41 thoughts on photography.

My friend Dana sent me another photographer’s list of photography tips the other day.  It’s a good list – consider the following my own addendum.

1. Use, and understand, whatever camera you have.
2. You’ll take better photos if you tailor them to your camera’s shortcomings. iPhone takes amazing, relatively low-res images.
3. Be satisfied with basic settings. Just because your camera can shoot + or – 1/3 stop doesn’t mean you have to shoot every photo that way.
4. But experiment with advanced settings. Play with color, exposure, auto features. Figure out what gives you interesting results.
5. Shoot on manual settings. f/2.8 isn’t the same as f/5.6. Your camera can’t teach you how photography works.
6. Whenever practical, focus manually.  Your camera can’t make aesthetic choices.
7. Get your focus right.  You can tweak over- and underexposure, but a soft photo is finished.
8. Get the best gear you can afford when you need it, with the intention of upgrading when you’ve outgrown what you have.
9. Better lens glass handles light in more controllable ways.  Crappier glass shows you how good better glass looks.  Get to know both.
10. Experiment with various focal lengths.  Different shoes for different hikes.
11. Get closer and wider.
12. Get further and longer. Put objects between you and your subject.
13. You’re going to miss perfect shots.  Live with it.
14. You’re going to take lousy shots that seemed perfect.
15. You’re going to shoot all day and have nothing good to show for it.
16. You’re going to shoot for five minutes and have three beautiful shots, but not often.
17. You can’t make a bad photo great in Photoshop – but you can make mediocre photos mysterious and beautiful by paring away the blandness to leave one interesting detail.
18. Use Photoshop the way you use your camera: figure out what you like and what tools provide it.
19. The Camera+ app on the iPhone is marvelous. Hipstamatic will suffice until you get it.
20. Look past imagery into intimation, suggestion, and provocation.  Imagery isn’t about its subject, it’s about the way you show the subject. See the whole frame. Your attitude should find a way to speak in your photos: through the way you frame objects in space, where you choose to place your focus, and how both project meaning that was merely latent until you took it.
21. As imagery goes, black and white underscores composition.  Color draws attention to itself.  Learn and use both.
22. Let shadows fall and highlights blow.  Use them as compositional elements – we don’t need to see everything.
23. Don’t show us everything.  Leave something out of your photograph we expect to see.
24. Show us too much.  Include things we don’t expect.
25. Expect your photographs will always be seen in the biggest format your sensor or negative can accommodate.  Compose accordingly.
26. You can imply motion, but you can’t capture it.  Look for fractions of movement that suggest the whole, and discipline yourself to wait for those moments.
27. People make great photographs, but man-made environments suggest a lot about man.  Combine them.
28. Photos taken out of airplane windows tend to thrill me, because I’m terrified of heights.
29. It’s not cheating to photograph your own family and friends, but it’s no excuse for being shy.
30. Photography isn’t self-expression in the same way painting or sketching is.  You’re snatching up an instant of someone else’s life.  Never mock or impugn unless moral judgment demands it.
31. Don’t shy away from morally or aesthetically questionable content, but don’t be flip about it.  Someone else’s misfortune isn’t fair unless they give you the photograph willingly, or there’s a way your photographs can make it better.
32. Let yourself be amused by the world.  Irony plays well in a single frame.
33. Music is a better analog to photography than literature.  Storytelling is not its greatest strength.
34. Your own photos are like your own dreams: they’re not very interesting to others unless they carry untrounceable truth.
35. Just because it’s true doesn’t make it a good photograph.
36. Never photograph a lie, in form or content.
37. Don’t work too hard at a photograph.  Prepare and be ready, but if you miss something, you never had it.
38. If you see a great shot in front of you that you’ve seen before, shoot it once to get the cliche out of your system.  Then find a new angle that’s better, or move on.
39. Never be jealous of someone else’s work.  Admire theirs and you’ll work harder on your own.
40. The moment you see the perfect photograph, photography’s not your bag. Every photo you take will forever seem inadequate.
41. Every photo is inadequate.

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