For photographers, the learning never ends. Here’s our list of what every photographer should know after three years with a camera. Do you agree? (Photos by ERIN USAWICZ)
Every Photographer Should Know How To…
No matter how long you work as a photographer, there will always – always – be moments in which you collapse your head into your hands and say, “How did I not already know this?!?”
Rest assured: every journey is different, and each photographer learns different skills at different times, depending on their genre, market, and aptitude. But there are a few things we think every photographer should know once they get their three-year badge. (It’s an invisible badge, okay? Just go with it.)
#1: Get Your Clients To Smile For Real
Some people are better at this than others – and by “people” we mean “clients.” Seriously, it’s like some folks have never cracked an authentic smile in their lives. But everyone has a genuine smile in them somewhere. And after three years of shooting, every photographer should know how to lure that smile out from wherever it’s hiding. Even if you have to act like a fool to do it. (Dad jokes, anyone?)
#2: Make A Boring Picture Look Pretty Rad
You know the scenario. It’s your client saying, “I’ve always loved this tree! Can you take my picture with this tree?” Or when the beautiful, amazing, awe-inspiring camel has finally settled down to rest for the day and he’s spitting at everything in a six-foot radius, and the couple says, “This is the EXACT MOMENT when we want a photo with the camel!”
There’s a cheesy, awful, snapshot-ty way to make this photo, and there’s a good way to make this photo. Three years into using that fancy camera, every photographer should know how to turn a meh photo into a yay! photo – even if you don’t have total control over the scene.
#3: Make Multiple Unique Portraits Without Changing Locations
Every photographer should know how to create a gorgeous series of portraits in a single location, with very few changes to their clients’ positioning. Within three years, you’ll know the drill: change lenses, change angles, change where you’re standing… So much can be accomplished in a single setting with the simplest tweaks! And your clients will appreciate not being asked to perform any gymnastics.
#4: Craft A Beautiful Flatlay
Whether you’re photographing a corporation’s brochures or a couple’s wedding invitations, every photographer should know how to set a scene that complements even the simplest objects. Once you have a handle on making a beautiful flatlay, you’ll be better equipped to photograph clothing, jewelry, artwork, food… the list goes on!
What do YOU photograph with a flaylay approach?
#5: Take A Nice Group Photo
We’re not talking about family portraits. (Though if that’s your genre, you should definitely know how to do them well!) We’re merely talking about making a well-exposed photograph of a small group of people with everyone’s faces in focus. No matter what your photographic specialty is, every photographer should know how to handle the group photo, because you will definitely be asked to make one. And you can’t respond with, “Sorry, I was hired to photograph the food, not take a ‘quick pic’ of the chefs.” No. You need to be able to pick up your camera and make a nice group photo. So get to work.
#6: Photograph In Direct Sunlight
If you’ve ever been told, “Never make portraits in direct sunlight,” A) you were misinformed, and B) you’re missing out! Every photographer should know how to harness the awesome creative power of full-on sunshine. Sure – there are some things you can’t do, like shoot at f/1.6 unless you dial up your shutter speed to super-duper fast and possibly slap an ND filter on your lens. But if you think of the sun like a giant studio light in the sky, you’ll find plenty of ways to make some pretty incredible images! Give it a try!
#7: Photograph With Backlighting
Backlighting is easy in some ways, because your client’s face is automatically in open shade. But all that sun can be overpowering – so overpowering, in fact, that your background could get entirely blown out, and light-colored hair and clothing may lose all detail. Every photographer should know how to handle this with a reflector, a diffuser, or both, so don’t be scared by the backlight. Get creative!
#8: Photograph Details
Artfully plated food at a banquet, tiny baby shoes in a nursery, the embroidered Tallit at a bat mitzvah… Details are often so much more than decorations. They’re the artifacts that evoke memory. As such, they deserve the same attention as smiling faces and clasped hands. Within your first three years of photographing, begin weaving detail images into your other work. Every photographer should know how to identify these meaningful heirloom objects. Your clients will thank you for them!
#9: Choose B&W or Color
What are your deciding factors for converting a photo from color to black and white? Do you know why you do it? Does it align with your brand? Do your clients love it? Are you trying to make everyone happy and cover all your bases, or do you believe deep down that an image truly IS color or black and white at its very core?
Every photographer should know why they choose the tones they choose during post-production. Make sure your editing represents you and your artistic vision. No need to follow trends.
#10: Photograph the Decisive Moment
You don’t have to be a photojournalist to be a storyteller. Even if posed portraits are your preferred genre, every photographer should know how to capture a moment as it occurs. Practice by photographing family and friends, or working to grab the “in-between” glances and grins during a portrait shoot. Learn to linger and wait for the perfect photo: the decisive moment.
#11: Embrace the Odd
Not every image has to be perfect. In fact, some of the most impactful photographs throughout history are far from technically sound, let alone compositionally eloquent. This isn’t to say you don’t need to mind your P’s and Q’s. Every photographer should know the basics of photography and how to apply them. But once you have a firm grasp on the rules, go ahead and let yourself break them. Embrace the odd. You’ll end up with some of your favorite photos this way.
#12: Document Spaces
It seems like a simple thing: photographing a room. But start trying to make a picture of a large space that emulates precisely what your eyes see, and you’ll find it’s a lot harder than you think! (This is why architectural photographers are well-paid for their skills!) However, every photographer should know how to make a beautifully representative photograph of a home, an office, an event space, or any other environment. You may not be equipped with the same lighting setup as your average interior photographer, but you should know how to achieve a balanced exposure and select an angle that doesn’t highlight the wall outlets and lamp cords.
#13: Create A Signature Image
One of the toughest challenges every photographer faces is defining their own style. The worst part is that you can’t really force it. All you can do is shoot, shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Then one day, you finish a job and realize: “Holy WOW. That wasn’t that hard! And these photos are GOOD!” Most photographers seem to find a sense of their unique style within the first three years of photographing, but if you don’t, it’s okay. As our favorite little fish says, “Just keep swimming!”
You don’t need to go looking for your signature image or style. If you’re out there doing the work, your style will find you.
What did YOU learn in your first three years as a photographer?
And what else do you think every three-year photo graduate should know?
Written by ANNE SIMONE | Photographs by ERIN USAWICZ via TWO BRIGHT LIGHTS | Hair by RUBY FINCH SALON | Cake by PERIDOT SWEETS | Floral design by FLORA POP | Dress by WEAR YOUR LOVE | Tux by TRUE GENTLEMAN SUPPLY CO. | Event design by CACTUS AND LACE | Photographed at VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK