Okay, let's be clear, I don't know that much about photography. I'm still learning, I still take shit photos, I still make mistakes....but I take so many photos (12,000 in the last year) that I have learnt a few things from that experience - and I would like to save you some pain and share with you some of the things I have learnt from my short photography journey so far....these tips are mainly from landscape photography.
I have read some debates on the merits of RAW v JPEG, but for me personally, I love shooting using the RAW format. For those that don’t know what that means, many photographers when starting out (including me) just shoot using their camera’s default setting for picture format, which is usually JPEG. This is a very common file format, used virtually everywhere, especially on the web. My final images are in the JPEG format – but only after editing. They were in the RAW format first. JPEG is a compressed file format, meaning the camera takes the image, effectively throws away data in doesn’t need and squeezes the picture into the JPEG format. This means some information in the photo is lost forever.
Below: RAW files can bring out detail and colour lost in the JPEG format, especially in shadow areas and blown out areas
RAW files on the other hand, contain all the information about the photo, nothing is discarded. Some people refer to RAW files as uncompressed, unprocessed images. Not sure if that’s the case but it does mean the file is much bigger than a JPEG (in my 7D, they’re anything from 22 to 28 Mb in size). Some people don’t like this extra file size and use this as an excuse not to shoot RAW. In my view, that’s a BIG mistake.
JPEG only shooting works fine for some people in certain lines of photographic work, like sports photographers, where the quality of the final image is less important than capturing fleeting moments of action, where rapid shooting is vital (shooting many frames per second in RAW can slow down the camera very quickly) and where images have to go straight off to e.g. newspapers and there’s no time to process RAW images. Wedding photographers often use just JPEG, as they take so many photos that they need as much room on their memory cards as possible.
RAW comes into its own in such genres as landscape photography or indeed any photo that has strong highlight, bright sky or strong shadow in it. Here are 10 reasons I use RAW:
What more compelling reasons could there be?? Yes, RAW files take up a lot of space. I went to a safari park recently and took 1116 RAW photos in one day. That was nearly 32 Gb of photos. However, I tend to delete the RAW files once I have my final image and I’m absolutely happy with it. Only then will I delete my RAW file.
I actually have my camera set to RAW + JPEG Small. This means that every time I take a picture, the camera takes both a RAW image and a JPEG one. I find this useful when looking at my images on the computer once I have downloaded them. I don’t use Lightroom (didn’t find it worked for me) so I like to be able to use Windows to look through my shots.
I spend the first year and a half of my serious amateur journey just shooting JPEG – but once I found the joy of RAW editing, and how it can give you the means to utterly transform a photo, I was hooked. It has helped rescue so many shots, I am eternally grateful!
Trust me, if you’re unsure about RAW, try it and see. You won’t regret it.
2. Move away from the AUTO
There’s only so far you can go with your photography using the AUTO mode. It took me a while to get out of the AUTO mode on my first D-SLR. In fact, I rarely moved it from AUTO mode. I can understand the reluctance of beginners to try out more ‘advanced’ modes on their camera’s, but let’s be honest - what’s the point of buying a decent camera if you’re not going to use it to its full capacity? Learn to use your lovely camera!
It really is worth the effort to find out about aperture priority mode and what depth of field is, so crucial for so many types of photography. Learning about this can transform a photo from mediocre to something worth looking at. This is so vital for e.g. landscape or portrait photography. It's about deciding what you do want sharp and in focus and what you don't.
Learn when shutter priority might be a better option (e.g. sports, action, wildlife). Learn what ISO is, how to change it and why. Learn how aperture, shutter speed and ISO work together and affect each other. I have only just got my head around this and the difference it will make to your photography is phenomenal!
A lot of this is trial and error – well, it was for me. I take so many photos that I try and experiment with different apertures and ISO speeds. But the more you play around with these things, the better your photography will be for it.
I have just started playing around with manual mode. Only up until recently, I was scared stiff of trying this out and was in awe of it when I first started with a DSLR. But it's not as daunting as I thought - and has helped me understand exposure slightly better, and the relationships between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I may not use manual mode every time I take a photo, but I am glad I took the time to learn it and will use it under certain circumstances.
Take the plunge and move away from AUTO. Once you do, you’ll never use it again!
3. I have a cunning plan, m’lord
I am, by my nature, a bit of a planner anyway. So when it comes to a shoot, I tend to plan. A lot. And that can be a very good thing. If you’re not a natural planner, you should try to plan. Honest.
In the back of my mind, I am usually thinking about my next shoot. Where will I go next? This is sometimes driven by something I see on TV, something I hear someone say or what I see in a magazine. Either way, once I know where I want to go, I set about doing a few things:
If you take these things into account, the chances of success and the chances of a great photo or two should greatly increase. Fail to plan, plan to fail as they say. Cheesy but true.
4. Move away from the car
You can’t realistically expect the best photos to come to you. I do see a lot of amateurs get out their cars, taking photos standing next to their cars and then get back into their cars. They might wander a few yards to get a few more snaps – but that’s it.
In my opinion, if you want the reward of a great shot, you need to make the effort. Some of my favourite shots have been ones where I have had to leave the car well behind and get off the beaten track a bit.
This sometimes means being a bit uncomfortable. Like scrambling up a hill. Or sliding down scree in your business suit (yes, that has happened). Or wading through mud. Or fighting beasts. Or crossing the River Styx with Mr Death. But believe me, you will be rewarded with a better view. And better photos than the man next to his car.
Sometimes even just moving a few metres can make all the difference. There have been times when I was about to get back in the car and though ‘I wonder what it’ll look like from that mound over there’ or ‘that stone might make an interesting foreground’. And I got a much better shot. Some of my best shots have been the last ones taken. A final ‘I wonder if….’ made those pictures happen.
Make the effort.
Making the effort also means getting up in the middle of the night if that’s what you need to do in order to get the best photos. Yes, it feels horrible, yes you’re tired. But it’s worth it at the end of a long day when you look at your photos on the computer and know you worked your ass off to get them. And it feels good!
5. There is no point 5.
(But there are two point 6's)
6a. You look, Watson, but you do not see
When you really get into photography, you start to look at the world in a slightly different way. You start to notice things you may not have noticed before. I only really noticed this a couple of years ago, and I know this was happening because more and more, I would think see something whilst driving or walking and think ‘b*llocks, I wish I had my camera with me’.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve been driving and spotted a scene out of the side window and wished for my camera, I’d have £113. Would I ever admit to stopping on the hard shoulder of the motorway, pretending there’s something wrong with the car, but actually taking a quick photo? Of course not. That would be against the law. But I do now tend to take my camera with me in the boot of the car on long journeys, just in case I see something I want to capture.
I do now tend to look at scenes or buildings in a different way than I used to. I now spot detail that I would have glanced over or missed before. I now see interesting patterns in things that I would have ignored before. I look at light in a different way, watching how it falls on an object, building or landscape. A few years ago, I couldn’t have given a shit.
Some of the most interesting and arresting images I have seen have actually been of rather mundane, everyday things. Most people would not have noticed these sights. But the photographer did. And that’s what I am trying to force myself to do, in the hope that I’ll spot something in the everyday that might make an interesting photo. If you don’t do this currently, maybe you should start doing the same. You might just get the shot that makes people go ‘that’s interesting….’.
6b. Take loads of photos
When I first got a digital camera (about 2001), I only took one shot of each scene. I trusted that the shot I had taken was at the best angle and was focused and sharp. I continued to do this all the way through to 2008. I think it may have had something to do with the way I used to take photos when I was a boy - you had 24 or 36 shots in a roll of film, so you had little choice but to hope each shot was good enough. Up to a few years ago, small memory cards probably gave me the same issue. I went to Switzerland to see the Matterhorn and was there for 10 days. I only took 138 photos. That’s under 14 a day. Even when I got my first D-SLR (2009), I was still in the habit of taking one or two shots and that was it. No wonder I now look back and wonder what I must have missed.
Nowadays, I can take hundreds of photos in a day, easy. I have taken 400 shots of one building. I recently took over 1100 shots in one day at a safari park. The main reasons I take loads of photos are:
If you want the best shot, you’ve got to take loads and loads to increase the chance of getting it. You can’t moan about not getting a shot you’re happy with if you only took three photos. Take loads. Simple.
7. Be patient
Sometimes, just waiting a couple of extra minutes can really pay off. Sometimes, you have to be patient in order to get the best photos. I can think of a few times when I’ve got back in the car, I’m driving off and I notice that the sun has come back out, or the clouds are looking great, or there are sunbeams coming through the clouds - and I wish I’d stayed for a couple of minutes longer.
Sometimes patience can be even longer term that just a few minutes. I will sometimes go back to the same location a number of times over the course of the year, in the hope that I'll get 'that' shot.
Great things come to those that wait (apparently). Well, it can certainly be true with photography.
8. Learn to edit
Out in the field, you could take one of the world’s best photos …and return home to turn it into a piece of shit. Not literally. Hopefully.
I don’t care what the purists say, all digital photos need some amount of editing to look fit for purpose or to look good. The dark rooms of old had plenty going on in them to improve photos for printing and the age of digital is no different. I defy anyone to tell me that they use all their photos straight from the camera without any editing – and that they are all useable and to the appropriate standard and quality. You should never be made to feel guilty about editing your photos.
But poor photo editing skills can ruin all your photographic efforts. It is worth taking the time to experiment and practice editing your photos to do them the justice they deserve.
I often see photos on TV (usually on the weather part of the news or breakfast TV) that are distinctly average photos and distinctly under-edited – flat, lacking colour, blown out highlights, squint, objects that should have been cloned out, etc. etc.
Over-editing can sometimes be even worse than under-editing your images. . I sometimes look back at some of the images I took with my first DSLR and wonder ‘what the hell was I thinking’? I didn’t shoot in RAW, I over-edited the original JPEGs and am now stuck with these images, beyond rescue.
I now have a process I usually follow when editing a photo. This applies to editing a RAW image first of all…… I use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop to edit my images.
I’ll then open the photo into Photoshop and……
This is just my editing routine and it’ll vary depending on the image, but I have found it to work quite well, especially for landscape images.
Either way, make sure you learn how to use your editing software! It’ll pay off.
9. Take me with you!
If I had a penny for every time I have been in the car or out and about and thought to myself 'oooh, that would make a good shot.....it's a bugger the camera's at home', I'd have £1.17.
If you're truly interested in learning your craft and capturing the best shots you can, you need to make the effort, and that often means lugging your camera around when you might not normally have considered it. I have managed to take a lot of photos I'm quite proud of when I've been on journeys not related to photography.
For example, if I am travelling to the north east of England for business purposes, I might leave an hour or more earlier than normal to stop off at a chosen location on my way. I still reach my destination at the appropriate time but I may also have bagged a few great shots too. The same can happen on the way home. For example, I have driven home from Birmingham or Nottingham countless times and have made the effort to stop off on a summer's evening at Hadrian's Wall and got some cool shots. Okay, I arrived home very late but in the knowledge I had some shots worthy of the location.
If I'm out for a walk with the small people, I will usually take the camera 'just in case' an opportunity arises. I'd be kicking myself if I missed it, and often these opportinities (time, place, weather, people) are one offs and may not be recreated again.
10. Know your equipment
This advice holds true for so many things in life, especially for a man. Regarding your camera, they have become so sophisticated and customisable, it's understandable that many don't really know what their cameras are capable of. If I think what menu options were available on my first D-SLR compared to my current one, it's quite scary.
But I am taking the time to get to know what my camera can do. This is because I used to go out and shoot, maybe come across some technical or practical issues, and just make do or try something else. Only later did I read the manual again and find out that I could have dealt with the issue easily by tweaking some settings in the camera.
It's definitely worth taking the time to find out what your camera can do (and what it can't) and even practice at home! My 5D Mark III has a VERY sophisticated AF (Autofocus) system that you can manage without learning - but really should master to get the very best images in all sorts of situations. I am still learning that AF system, and sometimes practice selecting individual AF points whilst holding the camera to my eye. This way, when I come to shoot out in the real world, I don't have to stand there wondering how to select an AF point - and risk missing the action because I am standing there trying to remember which dial or button to press!
14/02/2015 135,000 hits
Feck knows what you're all looking at, but thanks anyway
11/11/14 105,000 hits
Thanks again for visiting. Gallery page in back in construction again, back very soon
27/10/2014 Coming up for 100,000 hits!
96, 607 so far, thanks to all who have visited
26/10/2014 Flickr on the earlobe
Have spent more time uploading photos to Flickr than here, please see my Flickr link above to have a look
15/03/14 Time for a Change
Bored of the existing design and too many images on this site, have changed the design completely and moved most of the images to Flickr.
11/12/13 Time for another update
Been a while since I uploaded any photos, will do so soon as I've taken loads recently
11/07/13 Venice ze bus due? (read in German accent)
Took the wife to Venice last month for her 40th for a long weekend, took about 2000 shots, will upload best of this week
06/07/13 TV Stardom!
Well, sort of...a bit...in the sense of 'not at all'. But surpised and pleased that BBC Scotland contacted me and aksed for full resolution versions of some images I have sent them in the past for the 'Your Pictures of Scotland' web pages. They want to display large lightbox images in the BBC reception area and would like to consider using one or more of my images. Really hope they do.
09/05/13 World's Best Site 'Get's Better' Shock
That's it, I have finally finished updating and reorganising my collection. I hope you enjoy and either buy everything or offer me a job at £100k a year. With car. And holidays equivalent to a teacher. And the same working hours.
07/05/13 9th Photo Sold!
I have decided I don't need to go on the Apprentice now, I am a successful entrepreneur on my own. I am quite happy behaving like an arse at home without behaving like that on prime time TV.
Some photos will be unavailable to view for a while as I remove a lot of the images from this site, there are just too many mediocre ones!
15/02/13 Call me Mr Bailey
I have now sold 8 photos now! I thought it wouldn't change me, but it has. I now wear sunglasses indoors, drive like an arse and the public must not look me in the eye.
09/01/13 Transferred over photo collection from one hard drive to another, turns out I have 41,600 photos. Too many??
I'm a Pro!
12/12/12 Sold 2 photos! One for $6.00 and one for 10 cents! I'm a pro! A rich pro! That's it, I'm resigning from my job. Today. Definitely...well, maybe....well, I'll give it another 6 months...or a year
01/11/12 Now using a new LEE filter system, with 0.9 ND Soft Grad and 0.9 ND Hard Grad slot in filters. Used on the Bamburgh Castle shots, seemed to make a difference but practice will be required!
Sept 2012 Got rid of 18-200mm EF-S and replaced with Canon EF 17-40mm F/4 L USM and Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM lenses - brilliant to use, much improved image quality
02/01/12 I have uploaded all my images now, just one or two things to do then that's it - the worlds least visited site is complete
25/12/11 Nearly finished uploading the photos
Home page now online
19/12/11 It's mid-December, it's feckin freezing and I am now online! It's not even nearly finished but enjoy anyway
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