Back in the “olden days” of photography, a good photographer would spend a long time setting up a shot, picking the right filters, adjusting for light and then finally taking a set of photos which he or she wouldn’t actually get to see until a few hours later in the dark room. A professional set-up included a number of cameras together with all the kit required to develop the photographs themselves.
Any effects that were required got added either before the photo was taken or afterwards using a range of techniques and chemicals to bring out a different light, add vignette and a whole range of fancy ways to alter the finished product. It took skill and above all, it took time. This was a barrier to many – learning the skills, getting the equipment and building a dark room wasn’t really in a hobbyist’s budget.
Obviously they could send their film off to be processed but this meant that for many, photography was really down to holiday snaps and the odd arty shot on the beach when you could get the lighting “just right”.
These days things couldn’t be more different.
DSLRs mean quality photography is available to anyone with a few hundred pounds in their pocket and the results are instant. You can take a number of shots and flick through them on a screen straight away while deciding whether to keep or delete and on some cameras you can also add filters such as black and white, sepia and others in the blink of an eye. And then when you get back home, you upload your images to your computer and manipulate them with PhotoShop. It’s all so easy!
And of course, we now have Instagram which doesn’t even require any thought because they’ve taken an “all-or-nothing” approach to filters by offering you a range of different styles you can apply to your pictures while still on the phone.
Take a picture of your child on the park swings, apply a vintage filter and you’ve immediately got a photo that looks like it was taken in the 70s and this is why it appeals so much to people. It’s instant nostalgia, taking people back to a time when things were better (whether they actually were or not) and making every picture look like it was taken on a sunny day during one of those summers that seemed to last all year.
The jury is out on whether this is a good thing. Instagram has obviously got more people interested in photography and you’d hope that this would extend to people looking into having more control over the results and maybe, just maybe picking up a DSLR and having a go themselves.
Obviously some people are dead against it, saying that it cheapens the profession, devaluing the art of the real photographer, but surely anything that means people will take photos is, eventually, a good thing for the industry?
I was recently helping one of our photographers on a hotel photography shoot in some rather nice weather in India and like the friend he is, he let me take some photographs with my own camera to see if I could match his masterpieces.
Full disclosure, I just write the blog here and pass tips on to you, I’m not the jobbing photographer so getting the chance to do this was great for me, and I got to learn some great tips into the bargain.
It’s incredible what you learn when you’re working with the consummate professional and so before we go any further, here’s tip number one:
1) Try to spend a day with a professional, someone who earns a crust doing photography, not someone who simply does it as a side-line or to bolster their pay packet.
It’s amazing what you’ll pick up in just a few hours working with someone like this but you’ll probably have to ask them to slow down a bit! Also, get them to be critical of your style and the photos you take because you want to learn and if they’re really nice about it all, even though your results are sub-optimal, you won’t get the best from them.
And I got the best. In fact, the first tip I learned was this:
2) Switch to RAW if your camera has it. It might be a bit slower getting your photos off the camera back home, but you can do more with the images later.
My pictures were burnt out due to the amount of light on this incredibly sunny day and when in jpg format, I could do nothing with them. Very quickly I switched to RAW but the results only really manifested themselves later when I got to the hotel and fired up Photoshop.
And so to the next tip which was also a bit of a revelation for me. This was to do with “ISO”:
3) Switch to a low ISO, say 100 in bright sunlight.
Now I remembered ISO from film days when it was the sensitivity of the film to light. Fair enough, why does that matter for digital? Well it seems it does pretty much the same thing. Set your ISO low on a bright day and you’ll have less work to do in Photoshop later as everything won’t be so photon-tastic.
Something to bear in mind here is the “Base ISO” of your camera. The best quality will come at the lower levels of ISO, however some cameras don’t do too well right down that low, so check with your manual.
Also, you’ll need a lot of light for the lower ISO levels but if you have it then you’ll get the best quality finish.
And so finally, the next tip which is one that all photographers keep banging on about:
4) Use a tripod!
Seriously, tripods are an absolute godsend and they will improve your shots immeasurably simply because you can have more control over the exposure without worrying about wobble – and believe me, you will wobble!