Posts Tagged photography tips

Follow your intuition to be a better photographer

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I recently returned from a trip to New York City designed to improve my photography skills. During the four-day stay, I participated in several workshops and also ventured out on my own for many walkabout shoots.

My goal was to become a better photographer, and what I came away with was an interesting, new way to approach photography.

Three of the sessions were offered by The Art of Intuitive Photography, and as the name implies, students are encouraged to follow their instinct and intuition when searching for a good photo, rather than pre-determined guidelines. In other words, look for subject that you connect with, not necessarily a postcard-type photo.

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Sounds obvious, but it was eye opening. As workshop participants walked through the streets and parks of the Big Apple, each of us clearly heard a different calling and ventured off to shoot what caught our eyes. One focused on birds and flowers. Another photographed children playing in a fountain.

During my first session, we came upon a statue of George Washington, located on the steps where he took the oath of office. My images of the statue failed to excite me, but the photo of this flute player (above) at the foot of the statue jumped out. Lesson: I’m a better people photographer because I find humans more interesting than a statue.

The Art of Intuitive Photography teaches students to focus on things that interest you by adopting a child-like spirit. One exercise — pretending we were a newborn looking around for the first time — helped drive this home.

On the final day, I ventured to Harlem to capture the culture and personality of the neighborhood. I shot a few buildings and murals, but my mission was to find interesting people. The image to the left depicts a cook on break during his early shift.  The photo to the right, a man lighting his morning cigar.

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Some people would find the murals and buildings much more interesting, and that’s okay. Whether looking at a photo, painting, or sculpture, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thinking about what attracts your eye will make you a better photographer, as I hope it has me.

See more of my New York City photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnlamb1
Read the BBC article, Trusting your gut: Smart management or a fool’s errand?, which features The Art of Intuitive Photography

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Improve your photography by planning ahead

I worked as an assistant for a talented photographer who taught me a great deal about the craft. He generally had a vision of each shoot beforehand, and showed me that a little planning and imagination go a long way in capturing better photographs.

Novice photographers often arrive with good intentions but no plan of action. If you know the basics of photography and give some thought about potential photos ahead of time, you’ll see a difference in the quality of your work.

Let’s look at a few easy tips to help you on your photographic journey (BTW, click on an image to enlarge it).

Try something different
I took one of my favorite photos, above, while working at L.L. Bean. Our employee newsletter featured a profile of the manager of retail marketing, a woman who juggles many, many tasks. I wanted the photo to metaphorically show how much she did, and came up with the idea of having her juggle Bean boots in front of the company’s flagship store. Before shooting, I drew a sketch of my vision and then photographed a coworker juggling Bean Boots to see if the concept would work. Finally, I built a frame to hang some of the boots. It’s funny, people think this is Photoshop, but it’s not.


Arrive early for warm-ups
You’re going to a sporting event, but your seats are too far away for a memorable shot. Warm-ups often present some great opportunities for photos. In a previous blog, Take Better Photos with These 7 Tips, I wrote about shooting away from the action, and this is a somewhat similar concept.

Here, I snapped a photo of former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona walking back to the dugout during warm-ups. Yes, it’s not the same as getting a great action shot during the game, but when your seat is in the back row of the bleachers, this is a pretty good alternative. The same principle — shoot before the action starts — applies if you’re covering a corporate event or your kids’ soccer game.

Note how the color of Francona’s jersey makes the image pop a bit more. When I walk into a room looking for subjects, one of the first things I see are the colors of people’s clothes.


Have fun with your photos

During my tenure at L.L.Bean, the company opened several new retail stores, including one in Burlington, Massachusetts, just down the road from Lexington, where the Revolutionary War began.

A couple of weeks before the store opening, I grabbed a pair of Bean Boots, and headed to a reenactment of the war’s first battle. One of the actors agreed to pose for a shot wearing the boots, and we used the image on our employee website.

The caption we used suggested the Colonists won the war because Bean Boots had kept their feet warm and dry feet. But for the record, the first pair of Bean Boots came along about 140 years after the war.

Be open for other possibilities
I once read about an old-school photography exercise that directed students to walk for a predetermined time, then stop and take a photo from where they stopped. The exercise is said to sharpen your ability to find a subject, regardless of where you are.

And sometimes you look up, and a photo is waiting to be taken …

Each year, Maine maple syrup producers welcome the public to see the syrup-making process in person. After shooting some of the Maine Maple Sunday activities, I happened to look back at the barn, and saw this face peeking out.  Apparently the goat was intrigued by the activity. I went to photograph maple syrup, but came away with a goat photo. The paper I shot for put it on the cover.


Ask for help, especially with children

A kid on a tire swing is a photo waiting to be taken. Trouble is, kids don’t act natural around cameras.

I saw our young friend on the tire swing, and even with a 400mm lens, knew he’d see me taking his photos.

So, I enlisted his father to talk to him (okay, distract him) as I snapped away. The original, a slide, lost some color in its conversion to digital, but you get the point.

Some kids become hams when a camera appears, while others shy away, so having something or someone to hold their attention helps you capture a more natural moment.


Stake out your spot

Author Mitch Albom was speaking about his best-selling book Tuesdays with Morrie at a large conference I attended a few years ago. He’s a terrific speaker, and I wanted a photo. Unfortunately, because I flew to the conference, the only camera I packed was my small point-and-shoot camera.

So, I arrived really early, and took the best seat I could find: front row, a little off-center. An easy, but often overlooked way to get a better photo.


Hang around
I’d never seen Craigslist founder Craig Newmark until he spoke at a similar event I attended.

He’s a very bright guy, and an engaging speaker, and I thought there might be a good photo opportunity.

Unfortunately, the lighting onstage wasn’t enough for my little camera, so I decided to wait until he finished and the crowd began to disperse. He was on stage chatting, and I moved in close enough to use my flash and snapped a couple of quick photos.

Remember, the flash unit on most point-and-shoot cameras is good for about 10-12 feet.

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Take Better Photos With These 7 Tips

It’s graduation season, Father’s Day is around the corner, and the annual flurry of summer activities is fast approaching. Your camera is at the ready, but you want to take you photos to the next level.

Or perhaps your boss is asking for more and better photos for your newsletter or company Facebook page.

No sweat. Follow these 7 simple tips and you’ll see better photos the next time you say cheese.

Get closer
The biggest and most common mistake I see is not being close enough to your subject. In general, you don’t need to see your subjects’ feet. While there are exceptions, most times you’ll be fine with a waist-up shot. Think of trying to fill the frame with your subject. Additional benefit of moving closer: if you’re using a camera’s built-in flash, its most effective within 8-10 feet.

Take lots of photos
A professional photographer will take dozens of images to get one good shot. Yet, amateurs often shoot one or two images, and then move on. If you need an important photograph, don’t rely on a couple of images. Move around, try different settings or poses, changes lenses, shoot with and without flash — the more variations the better.

Use your flash — outside
When people face the sun, they squint, and when they turn away from the sun, you get shadows on their face. So, get the sun out of your subject’s face, and use your flash to knock out the shadows.

Shoot away from the action
Some of the best sports photos I’ve taken were of players warming up before the game, taking a breather during a time out, or celebrating after a victory. Yeah, you’re not getting the game action, but sometimes the best way to capture the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat is looking the other way. The photo of Red Sox Legend Johnny Pesky, left, was taken prior to a game.

Get a ‘safe shot’
This is a corollary to the previous tip. If you have a tough photo assignment, shoot something as a back-up, in case you can’t get the action shot. Years ago, I was hired to photograph a Boston Pops concert in Portland. There was one catch: I wouldn’t be allowed near the stage during the show. Fortunately, I had backstage access prior to the concert, and took a nice photo of my client with the conductor. Thanks to a good telephoto lens, I was also able to capture some good images of the show, but having the pre-concert photo took loads of pressure off.

Make your subject feel comfortable
While some people love being photographed, many shy away. When faced with a hesitant subject, spend a few minutes chatting to help them relax. Be confident in your ability to capture a flattering image. I tell people we’ll keep shooting until we get something they like.

Plan ahead
To paraphrase a popular real estate term, the key to successful photography is practice, practice, practice. My first paid sports photography assignment was a basketball game at a local college. A few days prior, I found another college game, and shot that as a test, trying different lenses, angles, etc. That day showed me what worked and what I needed to change.

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