Marj Merges Beautiful. Honest. You. {and me}

Eight simple tips to improve my photographs

And maybe yours…

I haven’t been doing this that long.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve improved a lot and evolved a lot over the last couple months.  I thought it could be helpful for me (and maybe, for you) to think through the concrete changes I’ve made that have improved the quality of my output.  At the beginning of the internship I had a couple really great shoots that I’d follow up with sub-par shoots and I was puzzled how I could produce such wonderful photos one day and such crap the next.  In my post about the first month of this internship I talked about wanting consistency.  So, here’s what I think has helped me improve that ratio of great and crap.

1. Looking at work of other photographers. Before the internship I followed zero working photographers outside the ones I wanted to work for.  That was a mistake.  I was familiar with the work of the masters and had seen photography in galleries recently. Not good enough, not even close.  Now I have put it in my weekly schedule to actively find new inspiration (on flickr for instance).  And I’m following blogs of other photographers.  Before the internship I didn’t take myself seriously as a photographer.  I wasn’t sure if I was really good enough.  And I had no outlet for my photography so I didn’t see a point in doing this.  Obviously a mistake I can see now.  Take yourself seriously, look at other photographers and get inspired.

2. Turning on the grid. I never figured out how to turn on the grid on my Leica but the first event I shot with the Nikon D7000 you can be assured I figured out how to turn on that grid.  My pictures are so much straighter now.  This ties in with the idea of limiting the amount you will need to edit after an image comes off your camera.  If I can get the shot straight when I shoot it I don’t have to do those little tweaks in post-production.  Or live with tilted photographs because I haven’t gone through the effort.

3. Opening up my lens. I mean really open it up.  In recent years I’ve mostly shot landscapes.  I live in Colorado and most of the pictures I’ve taken recently are of mountains or valleys or maybe some trees.  I was always thinking in terms of getting everything in focus.  Now, I think differently.  Sure, I intuitively knew what f-stop meant and what the implications of using a particular stop were (I started with film in middle school) but I wasn’t thinking about it enough.  I had to blur the backgrounds of a few photos at the start of the internship to make them look better and that showed me I really needed to open up my lens.  So now I’m more conscious about my decisions for aperture.  I think about specifically what I’m shooting and what makes sense, what will achieve the photograph I envision.  And more often my lens is wide open (or closer to that end at east) because I’m shooting portraits now and I want my subjects to separate from the background.  I want the look of a shallow depth of field.  Maybe you want something different.  Fine.  Great.  Just be intentional about it.

4. Pre-visulazing. Planning shoots that are essentially for fun and practice for this internship have forced me to come up with want I want to shoot.  And then how exactly I want to shoot it.  I have to think of every little detail from the planning stages of a concept to who to shoot and where to shoot to how to shoot.  I have to develop a comprehensive approach that ties every aspect together and allows my ideas to come to life.  Learning to do this preparation will (and does) help me on all my shoots.  I no longer show up and say, huh, just look loving, to a couple.  Maybe I’ll do that but first I’ll place them in relationship to each other and then I’ll tell them to look loving.  The difference is I have a picture in my mind of what I want to the shots to look like.  I may not know every shot but I have a general idea for a shoot, no matter what it is.  Thinking explicitly about what to convey and highlight in every photograph I take has brought my work to a level beyond that which I was shooting before the internship.

5. Move my feet. I find I’m moving around an awful lot when I’m taking photos.  Moving back, moving forward, lying down, climbing ladders.  And sometimes getting a little up in my subject’s personal space.  I used to take photos from where I stood when I took out my camera.  Now, well, I certainly don’t do that.  And my photos are so much better.  The same philosophy of working for ideal applies to many aspects of my photography.

6.  Analyze my photographs from every shoot. I get new ideas every time I look over a shoot.  Mental notes for next time.  Notes like why didn’t I pan that I had looking over today’s shoot.  Or why didn’t I stand in front of the dandelion so I could get both faces?  Trying to use that 20/20 hindsight to my advantage for next time.  Because luckily with photography, while I won’t have a strict redo I will have a chance to apply what I’ve learned at a future shoot.

7. Focus. It doesn’t make it photo but it definitely breaks it.

8. Talk. And I mean beyond the obvious talking to your subjects like the couple you’re photographing.  I mean talking about your craft with other photographers.  I mean verbalizing your ideas so you can defend them.  I mean verbalizing what you’re thinking so you can get input on your though process.  I mean opening up yourself to others so they can help you and you can help them.  And this point is not just about photography.  I’m finding that because I have made the decision to give a go at making photography my profession I’m changing and forcing myself to change my outlook on many things.  Because I need to.  I am the #1 spokesman for my business and the success of my business rides on me.  So I’m pretty motivated.

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