I started writing this post on February 15. I have wrote it, erased, tried again, changed my mind, edited, and started all over again SEVERAL times. It has made me come to one conclusion, there is no cheat sheet for photography. Photography is not an a+b=c formula. You can't just give a checklist and "poof" a perfect photo. Even opening this post and reading it, I have pretty much changed and improved on every rule I followed three months ago. I can only hope that three months from now, I will be completely different. I never want to stay stagnant and I always want to keep learning and improving.
Now there are basic principles, straight forward do's and don'ts, to photography. I will share those with you and share a few things that go through my mind during my sessions.
The one ABOSLUTE best piece of advice I can give you is to find your own style! You will never truly be happy and always feel defeated trying to be someone else or copy their artistic style. Use others for inspiration but then find who you are in photography.
You will not become an amazing photographer overnight so do not give up. Keep going, keep practicing, and find what makes your heart sing. When you find what that one thing is whether it be landscapes, children, flowers, food, etc., keep shooting that! Don't ever feel that you have to follow the crowd, pave your own way and you will be thankful that you did! With that being said...
Never compare yourself to others. This is one of those "duh" statements but so much easier said than done. Everyone has their own journey and yours is special and unique. You can offer something no one else can! (That whole paragraph sounded just like a typical mom. I have become my mother...)
Never say never! When I started falling in love with photography I said, "I would never have the courage to shoot others, just my own family." Then once I became more confident and loved photographing friends I said, " I will never be able to do this as a business." Then suddenly before I could blink an eye, I started Amanda Lassiter Photography. And most recently, I said I would never mentally be able to do weddings, and I am so excited to say I have booked two weddings for the fall and am second shooting a wedding in Kansas with my best friend from my childhood that I haven't seen in over 15 years! Don't set limitations on yourself. Keep an open mind! You never know what God has in store for you and how he is going to use you.
Never stop learning. I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of exposure but I just purchased Bryan Peterson's "Understanding Exposure" and I can't wait to dive in! Follow and read lots of other photography blogs and Facebook pages. I have learned so much along the way from others who have shared their mistakes and triumphs!
I decided to keep the old post below. I am going to make additional comments in red. It really is crazy to read how much I have changed in just three months.
Before I was a stay at home mom, I was a teacher. It is in my human nature to want to teach others (and be bossy, but that's mostly to my hubby). I wasn't a HS Physics or AP Calculus teacher, but a 1st grade teacher. I can break any subject down to first grade lingo :)
I have written down every bit of advice from every Momtog, Photog, Mamarazzi, and Professional that I came across on the blogosphere. I then tried everything for myself, and narrowed it down to what works for me.
From all of my notes, I compiled my very own cheat sheet.
My version of Cliff's Notes.
It's the nitty gritty without all the fluff.
This is assuming you are shooting on Manual and that you know what basic photography terms mean such as Shutter Speed, ISO, Aperture, etc. If you don't read my post here :)
AF-S = When subject is still (I have yet to set my camera to this. Maybe someday Bella will stay in one place :)
AF-C = When subject is moving (I always use this when shooting my continuously moving 9 month old).
Big White Triangle Mode - Just about everything.
Crosshair Mode - For Sports.
I now pretty much use dynamic area AF that allows me to toggle my focus point. This gives me more control over what I have in focus.
1/60 is the lowest you can go without a tripod.
I never go lower than 1/125 with a squirming child. 1/250th is even better. (I pretty much don't ever go under 1/250th now because most of the subjects I shoot are very active. Unless I am shooting food or flowers.)
Easy rule of thumb: Double the focal length of the lens for the lowest possible shutter speed. If you are shooting with a 50mm try to go no lower than 1/100, etc.
Avoid high ISO. Make it the last thing you adjust.
The lower the better!
Only bump up ISO if you have to.
No higher than 800 if possible.
I don't know who made this rule but I 100% disagree now. I bump my ISO up first before changing my aperture or shutter speed. I decide what f/stop and shutter speed I want and then adjust my ISO for correct exposure. Again, find your own style. I like the grain/noise that high ISO gives to a portrait. Yes your image will have better clarity and sharpness with a lower ISO, but don't be scared to bump it up. Better to have a noisy photo than one that is out of focus!
I start my settings at:
Outdoors - 125
Indoors - 640
And then adjust it very last if I need to.
High ISO = Noise (that grainy look in pictures)
This all depends on the distance from you to your subject and if they are all on the same focal plane. This can get really tricky really quickly.
I shoot between 2.0-2.8 for portraits of a single person. The wider you set your aperture (smaller number) the harder it is to get perfect focus. For instance, if I am shooting a close up of Bella at 1.8, her eyes will be in focus but her ears won't. I now shoot between 4.5 and 5.6 pretty much all the time. It's just my preference. If I am in a tricky low light situation I might open my aperture up a little more but I don't prefer to shoot wide open.
Remember - Smaller the number, less is in focus. Larger the number, more is in focus.
Matrix Metering - Use exposure Compensation to lighten and or darken the pictures.
Try to keep your in camera meter at zero and learn to read your histogram for correct exposure.
I switch back and forth during a session between spot metering and matrix metering depending on the lighting and what kind of look I am going for.
Mom photographers say use auto white balance, professionals say to custom set it. I am in the process of learning Kelvin. I have definitely found that choosing the lighting (cloudy, incandescent, sunny, etc) is better than auto. You decide :) Still trying to find the time to completely learn Kelvin!
Things to thing about before you snap!
*Are there any distractions in the shot? An out of place sign above your subjects head? A piece of trash on the ground in your outdoor pictures? An odd tree limb hanging down? Not that these can't be edited out in post processing. It is just a pain. DEFINITELY look for distractions first. I can't tell you how many hours I have wasted cloning out distractions.
*Where is the light? Are there weird shadows on your subject? If so move your subject. Always try to have the light coming from behind you. This will mean your subject is facing the light and will give your subject those very pretty catchlights in their eyes (this is unless you are trying to get a very cool "backlit"shot with the rays behind your subject and that becomes a little more tricky). Don't be afraid of the light. Embrace it. Light is what adds interest to a photo!
*Make sure you are not cutting off any limbs. The rule is: don't cut off at joints (elbows, knees, wrists, etc.) If you happen to, try to crop the picture later on. I am the worst at this. I am always so focused on getting my subjects eyes in focus and having good exposure that sometimes I have completely chopped off their feet!
*Change up your composition. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and end up with 50 full body shots of your subject, square on. Get on the ground, shoot from above, from below, or at an angle. Find a different perspective!
Take it or leave it, but hopefully this will get you started.
Well there it is. A post I started three months ago and one I have learned so many lessons from! Good Luck! - A