How to Become a Better Photographer. One of the eHow's most searched topics in photography is how to be a better photographer. At first, I thought this was an impossible topic to address. Photography has so many variables that I thought it would take books to answer the question. As I thought about it more, I realized that it could be broken down into seven general categories or steps. Some may think that this is an over-simplification, and it really is since the topic is vast. However, if you think about it as I outline these seven steps, you may see a method of focus (no pun intended) that will improve your skills as a photographer.
Plan Your Composition. Before you pick up the camera know what it is that you want to photograph. Think about the image using the Rule of Thirds as a guide to help you think about what it is you want the viewer to see. Then think about the scene you will photograph in terms of eye flow. Where and what is the subject? Are there secondary subjects? How to they fit into the image plan. This planning has to happen instantly if you are taking candid shots, but it still has to happen if you want your image to have impact. In the studio, take as long as you need to set up the shot.
Know Your Subject. This model needed photographs for her portfolio, but she was very camera shy at first and slightly nervous. To relax her, I did a series of photographs of her applying makeup where she did not have to look directly into the lens. The rest of the session was easy, but I still like this shot which was one of the first in the makeup series. It doesn't matter if your subject is a tree, a person or a big old bear; you need to understand the motivation and composition of the subject before you can plan an effective image.
Control Your Lighting. This is easy to do as we did in this studio shot for a glass manufacturer. In the studio you can use lights, umbrellas, mist machines and anything else you can think of to control the light. It is harder to do when you are outside, unless you are famous and have a crew and a catering truck. The same umbrellas you use in the studio can be used outdoors to reflect light onto a subject and black umbrellas can be used to block light. Don't have umbrellas? Use white or black construction paper on stands or held by a gaffer (or anyone you can get to do it). You can also use trees and other natural elements to help you control the light.
Know Your Equipment. Practice with your equipment. The more you use it, the more comfortable you will be. The digital age is marvelous because you don't have to "burn film" to learn from your mistakes. Go through the manual and take shots using each feature to become familiar with it. Know how to adjust shutter speed, ISO, F-Stop and white balance. Learn how to bracket exposures and take multiple shots. Learn about the special shooting options, how to change lenses and how to take care of your equipment.
Learn the Zone System. Ansel Adams invented the concept of the Zone System, which breaks down the exposure range into 10 distinct steps from Zone Zero, which is pure black to Zone Ten, which is pure white. Each zone is equal to one F-Stop change in exposure. Having tonal separations in your image makes it seem full and complete. Take a look at any of Adams' images and you will be able to see the separation of the zones, indicating proper exposure and in the old days, film development. What makes his work special is being able to see the detail in the shadows and the highlights through meticulous application of the Zone System.
Learn About Color. If you are taking color pictures you need to learn about color. It is a complex issue made even more complex by the fact that no two people see color the same. What we see is controlled by the cones in the fovea of our eye, and no people have the same amount and types of cones. In order to see a red apple the light strikes the apple where green and blue light are absorbed by the apple and red light is reflected into our eye. Understanding color will take time, but is well worth it to improve your photography skills.
Recognize the Moment. Henri Cartier Bresson said the most important thing about his photography was recognizing the exact right moment to take a picture. Every subject, even a landscape, has the one right moment for the image exposure. In a landscape it could be a certain time of the day. While this image was created in the darkroom, both of the blended images were taken at exactly the right time, which is what makes the composite an award-winning photograph.
Take pictures when you don't have to. Practice exposure and white balance adjustments, so when it comes time to take pictures of your vacation you will be experienced. Take many exposures of the same scene if you are using a digital camera. It costs nothing and the bad ones are easy to delete.