Photography is a lifelong pursuit of excellence! Excellence which will never be completely achieved… “Well that’s kind of depressing Jacques! Why get into Photography if I can never master it?”
Here’s the thing about choosing photography as a passion. Having a pursuit that can always be improved upon. Having a pursuit that is not effected by the ailments of age & having an ever-changing goal creates something called purpose.
Purpose is far more rewarding than simply achieving a goal. What happens if you achieve all your goals at 40… the rest of your life won’t really have much meaning will it. Photography can give you purpose or, at the very least, something to pursue after your body can no longer keep up with your other goals.
It is never to late to get into photography! This post is targeted at those advanced beginners out there. If you have a solid concept of shutter speed, ISO, Aperture and using Manual mode on your DSLR/Mirrorless then continue reading.
If you are still working on the basics then try reading our Camera Basics Blog.
01 - Choose the Right Picture Style
When it comes to photography you can completely change the feel and look of an image depending on what picture style you choose to shoot with. Picture style’s are made easy on DSLR’s & Mirrorless camera’s but the names often differ depending on what brand you shoot with.
The best way to learn about your camera’s picture styles is to read the user guide but I will give you a quick rundown on what is normally available and when to use each style. You will generally have 2-3 Picture styles that offer you a safe option.
Auto, standard and even landscape have increased sharpness but the contrast and saturation stay relatively neutral. If you are not planning to do much post processing or you aim to take ready to use photos from your trip then these picture styles are a relatively safe option.
If you plan on doing portraits then it will make sense to use the portrait style. This style is designed to offer increased sharpness without allowing the image to look unrealistically sharp. If you want to have less post production work for your next portrait shoot then set your picture style to portrait.
When it comes to macro photography or close up brand/product placement the importance is in the details. Get your camera set to the picture style that best suits fine detail photography. This picture style aims to get as much detail out of the image as possible putting emphasis on the colour tones and small details.
As you improve your post processing you will find yourself feeling restricted by the standard picture styles. When it comes to post processing less is very much more. Using a Neutral picture style will allow you to record more image data while retaining more information from the shadows and highlights.
This is achieved by dropping the contrast and saturation both of which can be brought up in post processing. You can also go one step further and shoot in C-Log (available on some DSLR’s & Mirrorless cameras), this is the picture style used in cinema and is best suited to those post processing wizards that understand how to grade their image or video correctly.
C-log is essentially the flattest image possible retaining more shadows and highlights than any other style. If your camera does not have C-log then you can create something similar using any of the user defined profiles.
The user defined profiles also give you an opportunity to experiment with your own picture style and create something that is unique to you.
Oh! Don’t forget about monochrome! If you find that your images are coming out black and white then you have somehow selected the monochrome picture style. Monochrome is your go to for black and white photography.
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02 - Get your White Balance Correct
Auto White Balance (WB) will only get you so far. The feel of an image can be drastically altered by adjusting the balance of whites. WB can be complicating so let’s keep this simple; WB is in reference to how warm (yellow) or cold (blue) the image will turn out and is measured in Kelvins (K).
For light sources that emit a cooler blue light you want to aim for a higher K setting (like the midday sun or a camera flash) to balance out the blues. For warmer light sources (candles, sunrises or sunsets) you want to compensate by dropping your WB to avoid an image that looks like a pumpkin exploded on it (lower Kelvins).
The aim is to ensure that your whites are white not to alter the warmth of your light source. Unless that is a creative decision you are experimenting with. Luckily your camera already has WB presets, the names differ between brands but your presets will be similar to the following:
Auto White Balance (AWB) - For situations where you may be unsure of which WB is best or for situations when light is constantly changing.
Daylight - For your standard midday sun.
Shade - This get’s pretty self explanatory doesn’t it… for the shade.
Cloudy - For those cloud covered days.
Tungsten Light - To cool down the whites in a room or area lit with tungsten lights (the real yellow lights).
White Fluorescent Light - For most indoor lighting situations. White fluorescent lighting is the go to in most houses & business’s.
Flash - This one is here for flash photography best used when shooting in studio or in nightclubs & functions when an external flash is in use.
Custom WB is also available on most camera’s allowing you to set the perfect WB for your needs. You can also adjust the Kelvin levels manually on most DSLR’s. White balance is important especially if you want to avoid pumpkin coloured images or photo’s that make everything look blue.
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03 - Select the Correct Focusing Modes
Picking the right focusing mode can mean the difference between a blurry and out of focus images best used for scrap paper. Or… a clean, crisp & sharp image with the subject in perfect focus.
Here are your options:
Continuous mode known as AI Focus (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon) is most useful when you are trying to keep moving objects in focus as they shift in the viewfinder as you track the object. As soon as you start pressing down on the shutter button or engaging the back button autofocus(AF), the camera goes to work. The camera will automatically detect movement and refocus continuously as the subject moves ensuring your subject is perfectly in focus. Depending on how good your cameras auto focus is this mode can often predict movements incorrectly as your subjects directions change. Incorrect predictions will often result in blurs, especially in the arms, legs and sometimes the face.
Continuous focusing has its limitations but is really useful for capturing photos in motion.
Single shot focus better known as One shot-AF (Canon) or AF-S (Nikon) is quite possibly my favourite focusing mode. It is harder to master but when you nail it and your exposure is perfectly set.. well.. the images are so sharp. Unlike continuous focus when you press down the shutter halfway/press your back button AF the camera only focuses once. Although it can be done with patience and practice, shooting moving subjects while in One Shot- AF/AF-S is very difficult and I recommend using continuous. You will find Single shot focus perfect when taking portraits/ still brand shots and subject orientated landscape photos. Honestly I use this mode for most of my photos, only switching to Continuous when filming or shooting movement.
Automatic Auto-Focus(AI-Focus AF on Canon & AF-A on Nikon) mode is a relatively new feature in DSLR’s. It is an ingenious combination of Continuous and Single Shot Focus. The camera bounces between the two focus modes ensuring that if the subject moves the focus changes to suit. But if the subject is still the focus does not change as it does in continuous. This will be the default auto-focus for DSLR’s that have this focusing mode.
Remember that photography is an art, in art you need to be able to follow your minds eye. If objects come into your viewfinder that may add to your artwork you want your camera to adjust with your mind, focusing on the objects that matter. Automatic Auto-Focus can help you.
Manually focusing your camera is hard. I won’t lie to you, learning how to use manual focus is no easy task. However, learning how to use manual focus is perhaps one of the biggest barriers between being a good photographer and being a great photographer.
Achieving absolute perfect focus means using the distance measurements on the lens barrel and even measuring the distance between the end of the lens and your subject with a tape measure. High end photographers will shoot products this way as it gives the most accurate focus, at that level it matters. I don’t have a tape measure but I want to get the best possible focus?
Well you are going to have to use your eyes sense of focus and know the critical focus zones for the set aperture. Now this can be hard if you have issues with your eyesight but most DSLR’s have a built in diopter (sits next to the viewfinder usually). You can adjust this to fix any irregularities in your eyesight. You can also use the depth of field preview button, I would recommend using this if you are an advanced photographer.
Manual focus can come in very handy if you have a unique focus point that you are trying to capture. An example could be a subject in the background when the foreground is too busy.
Select the focus mode that best suits the images you plan to capture.
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We hope that your passion for Photography continues to grow and you become as close to a master as possible. Just remember that there is always more to learn, stay hungry & most importantly… Shoot every single day!
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Life is Great. Travel is Better.
Paulo & Jacques.