I only started going on photography workshops around 5 years ago. Although I have been keen on photography for over 35 years (that shows my age) it never really occurred to me. However, I decided that I wanted to really improve my photography so I decided to follow some courses and workshops. The only regret I have is that I didn't do this much much earlier. Perhaps I would be a far better photographer had I done this. Learning through trial and error and on your own takes a long time. You can condense and accelerate your learning into a very short period by being taught by an experienced professional.
So what are the key things I have learnt during this time?
1. Put your bag down!
When arriving at a location you are full of enthusiasm and even impatience to get the camera out the bag and start shooting. You can really profit by stopping and walking around. Think about what appeals to you. Look down, up side to side and behind you. The best shot is often not the one you initially thought of. So before putting that tripod up and shooting put your kit down and wander around. Visualize the image you are after which means look, see then form the finished image in your mind before you commit to making at the exposure!
2. There's always an image!
So it is raining or windy or bright sunshine or bland grey skies or indeed you discover not a very appealing location once you have arrived. Instead of packing up and setting of towards the nearest cafe or hostelry think about how you can work with the constraints. So if it is windy, capture the movement in the trees or grasses around you. Bright sunshine gives strong shadows that in turn can create some very striking abstract images or indeed can be ideal for infrared images. Grey skies can just be excluded from the scene, look at the 'inner landscape' at your feet. My experience is that the more constraints you have then the more creative you become, resulting in far better images.
3. Don't use 'auto' anything!
Why are you letting the camera make the decision for you? In particular, my pet dislike is auto-focus. I know where exactly I want to focus and I want to control my depth of field. Close up and macro photography in particular demand that you take control as these parameters are critical to the success of your photo. Indeed, any photo that does not have the correct point of interest sharply in focus will fail.
Using manual exposure similarly forces me to think about what I am trying to achieve. Do I want a long exposure to show movement? Do I want a deep depth of field by using a smaller aperture which lengthens my exposure? What do I want to be properly exposed - shadow detail or highlights? Am I willing to compromise on one or the other?
4. Use the Histogram!
Most of us shoot digital and every time you take a photo the image on the back of the camera is reviewed. Often people rely on this to determine if the picture is good or properly exposed. Well this screen is actually a very low-resolution display and won't clearly show how successful the exposure has been. Your camera can display the histogram for the image taken. This shows you the distribution of light intensity in the image and most importantly if there is any clipping - either in the shadows or in the highlights. Clipping means lost data and this can prove difficult to recover if clipping is excessive be it in ACR, Photoshop or any other software. So make sure that the exposure is fully contained within the histogram
5. Post processing is essential!
OK. Sometimes you get an image that needs very little processing. Exposure is great for the shadows and the highlights, the composition is correct, contrast is perfect, etc. However, more often than not, you will need to do some processing. The eye and brain sees more and record more than any processor or film. For example, whilst there are many different estimates out there on the web, the eye can see around 15 to 20 stops of light, camera sensors around 10 at this time. Reflected light from a print around half of that. The other thing is that as the eye scans a scene it 'takes' multiple exposures - ie it adjusts for different levels of light. your camera can only record one exposure for the whole scene. Therefore, some parts may be over exposed and others under exposed. In summary, you need to process your image file to account for this and reflect the lights and darks of a scene as you remember it.
Lastly, lots of individual parts of the digitisation process make the image soft, for example, the anti-aliasing filter in front of a digital camera's sensor results in slightly soft images. Sharpening in post processing is essential.
© Michael Pilkington