05 January 2011

A years worth of photography tips

Time flies, and it flies faster when you are enjoying it more. Its almost a year back that I bought my first DSLR and committed to pursuing photography with some seriousness. I knew not - what I was getting into. I wasn't into any regular photography using a point & shoot neither knew much about photography as well. It was a leap of faith, and one I am glad I took. 

At the end of a year, I must acknowledge that its been a very satisfying journey. Surprisingly , this has turned out to be a hobby which has lasted for so long; unlike many other fads that I picked up with regularity and dumped them sooner. I have a philosophical take on this; photography to my mind is 'instant art' - one where you have a 'chance' (I choose the word carefully) to create a piece of art in an instant, unlike other art forms closer to this visual art such as painting, sketching or even film making. 

So like all instant stuff we so love, photography seems to have caught the fancy of masses. Afford ability of  Digital Camera Systems, newly discovered passion for travelling by fellow Indians, increasing buying power of youth & growing disposal income means that there are many who are able to afford DSLRs early in life and by mid twenties proclaim themselves as freelance photographers. I hate to admit I am past that age and but definitely an outcome of socio economic factors mentioned here. 

What I list below is not practical tricks and tips to become a better photographer, but stuff that worked for me. You can find the technical details easily on the web, there is more than enough information out there.   

1. Buying an expensive camera doesn't guarantee better photographs. Even point & shoot cameras can create photographs you can proud of for years. If you can get yourself a DSLR, it gives you creative freedom you would love. Sensor is the critical piece of your camera so focus on buying best sensor you can afford. Rest is non critical trust me. 

I bought an entry level Nikon (D3000) as my first DSLR, the cheapest Nikon then. The camera is good enough to last me another couple of years easily and am yet to fully explore the functionality this equipment offers. I however, recognize that low light performance of sensor is one area of concern and would recommend you include this as one of important criterion for your buying decision. I would definitely look at the option of buying a used camera to start photography, there are often good deals on various photography forums online.

2. The difference between a good photographer and an average photographer is 'also' what you post in public domain. Never post mediocre work, be critical and post only your best shots on the web. Learn to discard. I usually posted 1 or 2 photographs from 50-100 I would shoot on a day or walk. Sometimes nothing. I have known of some otherwise talented photographer who would post 30 photographs of one evening including many similar photographs of same horizon / landscape. Don't make this mistake or you would loose viewers interest.

3. Learn to use a post processing software e.g. a Photoshop, Lightroom or free ones like GIMP / Paint.Net if you are planning to shoot RAW. RAW images are in general dull, & with poor sharpness. Processing of images is done by Camera internal softwares if you shoot JPEG, in which case you could manage with Picassa with basic functionality. Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC) sounds sexy but thats all it is. 

I started with Picassa and used basic functions on JPEG I shot. When I shifted to raw, I started using PhotoShop element 7. Your ability to enhance the shot through creative processing is a skill set which is crucial to digital photography. 

4. Learn from others - learn by watching others work on flickr, photo.net or other online forums, learn by talking to photographer friends, learn by participating in courses if you can. You should at minimum know how to read the exif data & histogram.

I joined flickr and started adding photographers as contacts not those who would leave 'nice' & 'awesome' comments on my photographs but those whose work would inspire me. I welcomed honest critique of my photographs and that helped me understand what makes a good image and what doesnt. I am still learning!!  One of the best online sites for learning & keeping a portfolio is Megashot. The management team here is genuinely keen to make you a better photographer and offer various online tools as well offer personalized comments & guidance.  

I also took an online free course on creativelive, which I believe gave me some foundation. 

5. Join a hobby club. Most of metros in India have photography enthusiast groups. These groups are best ways to connect with fellow enthusiast and you would often build great friendships too for free ;-)

I joined MWS (Mumbai Weekend Shot) in March 10 and while I have not been the most regular of members on the group, I made friends and we often go out for shoots together. There are many that I can recommend in different parts in India but would rather provide that input as a specific ask from you. Facebook is full of photographers and I have selectively build a network of photobuds - some of which do not talk (really) but I just admire their work and others with who I discuss and seek feedback.

6. Master your basic gear before you proliferate. The 18-55 kit camera lens you bought with your first DSLR is good enough to do urban , street photography and landscapes. You would need a longer/ special lens for portraits or for wildlife.

I bought a 55-200 mm lens along with my kit lens and it gave me flexibility to shoot portraits with cleaner backgrounds. While I am extremely happy with this lens, I wouldn't advise you to make this investment right away, maybe a 50 mm / 35 mm prime lens would be better choice of 2nd lens. Did I say you need to buy a good photography bag. Yes you do - read here for more details.

7. Involve your family in your hobby. Show them your photographs, take their feedback and print copies and gift them some. They would feel part of the fun and wouldn't hate you when you choose to spend your weekend morning photowalking and then the whole day processing. 

8. Buy a tripod. Something that I haven't done and kick myself everyday. A tripod expands your possibilities, atleast adds 12 hours to your photography timeline. Is a must for early morning and late evening shots. It is also absolutely essential for the water droplets and other maverick stuff you may wish to experiment with. 

9. Shoot with purpose. Ask yourself why are you shooting a subject. What is it that you would like to tell others about this shot. You dont have to write the story before you shoot, but I hope you get what I am saying. There is no point using the camera like a trigger happy mentally imbalanced kid on killing spree in a US university. Pause and answer the question for yourself.  Anoop Negi, a photographer I admire has aptly said "Capture Life without resorting to the overly simplified cliches of Indian photographic ethos of Sadhus, Snake Charmers and Beggars and the universal malaise of flowers, pets and boting sunsets and sunrises"

10.  I hate to admit but I am really struggling to make this list my 10 point gyan for a newbie photographer, so the last one is going to be some gyan only. I believe that "Only great human beings can make great photographs", photographs are like a reflection of your soul and reflect who you are. So shoot with your heart, and let the world know who you are. 

2010 was unlike other years for me, because of photography. It feels great to share what worked for me and I hope you too could pick few tips here. Photography gives you a new eye to see the world, you start seeing new colors in flowers, see birds you never noticed on your balcony and notice how beautiful fellow human beings look when they smile. Photography makes you see how beautiful the world is. 

"Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst" – Henri Cartier-Bresson and am just about reached 2000 as yet. 


PhotographyOffice said...

Every beginner should read at least half of this article! Great share!
Good luck in 2011 :)

kunjan said...

nice tips ....
will like to see ur work...please provide ur flikr or any other album link at

mayank said...

@photographyoffice - which half .. LOL thanks for wishes.

@Kunjan - the links are there on the right hand side of the blog. For quick reference visit http://mayankfotos.tumblr.com

Amropali said...

It's strange how I stumbled upon this post today, of all days(I posted my first photo in my blog today).
I am not a photographer, I just take pictures- and I know the difference between the two. But of late, I've been in a clicking for pleasure-rather-than-memory.
Thank for the share.It's been very insightful.

Purba said...

Photography is an art, you captures can tell a thousand stories. I love pics that capture the play of shadow and light.

vineet said...

hey even i tried my ahnds once, bt as of now its one of those resolutions i hv broken many times..nice take dude n hope ur eally do woners this time with P graphy

Harish said...

Your phot from previous post (of sea ) was excellent. Wish you a great 2011 :)

mayank said...

@Harish - thanks for your visit. Which of the sea images you like more.

@purba - thanks.

@vineet - it need note be a resolution. i associate resolutions for things i hate to do.. like excercising :)

r.k.p said...

Nice blog. I came here by chance but liked the photos and blog entries.
Good that you share tips on photography that will be of great help to novices.

mayank said...

@rkp - glad you came. Yes I do post tips on how to shoot and hope my trials and errors can help others. I would love if you come more often. Just posted a new post on photography. Hv a look

anoop said...

I love your honest tone. I can easily see that when you write something its direct from your heart. kudos for that.

I have a similar experience in my photographic journey too, but you have the talent of better expression.

Mayank said...

@anoop - thanks. Very kind of you.

Anonymous said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts

Mayank said...

@Anonymous - Wish you left a moniker behind. but thanks if you enjoyed. Do drop again.

mayankpandey said...

thanks - which half?