual (important, but not the most important). The beautiful thing about living in the age of digital photography is the relative inexpensive nature of developing photographs (assuming you already have a camera and computer). It can, and likely will get more expensive as you get into making photographs, but at the beginning it costs almost nothing to make mistakes, take risks, try new things, and learn. So do it. Right now. Stop reading and go and take some pictures. I’ll wait. Remember, the second you stop taking photos, you cease developing (pun always intended), learning, and growing. So no matter what anyone says, keep taking pictures.
Next: Learn the Basics
Your back for more? Ok, by basics I mean both the basics of your camera and the basics of photography. Don’t forget step one, but as your come across questions like, “I wonder how I . . .?” consider reading the manual so you can be sure to get the most out of your newly acquired, shiny gear.
This is not a how-to article, it is simply a guide for what to do when you first get your camera. As such, I won’t be going into detail about the basics. Suffice it to say that Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO are what I am referring to by basics. They all effect how exposed (how much light is gathered by your sensor, sort of?) and each has additional effects on how your overall image looks. A slow shutter speed can create motion blur, a wide open aperture will limit how much of your photo is in focus (depth of field), and ISO can introduce noise and alter color rendition as it is raised.
When I first started I thought, focus = good, high ISO = bad, and shutter speed was how I effected how bright my photo was. The truth is much more subtle and you want to know how each of these values effect your photo, so that you can start making conscious, artistic choices about how your final image is going to look.
You’ve just spent some amount of money on a camera. Ideally, you’ve done so to enjoy the process of making photographs whether of your family, flowers, landscapes, other people, or yourself. So don’t get hung up on right and wrong and avoid getting trapped in a paralyzing cycle of fear and self doubt. So, remember step one, have fun, and you can always delete your mistakes.
I avoided it and made excuses. My photography was for me and not something I was interested in doing professionally. I said it over and over again. Until very recently, I believed what I was telling myself and everyone around me. But I took the plunge. I was contracted to do a few photography jobs and am asked repeatedly to portrait or landscape work for people. Since the work and demand was there, I decided it was time. I’ll write another more about my experience in another post. For now, check out my new site: Black Dog Photography