Professional Photography Tips
Taking a photography course in Bangkok is, without a doubt, the best way to radically improve your skills, taking you from absolute or semi-competent amateur up to at least the level of technical competency required to turn pro. Extensive reading around the subject will push you further still, but sheer practise is often the most significant factor. As the saying goes, with practise comes perfection. Partially through my own practise and partially through talking with other pros, I have picked up a few little additional professional photography tips and tricks which a photography course perhaps won’t cover. They are each so slight that most photography literature misses them too, but they have made my life a little easier, from time to time, and I hope they will do so for you.
Professional Photography Tips – The Neck Strap
Regular readers of this blog may recall that I gave a list of the 10 habits which give away an amateur, one of which was the use of the neck strap. As I said at the time, hanging a heavy SLR camera so that it is resting on your chest is a one-way ticket to bruised ribs! No pro that I’ve ever met uses the neck strap, except in the most extreme of circumstances.
You can buy shoulder slings, which puts the weight of the camera on your shoulder and keeps the camera secure and around your hip, where it is easy to quickly grab and bring to your eye. These are generally not too expensive and I’ve seen a number of pros who favour this option. Being a Heath Robinson sort of a guy, I made one of these myself by sewing my neck strap into a loop with a bit of an old lanyard and a 30-baht carabiner clip at the end.
Before I got my sewing needle out, I used the tip my pro-snapper sister taught me, which is to use the strap like that of a handbag. It still puts the weight on your shoulder and still keeps the camera by your hip, but it is a little less secure than the shoulder sling. She also told me that you should always have the lens pointing in towards your body, ideally hanging in the small of your back. As I’ve said before, the lens is the most important part of your SLR and having it sticking out just increases the chances of you clattering it against something or someone.
Professional Photography Tips – Photographing the Grass
If you were to see me at an outdoor event – such as a race at Bira Circuit near Pattaya – you would see me do something very peculiar. Every now and again, I’ll point my camera at a patch of grass for a while, fiddle with a few buttons and dials, then go back to photographing the action.
What I am actually doing, in those cases, is metering. Photographing a car race is one occasion where the automatic light meter modes really struggle because you have often brightly-coloured cars on a black road, all moving very fast. The camera gets confused and you end up with a lot of pictures with the wrong exposure and a lot of work in Photoshop afterwards.
I always use Manual mode anyway, but even I’m not fast enough to meter on a speeding car, which is where this trick comes in. The light meter is actually colour-blind. It works on a greyscale, with the target being to meter for middle grey (exactly half-way between white and black). Fortunately, grass green – when viewed in black-and-white – is the perfect tone. If you meter for grass then anything else under the same light conditions will be perfectly lit, regardless of what your meter readout says.
Professional Photography Tips – Always Underexposed
The problem with the light meter is that it never perfectly meters for absolutely everything. If there is something white or bright in an otherwise quite dark shot, you will often find that part of the picture is overexposed while the rest is fine. I’ve sometimes found that the overexposed area is something quite important – a sign or notice that would be helpful to be able to read, a particularly interesting cloud, someone’s shirt or something.
It is far easier to recover details in a picture which is a little too dark than it is one which is even a tiny bit too bright. I therefore almost always set my light meter to the -1 on the scale instead of the centre, intentionally underexposing the shot. I then boost the exposure in Photoshop, giving me a perfectly-lit shot and more flexibility with the shadows and highlights sliders.
Professional Photography Tips – Backwards Flashing
A friend of mine in Pattaya has an ongoing contract with a number of the big nightclubs on Walking Street. He goes down there most nights, rotating between each of the client clubs, taking pictures of the live acts and revellers. With this much practise under his belt, he is a true master of flash photography and events photography.
Seeing him take pictures, you’ll notice he always does something very odd. He has the flashgun on his camera pointing behind him! Having tried this myself, I can testify that it does, miraculously, work. It gives you a great exposure, with more of the scene lit than you would get by pointing the flash directly, and without blinding the people you’re photographing. It only works indoors because the light needs something to reflect off, and it only works if you use a diffuser on the end of your flash.
Professional Photography Tips – 1/60th at f/8.0
My step-father is a technical and mechanical genius. He had built his first car by the time he was 10 years old! The problem is that he has a very limited artistic imagination. He will read and study a subject – as he did with photography – and once he knows the ‘rules’, he will never waiver from them. If you mention flash photography to him, he will instantly quote the rule that setting your shutter speed at 1/60th and the aperture at f/8.0 will always give you a perfect shot.
I prefer to experiment with settings. I like to get the depth of field effect from using lower apertures or motion blur by lowering the shutter speed. However, if all else fails, my step-dad’s rule is entirely correct. Using a flash with those settings will always give you a perfectly-exposed image.