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First Things First

It's easy to feel sometimes overwhelmed when gallantry working to improve your photography. There's just so much to learn. Here are a few tips on what to prioritize. Some things really should come before others.

Learn to use your camera at home before venturing into the wild. A quick scroll through the PDF of your camera's manual shows that it's a lengthy document. But it's still worth reading through it at least once before you go out to shoot anything important. Too many people buy an expensive camera and then barely scratch the surface features of what it can do. Take some time to learn about the depths of its capabilities because someday you may need them. Don't worry if you don't recall all the details should that day come, but you won't even know the option is there without some prior exposure. I used to carry the printed manual to my camera in a Ziploc bag but now have it saved on the phone in my pocket. And I'm not bashful about looking something up in the field. But have to know what to look up.

Favor learning to see compelling compositions first. Let your camera deal with the details until you find it's not doing what you want. Knowing that your camera has all those bells and whistles doesn't mean you have to use all of them on day one or ever. Relax. Your number one priority should be the visual aspects, not the technical ones. Focus on the end product of how well each image conveys what you were aiming for and how it turned out. Let your camera be a tool, not a stumbling block.

Make sure your lenses are clean before heading out for a shoot. I admit it took me a long time to learn this. Invariably, I would take the cap off a lens for a morning's first shot and find a fingerprint or smudge from the night before. It always felt so foolish to celebrate the dawn by having to clean a lens. Take it from me. It helps to have all your gear ready to go when the impulse strikes you.

Have a good idea of how you want an image to look before setting up your tripod. Otherwise, how will you know where to put it and how high to extend it? Walk around for at least a bit to understand what your subject offers and what you can pre-visualize doing with it. Then you will have the information on which all your choices can proceed. Don't settle for working from the spot where you first lay eyes on something interesting.

Tweak your camera setup and try again, but it helps to understand what you are aiming for before pressing the shutter release. You may change your mind for the next frame or merely refine your current composition, but strive to make each shot intentional. Curiously, I frequently find hidden possible meanings years after shooting something. But that's just icing on the cake.

Have a definite reason for buying a new lens before you go shopping. Make sure you get everything you can from your current gear before investing in more. It costs you nothing to try a little harder and pushes you toward improving your skills. You'll know when to take the next step in upgrading your kit. Advertising can be a powerful force, but pull out your credit card when you're ready, not simply when they say you should.

Profile your computer display monitor before you adjust the color on any images. Otherwise, there's no way to tell if they look too red because they are or because your monitor is lying to you. It may have induced a color cast of its own from mis-calibration. If you adjust everything you shoot to make it look its best on an off-kilter monitor, you will regret it. Don't create a mess for yourself when it's so easy to avoid doing so.

Do as much as you can in RAW before exporting to Photoshop or other pixel-based editing applications. When working in RAW, changing white balance, many color corrections, and even exposure adjustments are either lossless or far less destructive than they would be after committing to any specific RGB representation of an image. Increasingly, localized edits are even possible while still in RAW.

Develop some basis for filing and organizing your images before you find yourself with an insurmountable backlog to sort and catalog. It doesn't have to be complicated if it's reasonably consistent. Aim to come as close as you can, but your chances of coming up with the optimal system for your long-term needs on your first attempt are arguably pretty low. But it's still easier to convert from one system of organization to a new one than it is to slog through an endless jumble of random images you've been putting off dealing with for years. Not that I would have any personal experience of that, mind you. Well, maybe a little.

You will almost certainly make many mistakes before getting things perfect when trying something new. That's only natural. Or, if you don't experience this now and then, try pushing yourself to the next level. There's always more to this thing we all love doing, but you have to take each step before taking the next. Just do the best you can. Over time, things have a way of working themselves out.

You will be a better photographer if you invest a bit of yourself in developing a point of view. Don't try shooting to satisfy everyone else. Remember, first things first: photograph to please yourself.

Date posted: May 8, 2022


Copyright © 2022 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Technical Skills versus Composition
The Relationship of Composition Rules to Good Composition
What's in a File Name?
Composition Always Happens, With or Without You
Step One: Profile Your Monitor

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