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Photography 101

I have to laugh every time I am asked how I am able to always get that perfect photo. Not because I find this funny. On the contrary it is because it is the question most of us seasoned photographers get. What we all want to say in response is this, “It’s all trial and error.” And the truer answer is that we all have taken enough photos in our lifetime that sooner or later we are able to come up with some understanding as to how our camera works and how to use the tools in our box to the best advantage. But that is not what you want to hear. No, what you want to know is how to take better photos. So I will do my best to explain.

I will give you one word of advice and then I will give you my 5 DO’s and Don’ts of photography to help you along your photo journey. My word of advice first is given in a question. “What story do you want to tell?” When taking a photo, you want to tell a story. You want to give the viewer something to ponder. A great photographer is able to tell a story in one shot. After all that’s all you get in most cases, one shot to tell the whole story. So knowing the key to taking a great photo, here are my 5 do’s and don’ts.

1.       Consider the subject and lighting? I once went to a pow-wow and tons of people were taking photos of these beautifully dressed indigenous American Indians without first asking permission to take their photo. I also noticed that these men had the sun to their backs and knew that having the sun behind them would only leave me with a bunch of faces in the shadows. When everyone was done taking photos and walked away. I approached them and asked if I could take their photos and they said yes. I also asked if they could face the sun so I can see their faces as the sun would be too harsh. They smiled and said because you are respectful and wise to ask us first, we will be more than happy to accommodate you. We didn’t want to tell the other people because they were not as kind as you were to ask. So tip one is to make sure to have good lighting on your subject. It doesn’t hurt to ask for permission either. I have been told no and I have walked away from some great shots, but I also have to respect the values of others.


2.       Consider the subject location. Imagine you are on a hike and a deer (the subject) comes into your line of sight. You immediately want to snap away. Take my advice and reflect on the story you want to tell. When taking these kinds of photos, the rush of adrenaline is high and your breathing is rushed. Calm down and relax - you may be able to move slower and reach for your camera and shoot a few photos that may be able to tell your story.


3.       Consider framing your photo. Now when I say frame your photo I don’t mean after the photo is taken. I mean consider how to frame your subject and the best way to frame it. If you are taking people consider the things around them that may make your photo more interesting making sure that there isn’t anything in front of them or behind them that would be distracting. One of my pet peeves is a post behind someone’s head. So consider using background and foreground and how it can be used to make a better photo.


4.       Consider lighting. Now I know I mentioned this as #1, but I want to make sure it is mentioned again as this tip is as important as the first. Make sure you get sunrises and sunsets just right. Many people take the sunrise and sunset photos and forget that they should consider that to tell the story you need to get some foreground in the shot. A tree or a rock, the ocean or a bird flying in the sky. Maybe if you are lucky you get all in your photo. These types of photos are only good if you consider telling the story along with the rise or fall of sun and moon.


5.       Consider the staging. Some of us have had the perfect lighting, perfect place and perfect framing but we lacked the staging. Have you seen people who come across an animal and grab their camera and shoot till the cows come home, and then you see someone else who watches relaxes and moves here and there trying to capture the moment. It takes considerable amount of patience to do. This one I assure you will pay off. I have seen an animal come into view and have waited and pondered if I move slowly, maybe get on my belly to take the photo, it may come out better; the light will show the hair, fur or feathers better. Maybe if I wait and if I am lucky, that deer, bear or person will come into my perfect frame and magic!

That’s it for now. I hope this helps and supports you on your journey. Send me some of your recent photos and any questions you might have. I promise I don’t have all the answers, but we will never know unless you ask.


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