It’s easy for me to write photo tips. I’ve done it pretty much every day since November 1, 1998 when I published the first edition of Photofocus online. But it’s harder when I constrain myself and don’t talk gear or technique. This is the meaty stuff that actually makes you think. Some of my audience don’t like these tips as much because they require you to stop and invest your soul into a photo. It’s much easier to hope for a magic button to press to get a great shot. Well sorry, this isn’t a magic button kind of post – so get your thinking caps on!
Tip #1. Aim for quality over quantity. What if you limited yourself on your next outing to just one photograph? You couldn’t shoot more than one subject. You couldn’t shoot with more than one lens or in one location. If you did that, you’d be photographing to make a point – to tell a story. Try to FEEL your next photograph. Limit yourself. Think about it. Plan it. Work hard to research where and when you’ll make that image. Get to know your subject. In this scenario, you literally only get one shot.
Tip #2. Keep a notebook handy at all times. I love to keep a little Moleskine Notebook with me most of the time so that I can write down notes about things that visually inspire me. Whenever I get into a rut, I start paging through my notes to see if I can find something that shakes some fruit out of the tree. A more modern-day equivalent would be an audio recording device such as the voice recorder on an iPhone. I do think however that there is some additional value in being forced to write something down. It sticks better.
Tip #3. Start teaching. No matter where you are in your photographic journey, you know at least one more thing than someone else does about photography. Find someone who you can help and go do it. I spend more time teaching these days than shooting, yet, I am convinced my work is actually improving. One of the reasons is that the old adage is true – if you really want to learn how to do something, agree to teach it.
Tip #4 Shoot for yourself. No, I mean really shoot for yourself. Think of a photo project you’ve always wanted to do. Only this time, think of it as a private project. YOU are the audience. You have to make a pact with yourself. You will NEVER, EVER show the images from this project to ANYONE. In fact, you will delete the images once the project is over – all except for one which you will use as a reminder that shooting from the heart makes the best photograph.
Tip #5 Avoid cliches. Think about the current “trends” in photography. How many times will I be forced to look at a beautiful model standing in the lake with her head just above water at sunset – lit in “strobist” fashion? I see hundreds of these shots. Joe McNally really made this concept popular by putting this shot on the cover of one of his great books. But you going out to duplicate that shot isn’t really you shooting. It’s you imitating. Don’t get me wrong, there’s value there. You can learn how it was done. But what I really hope you can do is find your true self in your next big image. You don’t have to concentrate on breaking the rules or being gaudy for shock value (Thank you Lady GaGa) – but try to focus on what you really want to say with your camera. Do you want to make images that last? Do you want to make images that really stand the test of time? Then be yourself. Shoot for yourself. Shoot what your heart wants you to shoot. Don’t just try to be cool for being cool’s sake. Be true.