I composed this list of Dos and Don’ts after observing/experiencing certain practices in photography. I personally am guilty of doing some of these in the past or I’m still trying to kick off an old habit. Some things in this list annoy me more than they really should, some are mildly irritating and some I really like. Always keep in mind that photography is an artistic medium and you have the complete freedom to choose how your pictures turn out. You don’t have to please anyone else but you, unless you’re getting paid and then you have to please your client. What I list here are merely suggestions. It’s up to you to decide whether you agree with them or not.
Disclaimer: This list is in no particular order. I didn’t group them into Dos and Don’ts. It should be pretty clear when you read them.
Extra memory cards
There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have couple of extra memory cards. They are dime a dozen these days. I think it’s good to have several memory cards than just one high capacity card because if your card get corrupted or lost or something like that (let’s be real, shit happens) you won’t be shooting until you get a new one. Plus you lose all of the pictures you haven’t downloaded so far. As of right now I carry three 8 GB cards. It’s more than enough for what I do.
Don’t publish everything you take
My shutter count is nearing 40,000 now but I only have 287 pictures in my flickr account. Don’t be like those people who post a status “hanging out wit ma friendssssss!!!!” and 2 hours later “…. added 378 photos to the album College Freshman Yearrrrr <3 <3 <3”. It’s natural to take couple of shots of the same subject just to be sure. But nobody wants to see 50 pictures of the same subject from slightly different angles. Pick your favorite.
Develop your own style – know what type of a photographer you are
We all have other photographers we love. But copying someone else’s style completely does not help you to grow as a photographer. Being inspired or getting new ideas from other people are fine. It’s just that you can’t hope to reproduce every single thing they do. It also helps to realize what type of a photographer you are. It may take some time and you may even love several types of photography too. I personally enjoy landscape and wildlife photography. That does not mean I don’t occasionally do a portrait session though.
Shoot for yourself
Even if you’re a commercial photographer, taking some time to shoot some pictures for yourself can be very relaxing and rewarding. I don’t do commercial/professional photography (and by professional photography I mean I don’t get paid to take pictures). When you’re being paid to take pictures, you have to please your client to keep your business running. It’s fantastic if you have the complete freedom to be as creative as you want to be but sometimes you have to follow a specific set of instructions and you may not like the way pictures come out. If that’s the case, photography might soon turn into something that you have to do rather than something you want to do. Don’t let that happen to you.
Explore new areas
I know I said that it’s important to figure out what type of a photographer you are but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out new things. I’m planning to try time lapse photography in the next couple of weeks and see how that turns out. It’s always fun to experiment.
Don’t compare “likes” or “favorites”
Likes, favorites, shares are big in social media. It’s unbelievable what some people do to get more likes and would do anything to see their pictures go viral. This does not limit to photography of course. Don’t try to compare how many likes you got on your picture and how many likes other people got. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your pictures are bad.
Ask for constructive feedback
This is one of the best ways to learn. Ask some experienced photographers what they think about your pictures. Don’t be discouraged by what they say. Some photographers hesitate to say anything bad about other’s works because some beginners take it the wrong way. Let them know that you want to hear what they really think. Give them the complete freedom and let them completely shatter your work of art into pieces (figuratively, of course). You learn so much more this way.
Leave constructive feedback
It’s important to leave constructive feedback whenever possible. It not only helps another person grow but it also helps build a better relationship with a fellow photographer. I almost always try to say what I like and don’t like about a picture rather than just saying “good shot”. Something I’ve seen recently in photography groups is that people say “nice try” and it’s usually the same person leaving that comment on all the pictures. What the heck does that even mean? For some reason “nice try, a**hole” comes to my mind. But other than that, does that mean it’s a good try but unsuccessful? It’s a good for nothing comment. Please don’t do that.
Don’t forget to say thank you and be respectful
While in most countries you can take pictures of anything you want as long as you’re in a public place, it’s a nice gesture to say thank you if you take a picture of a stranger, especially up close. If you behave disrespectfully somewhere, you might just ruin that place for all the future photographers. If someone asks you not to photograph something, try to abide by their request even if it’s in your right to take the picture. This of course depends on the situation.
Don’t wait for new gear to be “inspired”
Unfortunately, I know more than few people like this. Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to start taking amazing pictures as soon as you get that one lens you really want. Don’t fall into this trap. When you finally get that lens, they will come up with a new that you’d want. There is so much you can do with a simple camera. If you don’t believe me, ask Google to show you some pictures taken with mobile phones and compact digital cameras.
Avoid clichés (like the plague)
Clichés are rather popular among beginners, and for a good reason too. The first thing you do when you pick up your DSLR for the first time is look for subjects. Hmmm what should I take pictures of? Flowers in the garden of course. We all know flowers are pretty and it’s okay to take pictures of those. But it gets a little old very soon. Everyone does this. I did and the photographers you admire probably did it too. It is very easy to be mesmerized by the shallow depth of field your camera can produce. It is probably the first change you’re going to notice if you’ve been shooting with a point and shoot. It is much easier to achieve a shallow DoF with a DSLR. It is not limited to flowers of course. You will see tons and tons of pictures of small objects with blurry backgrounds. This is the period where the photographer thinks he or she is an amazing photographer. Don’t get stuck there. Get out of that phase as soon as possible. You will learn much more and actually will become an amazing photographer. This does not mean that you should avoid the said subjects completely. It’s a good place to start and practice your techniques. Just kind of not so good when you keep posting hundreds of similar pictures.
Know the right tool and the technique for the job
Different situations call for different tools. For instance, zooming in is not the same as walking closer. Sometimes it’s good to use a long lens to capture an intimate moment if you think that your presence might ruin the moment. But sometimes it’s good to walk closer to capture the details. Planning what you intend to capture ahead of time will save you a lot of time.
“Bro, this is the best camera”
It’s natural for people to ask help before they buy a camera. But why is it that there is always someone who has a definite answer for this question even before whoever asked the question explain what his or her intentions are? More often than not, the same person cannot contain the excitement and has to say “bro” after every other word. Always give unbiased advice (even if you’re a fan of a certain camera brand) and avoid the people who give you these kind of advice.
Fake lens flare, textures, and vintage filters
If there is no lens flare in your pictures, it probably doesn’t belong there either. Adding fake lens flare with photoshop looks, well, fake. It is rare to see a picture looking good with fake lens flare. Textures are very tricky. I’m not talking about taking pictures of textures but using textures as overlays. Only a very few people can actually pull this off properly. It takes a lot of practice to blend the light just right. Vintage filters are overused everywhere. Not all of your pictures have to look old. I admit, it’s fun to play with filters. I do it too. But those pictures end up in instagram not in my portfolio.
This is again one of those things that rarely works well. I have like two or maybe three pictures I used this technique. Needless to say, they didn’t turn out well. I’ve seen a lot of prom pictures especially with selective coloring. When you desaturate the image and mask out the tie and the vest and the flowers, that’s where you focus your attention on. Not the important part.
Over done HDR
It is evident that most people don’t really understand what HDR actually is. This technique demands a significant technical knowledge. Sure it stands for High Dynamic Range but that doesn’t mean they HAVE to look grunge and over saturated. If that’s intentional, it’s okay but that’s not what HDR is supposed to look like. I’m talking about the pictures with a lot of ghosting, misalignment, and still considerably over exposed. That defeats the purpose of HDR.
Too much vignetting
All your pictures have a little bit of vignetting naturally which can easily be removed using Camera RAW. I add a very small amount of vignetting if the edges look like they are burnt out. But when you push it to the extreme it looks like you’re looking through a scope.
Not everything looks good in black and white
We use the term “black and white” very loosely. Almost all the picture we call black and white are actually grayscale pictures. B&W pictures should only contain black and white just like the name suggests. Anyway, there should be a reason for you to convert your pictures to black & white. Usually high contrast pictures look good in B&W but not all.
Don’t use the on camera flasher head-on
I’m not completely against flashers. I use a flasher too. But using the on camera flasher head on usually produce unflattering results. It’s true that sometimes you can’t help it. It’s good to take the picture than not having a picture at all. If possible, invest in an external flasher. You can get a third party flasher for very cheap and you can easily bounce the flasher off of a nearby wall or a ceiling. That would give you much better results. When you use the flasher head on, it flattens the image and you lose the sense of depth. If you have to use the on camera flasher, use a diffuser. You don’t need special diffusers. You can even use a tissue paper to diffuse the light or if you don’t want to hold a tissue paper all the time you can cut out an old film reel case to fit your on camera flasher. It works wonders.
Don’t shoot under direct sunlight
When you take pictures under direct sunlight, you get washed out colors, harsh shadows, and squinty eyes. Look for a shade when possible. I know you don’t always get to shoot during the golden hours. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of the surroundings. Using reflectors can help even out the light and prevent harsh shadows.
Pay attention to details
It’s amazing the level of details you see when you get a little closer. You don’t always have to fill your frame with the entire subject.
“I’ll fix it later in photoshop”
Photoshop is a very powerful tool. But that doesn’t mean you always have to rely on it. When you look through the view finder and see something out of the place, don’t think that you’re going to fix it later. It’s much easier to compose your shot differently if possible or just make the necessary adjustment. Sometimes you have to use photoshop to fix something you weren’t able to manipulate physically but not always.
Do print your pictures
I believe I said this multiple times. Print your pictures, preferably large and thank me later.
Don’t shoot too much
I don’t mean taking a lot of pictures in general. That’s a good thing. I mean taking 100 pictures of the same subject just to be sure. If you spend a little time before you click the shutter button, you will save a lot of space and time going through those pictures later. I used to take a lot of pictures. I mean a LOT. I went on a 3 day vacation couple of years ago and I took around 8000 pictures. I ended up with a handful of useful ones. Last year I travelled to Las Vegas, Arizona, and California but only took less than 500 pictures in total. Cutting back the amount of useless pictures is very important. We all take bad pictures, even the most experienced photographers do.
Noisy is better than blurry
Don’t be afraid to crank up your ISO if you don’t have enough light to take the picture. Trying to handhold a camera in very low shutter speeds almost always cause camera blur. Noise can be fixed but blurry pictures will always be blurry. I think I saw a plug-in recently that claims it can fix blurry pictures though I don’t know all the details yet.
Do carry a tripod and a remote release
You won’t even realize how much these two simple things can improve your pictures until you start using them. Tripod and a remote release open up a whole new level of creativity.
Know when to ignore technicalities
While it’s very important to know how to properly expose a picture, it’s so easy to get lost in the technical details. I’m guilty of this and I often forget what’s really important in a picture. As a result, I end up with high quality crap more often than I like to admit.
I don’t know why some people tend to publish pictures with the caption “unedited”. You chose to publish it that way. Is the viewer supposed to imagine how it would look like if it was edited and stand in awe? Publishing unedited pictures is completely fine but that caption is unnecessary. It feels like the photographic equivalent of publishing a picture with the caption “I’m so ugly”.
Composition is the key
Yes, rule of thirds and rule of space. But there’s a lot more. Changing the composition even slightly can have a significant impact on the final product.
Do learn to use post production software
Learning how to use post production software is vital. Instead of trying to master all the available software out there, it’s more productive to stick with one or two. They basically do the same thing in the end. They should be used as tools to further enhance your pictures rather than as a fall back to save terrible snapshots.
Never trust your LCD
Your camera LCD can be very misleading. It appears brighter and has more contrast than there really is. Instead learn how to read a histogram. That is a very powerful tool and it represents your pictures very accurately.
Bracket your shots
When in doubt, bracket your shots. This gives you a greater range to work on later. You might even be able to combine the shots later to an HDR image. Having a tripod comes in handy here.
Filters and hoods
It’s important to protect your expensive lenses. The main reason why I have filters and hoods on is for protection. As a bonus, they also prevent stray light from hitting the image sensor. When buying filters, invest in high quality filters. You can buy very cheap UV filters but they usually cause ghosting (light reflected from the lens bounces back to the filter and reflects some of that light into the image sensor).
Waterfalls, light trails, and start trails are popular but those are not the only occasions where you can add movement to your pictures. Even a picture taken with a high shutter speed can still give you a sense of movement.
Know when to accept defeat
Unfortunately not all of your pictures are going to turn out exactly how you intended. I know it can be frustrating but be satisfied with what you managed to capture rather than thinking of what you missed. You can always try tomorrow. There are many times I waited hours and hours to take pictures of something but came back empty handed. That never stopped me from trying again the next day.
Take a self portrait
Not #selfies. I mean a real self portrait. I personally hate to be in front of a camera. But I still managed to take some self portraits. When you’re your own subject, you get to learn a lot of things.
Watermarks and frames
I used to have a very small watermark and a frame but I gave up on them. I think they are distracting. None of the pictures I published within the last couple of years have a watermark or a frame. That’s my personal taste though.
Get high and low
Not with weed. That’s none of my business. Sometimes ordinary things seem more interesting when shot from above or below.
Sneak in a candid
There is no reason why you shouldn’t sneak in a candid shot or two even when you’re doing a planned portrait session. You might just be pleasantly surprised by what you get.
Ethics in photography should be a post on its own but always keep in mind that specially when you’re photographing nature not to interfere with nature. Sure a spider web looks much more dramatic with water drops on it. If you want to take that picture, wake up early. Don’t spray water on it. You might be destroying someone’s home. Birds and other small animals make their nests somewhere predators can’t find or reach. If your actions expose those animals to their predators, I believe those pictures are worthless no matter how ‘good’ they come out. Leave nothing but footprints.