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15 Tips to Take Your Photography Skills to the Next Level

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    Introduction

    The power to create art is now at our fingertips. With the rise of social media and modern technological advances, comes the ease with which visual art can be created and dispersed. Photography is one of the many avenues that art can be expressed. If you’re a photographer, but want to hone in your skills, then you’re in the right place. Keep reading and you’ll learn a few quick and effective methods to take your photography skills to the next level.

    1- Shoot Often

    As with anything, practice makes perfect. Even the most skilled professionals will admit that they had to fail at first in order to reach a point of success: to reach the top of a mountain, you must hike and break a sweat before you get there. Similarly, if you want to take your photography skills to the next level, PRACTICE. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of your work either. Reach out to potential models via social media or in person with people you know and ask them if they would like to collaborate with you. If the models you choose are fairly experienced, they can also give you a good sense of what you can work on as a photographer as you begin shooting more often.

    2- Shoot with your mind’s eye first

    With vision, anything is possible. If art is a true expression of the inner soul, then photography should be the same. Set in your mind a vision of what you want your finished work to look like, then shoot! If you can envision it, you can make it happen. Have in mind the kinds of tones you would like to see: do you want a warm or cool tone? How is the background? Often, it’s helpful to look up some inspirational photos before a shoot to give you a general idea of the concept you are envisioning. Doing this will also help the team you’re working with (models, stylists, and other photographers) work towards the same vision.

    3- Find the best composition

    I know: composition is such an abstract term. But it helps so much when taking photos! Once you have in your mind’s eye the shot you want to take, you can then actively seek out all the pieces to the puzzle that will compose your photo. Composition is an all-inclusive term for simply putting together your photo. It includes arranging your subjects in a way that helps best portray what you’re trying to convey to your audience. This coincides with the previous tip (shooting with your mind’s eye first). Composition is a way for photographers to make their photos aesthetic and visually pleasing to the viewer. If you think it looks good, it probably will: be confident and discover your artistic abilities.

    4- Simple Backgrounds make for better portraits

    We all know of those awkward family photos (typically taken around the holidays) that have the ugly brick fireplace in the background with everyone scrunched together, pretending that they’re comfortable. You know what I’m talking about: they’re cringeworthy. When taking portraits, it’s so imperative for your background to be sleek and minimal, as to not distract your viewer’s attention from the model. The reason those awkward family photos are so extremely awkward is partially thanks to the hideous background (it might also be because nobody wants to have their picture taken).
    Simply stated: a busy background is the worst thing you can place your model in front of. Choose a clean, minimalist background that will make your subject really stand out. This could be the wall of a building, or even a forest in the distance. The goal is to create some depth between the subject and the background, thus eliminating distraction.

    5- Use symmetry and reflections in your shots

    They say that the standard for human beauty is determined by the proportion and symmetry of the face: the more symmetrical a face is, the more it is perceived as being attractive. The same exact thing can be applied when it comes to photography. Symmetry in photography simply refers to mirroring an image. For instance, if you’re taking a shot of a railroad from the perspective of the train tracks, you will need to be directly in the center of the tracks in order to make sure your image is symmetric. Symmetry is so pleasing to the eye. One creative way to utilize symmetry is to take shots of reflections. Reflections are pretty much everywhere: from mirrors to pools of water, it’s a super simple way to create symmetry in your image.

    6- Avoid camera shake

    There is nothing worse than clicking the shutter and then looking through the photos when you get home and realizing that half of them are blurry (probably because you had too much caffeine).
    This being said, one way to avoid this issue, besides overdosing on caffeine, is to stabilize your camera as you shoot. There are so many ways to do this, but probably the easiest way is to simply start using your camera strap. Yes, it’s there for a reason, believe it or not.
    Also, use your creativity to inspire you: if you are shooting outdoors, use a rock or a log to stabilize your camera. If you’re shooting indoors, utilize a tripod or else crouch down and use your knee. Like they say: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    7- Avoid using your flashlight

    Have you ever accidentally used the flash on your camera when shooting portraits? It’s okay to admit: most of us have. The harsh light that bounces off of the face seems to highlight every single imperfection. The same thing is true when it comes to regular photography (not just portrait photography): ty to avoid using flash because it exaggerates the harshness of the photo. Instead, be smart by using your natural lighting and investing in reflectors to bounce the natural light around the model. In addition, the lighting you decide to use can change the entire photo depending on if the lighting has cool or warm tones. Before you shoot, be aware of the origin of light in your location: will there be sunlight streaming through a window, or will it be a studio shoot with many reflectors? Be smart and know what you want before you shoot.

    8- Use the right ISO

    For some reason, ISO seems to be one of those scary topics that no one likes to talk about. ISO, in essence, is a simple concept. Simply stated, ISO deals with the sensitivity of your camera lens and how much light it allows in. This being said, the higher your ISO, the more sensitive it is to light and the more grain will appear in your image. The lower your ISO, the less sensitive the lens will be to light, meaning that you can use this setting in bright, well-lit locations. Let’s review: high ISO means more light sensitivity and low ISO means less light sensitivity. Once you become acquainted with and master ISO, you will notice that your images will be crisper and clearer.

    9- Know your shutter speed

    Another technicality when it comes to knowing your camera and the images it takes is familiarizing yourself with the shutter speed. The shutter on your camera is what allows light in to reach the sensor in your camera, which, in turn, produces the image. If the shutter speed is fast, it means that the shutter opens and closes quickly, causing the subject to almost appear frozen in motion. On the other hand, if your shutter speed is slower, it creates a motion blur (when the moving subject in an image appears blurred in the direction of its motion). Shutter speed is measured in milliseconds.

    10- Use the widest aperture possible

    Aperture is one of those funny things to learn in photography, but to make it simple, aperture just helps out with the depth of field in relation to light and your camera lens. The wider your aperture, the more light is allowed into the lens. This is highly recommended if you’re shooting portraits, so that all of your focus can be placed on the subject, instead of the small details in the background of the image. Also, wider aperture is a huge plus, because it allows more light into the lens, which, in turn, helps stop camera shake by freezing your images in motion even faster. Wide aperture is just great all around: you can’t really go too wrong with it.

    11- Use the rule of thirds

    I know: after talking about symmetry, you’re probably so confused, but quite honestly, it’s all about the visual aesthetics. While symmetry draws the attention to the center of the image (and can sometimes evoke feelings of confrontation and boldness) the rule of thirds attracts the viewer’s attention to the edge of the photo. When you want to highlight not just the subject, but the image as a whole, you should definitely use the rule of thirds, which simply involves cutting your image into thirds and having your subject only in one of the farthest corners of the composition.

    12- Edit your pictures

    This is your time to shine as an artist! Editing your pictures allows your clients to see your vision as an artist for your work. Editing is kind of like the photographer’s fingerprint when it comes to style. Consistency is key when it comes to many things, including photography. Editing your photos also gives you a second chance to really get the picture right. If you love the composition of a picture, but the lighting isn’t great, just edit the heck out of it and see if you can redeem it. There’s absolutely no shame in doing this: the best photographers have done this every now and then.

    13- Use a polarizing filter

    If you’re new to photography, you might not even know what a polarizing filter is, so let me enlighten you. It’s a filter that is put over the camera lens to block out extra glare that comes from the sun or other sources of light that bounce off reflective surfaces. This filter should typically only be used when shooting outdoors since it blocks most light from entering the camera lens. If you were doing an outdoor shoot on a sunny day, you would use a polarizing filter to block out the amount of glare that is reflected on anything from plants to store windows. This is a must-have for every serious photographer because it gives you so much versatility in your shots and keeps the distracting and ugly glares from taking over your photos.

    14- Buy courses not gear

    Yes, I know: it seems like every good photographer has all of the latest and super expensive gear (and you’re slightly jealous of them). Gear can be (and often is) of great assistance when it comes to taking great pictures, but in terms of actually improving your photography, you must first know what you’re doing by gaining knowledge. One of the ways to gain knowledge as a photographer is by investing in courses that are specific to the areas in which you would like to see improvement. For instance, if you are new to photography, it would be a better use of time and money if you took a course in the basics of photography instead of purchasing hundreds of dollars in fancy gear that you don’t even know how to use yet. You can thank me later for this advice.

    15- Be patient

    You’ve heard it said over and over that “patience is a virtue.” Not only is this true, but it actually helps you out in the long run: trust the process and don’t speed it up. It’s art, not a competition. Also, learning these technicalities in photography will pay off if you take your time to get to know your camera inside and out as well as its capabilities. We all learn at different speeds and one of the worst things you can do is to compare yourself with other photographers because, if you do, you run the risk of losing yourself in the competition and neglect the art. Cut yourself some slack and just do your best.

    Conclusion

    Photography is not a race to see who can get to the top: it’s art and needs to be treated as such. Take what you need from these helpful tips and own it! Go steady at your own pace and don’t worry about the competition out there. As a photographer, you are a creator of art, so get out there and take more pictures while using these tips.

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